"Stay in school. Keep your day jobs," advised Inch Chua. Photo: Inch Chua's Facebook page
Getting out of the country has been a great lesson for Singaporean Inch Chua.
It has toughened up the 24-year-old singer-songwriter and made her realise that sometimes, you just have to fall back on your own resources when you think no one else is up to mark.
Or putting it another way, you sense she has stores of confidence in herself to take full control of her own career.
Based in Los Angeles for the past two years, Chua have been writing, recording and shooting videos, and she finally released her new album “Bumfuzzle” in August.
“I’m not going to complain,” Chua told inSing over a plate of chee cheong fun (steamed rice rolls) at Far East Plaza, as she recounted her journey.
She flies back to Singapore occasionally and this time, she is here to attend a wedding, catch up with family and friends, and to promote her album in a joint effort with Starbucks.
Her latest album was recorded at Snakeweed Studios in Singapore, mixed by Todd Bergman in LA, and mastered by the renowned Howie Weinberg, who has done work on albums by Metallica, Nirvana, Sinead O’Connor, Beastie Boys and The Killers.
‘Bumfuzzle’ was ready to be released by February 2013. However, it stayed in the vault and eventually saw light in August.
Chua said of the delay: “There was a lot of shopping around for labels, but unfortunately, we were not happy with any of the deals. It was interesting because after all that, I realised, ‘Do it yourself is still better’. So the album was self-released.”
The DIY approach also worked wonders for her awardwinning ‘Artful Dodger’ music video.
“The costumes were handmade by the costume designer and myself. We bought fluffy carpets and sewed it, and it recently won the Ibiza Music Video Festival for Best Costume!” Chua said.
“Most of the credit has to go to the director. I wanted a combination of eastern and western folklore. So the Asian folklore of ‘The Red Thread of Destiny’ is in the video and the American folklore is Big Foot. I wanted a video that shows how an obsession can really consume you. It’s a fun video, but it can get pretty deep.”
From March to May this year, the singer went on an album promotion in the US.
There is no denying this young singer has the courage and passion to see herself through this new phase of her career – hands on wheel, feet on pedal.
She said: “It’s the first ‘Bumfuzzle’ tour and I’m doing it alone. I am considering taking a drummer with me. The tour will take me all the way up to Seattle and back to LA, and end at SXSW in Austin, Texas.
“I’m going to drive by myself. I’m trying to learn a bit of car mechanics so I won’t get screwed if something happens to my car and I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere.”
This can-do attitude has been a gift of sorts, though it was not easy at first.
“Initially when I first got to LA, by the third day, I felt homesick. Practice makes perfect… You miss people, but you learn how to function with that kind of longing. When you lead a nomadic life, you’re ‘doomed’ to be always missing somebody. Now that I’m here, I’m missing a whole group of friends who have become like family back in LA. I foresee in the next five years, I will be questioning where home is,” Chua said.
Inch Chua. Photo: Patrick Chng
Chua was 16 when she fronted alternative rock band Auburn’s Epiphany, which evolved into Allura.
When her bandmates were drafted into national service, Chua went solo and hasn’t looked back since.
She said her time in LA has been “very educational”. For example, growing up in Singapore and Asia, Chua feels there is this “idea of fake modesty” which sometimes prevents people from telling others about what they have accomplished or are trying to achieve.
“Being in the States have taught me how to be comfortable in trying to tell people about what you do. There are, of course, tactful ways and off-putting ways of doing it, and you learn where to draw the line. There’s no shame in trying to tell people what you do.
“It’s so normal to be creative (in Los Angeles). It’s very nurturing in that sense. You don’t feel so much like an oddball compared to (when you are) here. Then again, it also comes with its challenges. Generally, everyone you meet moved there to do what they want to do. It’s a town full of people that gave up a lot to be where they are,” she said.
DON’T PEG SELF-WORTH TO WORK
However, the biggest lesson she has learnt is to “not peg your self-worth to the music that you do”.
“You see a lot of people achieving their dreams, but there are a lot more people who keep trying till they’re old and never achieve theirs. They get depressed because they peg their self-worth to what they do. It’s dangerous to do that. It’s not healthy.”
Back in Singapore, she has been invited to give one-off lectures and talks at schools and universities. And she finds this amusing since she does not have a degree.
So what’s the most common question that students ask?
After a thought, she said: “It’s probably, ‘What’s the one advice you would give to young and aspiring artistes who want to be just like you?’
"Stay in school! Keep your day jobs. I realised that my biggest regret is that I didn’t go to school to learn a trade skill, like animation or computer coding. It expands your vision. Don’t rush into doing music full-time. You will end up putting a lot of pressure on yourself.”
Chua will be launching her first book 'Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea' this July. A collaboration with a literary collective in Los Angeles, the book tells the story of her journey as an independent Singaporean musician finding success in the US.
A very limited number of the books will be available to her local fans at a book-signing event at BooksActually on Saturday, 21 June. The event will include a line-up of performances by Chua, alongside spoken word artists.
'Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea' book launch | Date: 21 June | Time: 8pm | Venue: Booksactually | Address: 9 Yong Siak St.