With his new double EP, Time/Space, Charlie Lim just gets better
Bold, experimental, vulnerable
A burger can be very distracting.
We're seated in Carvers & Co, a café in Singapore's East owned by Charlie Lim's drummer and his wife, and Lim is taking a generous bite from his perfectly medium rare beef burger. The juices leave a moist stain on the sides of his mouth.
"It's so good, you wanna try some?" he offers.
I politely decline. It wouldn't be professional to take a bite. Besides, I've already gawked too much, and even commented on how good it smelled — he must be asking out of courtesy.
"What was I saying?" Lim asks.
The singer-songwriter was sharing about the beauty of songwriting and performance. In particular, the ability to transcend the emotions originally felt during the song's genesis by being present and connected to the music and lyrics during a live performance. It's pretty deep stuff, but you'd expect nothing less from a Jeff Buckley fan.
A music performance graduate (he dropped all his science subjects for music, philosophy and what he calls "artsy bullshit"), his latest double EP is split into Time and Space respectively, with the latter showcasing a more experimental side to the musician.
In between Lim eating his burger and me sipping my water, we discuss the influences behind his new record, the vulnerability in his performances, and his first ever music video.
Related story: Listen to Charlie Lim's new songs on Spotify now
So you've just finished mastering the album last week.
For the last four to five months I've been working 18 to 20 hours everyday, sleeping very little. It seems that my whole life has been almost bipolar and out of my control. So either nothing happens, I have huge inertia and no confidence to get anything done; or everything happens at once, and I get very manic and get everything done in a short amount of time. It's very volatile. Right now I'm just riding the wave.
How do Time and Space differ from each other?
On a sonic level, Time revolves around this whole folk pop, acoustic melancholic kind of traditional songwriting. It's more of a linear narrative — hence time — and a lot of analog instrumentation. It's very warm-sounding, and recorded with a lot of live instruments. Meanwhile Space is more of an exploration — get the pun? It's all DIY. It's a lot more groovy and beat-driven, with more collages in the vocals and more harmonies involved. It was done in my bedroom on my computer, and quite experimental in production.
Were you trying to push the envelope?
Being a singer-songwriter is really overrated. A lot of people can do that. I try to distinguish myself from that usual, acoustic, four-chord kind of music. But ultimately, I'm still a singer and songwriter. It has to revolve around a song — I don't want my music to be an experiment in production without having some sort of backbone or narrative. All my songs are introspective. I like the juxtaposition of the kind of beat-driven music against interesting chord progressions and melodies.
We heard you filmed your first music video with a plane.
It all came together at the very last minute. We rented a 747 plane, but that makes up a small part of the video. The video's for the last song on the album, and that's an interesting choice. It's my favourite song from the album and means the most to me.
Posted by Charlie Lim on Monday, 11 May 2015
Your songs are very emotional. Do you revisit those feelings and still feel vulnerable when you perform?
You always have to be vulnerable when you play. It's emotionally exhausting. I feel like I've ran 10km after a performance. You have to bare your soul and be very present in that moment. But I'm not revisiting that particular time. It's more important to be present in that moment than to try to purposely revisit those things and to bring them out and be an actor. It's really not about that.
Do you listen to your own music?
I try not to because I spend so many hours working on it. I turned on my Spotify playlist yesterday, and found five things I didn't like about it. Whenever they play my music here (at Carvers and Co), I freak out. So they know that when I'm here, they never play the music.
Are you happy with what you've done so far?
I'm proud of it — I don't think I would say I'm happy. Because if I'm content, then what is there to aim and aspire towards? I say that not out of forced humility. I'm genuinely frustrated at myself a lot of the time, and try to push the envelope.
Would you ever write a song about a burger?
Sure. I mean, I would, but not under Charlie Lim. I'd put on a different accent maybe, pitch my voice up, and write an awesome jingle. Be like, [in an Australian accent] "Get a burger, at Carvers!"
House of Riot Presents A Triple Bill: Charlie Lim, iNCH, The Great Spy Experiment is happening at the Esplanade Concert Hall on 6 June. More details here.