“Wow, your English is really good,” suggest most Americans when they first meet pint-sized female rocker Inch Chua, a Singapore native now living in Los Angeles. Either the world is a big place, or little is known about Singapore, a tiny island with a population slightly over 5 million. When looking at a map of the world, Singapore can only be identified as a red dot. Despite its size, Singapore is the financial epicenter of South East Asxia and the former British colony’s first language is English, explaining Inch Chua’s not so surprising command of the Queen’s English.
Still to this day, the country’s most well known cultural export is the Singapore Sling, a fruity cocktail that blends pineapple juice, Gin and Cointreau. The drink originated in 1915 at the Long Bar in the country’s famous Raffles Hotel and has crossed over so far it is now the go-to drink for Florida vacationing Sexagenarians. Clearly, Singapore has more to offer than girly drinks. In addition to Singapore being a financial powerhouse, the country is well known for its ports, highly ranked healthcare system and its delicious culture cuisines chili crab and chicken rice.
Singapore’s next big cultural import will no doubt come from it’s burgeoning music scene. A visit to the country will turn up a growing community of indie rock bands and singer-songwriters evidenced by the city-state’s annual Baybeats Music Festival. The festival is 100% free to attend and features over 50 performances. Singapore is perhaps the one country in Asia with an authentic music scene unlike its Asian counter parts in places like Japan or Korea where much of the attention is paid to worshipping over-produced, manufactured POP idols.
Inch Chua is not the first Singaporean to move to the U.S. to pursue her musical dreams, but possibly the first to break through here. Chua understands the pressures of carrying the musical flag of her country on her back, and so she poured her heart out in to the production of her sophomore album Bumfuzzle. When listening to Bumfuzzle, it is easy to imagine Chua touring with The Black Keys or Jack White.
Bumfuzzle was recorded in Singapore under the guidance of local legendary producer Leonard Soosay and there is plenty of fuzzle. “I LOVE FUZZ” Chua types in caps. “While producing the record, I made a conscious effort to use some form and variation of fuzz from the fastest to the slowest track on the album.”
The result, a record that embodies the classic essence and characteristics of all the rock record’s Chua loves from bands like Radiohead and The Foo Fighters. Underneath its amalgamation of guitars and massive drum sounds, Bumfuzzle is a soul barring record, heard in a tidal wave of epic-ly grandiose back ground vocals.
Besides the Omnichord, there were no synths used in the making of the album. Any pad sounds were made out of the guitar or voice. “I wanted to keep the sound-making to be as analog and organic as possible,” she says.
The vocals, the layers and layers and layers of back up vocals were inspired by the likes of Freddie Mercury and old classic Disney movies like Snow White & Peter Pan. “I wanted that phasing saturation and even slight distortions when the vocals melts together into one.” "I felt the ‘prettiness’ of the harmonies are a great juxtaposition to the ‘aggressive’ guitars,” reveals Chua in a voice perfectly fit for a role as an indie-Princess in a hipster Disney animation, if one ever existed.
An art school grad, Chua has never had a problem letting her imagination run wild. She has always enjoyed exploring the extremities of sounds and finding the balance in between where two opposing elements come together. For example, the hybrid mixing process of her record: she merged the best of analogue sonics with a digital workflow.
“I wanted this album to tell a story with a genre that has been a big part of my formative years but yet sounds sonically contemporary, current and creatively envelope pushing for me.”
This is not Chua’s first rodeo in the U.S. She was the first ever Singaporean to play SXSW when she represented her country in Austin, Texas in 2010. Since then, she has performed at a number of high profile events including the Canadian Music Festival, MIDI (Beijing, China), World Expo (Shanghai, China), Mosaic (Singapore), Baybeats (Singapore), Music Matters (Singapore) , TEDxWomen (Washington DC) and return trips to Austin and Toronto.
After meeting Chua a couple times in Los Angeles, Grammy award winning songwriter Richard Marx was quoted calling her a “really cool and talented” artist.
Journalist Jeff Yang profiled Chua in an October 2012 Wall Street Journal story describing her as “one of the leading lights of Singapore’s indie rock scene.” Chua shined her brightest opening shows for Katy Perry, Vampire Weekend, Macy Gray and The Like.
Her musical journey began in high school as the front woman of indie rock band Allura at the age of 16, only to lose her bandmates 2 years later to National Service, Singapore’s conscription military policy requiring all male citizens to enroll in national service when they reach the age of 18. Chua soldiered on solo, releasing The Bedroom EP and her first full-length album, the critically acclaimed Wallflower.
When Ngiam Tong Boon invented the Singapore Sling, he never said “this is the most honest drink I have ever made.” For Chua, this is the most honest and personally revealing record she has ever made.
Cheers to that.