Regarded as one of Singapore’s finest musical exports, Charlie Lim has come a long way since the release of his début album in 2011. His relentless tour schedule that has seen him perform multiple tours across Asia, Australia, in front of 25,000 people for the SEA Games and most recently, in London as part of a carefully curated group showcasing the best of Singapore’s local music scene. It seems finally the world is beginning to take notice of what Singapore has been acutely aware of for years, Charlie Lim is something quite special.
His mellow and soulful grooves manage to straddle multiple genres in a scintillating mix of folk, soul, blues and jazz and his latest musical offering, double EP Time/Space is similarly difficult to pigeon hole. The album has two distinct sounds though, with Time dedicated to more conventional song writing and Space, the second EP allowing the singer/songwriter to experiment with a moody and synth dominated sound, awash in ambiance and experimental electronic elements. It’s taken four years for him to release the album and clearly shows his progression as an artist.
Akin to his voice, there is depth and power to his words and a degree of articulation that belies his age. We took a few moments out of the disarmingly talented yet perennially humble twenty something year old’s day to have a chat about everything from splitting his time between Singapore and Australia, the current state of the local music scene and the latest object of his fascination on Instagram.
Congratulations on the success of your latest album Time/Space. It must be validating to see such success after doing the hard yards over so many years.
Thanks…I don’t really know how to measure or quantify validation at this point because it’s hard to take stock when things are moving so quickly. But I try and appreciate the little things.
Having moved in your teens from Singapore to a city known for its vibrant music scene like Melbourne, do you think this has influenced your music?
Definitely. I think a lot of it was just being given more opportunities to perform and play with more bands and delve into more genres than I’d normally get to if I were still in Singapore during university. I probably wouldn’t have studied music for my undergrad if I didn’t leave for Melbourne.
You’re recently spent time in Australia again to work on your latest album. Is there still an attachment there?
Australia is my second home. My family is based there now and has been for almost 10 years, so I try to go back and see my parents when I can. Album wise, I have a couple of friends in Melbourne who are great sound engineers – Matthew Neighbour, who works out of Sing Sing Studios; and Andrei Eremin, who works as part of Jack the Bear’s Deluxe Mastering team. They are some of the nicest and most patient people I know of, and have worked really hard to carve a name for themselves in Australia, even though they’re barely in their mid 20s. Matt does a lot of my recording and some of the post-production, while Andrei does my mixing and mastering. They are the only studio personnel I know whom I can really trust. They’ve stuck with me for a long time now, so there’s a lot of mutual respect and understanding of how we each like certain things to be done. The process is always tedious but it’s all about getting the best outcome.
Originally I was thinking it must have been a thrill to have your song ‘Still’ featured in the opening ceremony at the SEA Games but then you trumped that by performing at the SEA Games closing ceremony. Tell us, what it’s like to perform in front of 25,000 people and what is the difference between playing huge shows and intimacy of a smaller venue?
It was nice, but you have to remember that it wasn’t my show. I was part of a programme, serving something that is a lot bigger than myself and the band. The exposure was nice, and I truly appreciate the experience to write and perform for such a huge mainstream platform. Performance wise though, I’ve played in front of large crowds before, and I don’t get as much validation from that as compared to a mid-sized club or festival where you can get a lot more intimate and interact with the crowd.
Do still get nervous before performances? What are your pre show rituals?
Not so much nervous…I think stage fright is when you have no real explanation as to why you’re anxious. I’m genuinely stressing out most of the time because there’s a lot of technical stuff that I have to remember and sort through. It all looks very calm and relaxed on stage, but underneath the surface I’m peddling like a mad duckling to keep the ship afloat.
I don’t really have many pre-show rituals, although I know that being obsessive-compulsive calms me down. So if I get a dressing room I tend to rearrange things and have them nicely lined up in colour-coordinated groups. (laughs) I also love me some pre-show Pi Pa Gao…especially the travel ones that come in like a shot form.
You were selected as one of the faces of Singaporean music for the SGMUSO Live Showcase in London. Was there is increased pressure to perform well there?
I guess the pressure comes from trying to get a sense of where you stand in an international arena, you’re no longer playing the “support local” role which can sometimes be a sympathy card. Overseas, you’re playing to locals from a city that is the hub of good quality, internationally exported talent. So much of the music that I love comes from the UK, so I think it was a nice compliment when we were received well at Rough Trade and The Lexington and Sofar Sounds when we were over in London last week.
The Singapore indie music scene has evolved a great deal in the past few years. Do you see any signs of this wavering and what do you see as the challenges in sustaining this growth into the future?
The bands will only get better and better as we get more time to work on our craft and marketing it. There are plenty of barriers that we face, most of which are systemic to being such a small and young country. We will hit saturation point very soon, and there is a ceiling that we cannot break without the help of external investment. Whether that help comes from a private or government sector is one thing, but we’re still not taking enough risks to help build a better infrastructure for culture.
If the players – the finance and tech guys at the top of this tiny industry choose to focus solely on quantifiable gains without having any foresight or thought for the bigger picture, everything will grind to a halt. I am afraid that our arts movement will become completely choked by a case of too many KPIs, too much red tape, pride, and political agenda.And that won’t be the first time that it’s happened to the local music scene.
Over the years you’ve had the opportunity to perform with some exceptional musicians like Belle and Sebastian and Caribou. Who has it been your favorite musician to share the stage with and who would you love to have a jam with above anyone else?
Probably Kimbra. She’s my role model in so many ways, and I’m lucky enough to call her a friend. I would love to have a jam with a producer/DJ like SBTRKT, Jaime XX, Flume or Bonobo though…being a guest vocalist on a downtempo/dance track has always been at the back of my mind.
Just for fun, if you had to live the rest of your life as an animal, what would it be and why?
I’ve been rather obsessed with Marutaro on Instagram lately, so I’d love to be a Shiba Inu. They look like Japanese corgis, and seem like good natured and affectionate creatures.