We join the songwriter, producer and sound artist to talk everything from creative process to personal style, plus how love and loss inspires her music.

‘Unnecessarily maximalist, untidy, colourful.’ This is how Cehryl describes her personal interior style. And, while her home studio is filled with things she’s collected over the years; at The Floristry, we’d liken this collection of found objects, photos and letters from friends to her music: a deeply personal collage of stories, memories and relationships that seem to offer new meaning with each listen. ‘You want to create a space where you feel safe to open up,’ she explains, ‘to access all your ideas and everything that you’re feeling and thinking.’

The songwriter, producer and sound artist first started writing around age 13 (‘bad songs, of course’), and continues to be influenced by ‘every musician I’ve ever listened to’. As you might expect, the list is as diverse as her interiors, featuring everyone from Adrienne Lenker and Frank Ocean (‘I love that they’re musicians, but also writers/poets at heart’) to A Tribe Called Quest, the group she has on repeat right now. ‘I think music is the closest thing to expressing the impossible,’ she says. Here, Cehryl talks creative process, and how the experience of love, loss and longing inspires her to write.

How do you practice self-love?

Self-love at home is all about skincare, good air ventilation and a floral candle, as well as many other things. Colour is very important to me. I think of flowers as paints – I love small, white daisies; big sunflowers; lavender (they remind me of Hokkaido) and red roses, too – so colour discerns whether I like a flower.

Who or what encouraged you to write music?

Growing up, I listened to a lot of Jay Chou, Cantopop (everything on the radio), Avril Lavigne, ABBA, Green Day, Sum 41, Alicia Keys, The Black Eyed Peas, Kelly Clarkson, as well as Chopin and Debussy. Avril Lavigne and Jay Chou both really inspired me and empowered me to write songs. At age 13, I had obviously not experienced romantic love, but I would emulate them by attempting to write very innocent and naive songs about heartbreak.

You’ve lived in Hong Kong and Los Angeles – how do the­se places influence you?

Hong Kong is the foundation of my identity. Los Angeles felt like a necessary, but temporary escape, which exposed me to many kinds of people, especially within music. Prior to being in LA, I had an idealised, one-dimensional understanding and yearning for the music industry or musicians in general. Hong Kong takes me back to my childhood and reminds me of the people and culture that I was raised on. I’m not sure these two places have changed my music… but they have changed how I see myself within society.

“Writing for me is a way of archiving my life, of somehow warding off my existential anxieties by creating evidence of experiences, memories and emotions.”

What are the main themes in your work?

I write about love and loss and nostalgia and everything personal… Writing for me (both in song form and in other forms) is a way of archiving my life, of somehow warding off my existential anxieties by creating evidence of experiences, memories and emotions. It is therapeutic in that it allows me to simultaneously process and reflect on my experiences by piecing together an honest, vulnerable collage of words and melodies. I find that when I am in love with zero conflicts or negative emotions, or generally in a very happy state of mind, it is difficult to write something interesting. I don’t subscribe to the myth of the tortured artist, but I do think pain/sadness fares well (better than happiness/contentment) in inspiring a writer, artist or human, as it creates opportunities for reflection and for vulnerability. Emotional struggle is necessary for growth as it is necessary for art.

Tell us about your creative process. What’s your starting point?

My creative process is honestly pragmatic: I sit down and push through the fear of not being able to write something until I actually write something that I don’t hate. ‘Inspiration’ sometimes comes when I’m walking down the street or humming in the shower, but the actual creative process – collaging, writing, creating – is just discipline and work. For example, the melody of ‘angels (emily)’ came first. I strummed my guitar for a while and discovered this riff, then I recorded it into my iPhone and dragged it into Ableton. After doubling the guitar and arranging the structure of the verse, I looped it to write the lyrics to the rough melody I had in my head. The song is about desperately wanting something.

Give us a sense of your space – what makes it unique?

In my room, flowers symbolise tenderness and function as shades of colour – my room is extremely colourful. I like earthy, woody tones, browns, oranges, deep yellows. I have a fake brick wall because I watched too many videos of New York lofts on YouTube. I have a lot of different patterns of fabric that I use to line my shelves, and a lot of posters on the wall. I describe myself as a maximalist because I keep a lot of unnecessary items for sentimental value. I want to keep a piece of everything. My room is rather small (Hong Kong!) and cluttered (but clean!). I have way too many books lying around (and loose sheets of paper) and lots of patterns.

How do you create an inspiring home or workspace?

I’m a trinkets kind of person. Everything is symbolic to me. Loose receipts and sheets of paper with scribbles on them, photographs, notebooks. Anything that is reminiscent of memories. I have this tiny, little ceramic figure of a baby Buddha covering their eyes and smiling (from a ‘See No, Hear No, Speak No’ set, I believe). I found it in a tiny flower shop in Hong Kong a few years ago. I'm not really Buddhist, but I loved the idea of having this Buddha accompany me while I make music in my room, as if reminding me to focus on what I can hear, reminding me to make and listen to music with ears – and not with my eyes (ie, to not think too much about how the song is doing numbers-wise, or what it looks like in Ableton, etc). The little Buddha feels like a kind of imaginary friend or pet that accompanies me in the quiet of the night.

“I think of the idea of creative block as… passiveness. For me, it usually occurs when you haven’t been keeping your mind and heart open to things.”

Have you ever experienced creative block – if so, how did you overcome this?

I have never overcome it [laughs]! I think of the idea of creative block as… passiveness, as not doing something actively to counter it. When I experience it, I just keep forcing myself to write. Half of the process is learning, absorbing, collecting – and the other half is work. For me, creative block usually occurs when you haven’t been keeping your mind and heart open to absorbing things, or if you’re not in the right headspace, or don’t have the energy to sit down and do the hard work.

When did you last feel connected to nature?

I really love trees. Whenever I find parks that aren’t crowded and have a lot of trees, I like to read there. It’s hard to get out and feel connected to nature in a place like Hong Kong – especially as someone who doesn’t like to hike (sorry!) – but I really love parks and I love empty, quiet beaches, too.

What does 2022 and the future hold?

Hopefully a lot more music – songwriting, soundtracking, as well as publishing zines/writing-related things. As a creative ritual, I’ll start a new Moleskine [laughs] in January – the splurge always feels like the most legitimate reset, plus writing down what I have and haven’t done last year, and how I can do better this year.

Follow Cehryl’s creative journey @cehryl