Interview: Cherie Ko

Collages and interview by Jessia Khalis

Header photo by Juffrie Friday

Having studied in Singapore for four years, I only recently realized that Asia’s little red dot has tons of hidden gems in the music and art spheres. Thanks to Singapore: Inside Out, one of the most recent art events in Singapore, I came across Pastelpower — the electronic bedroom project of musician Cherie Ko. The first time I heard them play, I fell in love. But that’s not the entire story. I decided to get to know Cherie and pick her brain about her other projects and surprises outside of the Pastelpower moniker. Read on to hear her gems of wisdom!

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Hi Cherie! My name is Jessia. Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of Sonic Blume! First of all, I have to confess: I saw your performance with Pastelpower during the Singapore: Inside Out event at the end of 2015, and I’ve been listening to your songs on Bandcamp ever since! They are THAT GOOD. My favorites have to be “Mrs. Wolfe” and “Allergies”. It’s really sad that the first time I saw you guys perform was also the last time. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind Pastelpower and why you decided to discontinue this project?

Hey Jess! Thanks for coming down for the show. Why didn’t you come say hi afterwards? Would have loved to meet you. I’m glad you dig the songs. Although I made a boo-boo and forgot to include “Oh, Louie!” in what may have been the most epic farewell album ever released. But what do you know? Imperfections are what make life so endearing sometimes.

Pastelpower was inspired first and foremost by the film Edward Scissorhands. I was watching the opening sequence, and immediately a sweet, creepy tune started playing in my head. I quickly put the movie on mute, dusted off my keyboard, and created my own soundtrack to the aesthetics of this utopian pastel town. The song in question is “Pstlpwr”, which can be found in my final album Farewell Cruel World on Bandcamp.

I had so much fun with this project in the past 3 years and it’s given me so many precious memories. However, nothing lasts forever. I slowly found myself outgrowing this Pastelpower character that I created. I thought to myself, The twee wave chose me, but I did not choose it. With that, I’ve never looked back. I’ve taken my pastel playsuit off and I am ready to get darker now. I’m also kinda happy that I don’t have to wear the pastel suit again. Growing out of character aside, I don’t think I can fit into the same outfit that well now!

Pastelpower Lenne Chai

Photo by Lenne Chai

Pastelpower consisted of five girls. How did you find these amazing girls to be in your band? Are they all also musicians?

Pastelpower is actually a solo project of mine and I’ve always played alone with my trusty laptop and keyboard. Sometimes, it did get a little lonely on stage. For this final farewell show, I wanted Pastelpower to morph into something larger than itself. For that to happen, I knew that I absolutely HAD to have a girl band. Complete with costumes and glitter, no less. So I texted some of my coolest gal pals one night, and they all agreed to do it right off the bat.

They are all amazing musicians of their own right, 3 of them are front women of various bands, and Joanne is an animator who does ukulele covers on the side. All of them made my songs a little bit fuller, a little bit stronger, and a whole lot deadlier. I finally felt the true meaning of the phrase, “strength in numbers”. We even did a “graduation” photoshoot with Lenne Chai, a photographer that I really love. I’m glad we managed to capture our time together through Lenne’s lens.

Check them out here:

Jean – @giantsmustfall

Rachel – @lostweekendsg

Mel – @mel_kymmie

Joanne – @joannieo

I kind of get the idea that your new band, TOMGIRL, will be really different from Pastelpower in terms of style and character. Pastelpower had a cute and jolly vibe, while TOMGIRL seems to be more powerful and daring (correct me if I’m wrong). How do you feel about this transition in your music?Do you think this change will make you feel uncomfortable or do you think it’s important for musicians to experiment with their identity?

As people, we are all multi-faceted beings. I like the idea of comparing myself to a Russian doll, although seemingly one person on the outside, there’s in fact a me within a me within a me. Pastelpower is a mere fraction of who I am. Without knowing it, there are still so many versions of ourselves that we have yet to explore and express. I’m talking you, me, and everyone else included.

For TOMGIRL, it felt like a natural transition. I was at a dark moment in life when I first crossed paths with Ted, my bandmate. I was grappling with some anxiety issues, because I was at a crossroads and felt so uncertain of the future. The night before Ted headed back home to Melbourne, we had a midnight jam session at my place and wrote a song. After that, everything just fell into place.

this book serves as a precursor/caution to the brutalities of being in a band. i am not disillusioned. there will inevitably be terrible dramas that will unfold, misadventures, huge struggles and pressures of living up to expectations, depressive episodes, being broke af etc. it is kind of insane to be choosing to go down this path of being a musician in your mid 20’s – it throws all logic out of the window and goes completely against the grain of what it means to mature/grow up as a normal adult. despite the odds, this leaves me super psyched to get down and dirty with this business that is TOMGIRL. now is absolutely the most exciting time i could’ve possibly hoped for to be alive. thanks for the very timely recommended read, @lennatmak 👍🏻 #tomgirlband #carriebrownstein #cb #sleaterkinney

A post shared by Cherie Ko (@cherieko) on

 

We all have fears and insecurities. But I think we all gotta just live through it, be brave, and take on the unknown. I used to be afraid, but I told myself that I’m the writer of my own destiny (as cheesy as it sounds) so everything will pan out if I work hard enough. Personally, I feel the need to constantly reinvent myself, so that the music reflects who I am at every age. I love Bill Murray, but I’d never want to live in Groundhog Day and stay the same forever.

Tomgirl Cherlynn Lian

Photo by Cherlynn Lian

I can’t wait for TOMGIRL’s debut album! Can you give us an idea of what it’s going to be like? What concept do you have in mind for the album?

Me too! This album has been a long time coming, and we have worked really hard on it. I can’t wait to send it off to the world. TOMGIRL is a noire-pop duo heavily inspired by cult movies and film noir thrillers. We write songs about motorcycle gangs, femme fatales, the allure of the night, and of course – sex, drugs, and rock & roll! At times ugly and abrasive, but all brutally honest. Look out for lots of heavy guitar riffs, and pounding drum beats coming your way.

I’ve read that you started out making YouTube cover songs. I’m interested to know what it was like when you first started building your career. Have you always been familiar with the music world or is it something that you only decided to dive into recently?

I first picked up the guitar and started making covers on YouTube when I was 15. The internet literally watched me come-of-age as I went through my countless phases, from british boybands to ’emo’ to ‘hardcore’ to ‘folk’ to ‘indie’ to ’90’s shoegaze’. Needless to say, there were some moments I regret. Like that one time I sported a bowlcut hoping to look like Karen O but fell flat and ended up looking more like my 3 year old cousin.

It was never really a conscious effort on my part to build a career in music. It was just something I naturally gravitated towards, because of my love for it. In early 2012, I was scouted to join a band called Obedient Wives Club because they liked this Grizzly Bear cover that I posted on YouTube. I checked out their music and fell in love. So I went on to become their guitarist, and picked up the electric guitar along the way. With that, I was introduced to the local music scene.

During this period of constant gigging, I met Park Sooyoung at one of our shows. I bought him a beer and we became friends. He turned out to be the former frontman of American cult bands, Seam and Bitch Magnet from the 90’s. He asked if I wanted to write some songs together, and I readily agreed. (At this point, you can tell I enjoy spontaneity) The ball went rolling, and we formed a band Bored Spies together. We released a 7” single and went on to tour the world, hitting up various cities in Europe, UK, and US. We even landed a gig at Primavera Sound in Barcelona, which remains one of the biggest stages I’ve played thus far.

Bored SpiesJuffrie Friday

Photo by Juffrie Friday

I lived in Singapore for a few years and I know that pursuing career in the art and music industry is commonly seen as “risky”. But recently, we’ve started to see a rise in public appreciation for art and music in the society through various art events, museum exhibitions, et cetera. How do you feel about this? Growing up, has music always been in your mind or have you ever thought about pursuing other “safer” paths?

It’s awesome that the arts is on the rise in Singapore. With more people delving into it, the culture in our country is about to get a whole lot more colourful. That being said, it is indeed incredibly risky to pursue music and the arts, because you don’t get a stable income out of it. This doesn’t just apply to Singaporeans though, I believe it is just as risky anywhere else in the world. But isn’t that the beauty of it? Doing something because you want to, irregardless of what you’ll get out of it.

A few years ago, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing and took up a few jobs in that field. It just wasn’t for me, and the 9-5 left me feeling really drained and demoralized. Then one day while shopping for groceries, I ran into a friend who told me that the worst mistake that you can make is to think you are alive, when you’re really asleep in life’s waiting room. He told me that the trick was to combine your waking rational abilities with the infinite possibilities of your dreams. With that, you could do anything.

I think pursuing your passion and doing what you love could be seen as a risky move, but I can’t imagine myself having it any other way. Thankfully, Lennat, my manager (and also drummer for Obedient Wives Club), has been a great driving force to me. Through her, I’ve learnt so much about the music industry. She taught me about the tough realities, and how important it is to be smart and sustainable. She’s the one who told me not to make any compromises with my life and to give my 110%.

At the end of it all, I just wanna be able to give myself a big old pat on the back knowing that I tried my best. Gotta live or die trying! 🌼

CherieKo social Juffrie Friday

Photo by Juffrie Friday

Thanks to Cherie for her lovely and thoughtful responses! Keep up with her on Instagram and Twitter.

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One thought on “Interview: Cherie Ko

  1. Chen says:

    I’ve been watching Ko’s cover videos since she was a little kid. Hope she can find her success on this musical jouney.

    Like

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