Charlie Lim, Influenced by Jeff Buckley and Damien Rice, Has Had Enough with Bedroom Production
The Singaporean singer-songwriter is heading to Hong Kong with his band The Mothership.
How did you get into playing music and songwriting? I started piano when I was four years old—my mom gave me piano lessons—and I’ve been playing music ever since. I started learning how to improvise, playing by ear. Then I started to form bands and to write songs when I was 16.
Your latest EP, “Time/Space,” shifts from ragtime and big band through to indie folk and even electro and dance. What got you into all these genres? I really like Jeff Buckley and Damien Rice: Those were my influences growing up. I really like R‘n’B and neo-soul too. I also really like more alternative music like St. Vincent and James Blake—those guys got me interested in production, and I thought I’d experiment. I was struggling really hard with trying to find my own sound, and on this EP I could go singer-songwriter on one side, and on the other just mess around on the computer. By having that structure, paradoxically, you get to do more things.
Do you find it hard to stay unique amongst all your influences? These days, music is getting more homogenized, so it’s hard to break away regardless. Everyone is moving towards the whole “bedroom production” thing. You try very hard to stand out but if you try too hard for the sake of doing so, you end up making pretty terrible music. It’s a weird process: You have to internalize everything that has influenced you, and you need to go into your own cave and try to make sense of it. If it does sound like someone else, but you arrange it or combine it with a different idea… I have no issue with that. I’m very proud to say I’m very good at stealing ideas and combining them with others. That’s what I think all good art should be.
What would you say your music is about? My first EP, a lot of that was about infatuation. The second, “Time/Space,” is a lot more cynical. I’d like to think that it’s more grown up, and more realistic. With the first track, “Blah Blah Blues,” the idea was to poke fun at this victimization—essentially it’s a satire of how I like to feel sorry for myself. A lot of the tunes are about finding your own voice, trying to make sense of the world. People can interpret it as a romantic relationship, but to me, a lot of it is my relationship with music and trying to make sense of doing music as a career.
What can we expect from the show in Hong Kong? We have some songs from the old EP, but the whole live show experience is going to be quite different because I have The Mothership with me: It’s a seven piece band. We’re probably not making any money from this because I’ve decided to bring the whole band over! The arrangements of the songs will be the highlight of the show; the sound is quite full. We’ve been covering one of Radiohead’s songs from the “In Rainbows” album, so that’s pretty intense!
We heard that you’ve been working with Hong Kong star Khalil Fong: What’s the deal with that? He’s a really cool guy, he invited me to stay at his place for a few days. We got to record some things, and had a few song ideas. I get the comparison to him a lot, because we kinda look alike, with the glasses, the skinny frame, the snide jokes on stage. And we both like similar styles of music. To me, that’s a compliment and I’m cool with that. I hope to work more with him and confuse more audiences.