Born and raised in Hong Kong, Cehryl is an emerging young female artist who wrote, produced, recorded, mixed and mastered her newest project, Delusions. An emotional foray into R&B, soul, jazz, trap and beat music, the 10-track EP was conceived after her second year at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, completed just over a month later. When we spoke on the phone last week, Cehryl made a point of noting how shy and generally introverted she is, how that informs the independent nature of her solo music. It’s all her’s–every lyric, every beat, every melody.
Aside from Cehryl’s talent as a producer and singer-songwriter, throughout our conversation I was struck by her artistic integrity. Recording Delusions was a therapeutic exercise, a self-directed lesson in catharsis that helped her work through feelings of restlessness and anxiety. “When I write music, it’s always out of necessity,” she said, “Writing these songs was like, I have to let this feeling out. I have to turn this idea or emotion into a song, and then I’ll be settled.”
“They’ve got fast cars on this road,” she sings on “Knock On Wood,” a springy, swagged-out ode to anxiety, “Did I turn off the stove? Did I keep the windows closed? Did I tell them that I loved them when we last were on the phone? Cause’ you never know.” It’s one of those rare songs that takes a bewilderingly positive approach at tackling a firmly negative subject.
“I do think in short bursts, which is why I finished this project in a really short time,” Cehryl says as we talk about the EP’s brief incubation period, “Sometimes I feel like if I sit on a song for too long, then by the end of it my feelings about the song, my feelings that triggered the writing of that song, are lost by the end of the mixing. It’s not the same person from the start to the end.”
The penultimate EP cut “Don’t Wake Me” was one of those more personal instances, a willfully disillusioned moment frozen in time, fleshed-out over four minutes. There are fewer lyrics here than anywhere else on the EP, but each line resonates profound and powerful:
Don’t wake me up,
Before the sun goes down –
I see better with my eyes closed.
Keep the curtains shut,
Keep me blind to your un-love;
It might be better if I don’t know.
Don’t wake me up,
It’s too late for love.
Eventually, I ask Cehryl about the potentially culture-shocking move from Hong Kong to America. She managed to avoid the bulk of it, seeing as she spent the last two years of high school in Gloucestershire, England. She still feels displaced in America, but ultimately she revels in it. “It’s kind of nice, because it motivates you to be a tourist and step out of your comfort zone,” she said, “Feeling alien to something and unfamiliar to something kind of pushes you to learn more about what’s around you.”
It’s this sort of thinking that’s led to a series of online collaborations with producers like Kultur, Oylo, and Alex Szotak since she’s moved to Boston. Cehryl has also been hard at work on two prospective EPs with artist-producers BLANDA and Kwame, both of whom she met at Berklee. “People usually approach me on SoundCloud as a vocalist, which I’m kind of bummed about because I don’t consider myself to be a strong vocalist, and I love arranging and producing. But as for the people that I’m working with locally, I’m doing a bit of production work as well, which is fantastic.”
“Last year, I listened to a lot of Nick Hakim and Gabriel Garzón-Montano,” she replied when I asked if she’s been influenced by any artists in a big way, “a lot of that R&B singer-songwriter-y, like not overproduced and not perfectly recorded kind of sound. Tom Misch, he’s definitely a big influence. I want to expand my production into more beat-heavy things, as opposed to just the singer-songwriter-y stuff. I want to be as fluid as possible in terms of who I make music with and what music I’m making myself.”
I asked Cehryl if the initial feelings of anxiety that inspired much of the EP ever circled back as she prepared to share Delusions with the world. I was slightly surprised to find the answer was no: “When I was younger I wanted to be a composer,” she said “I loved singing, but I wanted to be a composer because I was shy about my voice. Now, I’m so glad I made stuff to share with other people because sometimes someone will tell me that my song made them feel a lot better about something, and I love the idea of connecting with people just by doing something that I love. There wasn’t even a conscious effort to connect with you. I love how natural and transparent that is.
Toward the end of our chat, Cehryl explained that if there were no SoundCloud or Bandcamp or YouTube in the world, she would still be equally as happy about finishing Delusions, “I would say, more than anything else, I made this EP for me.”
Stream Delusions below.