Poetic on paper and in the studio, singer-songwriter Cehryl (pronounced ‘Cheryl’) is superbly talented within many facets of music and mood-making. A well-traveled individual (born in Hong Kong, currently residing in Los Angeles via the UK and Boston), the artist rose to the surface with her single “Side Effects” after finding distribution support from ARIMÉ (formerly Fête Records), home to a crop of young, promising artists sporting retro vibes such as Mac Ayres and Cautious Clay. On the resulting EP, “wherever it may be,” Cehryl embarks on producing soulful pop vibes that attribute to her ability to craft emotive, thoughtful music.
Cehryl visits San Francisco’s Elbo Room on June 7, along with Oakland MC Just Rese and experimental hip-hop artist Mr. Yote. We caught up with Cehryl on moving from East to West, her journey as an artist, and more.
The Bay Bridged: You recently moved to LA from Boston to be closer to the music industry. How’s that transition from East Coast to West Coast?
Cehryl: I moved in September right after I graduated college. There were just a lot more studios here, more writers, the scene was just here, so it made sense to make the move.
I think it’s a really interesting transition, going from a music college to the real-life music industry. I think a lot of it is similar in the sense that you’re constantly questioning whether you really should be doing what you’re doing because everyone around you is trying to do the same thing. There are a lot of similarities between that but it’s less heady in the sense that now you’re not competing in terms of musical skill or people trying to impress you. In LA, it just feels more like survival mode and you just have to constantly dig up things that ground you, that remind you why you did music in the first place.
TBB: You consider yourself a writer first and it shows in the personal, yet poetic and cinematic way you write your lyrics. When did you start using songwriting as a coping mechanism?
C: I’ve really been into songwriting when I was little just because I would steal my brother’s guitar and write stupid songs on it. But it was around Grade 12 when I started to attempt to craft structured songs that came from a more honest place rather than just for the sake of writing something.
TBB: I’ve read that Avril Lavigne was a huge influence. What was it about her that you wanted to embody?
C: Let Go was my first CD and it had a big impact in terms of listening to every song over and over again, trying to learn the chords on guitar. That was when I first really wanted to write songs because I thought she was bad ass. That was the time of Linkin Park and Simple Plan and I loved those bands, but I didn’t really have an idol I could look upon that was a solo, female artist that represented whatever she felt and what she wanted to do and not as an industry, Disney-Channel type of thing.
TBB: You went to Berklee College of Music as a pianist, but came out as a full-fledged artist that wrote songs and does her own production. Can you tell us how you developed into that?
C: Everyone had to audition on their instrument, so I went in as a pianist, but I never wanted to be a successful pianist or anything. I graduated as a music production and audio engineering major, so I learned how to record so that I can earn money mixing for people. It was actually really cool because all the technical things I learned I could apply and cater to myself and my own music. It all just came around. Going in, I had the same desires I have now, which is writing my own music and making it better. And through learning how to do things as part of a group, such as mixing and making music sound better, playing guitar, piano, accompanying for other people, that all came around in my music. And I think that goes always, whatever you learn you can apply it to anything and anyone.
TBB: I feel that gives you total freedom over your work, you’re not dependent on someone else to mix, master, or do a certain part of a track.
C: Exactly. I’m a control freak and I wanted to know everything just so if I ever let anyone touch anything that I do, I know what’s going on. (laughs)
TBB: That’s interesting to hear because you’ve also been doing guest vocals for other artists such as Eli Way, Flakes, and Frison within the past year. Is your creative process as a guest feature different than with your own music?
C: Yeah, it’s totally different. Though I’d say over the last two years, I haven’t done as much toplining as I have done before. I didn’t mind doing it because when I just started putting music out on SoundCloud, people would send me beats and to me it showed they appreciated what I have been putting out; I took it as flattery. But when I would topline over people’s beats, the words would be way less personal than any of the stuff that I produced.
I guess because when I’m writing for music I produce myself, I automatically cater the sound to what the song is initially about. The fact that I am in control of the entire process means that the mood comes out a bit better in my own music, in comparison to when I’m toplining over someone else’s beat, where I’m careful about the words, phrasing, melody, but not so much about the story and what the mood evokes.
TBB: “Carry Away” and “Half the Time” are the two newest songs you have out, should fans be on the lookout for an album soon?
C: Yes, both are going to be on the album I’m working on. I’m definitely experimenting with more productions styles and I think I’ll always be doing that, trying to expand what my music is sonically. So I think that’s what is going to be different from my old music and what I’m working on right now. Writing-wise, it’s always going to be quite similar in the sense that I’m coming from a personal space, but I’m always willing to be open and draw from anything that I swim across from.
Cehryl, Just Rese, Mr. Yote
June 7, 2018