So powerful is R&B that even if it nominally figures in a song, its soul-washing warmth and openhearted narrative urges bleed into its most shrouded nooks and corners. 'Lies and Covers' the new single by SLAYN, the pop-forward duo of Cherie Choo and Joshua Evan Lee and LEW is thoroughly contemporary but bows to the timelessness of lovelorn hope. In its summer-filtered, honey-sweet genre-meld, wherein R&B and dance flirt in pop-minded splendour, all three of its voices sing with eyes-closed intensity.
It’s also worth nothing that Cherie, Joshua and LEW are undergraduates at the Berklee College of Music, an esteemed bastion of music education that has supplied the canons with many a decorated leader. Hear65 checks in with them to talk music and more.
How has the Berklee experience been for you thus far?
Josh: Studying here so far has been inspiring and humbling. The more you learn, the more you realise how little you know, and that is so exciting to me.
Cherie: I’ve been here for three years now, and it has taught me so much more than I could have imagined. Everyone is so talented and hardworking, and it really pushes you beyond your limits.
The college is, understandably, a nucleus of creativity and ideas. What about it do you find particularly inspiring to what you do?
LEW: Being surrounded by passionate dreamers every day is refreshing and empowering. Everyone is celebrated for their uniqueness and ideas – this creates an environment that allows us to be ourselves and to not feel scared of being different. That is inspiring.
After being away and coming home when you do, what do you feel about the general context in Singapore, with regards to artistic expression?
Josh: I love coming home and seeing more and more people engaging with music by Singaporeans.
Cherie: These days, we see so many great new local artists emerging. It’s refreshing to know that we are embracing local artists who create works that are genuine and rooted in our culture and experiences.
LEW: I think people in America and Singapore receive and perceive art differently. Americans view it as a necessity, while Singaporeans tend to view art as extra. I may be biased – I believe that art is a gateway to creativity, which brings us an infinite world of answers left unexplored. Singapore will always be home to me, and I believe that with music, you can build a home for someone else, somewhere else.
And what are some things you wish Singapore could inherit from the culture and/or society of Berklee?
Josh: The people you meet here come from all different continents of the world and I love seeing them celebrate their own cultures unapologetically, especially through music. I feel if Singaporean musicians continue to be more secure and confident about expressing our identity through our work, local music will mature into becoming an organic experience.
It’s known that LEW and Joshua were roommates at some point. At which point did you decide to make music together?
LEW: Josh is an extremely musically inclined and talented musician, so when he approached me about singing on a track he was working on, I was very intrigued to see what he had come up with. After hearing his ideas, I said yes and it went from there.
Josh: We were roommates in freshman year and living with LEW taught me so much about music and life! We would get each other’s input on our respective projects, and basically just be jamming at odd hours of the night and day. ‘Lies and Covers’ was a song Cherie and I had finished writing by then but felt that it was still incomplete. So, one day, I asked Lew to try singing it and when he did, I immediately realised that he was the missing piece of the puzzle. He brought an earnestness to our song which took it to the next level and made it complete.
Congrats on 'Lies and Covers'. Do you see it as a song of empowerment?
Josh: It has been so interesting seeing the response and people's different interpretations of our song. I started writing it without any intention but expressing how I felt. How it's received is out of my hands but selfishly, writing a song that is vulnerable, honest and raw is so empowering.
LEW, since dance-pop is something you don’t normally do, how did you approach 'Lies'?
LEW: Being at Berklee gave me the opportunity to try genres and styles of music that I would normally never feel obliged or comfortable doing. This was an example of me taking on an opportunity to learn and grow musically and also as a human being.
SLAYN, each of your halves already brings something unique to the table. Was there anything different about making 'Lies' from how you normally work, besides LEW’s involvement?
Josh: 'Lies and Covers' was one of the songs we would always return to while working on other projects, so it ended up being developed over a few years. And in the past few years I went through a few significant changes in my life – from being in the military to moving to America for college, and then studying abroad in Spain while exploring Europe. So, I have lived with 'Lies and Covers' for quite a while and the nature of the song naturally evolved as well.
When I originally wrote it back home two years ago, it was slower and bleaker. A year later, when I arrived in Boston, I played it for Cherie and she added a hopeful resolution to the song. Discovering new sounds and growing my musical palette over the past year of traveling probably also had an impact on its direction. So it’s cool how the song evolved over the past two years.
Cherie: For some songs Josh and I write together and for others, we write individually and then bring the different parts to each other afterwards to develop. When I first heard 'Lies and Covers', the lyrics were especially apt to how I was feeling at the time as I was going through a breakup. I wrote the bridge and the hook coming from my separate personal situation and I guess ended up giving the song a new perspective. This was also the first song we collaborated with another artist on. Seeing the transformation from the draft to the final master really showed us how invaluable collaborating is.
Lastly, now that the song is out in the ether, what does each of you think the other brought to the track? Can listeners expect more of such collaborations down the line?
LEW: I would love to work with SLAYN again. They are both efficient, smart and open-minded artists who let me be myself on their tracks.
Cherie: Absolutely, Lew is such a gifted singer-songwriter. We’d definitely love to work together again.
Josh: We also have an acoustic arrangement of 'Lies and Covers' that we may put out.