Thursday, January 27, 2011
Charlie Lim Releases Debut EP
Charlie Lim is officially launching his debut EP this Saturday at the Esplanade. Catch this talented Melbourne-based singer/songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre on 29 (7:30pm, 8:45pm & 10pm) and 30 January (7:30pm, 8:45 pm), and at TAB on 1 February at 10pm. He and his backing band will play at Timbre (The Substation) on Wednesday 2 February at 9pm, before he flies back to Australia a few days later.
Charlie is only selling the hard copies of the EP at gigs. Alternatively, you can download the excellent four-track EP from charlielim.bandcamp.com or facebook.com/charlielim. We caught up with Charlie for a short interview.
How does it feel to finally get your EP out?
Relief! I've been playing music for way too long not to have something to call my own. I've been sitting on these songs for some time now so having it all materialised has been quite exciting.
How long did it take to record the EP and what were the challenges you faced?
I started working with my good friend Scott whom I met through university on a bunch of demos in early 2010. We spent a lot of time figuring out arrangements and production ideas before heading into the studio in July. We spent about 10 days tracking in a mid-sized studio called Milight, in Melbourne. I couldn't afford to do everything in the studio and still have it polished the way we wanted, so most of the editing and post-production was done at home.
The hardest part about recording the EP was not so much the actual session itself; everything went really smoothly. I love the studio life as most musicians do. It was more about the maintenance, from paying off studio time by teaching and playing gigs, to managing twenty or so musicians coming in and out of the studio and constantly dealing with all the red tape and administration. I'm pretty OCD about everything, let alone the music side of things, so the macro and micromanagement was over the top.
As much as there are perks like creative control and whatnot, there are plenty of cons when you're trying to make it as a solo artist. I reckon you face the worst of them at the start of your career because you're a small fish flailing in a big ocean. But then again, you learn much faster about how things work. Sometimes you're also blessed to get to work with more driven people who genuinely want to do a good job. That usually makes everything a lot easier.
I remember your early gigs when you were covering Damien Rice and Jeff Buckley, when did you start writing songs and how do you think you've developed since?
I still play Damien Rice and Jeff Buckley songs! [laughs] Yeah, I do love playing covers. I only ever cover what I feel I can relate to though, and obviously try to rearrange it somewhat. But I could never do the whole Top 40 thing. I tried it for a couple of years so I could pay the bills but my soul gets dampened easily. As a musician, you have to respect the guys who play that circuit because they have to do the same stuff over and over again to people who only listen to mainstream radio.
As for songwriting, I'm by no means prolific…I may have stacks of pretentious black notebooks full of obscure lyrics, but stringing them together into a song that I can honestly be happy with is almost impossible. I think a lot of it has to do with the fear of having it all etched in stone. So the only songs I've got are the ones that fall out of nowhere, the ones that you may hate for being too cheesy or idealistic but you could never change a lyric because you know it's meant to be. I've learnt a lot of about developing ideas since I wrote my first song when I was 17, but I still have no real approach with regards to conceiving the bloody thing.
There's upbeat funk and soul in the opening song "Pedestal" and then there's the introspective Damien Rice-ish "Rust" that closes the EP. Do you think you'll be leaning towards one of those styles more?
There have been quite a few questions regarding whether this EP was a concept album, but that's a little too far from my intention…if there was any intention at all. In the midst of recording, I was quite worried about the disparity of styles in the material that I was putting out. Then I realised all my favourite artists' discographies had the same amount of variation, if not more. So I was slightly relieved. But only slightly, because I just had four songs. [Laughs]
I wouldn't lean towards a particular genre because there's a market for that sort of thing, neither would I write something that's trying to be obscure or clever for the sake of it. I'm just a pop musician that likes a lot of music. And I think as long as the songs have the same heart, people will find the common denominators that make a group of songs click together. I think that's what the EP has amounted to, from the feedback I've been getting at least. They work fine as singles, but the track-listing makes sense in its own context despite the genre-shifting. You can't pigeonhole a vibe or a feeling.
How has the gigs been in Singapore so far?
Great! I think I overbooked myself a little this trip, I've done 11 and have about 5 more to go before I fly back next Saturday. But I'm still alive and loving it! The crowd has been very accepting of my incredibly poor stage banter.
You're now based in Melbourne. How is the scene there compared to Singapore?
I think the grass is always greener on the other side. Melbourne is great. There are definitely more opportunities to play as there is a bigger market for different niches and whatnot, but you have to work a lot harder to stand out from thousands of indie bands and singer-songwriters. I can't imagine what it's like in New York.
I'm not sure if there is anything so awfully wrong about the current music industry in Singapore that some people are so bitter about. For the small country that Singapore is, we've come such a long way. I think it can only get better, not worse. It's definitely difficult to be a full-time musician here because of the tiny market, but if you're good enough and have done the groundwork, Singapore could be the perfect springboard for a lot of other international opportunities.