Comparing two artists like Inch and Linying would be fruitless, and rightfully so.
Inch, a long-time musician active in the Singaporean indie scene, first started with her band Allura before coming out on her own, ultimately garnering herself an audience locally and overseas. Her latest record Letters to Ubin was her love letter to the island, spending time there soaking in the uninhibited terrain to produce new music.
Linying, on the other hand, already began performing her own compositions, and it was notably her collaborations with producers that have gotten her voice outside of Singapore and onto international stages, the latest being Coachella, while also scoring a spot on a global Spotify chart with her solo effort 'Sticky Leaves'.
While her own work differs greatly from her club-ready collaborative tracks, one consistent element of her music has been her unyielding intimacy, and that is something Inch also offers immensely with her own work.
But each of them has carved out their own path, and with Inch being the veteran out of the two, we got both of them to sit down and ask each other questions about their first live performance, evaluating the life of an artist, international success, Coachella, and more.
This post is presented by DBS Marina Regatta
Linying: So it’s already been a while since you last stayed in Pulau Ubin for the EP (Letters to Ubin). What’s one thing that you wouldn’t miss about the place?
LY: Were there a lot there?
I: Yeah, of course! There's a lot more stagnant water there. I lived next to a cemetery so...
LY: Did you see anything there? Anything weird?
I: No man, the only scary thing at night is knocking sounds on the door. And I'll be creeped out because I'll be like "What the hell is that?" My mind wouldn’t think about ghosts as it would about a possible rapist *laughs*. But when you do look outside, it's actually just a wild boar with really big hooves, which is a relief in comparison. The only other scary incident I've had there was when I went walking around one night.
LY: That's so scary!
I: I love it! In the middle of the night, all you see is the moonlight, which illuminates everything around you. So one night, when I was taking a stroll, I suddenly heard rustling and I saw a shadow of a person in the bush, just crouching. I got a shock and then I realized it's just one uncle from Geylang waiting for durian to drop in the middle of the night, so they could collect it and sell it.
LY: Do people really do that?
I: Yeah, now it's a good time because it's durian season, and apparently they only drop at night.
LY: They drop only at night? I didn't know this, what's the science behind this? (ED: Apparently, it is true)
I: Well, they'll drop when they have enough gravity going against them but they usually drop at night, there's a science to it — like they just don't drop in the day, it's something to do with the release of carbon dioxide at night. It took a while to get used to stumbling upon people like this uncle, you'll have to keep remembering they camp there during this specific season.
LY: That's damn cute!
I: These are really the scariest things lah, all the supernatural stuff, whatever it is, it doesn't ever really bother me at all.
LY: Any freaky-looking lizards or something like that?
I: It's quite normal for like snakes or scorpions to come into my house. I've been bitten by spiders and that sucks because I have a very bad reaction to it, but I think the venom's in my body already, so the next few times I got bitten it doesn't really affect me anymore. My leg has completely swelled up to twice the size of my calf, it bit me right here and you can see like one little dot there.
LY: That's so scary!
I: Subsequently, other spider bites have swelled up a little bit but they only get itchy. This one's a spider bite, like you can see the two fangs there. This was just last week! It's very mild compared to earlier bites really, so I think it has been integrated in my blood already, so it's fine.
LY: That's a good thing to have.
I: Yeah, I have spider DNA in me *laughs*.
LY: What’s your earliest memory of performing in public? How did that feel?
I: My very first show, like the first one I ever did when I had zero performing experience, was in an old bookshop in little india that doesn't exist anymore.
L: Wow, how old were you then?
I: I was probably 17. Well, the rest of the gigs I played at that time were with my old band Allura, but I've never felt scared playing with a band.
LY: Because you have people with you onstage?
I: Yeah and you know that if you suck, it's not just you. But you don't share the burden of sucking if you perform alone *laughs*. It was a tiny bookshop and literally all the people there were my then-boyfriend, the bookshop owners, and me. But then there were more people that strolled in eventually, some people even stayed by the end. It was kind of cool actually.
LY: Do you remember messing up at that gig?
I: Either I did and I blocked it out of my memory, or I didn't *laughs*. But I remember it being cool because I bought my typewriter there. I was paid for the gig, like $50, and I used it to buy a typewriter there. So it was great, the guy pretty much paid me with a typewriter, and that happened to be the exact typewriter I brought with me to Ubin. it all comes full circle at the end of the day.
LY: Wow! So since then, what has helped you with stage confidence when playing alone?
I: Well those dissenting voices in my head are still there. I think I've learned to be always tortured by my own thoughts, so I'm used to it by now.
LY: Yeah, since you can't get rid of them, you might as well just embrace it.
I: Exactly, just learning to convert it into energy for the stage really helps. But it depends on the set you're doing right? if you're doing a high-energy set, it really helps.
LY: Can you really convert stage fright into energy for that?
I: Yes you can! It's kinesthetic energy, and then you'll just exert verbal and motion diarrhea after that *laughs*. But if it's more of a solemn, intimate performance it gets harder, because the focus isn't so much on converting it into energy, but to just simply believe in the song.
LY: To bring yourself back to the song?
I: Yeah, and it helps anchor you into the centre of the performance a little bit better, but above all really, this is an art in itself that I have yet to fully master.
LY: You mean performing?
I: Um, this one thing that I'm going to talk about, which is not giving a shit. Like it's an art form in itself, like learning to not give a shit — it's really hard.
LY: Do you mean this like within the context of performing live or in a broader, more universal meaning?
I: Broader, in general. Like you know, just not giving a shit. When you care too much about every little thing, or you forget why you're performing, we all lose sight on why we're doing this in the first place.
LY: But in a way, is it also about giving a shit about the right things? In that, the things that we give too much of a shit about can be the wrong things? That it would subtract the need from the things that are worth giving a shit about.
I: Yeah, that's true. But what about you?
LY: Stage confidence? I don't know, I just try to tune myself out. I'm generally quite good at forgetting things, like I'm not a very observant person. I've managed to play it to my strengths *laughs*. Because people would have to keep reminding me about stuff they've told me before, and I still wouldn't remember. So when it comes to performing, it has actually worked in my favour when I'm sad about something that went wrong. It's been easy to tune things out when it's necessary.
I: Wow, that's a superpower I wish I had.
LY: Yeah, I've been lucky. It has also cost me in other ways. I can never forget the first time I ever performed. I remember my legs were shaking — that feeling of quivering on stage. I was in Sec 1, standing up and performing for CHIJ Superstar. *laughs* It must've looked bad, but the thing that got myself through was to put myself in "Aretha Franklin mode", because I was singing an Aretha Franklin song and inside I was like GURLLLLL
I: *laughs* Channelling your inner big momma black lady?
LY: Yes! *laughs* that was when the fear went away, so it became another trick when the tuning out doesn't work.
I: Just channel Aretha?
LY: Yeah, except that I don't sing Aretha nowadays, so I just try to remember how shit-faced and sad I was when I wrote the song I would perform, and then I'll be good. When I'm sad, I guess I channel in my inner Billie Holiday *laughs*
I: I like how your spirit animals are dead women.
LY: Well, I have a thing for dead people *laughs* I'm a history major, so dead people are my jam. I have a crush on Napoleon Bonaparte.
I: Nice, I learnt something new today!
LY: So what was one show that you feel has defined your career so far? Excluding launch shows, which I wasn't there for because I was in Paris, I'm sorry!
I: It's ok, Paris sounds way more interesting.
LY: I don't know about that, I was there during the Bataclan incident and everything, it was like 2km from my house. How was the show though?
I: Oh, my launch show was great. I was very happy. I think it's the best show I've done.
LY: That's a really good feeling to be having!
I: Definitely! But I generally wouldn't let a show define me, you know what I mean? I wouldn't let that happen because the moment when I say a show defines me, I'd feel there's something wrong with that. Like should my self worth really dependent on that? It would be different lah.
LY: Well, at least you had a good launch show. I think it will be a really shit feeling if your launch show went badly.
I: Yeah, it would suck!
LY: When interviewers have asked you what's next for you as an artist, what is something you have always wanted to say but haven't? I know there's a reason why you don't say it.
I: Well I usually think it, but I don't want to say it out loud. Right now, I'm 27 and pushing 28. All my life I've always been way career driven I guess, so I think I'm now at the stage where I think about spending less time with work and more time with my social life. It's because I realised my life has been about music, and all my friends are music friends, and while I do have friends outside of it, I don't really have a real life.
LY: That got really dark really fast.
I: So like what's next is to find a life — to get a life, essentially. I like this. *laughs*
LY: Really? You feel like your social life has been compromised with music? I often feel like it's the opposite.
I: I mean everyone is my friend, I love friends. But I go back home and I realise I'm alone and I would die alone.
LY: I think without music, I would have never left my house.
I: Which is the case. I mean, I dedicate a lot of it to my music, and to the people and the community. They are all very valuable to me, but then when I really think about it, when you go back home and I've poured so much into other things that music is really the only thing I get to call my own. That's the only thing.
...I don't wish to be pigeon-holed, and I won't allow it."
LY: What's next for you as an artist? Not to be one then? *laughs*
I: Pretty much, that has been in my brain for awhile.
LY: That's the next 5 years for me.
I: No no no, I mean everyone has their own path, so depends on how you see it and stuff.
LY: A lot of shit happens within your 20s. Does the gap get smaller the older you go?
I: Exactly. I think, now in 2016, it's so different from growing up in your 20s then and now. You hear how everyone else is handling, putting your artistry and fitting other things that are more important in their lives. I guess it's kind of cool I've been able to prioritise music for a very long time, that's all.
LY: And you're re-evaluating it right now?
I: Yeah, I'm re-evaluating it now at 27.
LY: Being an artist isn't all of who you are.
I: Exactly! I mean we live in such a weird society where our job really defines us, and everyone is like "Oh so you're an artist, so you do artsy things!"
LY: Yeah, as if to us, anything that isn't artsy is incongruent and confusing.
I: Totally, people get surprised when they find out I do music and also run operations at Invasion Singapore. It's just one of those things, I don't wish to be pigeon-holed and I won't allow it.
I: Ok, so I'm guilty of this but I'll ask you anyway. How many people are still congratulating you for making it onto the Spotify viral chart?
LY: *laughs* Should I count? I mean yeah, that's what people say who are "music" people. Which is nice I guess, to always have some affirmation.
I: Are your songs still on the charts?
LY: No they're not. Not anymore.
I: But that's the thing. Because I know how it is when these little factoids come out about you as an artist and it's in your bio now, and whenever someone, like when some emcee announces you, they always bring it up. Has it gotten old yet?
LY: Well, I mean everyone is just doing their job. No one can really introduce me with a very accurate definition of who I am anyway, so you've gotta let them say what they want to say. And it's not untrue so why not, right?
I: How many of these people do you think probably didn't even listen to the track?
LY: Oh yeah, lots probably. But it's fine. At least there's something for them to say. People need something to latch onto for them to get interested, or for them to think that you're serious or legit. Otherwise it'll end up being "she is a singer-songwriter who writes songs in her bedroom," nobody's going to introduce me like that.
I: (in a fake overzealous emcee's voice) BUT SHE IS ON THE VIRAL CHART ON SPOTIFY!
LY: *laughs* yeah well.
...part of being an artist is how people react to it, and people's relationship with the music. It's not just self expression for me, where I can just pour everything out and lock it in my room and not have anyone listen to it."
I: No no, but it's good, it's just a thing people do so others will listen too. But how did you feel though? Waking up one morning and seeing that the whole world was kinda listening to your song?
LY: I didn't think it was that big kind of a deal at first. It was just one of those things that when it first happens you think "oh that's nice, that's cool." And then people start reacting to it. Then you're like "oh, ok this is a big deal." I mean when you think about it, there are 50 songs on the charts everyday, so that means there are 50 different people on the charts everyday. So actually it isn't that big of a deal.
I: Yeah but how many of them do I know who live in my country? And I can actually have your number on my phone?
LY: Yeah I guess that's true. Its just a numbers thing I guess because Singapore is so small.
I: No its a huge deal! You were charting not only in Singapore, but also globally!
LY: Yeah that was fun. And it's a nice thing to say when you're trying to get people to take you seriously. The song has been out for awhile, and I just released it as people do. It just kind of makes a difference because people pay more attention to you and people who originally might not have clicked on the song or anything like that, they do! And I guess it's just an extra avenue.
I: Ok so, here's a question. I know how you feel, although it's not as great a scale as you, but many years ago it happened to me on hype machine. I got into the top 3 of the hype machine charts and that was how South By Southwest caught wind of me.
So, for me the benefits of that happening saw a lot of tangible connections coming out of it. In your case, with the track being number 1, has that really affected you? Has it changed your life or any of that stuff? Because people always talk about this, and they work towards something like this as if it's going to change their lives as an artist. Has it actively made a dent?
LY: I mean it changes your life, but it doesn't change you. It changes your life in the sense that it changes the decisions you make. It affected whether or not I would have left university to be an academic, or a musician. Because no matter how honest or truthful you think your songs are, at least for me as an artist, the goal is to still have my work heard.
And a part of being an artist is how people react to it, and people's relationship with the music. It's not just self expression for me, where I can just pour everything out and lock it in my room and not have anyone listen to it. I need that affecting quality that I have gotten from listening to other people's music as well. So i think when these things happen, it's just one step forward I guess. To know that there are people who react well to your songs. And maybe it'll be nice to craft and pass the time doing something like that.
I: Cool. So humble!
LY: Ahhh, I'm just passing the time right! Because I'm going to die, I'm just waiting for death.
I: The historian talks... just join the rest of the loves of your life right? *laughs* How about Coachella? Did you lose your shit?
LY: I think it actually happens quite often, but you don't really know it. For me, it's quite a unique case. The two people that I worked with, they were just starting out. We were all just like "eh I'll feature you on my song" that kind of thing... just try something new.
But they got really, really big in the last year or so. Both of them blew up. So I guess it must have been happening because logically, they've been playing all these huge festivals, but it didn't really sink in until I saw a video. Just looking at the sheer size of the crowd, it was scary because I just recorded this in my bedroom with my bedroom mic! I shouldn't have done that. And now there's so many people... they probably aren't actually listening to it.
I: How's your EP coming along?
LY: Oh. Why is everyone asking me that? It's coming along. *laughs*
I: Ok well, EP is doing really well I can answer on your behalf. I think a lot of people are listening to it. A lot of people are coming for your shows so that's a good thing.
LY: I don't know, I only have two songs out.
I: I think the real question is what do you feel would be a good indicator that your EP is going well?
LY: Oh, that's a good one!
I: Like what out of all these experiences would make you feel that you're satisfied with this release? I mean you'll never be truly happy all the time. But what will let you let go?
LY: Probably when people make new things out of the music. It could be in the form of words, some people just write to me and tell me their personal take on the song. People's reaction to the music is really important to me. Yeah, so that is the most heartening thing. I just really love it when people email me and write me essays on how a particular song I played was something to them. That's the coolest thing. Then there are people who draw stuff to the music, that's really cool too. That kind of thing, when it spurs more reaction, especially a personal one. What about you?
I: I think it's the same thing as you, exactly the same. When someone takes the time, or just that extra added thing, like they went a little bit out of their way to at least give you some kind of affirmation because it was that important to them. Like you know they wouldn't do this for the sake of it and you know they're doing this because they genuinely want to.
LY: And its not like they're being forced into a conversation with you and then made to say it.
I: And it's nice because it's the one tangible way you can know, ok this person likes it. Not somebody just throwing a thought. Words are so flippant these days, so I think that's a good indicator.
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