Singaporean singer-songwriter Linying has had a whirlwind 2021. Not only was she the voice behind the TikTok-viral National Day song, ‘The Road Ahead’, she was also one of the faces featured on a billboard in Times Square, New York for Spotify’s EQUAL campaign aimed at amplifying female artists from all over the world.
One could say that Linying started her New Year with a cherry on top of her recent achievements with the release of her debut album, There Could Be Wreckage Here, on 14 January. The record illustrates her journey of self-discovery over the last few years, as she comes to terms with the best and worst parts of herself. The chanteuse’s lush vocals and wistful songwriting are flanked by collaborative input from figures such as Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie), Tentendo, and LANKS.
Linying bares all in the following interview, during which she uncovers the stories, people, feelings, and emotions that inspired the album. She also discusses her milestones from the past year, and the goals she has set for 2022.
Congratulations on your new record, There Could Be Wreckage Here! To start, what are some of your musical influences? How are they reflected in your musical output?
Well, content-wise, I try not to let what I listen to affect what I write about. Sonically, I feel that inspiration can come from the type of music that you like, and that’s true for myself. It’s not like I go out to a lake and hear sounds of water and be inspired, that’s not me and not where I draw the source of my music from.
Melodically, I am very much influenced by a lot of Country artists. I grew up listening to the likes of Kenny Rogers, The Carpenters, and Dolly Parton. I didn’t realise it until recently, but looking back, I see how a lot of my musical sensibilities come from there.
The themes I write about, none of them are really borrowed form the music I listen to because I feel that, in order to write authentic music, you have to live and draw inspiration from your own experiences. It’s not something that can easily be done by listening to other people’s music and trying to live their content.
Letting something affect you musically makes sense to me, and it’s much easier for me to couch my output in sonic form, but the themes come from my personal experience.
How long did the conceptualisation of the album take, and what was the production process like? How do you feel now that the record is out for the world to have?
I feel a great sense of release and relief because I started writing for this record in 2017 and it was completed in 2019, actually. Everything was done by 2019, in terms of production for the album. So, I guess, mentally, I’ve moved on from these songs and it’s quite surreal going back, reliving it, and explaining it in interviews.
So, the process for these songs, like the bulk of my music, I just had to live a bit of life, write constantly, and pay attention to what’s going on inside and around me. When the time came to produce, I went into sessions and started getting the songs out.
That happened while I was also performing a bit overseas. Whenever we’d do a show, we’ll also try to get sessions in within the week just to work with different producers and see what they bring out of me.
Before this record, I had never co-written with other people before; I was very used to writing on my own, in my bedroom. When I’d work on music alone, I guess you censor yourself less as you’re less aware that people are listening to you or that, eventually, the song’s going to be listened to by somebody else. So when I did those writing sessions, I was quite guarded and nervous – I didn’t know how it was going to turn out.
The first song that I ever co-written was ‘Faith’, and it was with this producer, Tentendo, and another artist called LANKS. We were put together into a session by our publisher and we just started writing. It flowed really well and it seemed like we really found the right team there, and a lot of the rest of the album was written and produced together with Tentendo. Later on, I brought it to another producer, Rob Amoruso, who’s also Melbourne-based. At the end, when everything was done and I just needed a bit of extra elevation, I worked with this London-based production duo called MyRiot.
So, that was how we put everything together and why the record has quite a consistent sonic trademark because the last of it was touched by the same team.
Since you mentioned your track ‘Faith’, in it, you talk about falling back on hope and belief. Would you say that you’re a faithful person? What role does spirituality and/or religion play in your life, and how does it shape your worldview?
As to whether I’m religious or not – I would say, very-broadly. But I think the terms I used are quite vague, so there’s not much meaningful association to them anymore. I can say I believe in one God, but that means all Gods to me – what is numerical value when it’s something that’s so subjective and arbitrary? Is God a human-like being or is God an energy force? That’s frankly all kind of true to me. So, I would say yes, I do believe in things that are beyond what we can see, sense, feel, touch, or know, but I don’t really think there’s a meaningful way of describing what it is. But, largely, yes, I do believe in something greater than us.
And that, of course, impacts my outlook on life. I mean, so much of my music is this struggle with free will, and how we don’t exactly have it. That’s a big sore spot for me, personally. The first song I ever released, ‘Sticky Leaves’, is also about this, and it’s about my frustration with the fact that I don’t understand how we can possibly be eternally judged based on the decisions we make as already-disadvantaged beings who have little to no control over their circumstances and the environments that they’re born into. It’s something that I’ve always struggled with.
So, ‘Faith’ kind of talks about this jealousy that I feel looking at other people that seemingly takes so little for them to believe, and how I wish I had that kind of belief in me.
Your opening track, ‘This Time, Tomorrow’ encapsulates the fleeting nature of happiness, and one’s tendency to focus on the end of something good while it happens. What did it take for you to come to the realisation that that is something you do, and how do you reconcile that in relation to living in the moment?
I don’t know how I realised that about myself, actually. I mean, how do we realise anything about ourselves? [Laughs] In general, I’m very in-touch with my emotions. I always know when something’s off with me and I always have a very clear sense of what’s happening in my head. There are lots of people who don’t really realise what’s wrong and they can just keep going for a long time while repressing their feelings. I’m not like that at all – the moment something goes wrong, I start brewing, over-thinking, and spiralling.
Writing songs also helps to bring it out of me, honestly. It’s not like I go into a session and decide, “Okay, today I shall write about this impulse that I’ve realised about myself.” You probably know a small quirk about yourself, but the ways in which these feelings manifest are things that you wouldn’t realise until you sit down and work it out, and that, for me, is what music does. Especially in co-writing sessions, we just play around with chords and find something that everyone’s comfortable with. Once the chords are down, I start to go with the music – it informs me and tells me what to talk about, and then the meaning will start to piece itself together.
So, that was what it was like for ‘This Time, Tomorrow’. I was singing, and then I realise that I feel this resignation to the fact that it is in my nature to walk into the disaster and tell myself that this was what I wanted. As much as I complain about how scared I am and how tumultuous everything always is, I kind of innately know that it is characteristic of me to be like this and that, when the opportunity presents itself, with all its rewards and risks, I will always want to take it.
You worked with LA-based singer-songwriter and activist, MILCK, who is known for her commentary on social issues involving systemic oppression and civil liberties. How did the two of you link up, and what was it like working with her on your track ‘Shhh’?
Well, like it normally is with sessions, when I go to any city, I’ll drop the label or publisher a note that I’m open for sessions and collaborations. They’ll send my music out to producers or other artists who they think might be a good fit – they’ll listen to my music and I’ll listen to theirs. If we both like each other’s music and are keen to work together, we’ll find a date to meet. So, that’s what happened with MILCK.
With her, it was very interesting because it was one of those very immediate connections. Within five minutes of meeting, she was spilling her life story, and it tends to be like this often with artists. Even though we don’t know each other well, you know that you only have this one day to dig really deep into your feelings. You end up getting to talk a lot and getting much deeper than you expect, and that was what it was like with MILCK.
She’s just an inspiration for how self-actualised she is. She’s quite a bit older than me, so she’s gotten to this point of maturity and knowing what she needs. That kind of clarity and precision in thinking is what I envy, at a point where I’m still constantly ruminating in my own emotions.
The themes explored in the record range from love and happiness to faith and joy. How and why do you choose to relive such personal and private feelings in such a public manner?
I think it’s okay because I’m not that famous so people aren’t as interested in my life than someone like Taylor Swift, for example. [Laughs] And honestly, so far, the kind of press attention are all very respectful – people don’t probe and I really appreciate it. They respect the art and they ask me about the music alone, the most they’ve gone is asking me to develop the themes more. So, it’s okay! Plus, this is the life I’ve chosen lah! [Laughs]
Being an artist, it’s not just about the publicness of it, it’s also about being hyper-aware of all your emotions. Sometimes, in order to make a good song, you have to go way deeper in your feelings than you probably like to, or than what’s healthy.Linying
I think that’s the laborious and dangerous part of being an artist. It’s easy to convince yourself that your feelings are the objective truth, but I’ve been trying to understand and manage that about myself. I have to understand that sometimes, just because you feel something, doesn’t mean that it’s the all-encompassing truth. Sometimes, a feeling is just a feeling and it’s confined to the moment, and, as an artist, you need to remember that and not indulge in the feelings excessively.
2021 was a breakthrough year for you! Not only were you the voice behind last year’s National Day song, ‘The Road Ahead’, but you were also notably featured on a billboard in Times Square, New York for Spotify’s EQUAL campaign – an honour not shared by many in Singapore. Did you expect your year to be as eventful as it did? Do you have any special stories to share from the year?
I don’t know, actually. I wouldn’t say that I did not expect it, but I also did not imagine this exact picture. I try not to have any expectations so I don’t get disappointed.
I think the most intense experience would definitely be the National Day song and the TikTok trend that started from it – the level of engagement is really something else! I don’t know if my perception of it is a bit warped because people around me keep telling me the same thing, but it’s really quite crazy.
As it was happening, we were so busy and I don’t think I realise the magnitude of it until later. I keep getting sent videos of kids dancing to ‘The Road Ahead’ – I get so many baby videos – and now I’m starting to realise that the song would be a part of these people’s childhoods. It’s quite strange to think about, and I never expected to write a song that would be so well-received.
With the Times Square billboard, what went on in your mind when you were put on the international stage in such a visible and significant manner, championing female musicians in the region?
It was pretty cool! I’m not under any delusions that it means more than it is – to me, it shows Spotify’s support and I’m so grateful for it. But I think we shouldn’t get carried away with these measures of success. I understand that, in Singapore, the position that we’re in, we get noticed by brands, labels, and digital service providers relatively easier than overseas in bigger markets. We have such easy access here as an artist, but in a more competitive industry, you probably have to be quite viable as an artist to even begin getting noticed by the corporates.
That aside, it was very surreal and I loved seeing it! It was one of those very affirming and validating experiences. I am particularly grateful to Spotify because they have been my Day Ones, and they are the reason why I even have a career at all. At the same time, I also realise that me being on a Times Square billboard is not the same as Adele being on a Times Square billboard. It’s just a great campaign that aims to help lift women in music, but there’s also so much else that needs to be done from us.
Where do you think the Singapore music landscape is at, in terms of equal representation of people from different backgrounds? Is there anything you think we can improve on?
I don’t even know if I’m qualified to speak on this. I feel that it’s not quite the same as talking about the film industry where representation is clearly an issue in those sectors, where there are actual gatekeepers. But, as someone who’s not a gatekeeper, I think I wouldn’t really know if people have lost opportunities because of where they come from.
But, I suppose, people who come from less privileged backgrounds won’t even be able to pursue music as a viable career choice. I am very aware of how lucky I am to be able to go to University, not have to work while I as in school, and to be able to spend my summers pursuing my career instead of doing internships. I’m very fortunate to have that, and I understand that for other people who are not in the same position, they might not have the time to hone in on the craft like I did. I think it’s a great pity and I recognise that, but unfortunately I don’t have solutions. Ultimately, I think being aware of such issues is important, and just not be classist in music.
I do think that the National Arts Council does some good work for people by giving grants. But I also know that, having been rejected by them in the past, younger artists, more than ever, need to find ways to build their career and make it viable without the help of other people.
Finally, what else do you have planned for the rest of 2022? What do you aim to achieve, with this record or otherwise, within the year?
Well, I’m working on a new record! I hope to have it out by the end of the year, but we’ll see; I’m scared to make promises! [Laughs] Because of the break I had in 2020 and 2021, I’m in a unique position where I’m in the release and promotion phase of this record, but I’m also in the writing phase for the next. So, it’s been busy, but I’m also grateful for it and being in the studio is the most refreshing experience I can ask for.
I have two goals this year: I want to learn to play the guitar, so I’m throwing myself into the deep end for that, and to master making the Omurice!