The Chinese-English artist is an expert at navigating intersections, at being neither here nor there. Her upcoming album YIAN, due for release March 24th, explores the difficulties she has experienced and overcome in order to reach this place in which she is so confident in her sense of her identity.
However, through YIAN’s tracks and its visual accompaniments, she exhibits her liberation from the need for definition. It is a stunning project, over the course of which we follow Lucinda as she spreads her wings, finds solace in liminal spaces, and discovers that, sometimes, the questions you ask are more valuable than the answers you get.
Could you start by introducing yourself and telling our readers what it is you do?
My name is Lucinda Chua, I’m an artist, my work incorporates music and performance.
Your album YIAN is due for release March 24th 2023! The title of the project is immediately captivating with its variety of meanings. For example, YIAN is part of the Chinese name given to you by your parents: Siew Yian. What is the role of identity and heritage within the album?
YIAN is my debut solo album. Working on this record was my first time writing new material commissioned by a record label (4AD). Starting from scratch, I had no idea what the record would be about, the one thing I knew was that the outcome had to be an album. I didn’t set out to make a record about my identity or my heritage; I guess this is just intrinsically part of my lived experience. The only way I felt able to approach the record, was to come at it from a place of honesty and sincerity, so that’s what I did.
I also read that this album was inspired by your kinship with swallows and your idea that swallows actually find their home in the sky as opposed to the land that they migrate between. The title of the album itself also means ‘swallow’ in Chinese. This rejection of binaries, of being or going between one thing and another, is a prevalent theme throughout the album. How did you learn to find comfort in these grey areas, these liminal spaces between land and sea?
I wouldn’t say it’s a rejection, if anything it’s embracing and acceptance of what I was born into. Growing up in a multicultural family I feel very at home at the intersections; to me, it is my centre.
What was your creative process when writing, recording, and producing the album? Were there any aspects that you found particularly difficult?
Making the record was a very intimate experience. I worked very intuitively, just finding my flow and enjoying the process of making without thinking. I think I’ve been carrying this album around in my body for a long time; going to the studio was a way of getting it out. The part I find difficult is having to then put the record into words, to define what it means in English, because some of it is untranslatable - it only exists in the music.
The album opens with the track Golden, a tentative reflection upon feeling out of place when you are surrounded by those who you do not see yourself in – “Who do I turn to when I’m not part of you?” – whilst also finding strength within yourself to accept that difference – “I’m golden, you’ll see”. For you, is Golden an optimistic song?
I think of myself as an optimistic person! Even if our experiences feel painful at the time, this leads to growth. It’s true - I didn’t grow up surrounded by people who looked like me, or who could relate to some of the things I was going through - this is something I spoke about in depth with my friend Tash Tung who directed my first music video Semitones. When we decided to collaborate on making the short film for Golden, we wanted to find a way to acknowledge this, but to flip the narrative to create an antidote. Creating the role of Yian Yian (my younger self), enabled me to be there for her. Assembling a production team of East and South East Asian talent helped amplify this; the integrity of the process was as important as the performance. For many of us, it was the first time in our professional careers where we were not in the minority. And it made us proud to see 9-year-old actress Coco Bridger, who played Yian Yian, surrounded by so many people with similar heritages. For us older folk on set, it was incredibly moving and cathartic knowing how rare and special this moment was for us, for her it will be a core memory, something normal.
The response to the film has been incredibly touching, many people have reached out to me with personal stories about how they relate to the project. Being the instigator and the conduit for this project feels powerful and charged with optimism.
Following on from this, you ask a lot of questions throughout the songs on the album, such as those on Golden and “Will you forgive me for all that I’ve done?” on Do You Know You Know. How do you go about obtaining the answers to these questions or does asking the questions serve a different purpose?
Yeah, sometimes it’s not about the answer, in asking the question you find your voice.
The themes of the album whilst being very personal to you, I’m sure are ones that other individuals will be able to relate to. For you, who is the album for?
I didn’t make it with anyone in mind, so I guess it’s been for me. But I would hope that many people could listen to it and connect with it on some level. Yes, it’s personal but I also think there are many universal themes; love, grief, growth, belonging
You had a tremendous amount of creative control over the record, doing much of the production and engineering yourself. Why was this level of independence so important for you when constructing YIAN?
Honestly, I was limited financially so there were a lot of restrictions, but that wasn’t necessarily bad. Being an artist is a hard graft - I filled those roles, because it was the only way I could take my time to create something I felt proud of. I was very lucky to get some free studio time at 4AD and Spitfire, I also wrote and recorded a lot of it at home. Having time meant I could explore the work more deeply.
I’ve always worked quite independently when making my own music, I like pottering around when nobody’s watching, I like to lose myself in the work, rolling with the tangents. The collaborators I did bring in (notably BON on You, Adam Wiltzie on Meditations on a Place, Fran Lobo and Laura Groves on Echo and Golden, Yeule on Something Other Than Years) are people I know and have personal relationships with. They are all so talented, but their friendship is equally if not more important to me. It was a joy to collaborate in these moments, knowing it was coming from a place of real connection. 
It is difficult not to experience YIAN as an intimate record. How did you actively work to create intimacy between the listener and yourself?
I don’t think it was a conscious choice, more a result of how the record was made; the process was intimate. The intimacy of the record comes down to the empathy within the listener.
I’m also really interested in the visual components of YIAN that you have created, for example the Golden music video. In the video you demonstrate not only this complex relationship you have with your younger self but also your understanding of and proficiency in dance. Could you tell us about the kinds of dance that you do and how they have influenced YIAN or perhaps even vice versa?
After doing the Magdalene tour with FKA twigs, being on the road with her and the dancers for the best part of a year - I just wanted to dance, to use my body as an instrument. I took classes in contemporary, ballet and then classical Chinese and contemporary Chinese dance. Initially I studied Chinese dance under Yiyun Li at Confucius Institute, and then developed my movement practice one on one with Chantel Foo, who I worked with on the video for Echo (directed by Jade Ang Jackman). Movement and dance is so much like music for me; I can express the things I can’t find the words for. I don’t think I am happier than when I am lost in dance, it’s something I hope I can continue to hold space for because there is so much to explore!
Finally, what are your plans for the rest of the year following YIAN’s release on March 24th?
My next headline show will be on May 9th at the ICA in London. Hopefully some more live dates coming soon.
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