If there was one surprising thing that Linying has discovered about herself recently, it’s that she can be very obsessive about her hobbies.
This quirk, brought about by a tart-making bender that has produced experimental flavours like lavender chocolate with angostura bitters, reveals a tenacity that the 28-year-old singer-songwriter never thought she had.
“I remember seeing a picture of a grapefruit tart on Instagram [during the circuit breaker in 2020], and intensely craving it. At the time, all of the F&B outlets were closed, and that was what sparked my whole spiral into researching and baking.
“I would look up different protein content in flour to compare what could get me the best possible product, and I would be very exact and uncompromising. As it turns out, I have some discipline and some level of meticulousness which you wouldn’t necessarily expect an artist to have, I think,” she says with a laugh.
For someone who confesses that she has never really cooked – or baked – before, Linying dove headfirst into one of the most intensely difficult pastries to make at home. This impassioned approach is obvious in her music as well.
Since stepping into the local scene in 2016, Linying has garnered a loyal following for her emotive and lyrical music, which often documents the rollercoaster of love and heartbreak.
This time, however, there is a touch of hope and optimism with her debut album, There Could Be Wreckage Here. Released last month, the eight-track record features Good Behaviour, an up-tempo tune that is also Linying’s favourite composition so far.
“I have waited my whole life to write a song like this one,” she declared on Twitter earlier in January this year.
And true to her introspective style, Linying explores the realisation that one doesn’t have to put on their best front in order to be truly accepted in a relationship.
“The idea behind Good Behaviour comes from the baggage of past relationships where I always felt like things would be okay if I just “behaved”. Like if anything went wrong, it’s because I couldn’t control my emotions, and if I was just able to hold it in, then nothing would go wrong. This feeling that people only want me when I’m on my best behaviour was something that stuck to me subconsciously.”
It’s an empowering revelation, one that’s a part of a journey encompassing an almost worldly perspective on life, love and relationships.
“This album is just me navigating all these things, noticing these things, and asking myself, do I want to be governed by that, or should I let go? I think most of my songs are about my inability to let go, but it reaches this apex in Good Behaviour where I’m finally like, maybe it’s too good to be true, but whatever comes, comes, and you shouldn’t live in fear.
“That’s not to say that I’m now enlightened, and no longer living in fear. I’m still scared of everything that comes my way, but it’s important, I guess, to have these moments of bravery and to remember them,” she says.
Charting her growth
Linying is perhaps best known to most Singaporeans for The Road Ahead, the 2021 National Day song she wrote with music producer Evan Low. Being in the national spotlight has expanded her audience from a community of indie music lovers to the mainstream.
“[Being a songwriter] is something that I’m very happy to be recognised for. When people zero in on the lyrics, that kind of makes me very happy… rather than just be an artist, whatever that means. The thing about doing NDP is getting a few weird fans and comments on social media. Generally I don’t get many odd comments, but every now and then I get a few creeps in my inboxes. But it’s OK; it’s easy to ignore and a decent price to pay,” she chuckles.
There is no doubt that Linying has come a long way from taking part in a secondary school singing competition on a whim at the age of 13. Growing up, the daughter of a business owner and math teacher listened to country singers such as Kenny Rogers, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton.
Says Linying: “That was what shaped my music early on. It is this strain of storytelling and descriptive nature of country music that has really informed the way I write and is what really draws me to music. It paints such a visual and specific picture. That’s where my love of specificity comes from.”
Interestingly, it was electronic music that gave the fledgling songwriter a start in the industry. Her YouTube channel, which featured videos of her singing, drew the attention of electronic music producers and DJs. This included German producer Felix Jaehn, whose remix of Jamaican singer Omi’s song Cheerleader topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 2015, with whom she wrote the song, Eagle Eyes. The track was later played at popular music festival Coachella in 2016. At the time, she was a third-year student studying European history at the National University of Singapore.
Fast forward to 2022, and Linying has worked with other notable talents like Chris Walla, the former guitarist of American alternative rock band, Death Cab for Cutie. The collaboration resulted in the song Daylight Goes Into One Door, the first single to be released from the album. Unlike Good Behaviour, Daylight’s rousing choral-like composition is a melancholic interpretation of the fleeting nature of life.
“It’s this realisation that I had when I was a child, where everybody I loved is going to die, and one day, I’m going to feel the pain and ‘pay’ for how good things are right now. So the better things are right now, the worse the pain is going to be. This is, I guess, the governing theme for the whole album. Life and death, love and loss – these are such a natural and essential part of the human experience.”
Bringing comfort to her listeners
Despite delving into these heavy themes in her work, Linying simply hopes to connect with her audience through the honesty in which she reflects on the highs and lows of life.
“My music doesn’t offer any solutions. It’s more like I’m the friend that cries with you. I don’t give you any solutions to any of your problems, but I acknowledge that they are there and we can all go through it together.”
She has reached out to her listeners by sending her songs to subscribers of her Telegram group and weekly newsletter. And just like her baking hobby, this routine that Linying established over Covid-19 became a personal commitment that she embraced.
“I’ve always been told [at marketing label meetings] that I needed to engage with fans more, or post more on social media. I’ve always felt very frustrated by this, because I would feel like, what is there for me to tell people? I don’t really want to share what I ate all the time or what I’m wearing [at the moment]. There are some parts of me that I maybe don’t want to put out in public. I would always feel like my career would be under threat if I don’t share my whole life in excruciating detail.
But Covid-19 really gave me the opportunity to realise that if I wanted to connect with my fans through music, this is how I could do it. And I ended up cultivating the kind of crowd that I just feel so comfortable with. I feel like I could be friends with all of them – they are never disrespectful, and they are always so courteous and polite. The way they interact with the music, I know they see and understand everything. That’s probably my proudest achievement of 2021,” she says earnestly.
What does she hope for her listeners to take away from her work? Linying ponders the question thoughtfully.
“I don’t think it’s going to change the world or anything like that, but I do hope that for anyone who listens to these songs – maybe they are going through the same thing right now, or they have gone through it before, or they will go through it at some point – that they will find comfort and company in it. I think that’s the main thing. As a listener, music has accompanied me throughout my life and that is my small hope that I wish to impart. It’s just the company.”
The self-confessed foodie shares her favourite homegrown establishments.
“One of my favourite local discoveries is this lei cha (a Hakka dish comprising a mix of tea leaves, herbs, roasted nuts, seeds and grains) place at People’s Park Centre called Thunder Tree (thundertree.sg). They are natural, organic, vegan, and have their own organic vegetable farm, so everything tastes amazingly fresh. I’m always amazed by how they make their noodles taste so good without any sort of alliums in it. it just blows my mind. Another place that I really love is Kobashi (@kobashi_sg), a home-based sourdough donut bakery.”