Cellist Lucinda Chua on experimental music and Morley’s wings
100% The multi-instrumentalist and FKA twigs collaborator is gearing up to release her debut album, YIAN. Here’s the lowdown on her favourite dishes and the like.
Lucinda Chua is getting ready to give birth – to her debut album, YIAN, that is. It’s a labour of love, and she’s been pouring her energy into it for the last three years.
“It’s like I’m in this deep pregnancy and getting to the last trimester,” the musician says, Zooming in from her home in South London. “I’m really looking forward to it being out and speaking for itself, so I don’t have to carry it anymore. I want it to belong to other people.”
YIAN means “swallow” in Chinese – Chua has English, Malaysian and Chinese ancestry. It’s an ethereal and intimate project that feels like the culmination of her previous work as a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and cellist in FKA twigs’ live band.
The songs on YIAN are brilliant and unconventionally structured, often textured with comforting ambience and soft, celestial vocals which make the listener feel like they’re being wrapped in a soft blanket on a rainy afternoon (“I try to look for the words (You don’t) /Wanna heal where it hurts /To feel the freedom”, she sings on An Ocean).
Chua has been practising music since she was just three-years-old, and she’s long been primarily drawn to the cello. “I find the sound of it really comforting,” she explains. “When you play it, you hold it close to your body – you can feel the frequencies of the instrument, which is really calming and grounding.”
Chua never set out to be a professional musician, though. Studying photography at university in Nottingham, she was sure she’d end up being a fine artist. Music was more of a hobby at that point. But then…
“You know in rom-coms, when the person realises they’re in love with their best friend?” Chua says, laughing. “That person they’ve not really seen or taken for granted their whole life. Like, oh, it’s you! Music is what’s familiar and rewarding for me. So I’ve been honouring that.”
YIAN is released 24th March via 4AD, and then Chua’s in rehearsals for her headline show at London’s ICA on 9th May. “It’s been a really special time working on this record. I’ll remember it for a very long time,” she says, relieved to have her baby, at last, out in the world.
10% Where were you born, where were you raised and where are you now based?
I was born in London. I moved to Milton Keynes when I was 10 and grew up there. I live in South London.
20% What emotions and experiences influence your work?
Music is where I go to explore things in my mind that feel unresolved. I think the process of creating music helps me find perspective on whatever it is that I’m processing.
30% If you were cooking food to impress someone, what would you make?
A dish with tofu and century eggs, which looks really beautiful and tastes delicious. I’ve made that a bunch of times – it’s a deep cut.
40% Love, like, hate?
I love dancing, finding a connection with music and getting lost in that. I like cooking. I hate feeling boxed in or restricted.
50% What’s a bad habit you wish you could kick?
Morley’s. I love it so much and I know it’s not good for me, but it’s so delicious! It’s really cost-effective as well. My guilty pleasure.
60% What does your Morley’s order look like?
Barbecue wings meal, but sometimes I get it with water to try and balance it out. The best Morley’s is the one between Peckham and Camberwell. Also, the people who work there are really nice. The one on Peckham Rye? No. Queens Road? Not so good, either.
70% What’s a piece of advice that changed your life?
Something I’m reminding myself of at the moment is that this is my life, and it’s important to commit to the things that you care about. It can be easy to get pulled in lots of different directions, but ultimately you need to check in with yourself. Don’t get swept up.
80% What’s your dream holiday?
I find it hard to stop and take holidays. I really like making things, so maybe my dream holiday would be some kind of artist’s residency with lots of different people making their own projects. I could spend some time making music or doing something else that’s creative, before coming together to share food and talk about your day.
90% If you could go back in time and watch a musician perform, who would it be?
Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York [which was recorded in 1993].
100% What can artists do to help save the world?
I think artists should just be honest. Artists are just people, but they’re sharing their experiences in a way that connects with others more deeply. Being honest within the work is a nice way to hold the mirror up to the audience. It’s not just artists who can save the world, it’s everyone. But maybe the art allows us to unlock those answers for ourselves.