Photo: Jonny Ho
"I had never thought of becoming a singer because I'm extremely shy." This probably explains the introverted, emotional catapult of time machine, cehryl's EP released earlier this year, which sounded like she was intoning pages from her late-night iPhone notes on her bedroom floor not noticing someone (us) was listening.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, cehryl has been writing and composing music for as long as she can remember. In 2014, she decided to move to Boston to study Music Production and Engineering. Since then, cehryl worked part time as a music engineer while releasing her own music on SoundCloud. After completing her study at Berklee, she spent two years in LA nourishing her musical profile before moving back to Hong Kong in 2019, due to the complications brought about by the global pandemic.
We chatted with cehryl about her life back in Hong Kong, favorite Wong Kar-Wai movie, her feature on boylife's "Hoon," and her obsession with selling her random belongings online.
It's been two years and a pandemic since you moved back to Hong Kong. How's life?
cehryl: When I realised I had to come back [to Hong Kong] and pack my life and leave all my friends and everything that I've known in the past five years, I had a difficult time accepting it and adjusting to it. I think I assimilated easily when I first moved to the US, so when I got back I had a lot of uncomfortable and confusing questions about my identity I had to confront. But two years have now passed by, and I think being back was and is actually healthy for me. It allowed me to reconnect with my family and my culture (as corny as it sounds). It reminded me of who I am and what raised me.
What's the experience of being a musician in HK been like for you?
At first, I thought I wouldn't be able to continue my music career here because I had the impression of the music industry here being so dire and repetitive (in the mainstream). But in the past year, I’ve discovered and met more and more new people that inspire me, I realized the independent music scene is actually amazing and there are a lot of young artists doing bold and interesting things. The music scene here is a lot less saturated compared to LA, at least in the indie/underground world, and everyone has a full-time or part-time job, so the people who are still making time to do music here are truly passionate about it, and not doing it for their ego. It somehow makes it easier to connect and collaborate with like-minded individuals.
Speaking of collaboration, can you tell us about your feature on boylife's "hoon?"
Ryan [boylife] is a really good friend of mine. When I was still in LA, I would always go over to his studio and we would just spend hours and hours writing and reading books for references. It’s always been an amazing creative process. We both have a lot of songs lying around that we would just send to each other back and forth to try stuff over; "hoon" was one of them and it finally came out this year. Ryan is extremely passionate and prolific, and so thoughtful about his art.
I want to talk about my favorite song, "philadelphia" off your last project, time machine. "And we're moving away/ disintegrating as we both grow/ And nothing will change anything once we hang up the phone." Why is it so sad?!
It's funny because people thought I must have lived in Philadelphia when they heard that song, but I've only been there twice. "philadelphia" is not just a love song, to me it's also an oath to the past. I used Philadelphia as a blanket term to cover all the things that I was once close to but not as close anymore. It covers everything like friendships as well, it's just a word for me to cover all the nostalgic feelings. It's an overloaded word that summarizes the things I've lost.
Since going through a major change geographically following your last project, have you discovered any new ways to find inspiration?
Walking around the city is a big part of how I get inspiration. There're so many things happening all the time in the streets of Hong Kong, even when I'm just walking around. It’s kinda like the feeling when you're in the shower and you're not aware of what you're doing but your brain is very stimulated. When I walk around the streets that's how I feel. It's the random moments that you see and make you feel emotional, and then I write down notes on my iPhone that could one day turn into lyrics or something. I also read a lot and watch a lot of films.
Heard that you're a big Wong Kar-Wai fan, what's your favorite film of his?
Oh yeah! How could you not be? I think it might be Happy Together. I think it's the darkest one, it's so emotional it wrecks you.
What are you working on? Any upcoming projects we can look forward to
In the past four or five months, I've been working on scoring a few documentaries, and it is refreshing. At times, songwriting can be a little narcissistic, it's weird to be like "listen to me talk about how sad I am" all the time. Scoring a film definitely helps get out of that for a bit. It is challenging designing sounds that match the mood of the film, but I enjoy the creative processing of it and it's exciting to me. I should get back to writing songs again soon though.
It doesn't have to be music-related, but what excites you the most nowadays?
So there's this app in Hong Kong called "Carousell." It's just an app that lets you sell shit. I'm excited because it's just a quick way to make some extra cash lol. I sell a lot of random stuff there, like unused coffee gear I once bought on a whim, old perfumes that I don't use, books, camera gear… anything I don't need that I think someone might buy lol! I'm really impulsive and buy a lot of things I don't need and can't really afford to buy casually… so Carousell is how I try to right my wrongs. (Probably need a therapist).