Interview: Being in Hong Kong inspires me creatively, says singer-songwriter-producer Cehryl
Multi-talented singer-songwriter-producer Cehryl is set to appear with a full band at Clockenflap’s one-day mini-festival in the heart of the city this Saturday. The Hong Kong-born singer holds a unique place in the local music scene with her dreamy, thoughtful and genre-appropriate rhythms. The 25-year-old returned home in 2019 after studying music and performing in the United States. Following the recent release of his album Time Machine, HKFP catches Cehryl on performance in the age of Covid, and whether Hong Kong is still a welcoming place for young creatives.
Your tours were cut short due to Covid – how does it feel to play again? Do you find that audiences want to finally see live music even more?
It’s like… the smiley emoji with a tear. I have an incredible chance to play again, especially alongside artists from Hong Kong who I really admire. I prefer to play festivals to solos; there is less attention. I started playing again in June and definitely noticed a renewed passion for live music. The support for local acts is particularly strong (and I love it).
Tell us about the full band you will have on Saturday and how does that differ from your more intimate concerts?
This Saturday’s performance will mark the first time that I will play in a full group in Hong Kong. I had a band in Los Angeles with some of my closest and talented friends Eric Derwallis and Alex Szotak. This Saturday I will be playing with Akira Mimasu and Matt Lui from the neo-soul group RIDDEM, also very talented and close friends. The full band setup will definitely add a bit… oomf to my otherwise smooth live performance. Excited to play more gigs as a band!
Your Clockenflap profile describes your music as jazz, R&B, folk and pop. The genre of your tracks is certainly hard to pin down – how would you describe it and what genre of music inspired your sound the most?
I agree that I am very influenced by these four genres. On the four walls of every room I’ve stayed in, I’ve pasted pictures of Chet Baker, Amy Winehouse, Bill Evans, Frank Ocean, Stevie Wonder, Adrienne Lenker, Nina Simone, Nick Drake, Beach House, The Velvet Underground . I have tried to emulate, in one way or another, all the artists that I have loved at some point in my life. I wouldn’t know how to describe my own music because I think I have songs that sound more folk and songs that sound more R&B; I think most music these days is hard to describe conclusively, but since that gives the wrong answer, I’ll casually say indie pop / R&B for now.
You are a singer, songwriter, your own producer, and you studied music production in Boston. How do you do all of this and which of these roles brings the most joy?
I’m a control freak, so being able to do it all (not very well, but enough to have a final audio file) brings joy. I listened to a lot of singer-songwriters growing up, so the two roles are inseparable for me. Arrangement and production take place in another part of my brain, but they are so closely linked to songwriting that they are inseparable for me as well.
I would like to broaden that mindset though; I want to learn and collaborate with other people. I’m not obsessed with being some sort of handyman all the time; it just happens to be in my personality to try to figure things out on my own.
In terms of creativity and audience, how does Hong Kong compare to your stay in the United States? Where do you hope to end up?
Culturally, in terms of the role of music and art in society, Hong Kong is very different from the United States. This is very clear from the way artists present themselves and their lifestyles. When I was in LA, I was constantly surrounded by artists, so that definitely motivated me to keep working on my art. I’m definitely a little less motivated here in terms of discipline and productivity, but I also feel more creatively free as the music scene isn’t as saturated / crowded as it is there. I feel less pressure to present myself in a certain way on the Internet, for example. I don’t know where I hope to end up though. I have a love / hate relationship with every place.
Artistic freedom and expression in Hong Kong is currently undergoing a hammering. Are you concerned with your creative space or the industry as a whole?
I asked myself: am I exempt if my art does not contain an explicit political commentary? Can individual artistic freedom exist if collective freedom of expression does not exist? Lately I’ve been struggling to find the line between the personal and the political.
Your Instagram b-roll photo (@ cehryl404) offers almost voyeuristic, sometimes humorous or sad slices of street life in Hong Kong. Is this a place where you find inspiration for your music?
Being in Hong Kong definitely inspires me creatively. I’m not sure how my songwriting relates to the photos I take… Sometimes I see photography as an opportunity for me to take time out of the music. As we all know, doing something you love 24/7 can kill fire. I don’t see a direct link, but I’m sure my interests in film, photography, and music all come from one place.
Are there other areas or formats that fuel your writing?
I’d love to say I’m an avid reader, but in all fairness I’m more of a book collector. Reading and watching movies feeds my writing and broadens the way I experience / feel the world / my world.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Lots of broadcast, lots of Nick Drake. Phillip Glass too and Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Apart from the chain of concerts this summer, what’s next for you?
I just finished the soundtrack for Hong Kong illustrator / painter Kazy Chan’s exhibition. Currently, I am working on two documentaries as a sound designer / mixer and screenwriter.
Really excited and happy to be working on films! This is the path I want to take next.
This Saturday “It has been a long time“concert – one”Clockenflap presents”Event – celebrates the return of live music performances to the city. Held at MacPherson Stadium in Mong Kok, the showcase will feature live performances from 11 local bands and artists, including hip-hop artists YellowPeril, indie rockers Charming Way, R&B group Fds / 4eva, as well as Cehryl.
- Dated: 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. on September 18.
- Tickets: Purchased in line, costs HK $ 480. Members of the public will be able to enter and exit the show and have food and drinks around Mong Kok.