Tragic tale of loss behind radio hit

The Freshman's Chen Diya (above left) and Carrie Yeo (right).
The Freshman's Chen Diya (above left) and Carrie Yeo (right).PHOTO: LIKES COMMUNICATIONS

Holding On, Singapore Mandopop duo The Freshman's tune in the recent Channel 8 drama The Queen, sounds very much like a love ballad.

But there is a tragic tale behind the radio hit written and performed by the duo comprising Project Superstar alumnae Carrie Yeo and Chen Diya.

While listening to the melody composed by Chen, Yeo kept thinking of her cousin who died in a car accident four years ago.

"I resisted it. I didn't want to write about it because it was too personal and I felt that I wasn't ready," she says.

But eventually, she gave in to the idea.

"So I started writing about this sense of loss that you can never recover from. I can cope with any form of loss, but death is the one thing I can't let go of."

Yeo, 34, and Chen, 30, were talking to The Straits Times on the telephone from Taipei, where they were promoting their new album, Growing Up, the follow-up to their debut disc Life Experiment 101 (2010) and EP The Dazy Eyes (2012).

A key song on the new work was Sheng Ming Shi Yuan De (Life Is A Circle), which starts off with an unusual one-minute piano arrangement.

Chen muses: "It's just the way life is. You have to have good days and you have to have bad days in order for you to reach a certain point in your life where you can say, 'I've come a long way and I'm ready to start a full circle again'."

The bad days for The Freshman were when they were on the brink of breaking up at the end of 2012, after an accumulation of grievances exploded in one big quarrel.

They can laugh about it now, but they also had to learn to work together again.

Chen says: "We are such good friends we are like sisters, but we started to take each other for granted. We had to learn to respect each other all over again."

All of this is part and parcel of growing up, a theme that they decided upon after being inspired by a track of the same name on YouTube in 2013 written by a Taiwanese musician friend who goes by the moniker neo.

Chen says: "I needed to write a song that was as good as, if not better than, Growing Up and I was like, 'No, no, no, we cannot release this album yet because I have not written that song yet.'"

When they came up with Holding On, an easily accessible ballad that manages to be genuinely moving, they knew they had the album sewn up.

Their creative momentum is going strong now and they are already thinking about their next album after spending three years on Growing Up.

Chen says: "It takes time for us to learn things from life, to draw inspiration and to live life. I don't want to be sitting at home and trying to churn out melodies - I can't. All the tunes on the album are inspired by life."

•Growing Up is out in shops.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2016, with the headline 'Tragic tale of loss behind radio hit'. Print Edition | Subscribe