In Conversation With: Erika Tham

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Erika Tham is one of the music industry’s must-watch fresh faces in pop. The Malaysian-Canadian songstress has the kind of voice that is sultry, sweet, and gracious all at the same time. Inspired by the likes of Ariana Grande and SZA, Erika Tham unveiled her debut record this year with “admit it.” The fusion of Erika’s voice alongside ethereal rhythms are undeniably a match made for one another, which makes for an appealing start to her career as a musician.

Before ultimately releasing her mesmerizing single “admit it,” fans may have been familiar with Erika Tham from her work on the Nickelodeon show Make It Pop or her appearances in the Disney Channel movie Kim Possible. Following an outstanding acting career as a teen, Erika realized that her true passion was music and decided to put in the work to pursue it. Now, preparing for the release of her forthcoming debut EP, Erika seeks to chronicle her journey as a young woman dealing with love, self-reflection, and everything that comes with transitioning into adulthood.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Erika Tham about her debut single, leaving film for music, her upcoming EP, and much more! Check it out below.

What kind of music did you grow up listening to, and how is that reflected in the music you create?

I listen to almost everything and have done so for as long as I can remember. When I was living in Beijing, my Dad gave me his iPod to listen to music on bus rides to school. All that was on there was Elton John and Eric Clapton and Bonnie Tyler, all of whom I fell in love with. Then I would come home and blast Avril Lavigne and the Hannah Montana soundtrack *laughs*.  

What does a typical studio session look like for you?

Songwriting is such a therapeutic outlet for me and I’m lucky to have formed some close personal relationships with the incredibly talented people I get to work with, so sessions often start with deep conversations and love life updates *laughs*. During those conversations, someone usually says something that’ll inspire us to start writing and we go from there!

If you don’t mind, tell us a bit about the story behind your debut song, “Admit It.”

“Admit it” is what I wish I could’ve said to someone I was watching fall in love with me when I knew I didn’t feel the same. I’d spent a while feeling this way in the relationship, watching it get more and more serious and him get more and more invested, all while having this gut feeling that I wasn’t going to be able to meet him there emotionally. I hadn’t really explored it in my writing because I hadn’t found the right way to approach it, but when I wrote the line, “I’ll admit it, I wouldn’t know love if I was in it”, it all kinda clicked and the rest of the song came very quickly.

You came up through Nickelodeon and Disney, which has been the path for so many pop stars today—was there any hesitation to stay in film, and what ultimately made you take a leap of faith with music?

I’ve always loved both music and acting but acting sort of just happened for me by total fluke before I was old enough to even really understand what I was doing. I’ve been lucky in that a lot of my acting jobs have had musical elements to them, so while learning the workings of a TV set, I was also able to spend time in recording studios and in dance rehearsal and realize my love for music in a more professional setting. Once I moved to LA and taught myself how to play the piano, I discovered songwriting and that’s when music became all I wanted to do.

I spent a good year at home on my piano just writing and writing and writing before I found myself in my first ever professional studio session as a songwriter, writing for another artist. It was at Brian Kennedy’s studio and I remember after the session was over, he pulled me aside, told me I was dope and that he wanted to bring me in to write for other artists he was working with. I played it off but I couldn’t believe it! That was the first time I looked at music as something I might actually be able to have a career in. 

Your very first EP is slated to arrive before the year ends, what has the creative process been like working on it?

I made “Admit It” and every other song on my upcoming EP in the same week in Atlanta at an Airbnb with my friends Major and Deion. We wanted to make something cinematic, immersive, and unique, so the first day there we went to Walmart and bought a whiteboard and just dove deeper into what this sonic world we were creating might look like; everything from colors to weather and moods, approaching it almost as if we were directors making a movie.

After Deion made a couple of tracks, we matched each track to a different point in this movie’s storyline, based on how it made us feel. I think the original “Admit It” track might’ve been ‘the heist’. This was my first time approaching making music this way and it was such an incredible experience. 

When it does finally drop, is there a key takeaway or type of emotion that you want to elicit from your listeners?

As an artist, I want to create this strong, feminine, sensual sonic world for people. Something that’s part journal-entry vulnerability, part whispered seduction, part no-holds-barred gravitas, but always framed in a way that makes you feel like a bad b*tch.

Let’s talk about fashion, what are some of your go-to brands these days?

Right now I’m obsessed with Charlotte Knowles and Miaou! 

If you had to envision your life 10 years from now, where do you predict you would be?

I’m just tryna be a MILF with a couple of Grammys! 

If you enjoyed our interview with Erika, check out our chat with London musician BXKS!