By Jocelle Koh
From the first moment singer-songwriter Cehryl’s tunes met our ears, we were in love. An eclectic but ever-soothing mix of R&B beats, folksy guitars and breathy, otherworldly harmonies, it is clear almost immediately that this dreamy artist has her own unique way of bringing her stories and experiences to life.
Based in Hong Kong but having spent time in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Cheltenham during her formative and adult years, the artist and producer’s influences are as eclectic as her upbringing. Bringing together the worlds of Jazz, Electronic music, Folk music and Pop on her EP Time Machine, the latest record evokes a dreamier, more lucid side to the introverted artist as a reflection of her journey from LA back to Hong Kong.
“My EPs/albums are a documentation of a phase or an era of my life. Time Machine spans the final months of my life in LA and moving back in Hong Kong. It’s about uncertainty, fear, hope, loss, time passing.”
A sense of nostalgia and longing is particularly evident in the EP’s lightly melancholy first single ‘Philadelphia’, which just so happens to be the artist’s favourite track.
“With some songs that I write, I move on from the emotions I have when I’ve written the song. But for Philadelphia I feel the nostalgia of every line even one year or two years after I’ve written it. I think I’ll miss that period of my life forever with no change of intensity.”
Even in her recollections of the stories behind her music, it is clear that Cehryl has a flair for emotive lyricism which has become a hallmark of her sound. When asked what she hopes most to express through her lyrics, she simply said:
“Different for every song. I just hope for it to be personal and honest to my experience.”
Growing up, Cehryl shares that it was never her aim to become an artist. In fact, it was something that happened by accident over time.
“I’m a shy person so growing up I never wanted to be a singer. It was too much attention for me. I “became a singer by accident” by just writing a lot of songs and being too shy or lazy or too much of a control freak to make someone else sing my music. It only made sense to sing my own.”
But despite this, music has always been on her mind, leading her to pursue it full-time, both in front and behind the scenes.
“Making music is what I’ve wanted to do even when I was kid, although I imagined it differently. Movies, books, life, relationships, sadness, conflict, time passing, grief… anything that moves me inspires me to create.”
Studying at the Berklee College of Music and working in studios as an engineer in LA over the past few years, Cehryl has previously said that she feels there is still pushback on women being producers in the music industry. Clarifying her statement, the artist draws on personal experience to share about the harmful false assumptions people make about the capabilities of women in music.
“I don’t think that people don’t want women to be producers… but they expect less from women. My entire life has led me to that conclusion hahaha. People just expect less capability from women in general in all aspects of life honestly. When I was in music school it was assumed that most women around me were “just vocalists”. It’s the false idea of vanity/superficial beauty being inseparable/ essential to womanhood. I’m not explaining it right but if you’re a woman you would know.”
Armed with a quiet strength and determination to make a difference, the serene creative continues to make a difference both in her own works, and her attitude towards the industry. Having been influenced by a multitude of cultures and sounds, we were curious to know why Cehryl felt more of an affinity with writing in English than Mandarin or Cantonese. Of this, she explains:
“I’m better at English than I am at Cantonese. I used to write songs in Chinese when I was younger but it was harder for me, so I gradually stopped. It was never a conscious decision, though, picking English over Chinese. I was never drawn to it, and I never really felt like I was a part of the ‘Western pop music world’. Sometimes I regret it and feel resentment towards the English speaking world, because of how Hong Kong was colonized.”
A true global citizen, Cehryl’s musical influences at the moment range from Nina Simone to tomemitsu. She also credits her diverse musical taste to the cities she’s lived in and those around her.
“I’m not sure I can answer exhaustively how these cities have influenced my philosophy. There’s obviously the infinite conversation of my cultural identity but I won’t get into that. As for sound, these cities have just inspired me in terms of my musical taste — whatever is on the radio or what my friends listened to in those cities have affected my listening and consequently seeped into my music.
Time Machine is a folksy chapter of Cehryl’s life; one that allows her to travel back to a previous space which holds particular meaning for her. But for listeners, there’s some magic in this authentic singer-songwriter’s creations that suspends us in time; allowing us however many moments we require to take in the dreamy, diverse, soothing sounds of her creations.
While there is no doubt that she will continue to change her sound with future releases and a plethora of new influences, we’re glad to have had a chance to time travel with her on this beautiful EP.
Cehryl’s EP ‘Time Machine’ is out now on all streaming platforms. Listen here and follow Cehryl on Instagram for more dozy, dreamy exploits!