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Digital Life

What's In... Charlie Lim's Incase Backpack

Published on Aug 1, 2014 5:00 AM

Home-grown musician Charlie Lim has played alongside international acts such as Sigur Ros, De La Soul and John Scofield, and his music has been featured on radio in Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. The 26-year-old's speciality is a blend of neo-soul, R&B and jazz.

The early bloomer was already making music at the age of four. "I just enjoyed mucking around on the piano at home. My mum was a piano teacher, so that really helped," he said.

He refined his skills at school and church gatherings.

At 14, he went to Melbourne to further his studies and grew even more passionate about music. "Melbourne was a great place for me, because it has such a concentrated community of musicians," he said.

When he returned for national service (NS), he joined the Singapore Armed Forces music and drama company, where he continued to play the guitar and sing.

He said: "We would hold makeshift rock concerts for recruits one day and play for school kids the next. We even played for ministers and generals at parties in fancy hotels."

Going for experimental sounds

After NS, he studied music at Melbourne's Monash University for four years. Listening to neo-soul musicians such as D'Angelo, Maxwell and the Soulquarians deeply influenced his musical vocabulary.

"My degree was in jazz, but I would never dare call myself a jazz musician. Despite that, I still gained a lot of knowledge, like learning to improvise and the spirit of jazz."

Since then, he has formed a band, released his debut EP (extended play) in 2011 and toured Asia with the band, The Mothership. The band has played in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

The band is a tightly knit group. "I've had many incarnations of the 'Charlie Lim' band, but this one is the best version so far. We meet up often to commiserate as a group over meals, even when we're not practising," he said.

His current project, a double EP called Time/Space, is due for release later this year.

"The EP Time is a tribute to some of my favourite musicians, such as Jeff Buckley, Joni Mitchell and Ray LaMontagne. It's the more traditional side, the part that will sound more conventional and organic."

The other EP, Space, will be more experimental. "I'm working on my computer to create unique textures and playing around with electronic music for a more unique sound."

Playing strategy games

Work on the EPs has taken a while, something Lim is fine with. "You'd think that it's hard to survive as a musician in Singapore, but it's really not too bad as long as you put yourself out there."

He keeps himself afloat by performing at events, a recent example being The Art Of Sound gig by gaming peripherals company Razer.

He explained: "You can find many opportunities - you can do gigs on the side, teach music and find part-time work."

To stay inspired for songwriting, he ensures he keeps in shape by playing tennis and swimming.

Movies and books also help - philosophy and theology are his favourite topics. In fiction, he has a fondness for Edgar Allan Poe's works.

When he really wants to unwind, he plays video games. As a teenager, he would spend hours playing strategy games such as Command And Conquer and Warcraft III. He still enjoys gaming sessions with friends, playing cooperatively in games such as Defense Of The Ancients and Borderlands.

On his creative work, he said: "Sometimes, you get lucky and the words just flow through you, but that's a one in a million thing for me.

"The rest of it is just piecemeal - I jot down notes, record little melodic ideas on my phone and I try to piece them together to form something unique."

He paused to collect his thoughts. "The bigger challenge for artists is really making your mark. For me, my biggest obstacle is that I'm very self-critical and a bit of a perfectionist. It can be stifling at times, noticing minor things that nobody else notices."

His advice for aspiring musicians? "Listen to as much music as you can, persist at working on your own craft and most importantly, know what you want to do - don't chase trends."

This article was first published in The Straits Times Digital Life on July 30, 2014.

Background story

WHO: Charlie Lim, 26, is a Singaporean musician who has performed with groups such as Elbow, Kimbra, the John Butler Trio and Sigur Ros. He debuted his first professional work, EP, in 2011. He is currently working on a new project called Time/Space.

HIS INCASE BACKPACK: I'm a huge fan of Incase and love their design philosophy.

This is the seventh backpack I've bought from them and the one I've used the longest.

It's been with me through every tour and almost every gig for the last three years.