iNCH x The Altar Collective Present...
BETWEEN THE DEVIL & THE DEEP BLUE SEA
Singaporean musician Inch Chua invites us to explore the chilling depths of her road to rediscovery in our new collaboration entitled Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea. Recognized as the face of her native indie scene, Inch’s compelling path to musicianship began at age sixteen, when she started singing vocals in the rock band Auburn’s Epiphany. Years later, Inch has found her voice as a solo artist, producing two full-length albums —Wallflower (2010) and Bumfuzzle (2013) — which have landed her international acclaim. Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea is the first of our Orchard Series, in which readers are given the opportunity to understand musicians with uncanny intimacy. Through drafts, unpublished lyrics, poetry, or a narrative novel, the musician is revealed to us authentically as an emotionally independent mind. Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea features Inch’s personal journal entries, which include everything from album production notes to sketches Inch made in art school. In this collaboration, we see Inch faced with the struggle of self-identity — pondering who she was, who she wants to be, and where she is now. Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea celebrates Inch Chua at the many crossroads of her life, and, most importantly, rejoices her as the developed artist she is today.
Are you bumfuzzled?
Yes. Maybe 99% of the time. And that one percent is that clear moment of clarity — that very rare moment of certainty that I get, which I absolutely relish. But most of the time, I'm pretty confused, and, if I'm not, it's unsettling. So in that sense, I'm still pretty flustered.
What have you learned about yourself since “Wallflower” (2010)?
In 2010, when I was writing Wallflower, I was around 20-21 (I released the album when I was 21). I think it was still me trying to figure things out; it's like a coming-of-age album for me. It was my first time writing and putting out a
full-length by myself. I've learned that catharsis isn't the only thing necessary for writing, which was really, until today, where the root of everything that I write stems from. But I realized, after putting out that record, that my songwriting requires more discipline: listening to other things, playing with writing more, and overall experimenting. It's an act of discipline that I need to do in order to technically improve as a songwriter, but still never forgetting being cathartic about it — catharsis to be the base of writing material. I like [those] very visceral, raw feelings coming from my work — that's how I like to communicate.
Talk about your personal relationship between the aural and visual arts — do you see paintings, sketches, etc. when you write songs and vice versa?
I think all art forms are complimentary to each other. I tend to enjoy listening to music when I paint and draw. Likewise, I like to watch movies and visuals while I play music along with it sometimes. But what really joins them both together is the glue: emotion. Maybe I'm painting — I'd start by finding an emotion that I feel and can't help but have — and play music that is complimentary to that emotion to further guide the visual aspects of it. Musically, I would already have an emotion that I would pick a picture or a film — imagery — to compliment that emotion that will translate into music.
In your TEDx talk “[i]nch by inch” you discuss your early education and feelings of rejection in an all-girls schooling environment. How do you feel this influenced your path as an artist? Does “Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea” contain relics from this period of rejection?
Not really…there is one little piece in the book that reflects that time, and it was a song that was written in the record "Wallflower". It is the title track, and it serves as a dedication to that awkward period of growing up. That time of rejection has definitely influenced my thinking, though. But then again, I've come to a resolution with it, which is the realization that it's rare to meet anyone on Earth who has had a great or easy time growing up. No one has it easy. So in that sense, it's a very fascinating topic because it's unique to everyone. However, at the same time, everyone can relate to how difficult it is growing up because everyone is just so damn unsure of themselves during that time. And likewise, I feel that I've resolved my feelings about it — I think it had to happen, and I'm very grateful that I understood cruelty from a very young age so I could avoid it.
Discuss SXSW — you’re often distinguished as the first Singaporean solo artist selected to perform there. Do you ever feel like an appointed champion of your home country?
Well, when that supposed title started spreading around, it's not like I immediately wanted to be encrusted on a belt and start wearing it. I felt very lucky to even go to SXSW, and the moment I was given this opportunity, I was like, "Holy crap, I've got to find the support and the finances to do this." So there were plenty of other problems that were occupying my mind. To proclaim that I'm some kind of ambassador would be a very tall proclamation that I don't even feel comfortable saying out loud — my hair is standing right now from even saying that sentence. When something like that happens, I'm just grateful, and the first thought that comes into my head is, "Inch, don't mess this up. Don't even try to mess this up!"
For what reasons were you driven to create “Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea”? Describe the benefits and obstacles of opening up to your fans in such detail.
The first step was curating the book, which meant I had to read pretty much everything that I've saved since 2004 to date. That was a huge challenge because there were so many times I wanted to just burn everything — I think my eyeballs are really tired from rolling around the whole damn time. You know, it's just awkward when you go back and listen to your old self, and you're like, "Whoa! Who are you? What the hell was wrong with you?" That was challenge number one. Challenge number two is that, when it is finished, you read it all and take a step back to look at your story arc — you're like, "Whoa... I have a story arc... this is weird." It's like seeing a short span of your life from a bird's eye view. It's kind of a strange feeling, and you do feel very excited that you've changed, that you've set goals in the past and you've actually met them quite accurately across four or five years, which is really amazing. And you feel horribly depressed when you realize you've seen some compromise in your beliefs and personality - what you've let go. You feel sad when you've lost that childlike naivety. You get skeptical in how you used to have absolutes, and now your life is just full of grays. It's kind of depressing. But it's very important for me to just be honest. So I'm very happy to open up to my fans…to actually put myself out in this detail because I want to create art that is honest and real, and I don't want to censor myself for the sake of embarrassment. Anything that I felt delivers a story, I put it in the book. I want to be able to look back and say I wasn't trying to be pretentious, I was just really trying to be real. There's an effort there.
From the “Bumfuzzle” title track — “Perfect love costs everything” — What does this mean to you? Is it worth the cost?
Yes. Love is the greatest thing that ever lived. If humanity was observed by aliens, I think it's something that would definitely be mentioned in research papers. Love and compassion are truly thing that distinguish humanity from the survival, essentially. Perfect love does cost everything. It's a truth that I completely believe in. It's just that I don't think perfect love exists in humans, and that's something that I didn't realize at a young age. When I wrote "Bumfuzzle", it was a dedication to how my bumfuzzled journey started and how it still continues. It all stems from this line, essentially. I've always hung on to the truth — I just didn't realize that perfect love was not what I thought it was. I don't think it exists in human form. It probably exists somewhere else, and I'm still trying to figure out what it really is, to be honest.
Photos by Katherine Hogan
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