May Chi an independent electronic musician and songwriter born in Hong Kong and now living in Loughborough, UK. She is a classical and electronic musician who releases her music on Spotify, SoundCloud, and Apple Music. She released her debut EP Blue, which she describes as a fusion of indie pop and rock with synth, on February 15. She chose the name because she feels that the color blue represents the aura of the tracks on the EP. The songs themselves revolve around her coming of age and address the themes of wanting to be heard, sexual consent, and the loneliness associated with depression. A few weeks before Blue’s release, we asked May to tell us more about her music, her sources of inspiration, and the effects of her coming of age on her creative process. A lightly edited version of our conversation appears ahead.
Retrograde Magazine: Firstly, I was hoping you could tell me a little bit more about yourself as a person and an artist. When and why did you start making music?
May Chi: I’ve always been a musician. I’ve been composing and performing since a young age, under the encouragement of my peers. Yet, it was always just a hobby, as I was actually going to pursue a career in visual art. However, I’d never had such a deep connection with art. Sure, I really enjoy sketching people and landscapes and working on multimedia pieces, but I never really resonated with art the way I did with music. Personally, music helps me feel emotions on a whole other level. It is also a form of self-expression – instruments and sounds are way more versatile than you expect them to be.
RM How does your work reflect themes of coming of age? Are there any particular tracks on Blue that speak to your coming of age?
MC The lyrics I wrote for the Blue EP are based on different stages of my coming of age from the ages of 18 to 21. “Mystery Lover” addresses my coming to terms that my fantasies are fantasies, regardless of how differently I’ve envisioned reality to be. “Collective of Minorities” and “Lock” speak of harsh personal experiences that led to me realising how important it was to fight for my own voice and rights.
RM Where do you get your inspiration? The dreamier, indie tones on your EP are almost ethereal to listen to. Are there any artists that inspire that style of music?
MC A lot of my inspiration comes from nature. I find that I reflect on my state of consciousness the best alone, in the middle of a large grass field as the clouds float by. I also get a lot of inspiration from indie rock and neo-psychedelic bands like Grizzly Bear, Tame Impala and Deerhunter. I really love their stuff – I’ve been enjoying Deerhunter’s new album, Why Hasn’t Everything Disappeared Already, quite a bit.RM What's going on in your life besides music? You mentioned being originally from Hong Kong but currently based in Loughborough. Has that impacted your work?
MC I’m also an artist, and I do a lot of drawings in my spare time. I’ve recently started painting again. My mind still works very visually, and experiencing the pastoral sceneries in the UK definitely was a new source of inspiration. It was a nice change from the cityscapes of Hong Kong. I’m quite influenced by my surroundings, and I feel like my more atmospheric works reflects that.
However, there are huge downsides to being an English-speaking Asian in the UK. While I was doing my bachelors at Bristol, I was the victim of a lot of harassment that was incredibly derogatory. I was unable to defend my friends or myself. This is partially how Collective of Minorities was born – several years’ worth of pent up anger towards having my voice stripped away by people who believed they were of a higher authority.
RM You mentioned the color blue as the aura of your EP - I actually got that feeling when listening to the EP myself. Are there particular ways in which you incorporated blue into the songs, or did that theme naturally emerge?
MC I’m somewhat a synesthete – I associate music very heavily with colours, sceneries and landscapes, so I feel like the connection came on quite gradually and naturally. I see blue as quite a “multifaceted” colour. On one hand, the most common association with blue is melancholy. At the same time, I feel like blue also has quite an optimistic and youthful disposition. It is also the colour of a lot of natural elements, which was definitely on my mind during the composition of tracks like “Mystery Lover” and “Dysthymia”.
RM Can you speak to the themes behind your songs and the EP a bit, and how you use music as a way to express and deal with the feelings of coming of age?
MC The Blue EP touches on my progression as a young adult as I discovered my identity, sexuality and voice amidst being in a foreign country with new friends, and the loneliness of it all.
My sexuality played a key role in my coming of age. The thought lingered rather persistently during early 2018, which inspired me to write “Mystery Lover”. The song also reflects my overactive imagination, and my tendency to construe ideal versions of people and scenarios. Originally I wrote it for the acoustic guitar, but I feel like my use of heavily reverberated vocals and synthesizers added this daydream-y ambience, adding to the fact that this is all, indeed, part of my imagination.
I wrote “Dysthymia” when I was 18. It addresses my difficulties with overcoming depression, and the importance of opening up about my issues. I proceeded to not do anything about them for another two years after writing the song, and while writing the lyrics, I made use of second-person narrative to portray the detachment from self and reality. I also used psychedelic rock-inspired thick reverberated harmonies and droning vocals in the middle passage to convey the deprecating, self-loathing downward spirals I’ve experienced.
RM You've spoken about your struggles with depression and discovering your sexuality, what advice would you give to others dealing with similar issues?
MC As blunt as this is, whether you like it or not, you have to confront reality. Although I have been depressed for many years, I was in partial denial until I told myself, “You have a problem. This state of mind is abnormal. This is unfairly impacting the people around you”. Alongside counselling, I also tried to think through all of the things that made me the unhappiest. It was an excruciatingly painful process, but I’m mentally doing way better than I ever have in the past four years.
I was always convinced I was straight. I’ve had girl crushes since I was 11, but it wasn’t until when I was 18 that I started thinking about my sexuality. I’ve never addressed this publicly, as I don’t really like the concept of coming out, nor do I really like labelling myself as anything. I believe that people shouldn’t be in a hurry to categorise themselves, or come to conclusions too quickly.
RM I was hoping you could tell me a bit about your music going forward. What are your goals for the future? Are you working on any new projects that you're particularly excited about?
MC I’m not entirely certain what path my music will take, but I’m looking to continue my in-depth exploration of electronic music production, and write some songs along the way. I’ve actually already started working on my next EP. The dream is to be behind the mixing desk with a whole deck of modular synths I know how to use (they look really intimidating).