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Lucinda Chua
Lucinda ChuaPhotography Clayton Vomero

Lucinda Chua’s spellbinding songwriting will leave you hooked

Listen to a new mixtape from Lucinda Chua, the London-based singer, songwriter, composer, and cellist, who previously played in FKA twigs’ live band

It was a chance moment of studio experimentation that set Lucinda Chua onto the path she’s on today. As a member of FKA twigs’ live band, Chua was preparing for a show with band member LJ Howe, attempting to come up with a cello part for “How’s That”. “It has all these gorgeous, wide-spread chords that are just so melty and delicious,” Chua says. “Everything I played sounded so... I don’t know. Like a cello. It just bought the song crashing back down to earth.”

After running the cello through a delay pedal, playing sweeping harmonics with a light touch while Howe messed with the pedal’s settings, Chua hit upon the perfect sound. “It wasn’t like a cello – it was frozen and glassy, like a shiver,” she says. “Before that moment, I never thought about production as an instrument. It had never crossed my mind to control or manipulate the tone of the cello, I’d just accepted its given sound. Since then, I’ve been experimenting with more sounds, which I’ve developed into an improvised solo set – just me and the cello with a bunch of FX pedals.”

On Chua’s new single “Somebody Who”, the London-based artist embraces all of these sonic possibilities, crafting a quiet piece of songwriting that’s expansive in scope, sombre in tone, and beautifully weightless. Strings, a new mixtape that Chua has created to accompany the song, similarly envelopes you, deftly weaving together ambient pop, introverted hip hop, and neoclassical music with Chua’s own compositions. It follows a long string of collaborations Chua has made with a who’s who of emerging talent, including Westerman and K Á R Y Y N.

We spoke to Chua as she readies her debut EP to talk about Strings, growing up with the cello, and what she has coming up next.

Did growing up in Milton Keynes influence your relationship with music?

Lucinda Chua: I could not have stuck out more as the mixed race city kid in a very insular, very conservative, very white village. I felt so different. My music taste was different, my clothes, my accent, my face, the customs and values my family held... in the beginning, I really tried so hard to assimilate because I wanted to make friends, but after a while I just couldn’t keep it up. I dropped out of school for a bit before my GCSEs, but my parents encouraged me to go back. Music was literally the one thing that kept me going. It became my survival mechanism and my escape. Playing music was the only place I felt celebrated and I was totally fearless with my ambitions because I had absolutely nothing to lose.  

What was the first music you discovered that you felt you could call your own?

Lucinda Chua: I went to Reading Festival when I was 15, with my sister who was 13 – we must have been the youngest people there. We were up so early, I remember running to the Evening Session tent to watch the first band play. It was Mogwai, and they had a cellist playing with them. I felt like that moment was just for me. The tent was completely empty – we couldn’t understand why, until they stopped and we realised we were watching their soundcheck. We went back to see them play that evening, right at the very front, pressed up against the barrier. I had never heard music like that before. The following year, I joined a post-rock band playing cello and a Juno synth.

Who do you turn to for advice when you’re in a creative rut?

Lucinda Chua: To be honest, there’s been no time for ruts – this past year, I said ‘yes’ to everything. From all the shows I’ve done with Gwilym Gold at Laylow for his residency and his Songwriters Circle night, to the studio work with CY AN, to playing with Nabihah Iqbal, Mansur Brown, Ben Vince, Laura Misch, Westerman, K Á R Y Y N, soundtracking these amazing films for Marianna Simnett and Clayton Vomero, going to Portugal for a music residency to live and work with a group of artists I’d never even met… I figured the more I gave to others, the more I would learn about myself. And it’s been such a pleasure to form new relationships through the music, to really get to connect with people in a way that feels meaningful. Because in all honesty, when you’re making music with someone – especially someone you’ve never met before and you’re meeting for the first time inside the music – all the surface level stuff becomes irrelevant. You either feel it, or you don’t.

Outside of music work, I have some pretty incredible people in my life. My friend Amy, who quit her job to found a tech startup called Moody which is set to change the future of women’s health, my sister Cecily, who is so grounded, switched on and socially and ethically-minded, my friend Emily who is a producer and a brilliant photographer who helped me shoot some 16mm footage for my single, my friends Joss and Simon who are two of the most emotionally intelligent guys I know, my parents… without this unconditional love, I wouldn’t have the guts to push myself quite so hard.

“When you’re making music with someone, all the surface level stuff becomes irrelevant. You either feel it, or you don’t” – Lucinda Chua

What can you tell us about the Strings mix that you’ve put together?

Lucinda Chua: I saw an exhibition by Linder at Nottingham Contemporary earlier this year. I liked how she included the work of many artists in her show – she was presenting herself as part of a coven. It gave an insight into how she thought, not just what she made. I thought it was a really innovative thing to do, to stretch beyond your own language and form.

The mix is a 30-minute edit of recordings I made and recordings I found. Recent releases I’ve been stuck on, classical music that has inspired me, voice notes from my friends, collaborative sessions I’ve captured, instrumental pieces I’ve produced. I kind of chopped it all up into pieces and glued it back together in a new form, smoothing it over with extra string arrangements. This is what it sounds like inside my head.

My hope is that there can be more opportunities and more commissions for collaborations like this to take place in real life, so that more artists can have access to these beautiful instruments and that more instrumentalists can gain access to new worlds and new ways of working.

What else are you working on now?

Lucinda Chua: I’ve been working on a score for a feature-length documentary called 3OHA, a new film made by my friend Clayton Vomero. I’ve put some tracks from the OST in the mix as a preview before the film drops next year. My friend Marianna Simnett has an exhibition at the New Museum in New York, which I soundtracked. It’s showing right now until January. And then more music, of course! I tested my show out in a live session for the launch of Boiler Room’s 4:3 platform earlier this year, and I played a set in Peckham last week opening for GAIKA. I’ve been waiting so long to do something in my own voice – my first single came out a few weeks back. I just want to make more and share more.

STRINGS TRACKLIST

01. Lucinda Chua x Alex Epton – “Swan Lake 1”
02. Douglas Dare – “Whelm”
03. Lucinda Chua – “Cello Improvisation”
04. Tirzah – “Devotion” (feat. Coby Sey)
05. Alex Epton – “Then”
06. Lucinda Chua – “Marianna’s House” (feat. Latir)
07. Tierra Whack – “4 Wings”
08. John Tavener / Steven Isserlis – “The Protecting Veil III”
09. Tayfun Erdem – “Overtune”
10. Claude Debussy – “Beau Soir”
11. Field Recording Of The Church Bell At The Convent, Montemor-o-novo
12. Ravel / Beaux Arts Trio – “Piano Trio III”
13. Tirzah – “Devotion” (feat. Coby Sey)
14. Mansur Brown x Lucinda Chua – “Slow Jam”
15. Suokas – “Skygger”
16. Oneohtrix Point Never – “Manifold”
17. Alex Epton – “Emilios Blotto”
18. Lucinda Chua – “Meditations On A Place”
19. Joe Summers x Lucinda Chua x Zoe McPherson – “Rooftop Clip”
20. Lucinda Chua – “Gentler”