Today we are shining a spotlight on Andee Tophat, a lifelong songwriter and musician that has written over 150 songs - including his latest single which is all about falling in love through Second Life!
How long have you been in Second Life and how did you first hear about it?
I first discovered Second Life when I was shopping and saw a computer magazine with a CDROM on the front advertising a 3D World. I have always been interested in computers since my school days when my first computer was a Sinclair ZX81 with 1K memory. So seeing a magazine with a program on it that offered a 3D world to build and explore caught my attention. So on 5th January 2007, I installed the software, signed up and logged in, and was instantly hooked!
My first avatar was nothing like today, as you can imagine. Clothing was just a texture you applied to your body, there were no voice features at that time that I remember, so there I stood in a world that was immeasurable in size wanting to find out how to build my first house!
16 years later and I look a lot different, and enjoy live music, building, and making friends.
How did music come into your life?
I come from a family of music lovers! From a very young age, I would play on the family upright piano that sat in our dining room. It was never properly tuned but that doesn’t matter when you’re little. My mum told me later in life that she remembered me running into the kitchen to tell her that I had written a tune. She didn’t believe me but followed dutifully to listen and actually smiled when she heard that I had actually composed a little melody with a chorus. I must have been around 7 or 8 at the time. My father used to play his records of Big Band or Classical, and would often call me into the living room to “listen to this one” or “isn’t this good?” and I used to enjoy his love and excitement for his favourite songs. Out of my four older sisters, two of them would listen to artists like ABBA, Carpenters, Neil Diamond, and Neil Sedaka and the other two would listen to Lionel Richie, Alexander O'Neal, Luther Vandross, and Motown-type tracks. I would then be listening and picking up on the latest 80’s music, so you can imagine I have an Eclectic music taste!
My first “written” song was in 1986 when I wrote a song for one of my sister's weddings. Looking back it’s awful and very tacky but, like any musician, that becomes the start of your musical future! Since then I’ve written over 150 songs with lyrics and about a dozen other instrumental songs. I can’t read music and play by ear, so I can often pick up a song quickly if I wanted to create my own cover version of a track.
I would say that over 85% of my music is based on some emotion or experience I was going through at the time. I remember years ago having dinner with a friend and letting him go through my ring binder containing all my lyrics. They were alphabetically in order of title and I left him to wash the dishes, only to return to see he had taken them all out of the folder and was organizing them by date! Reading them like that was almost like reading a personal diary!
I have also written some songs based on an idea or story that I felt would make for a good song. My sister once challenged me to stop writing songs about love and to write a song about boats. So armed with that snippet of an idea, I wrote “Sea Breeze”. Another time I allowed an encyclopedia to fall open and closed my eyes and pointed to a page and said I would write a song about whatever topic my finger landed on. It landed on “Klondike” so I wrote a song called “Gold Rush”.
A few years ago, I formed a band called “Balladeer” with my brother who played guitar, my brother-in-law who played drums, and some other friends that could sing. We enjoyed getting together regularly and performing my music. I’ve performed a few times in front of Wedding Guests and we also held two small shows. The first one was in 2001 and was a tester mainly with friends and family and we filled a small community hall with about 120 people.
Then in 2003 we hired a small theatre, and managed to fill it with 350 people. It was a risky move as we were not performing any cover songs, only original music. But after a 2-hour session of almost 20 songs we had so many people come up to us after to congratulate us, that it was a heart-warming result. My mum even told me that she heard somebody whistling one of my songs as he walked back to his car after only ever hearing that song the first time at the show!
Sadly, because my family moved away to different parts of the UK, the band closed and I decided to go solo, creating a new name for myself “Never Ending Fire.” The thought behind the name was that each of us has inner emotions that resonate with the music we hear throughout life. And they can either quietly burn like a candle flame or are ignited when we hear a song that means something to us. It never goes out, it is just waiting for that moment. Our Never Ending Fire.
When did you start performing live in Second Life, and what venues can people visit to hear you play?
I think the Covid pandemic changed a lot of things for a lot of people around the world. Being restricted from traveling meant that a lot of people stayed at home and discovered new hobbies. For me, it gave me the opportunity to explore my music again and create some YouTube videos. I started getting some positive comments, which was encouraging, and then a discussion with a friend of mine in Second Life pushed me into performing live at the beginning of 2022.
After visiting a lot of live singers, I found that quite a few were using the same commercially available backing tracks which then made me start comparing one singer's voice to the next. In some instances, the backing tracks were so close to the original artist, that it made me compare that live singer to the original artists and that’s something I’ve never wanted to do personally. I’ve always been keen to perform my own music. It’s nice to hear original songs, so I’ve ensured that about 70% of the show I perform is original and the other 30% are covers. I like to compose my own backing tracks when I perform and play piano live too as it allows me to keep control of the quality of the music and sound for the listeners.
I currently perform regularly at Café Musique on Wednesdays, bi-weekly at Cornerstone and The Night Owl on Mondays, at Pantheon Temple on Tuesdays, and at Riptide7 on Wednesdays. I’m also going to perform weekly at my own place, NEF Live Music Venue on Thursdays, along with other singers.
Tell us more about the NEF Live Music Venue in Second Life.
When I first started performing, it was really hard to find places that would accept an “unknown” artist. A lot of venues had a reputation to maintain, or regulars they didn’t want to upset. I can understand this, but it made me realize how hard it would be to get that opportunity to start singing and build a fan base. Thankfully it was the likes of Café Musique and The Night Owl that gave me the chance to start getting heard.
Looking at the Destination Guide, it lists over 650 venues for music, but less than 60 for live musicians. I’ve always enjoyed building in Second Life and so having an opportunity to own some land and build a small place to perform and invite others to perform appealed to me. Apple and I partnered up and the idea of NEF Live was born. We wanted a place with additional features to encourage people to visit even if there were no artists, so we provided a games area, beach sitting areas with cozy places to chill, and a few shops too.
It wasn’t long until we were approached by another Manager, JR, who looks after the amazing singer Tay and he asked if we would be interested in expanding a little and allowing Tay to have her own purpose built venue in which she could also host performances, etc. This gave us the excuse we wanted to expand into a quarter region and create additional performing areas on the ground, while JR built a beautiful venue up in the sky for Tay and her followers to enjoy her performances.
Since then, we’ve been busy looking out for artists that have recently started singing in Second Life and need a place they can regularly perform and supporting them with additional artists that can bookend their performances so that listeners can hear their favourite singer and also get introduced to a new act at the same time. After all, if it wasn’t for my dad and sisters all playing different types of songs to me, I wouldn’t have grown up with such a rich interest in a variety of music!
You recently wrote and released a single, “Digital Love” which is about falling in love through Second Life. Can you tell us more about the story behind this song and where Residents can listen to it?
Back in 1993, I wrote a song called “Digital Love” but the words were very geeky and specific to the technology available at the time. I loved the idea of the song, but it started becoming a mental block on how to update it. So I decided to start from scratch, clearing the music and the lyrics and only keeping the title.
I was thinking about how Second Life allows so many people to connect and live a life they can’t always live in the physical world. It allows us to embrace people, dance with people, and fall in love with people. That inspired me to write a new song reflecting how we can fall in love and even meet our future partners from Second Life. Some people in Second Life suffer from an illness that impairs their ability to get out of their homes or live as others do. One person told me recently that Second Life “gives her a working body, a home to enjoy and a job she can do, which she cannot do in Real Life” which meant so much to me.
So in April 2022, I wrote the new version of “Digital Love”. I hope the lyrics resonate with most of the Residents of Second Life. I used a “Vocoder” sound in the chorus to give it that digital feel and have been receiving so many messages saying how they love the tune and how it sounds like an “anthem” of Second Life.
After performing it in Second Life a few times and getting such positive feedback, I decided to take a big step in signing up with a Music Distribution site to release “Digital Love” as my first publicly available song. You can download or stream it from most Music Sites, including iTunes, Spotify, Amazon music, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, etc. I’ve also created merchandise that features the two robots from the artwork of the song, which is also available through my website – neverendingfire.com.
Where can people follow you to know more about your next live shows and releases? Please share links to your sites, calendars, and social media accounts.
In Second Life you can visit NEF Live on the Blue Island region. When you arrive at NEF Live you’ll see a large calendar that shows events occurring at the venue as well as a smaller calendar showing a list of venues where I am performing at. You can also visit my little shop which has a subscriber and free gifts, as well as a bookcase containing notecards that have all the lyrics to my songs.
You can join the Never Ending Fire inworld group to follow my performances in Second Life.
You can also join the NEF Live venue inworld group, to get an update on what artists are performing and when.
Outside of Second Life you can still follow my music and find out where I’m performing. All this information is available on my website: neverendingfire.com
On the website are links to my music on my Soundcloud account, as well as a live calendar showing where I’m performing. There is also a tab for merchandise where you can get t-shirts or mugs with various Never Ending Fire designs.
I have a Linktree Account which has all of my links in it.
In conclusion, I would like to thank Linden Lab for providing such an amazing social platform. It’s allowed me and others the ability to connect with people all around the world from the comfort of their homes and share common interests. It’s a unique platform that continues to grow by the power of its users and allows people to showcase their creative abilities in all avenues.
I’d also like to thank those that have followed and enjoyed my music so far. It’s inspired me to continue sharing my songs for others to enjoy and even if just one song touches your heart and stirs your soul then I feel warmed to have been honoured to do that.
And lastly, to my fellow performers, whether new or established artists, I encourage you to continue following your dream and bringing your gift to the world. People that are at your venue have chosen to be there over everything else they could be doing with their time. Spending an hour or two listening to your music might connect with somebody that cannot physically get out of their home to a real live show. So make sure you enjoy your time with them and make it count. I look forward to seeing and meeting you inworld some time!
Thank you, Andee, for sharing so much of your talent and passion for music with the Second Life community!
Each of our Spotlight posts features a different Resident to showcase the spectrum of experiences and personalities found in our virtual world. If you have created something inworld that you’re proud of, or have had a deeply meaningful experience that could brighten someone else’s day, please sign up! More info here: https://second.life/spotlight-signup