Excavating Rock ‘n’ Roll, the Think Interview with Douglas O

Douglas O

I seriously doubt that anyone staying in Singapore (even if they are not up to date with current events or the local music industry) has not once heard of the name Douglas Oliverio. This legendary musician has been the host of major television shows like Rolling Good Times and Singapore Idol.

Douglas O
Douglas O

He has also had such a smooth-sailing career in the local music scene that even in this year, which is his 50th, he is still actively performing in a bustling local nightspot. When asked how happy he is with his career and his life, he acknowledged how well his passion has worked out for him with a thoughtful self-awareness that was followed by a peaceful smile, expressing his inner contentment.

Although he has been consistently involved in music for around 35 years, he still looks as energetic as the next big thing. I have the sense that I am in the presence of a true performer. Entertaining seems to come easy to him and it was fascinating to converse with such an expressive personality.

When he began telling me stories of his youth and the transition from one stage to the other, I can nearly visualise how he must have looked back then, a “small and cute” little adolescent boy knocking on people’s doors earnestly asking whether he could be a part of their line-up.

I did not realise how small built he was when I saw him on television simply because his frame is proportionate, but he really is not much taller than me and I am not exactly very tall. It was easy to envision his life as he described to me and I could see that he was a beautiful person, and at each step of his journey his decisions had thought behind it and spirit within it.

Douglas O has been performing since he was fifteen years of age he has never had a problem getting a job. He attributed it to being “thick skinned” and “persistent” but also added that the music industry comparably is more difficult to get into now. He explained that the reason he probably became so well known in Singapore is likely due to the persona he had on stage and it was easy to see the truth in it when I watched his set later in La Baroque.

He was extremely comfortable on stage and he made the audience feel at home while joking around with them so ingeniously. I was impressed with his skill, ease and intelligence. Despite slanting towards jokes that perhaps suited more to the understanding of Singaporeans, his charisma and energy did its bit to bring out a hearty round of laughter from the tourists that frequented the club as well.

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This veteran of the Singapore sound is a true artiste with views that showed development of thought and a sincerity towards music. He understood that the only way to be a real instrument to the joy music can bring was to emote the songs with his heart, singing and playing with feel.

Techniques and skill improvements will all naturally follow when the desire to be a part of the music is genuine and real. Although he mostly fronts his band as the lead vocalist, sometimes he plays the drums and the guitars as well, both of which were self-taught. He did not take up lessons, finding it more beneficial to exchange notes with other musicians and discovering the instruments on his own.

Douglas also likes many different genres of music, and unlike many other singers, he has no issues with performing to songs he does not enjoy.

“There is no way you can really perform to a song that you do not like.” He feels that every song that was created has something in it that we can appreciate.

“Who are we to say which song is good or no good?” This approach to music can implicitly indicate his non-judgmental love for music and his wise hesitancy to label something in the extreme states of good or bad. After all, what is good or no good differs for different people, and has no real grounding in a fact.

When he first began performing, he did a lot of Funk, Soul and Rock sounds, but as the years went by people started to see him as a Rocker. I questioned him about his idea of Rock and Rockers today:

“There are other forms of music today that are rock-based as well so that has taken over. As a musician, I wish to move with the times and grow musically. I cannot keep to doing the same stuff that I have done before over and over again.”

Rock perhaps is that elusive state of emotion where we all get lost in a provocative place both mentally and physically. And it looks as though that is what Douglas O wishes to stand for as an artist as well, to be that vehicle that brings his audience to where expression and emotion is daringly embraced. “I have always spoken my mind and done provocative things and I think that was what kept the audience coming back for more.”