Hong Kong-based singer-songwriter-producer cehryl has a voice as dulce and mellifluous as the songs she produces and writes to. Stories that explore the complexity of human emotion fill her dreamy, genre-fusing tracks, where her lyrical flair and classical training are on full display. From the strings she rips to the production, recording, and mixing, cehryl orchestrates every part of her songs. “I realized people don’t expect women to be producers and I hated that,” she admits, touching on her experience as an undergrad at Berklee College of Music, and the years that followed in Los Angeles where she worked in studios as an engineer whilst cultivating her own artistry.
In high school, she moved to Cheltenham in the U.K. from Hong Kong, where she began writing her own songs, drawing inspiration from a blend of R&B, punk, and indie pop-folk. Since her first release in 2016, the intoxicating, emotive vignette "Delusions," cehryl released a slew of singles and projects leading up to 2019’s acclaimed "Slow Motion." She credits her close community of friends and fellow artists like Soft Glas, Maddie Jay, Alex Szotak, Zack Villere, Mulherin, and Gitai and their eclectic music tastes as foundational to her own, ever-evolving sonic palette. cehryl’s new music is a natural extension of her wide-ranging compass, from jazz to electronic, folk, and pop. The aptly titled time machine is a sweet, and timeless dreamworld that finds cehryl unearthing and rebirthing her musical foundations to conjure her truest voice.
WHAT OR WHO INSPIRED YOU TO GET INTO MUSIC?
Music's inspired me to get into music. There was never a particular episode in my life or person that has launched me into the desire to make music. The internet (songwriters on YouTube back in 2007) pushed me to write my own songs, but I have always felt a singular, private, pure need or dependency on it even before then — sometimes I feel like I need it even more than I enjoy it. Music's helped me out of depression a few times; it's the one thing that has never let me down, and. never will. Making music sometimes feels like I'm paying my debts a little, or rather my gratitude.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE OF MUSIC AND PERFORMANCE? HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PHILOSOPHY AND STYLE AS AN ARTIST?
I'd describe my music as personal/reflective (Spotify would tag my music as "indie"/singer-songwriter (fair enough)/alternative R&B, all labels I'm cool with). I would describe my performance style as...awkward, but intimate and emotionally vulnerable. As an artist, I think I'm self-assured and honest with what I express through my art, regardless of art form. My philosophy as an artist is that artistry is not about the quantity or marketability of your work, but more about how you see the world every day. How you receive, process, and transform your emotional experiences into something beautiful. Being an artist is a way of life, a way of living.
WHAT DRIVES YOU TO CREATE, AND HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS FOR YOURSELF IN MUSIC?
My life drives me to create; I use music as a way of documenting my life. Sometimes my life drives me to not create, to pause productivity for the sake of being fully present. Creating art to me is either a discipline or a response to my life. It is mostly the latter. Most days, I am not disciplined and blame "lack of inspiration." There is no such thing.
My personal definition of success is a scenario where I am making songs/films/art that I am proud of (even if I outgrow that pride two years later), regardless of outcome/numbers/audience validation. I'm experimenting with my art, expanding what I know, and working with people I love and am inspired by. Obviously, in the ideal picture of success, I'm living comfortably paying my bills, having a lot of time and resources to keep doing what I love, and taking in freelance gigs that challenge me.
THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER, WHO HAS HELPED YOU THE MOST WITH DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT?
My managers Jeremy Grinberg and Alex Remes have helped me a ton when I was still out in Los Angeles; they helped me with my album release in 2019, helped me with deals and contracts afterward. They really gave me support when I needed it the most, especially when I was going through a really stressful visa situation.
In terms of development, my artist friends are probably the only people I trust, as those friendships feel like safe spaces to challenge, motivate and critique each other's work with the pure intention of wanting each other to be their best selves.
SOMETIMES BEING IN THIS BUSINESS CAN BE OVERWHELMING. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR MAINTAINING PERSPECTIVE AND NOT SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF?
Sometimes I don't want to be in the business at all. What I always tell myself though is that if the music business/music industry evaporated, I would still be making the same music, and that, even when I'm old and have a family one day and don't care about being on the cover of a Spotify playlist, I'll still be living my life as an artist. I try to remind myself of what I want regardless of what others expect from me, what I want regardless of what social media convinces me I should be.
HOW DO YOU THINK THE MUSIC INDUSTRY CAN DEVELOP INTO A MORE EQUITABLE AND INCLUSIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR WOMEN MUSIC CREATORS?
Hire more women producers, women engineers, women session players for a start. Put more women in positions of power/decision-making. Hold people accountable for their actions (e.g. producers that have done some weird shit towards women), create physical spaces and online communities that are truly safe for women. Hire more women working in music journalism too.
How stories/narratives are told is important, even if music reviews are not. So much of being an artist is presenting yourself, allowing yourself to be looked at. By who? I've had instances where I've doubted how I present myself online. As women, how can we detangle ourselves from our internalized male gaze? Everything I've mentioned applies outside of the music industry too.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR YOUNG WOMEN MUSICIANS JUST STARTING THEIR CAREERS, BASED ON WHAT YOU’VE EXPERIENCED?
Just focus on what you want for yourself.
FROM YOUR VIEW, WHAT OTHER KINDS OF MARGINALIZATION AND ERASURE DOES THE MUSIC INDUSTRY NEED TO ENSURE WE DON’T ENACT IN THE NAME OF GENDER EQUALITY?
As an Asian woman, I notice tokenization, sometimes self-tokenization, everywhere. Disguising itself as "representation." Sometimes, when I'm interviewed about the relationship of my music to my cultural identity (I'm from Hong Kong, born and raised), I feel tokenized, or that my cultural identity has somehow become the"quirk"; why people should listen to my music. But I know representation matters and does make a difference in the long run, etc. It's all very confusing, honestly, I don't have solutions or analyses on what is the right thing to do.
WOMEN ARE BECOMING MORE EMPOWERED, NOT ONLY IN KNOWING THEIR VALUE BUT ALSO IN SETTING BOUNDARIES, GOING AFTER WHAT THEY WANT AND DESERVE, AND LIFTING UP OTHER WOMEN IN THE PROCESS. WHAT MOTTO, AFFIRMATION, OR QUOTE EMPOWERS YOU?
I empower myself by reminding myself nothing matters, haha. Nothing aka external validation / society-approved "success" that all functions under the logic of patriarchal capitalism, blah blah blah. It doesn't matter! Just be honest with how you feel and fall in love and live your life and respect yourself.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE COMING UP IN 2022?
I've been working on some music (don't want to promise anything yet) and short video works.
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