Linying starts her debut album with something like a warning. “There could be wreckage here,” she sings on opener ‘This Time, Tomorrow’. “A flare in the sun / Storms in the atmosphere.” Then she goes on to reveal that even if disaster looms, she still feels gloriously at home: “And I’ll be the one / To be on my feet running down the street yelling, ‘I’m happiest like this’.”
The 28-year-old Singaporean singer-songwriter isn’t a storm chaser, though she does anticipate the rain. “I look at things and good moments with this second lens of – if I’m so happy now, imagine how sad I’m going to be when it’s gone,” she tells NME in a quiet recording studio in early January.
“It’s directly proportional: my happiness grows in tandem with my fear and my imagined sadness. Which is very unhelpful, because obviously when you lose it, you’re already going to be sad, so what’s the point of living it twice? I don’t know, it’s a bad habit I can’t seem to kick.”
The self-described melancholic is, in person, anything but. With a pretzel in one hand and a piece of dried fruit in the other, Linying spends a hour snacking and talking to NME about her new album ‘There Could Be Wreckage Here’. It’s a debut long in the making, released six long years after her voice rang out at Coachella (via a song she did with German DJ Felix Jaehn) and she released her breakout single ‘Sticky Leaves’ and debut EP ‘Paris 12’, becoming a young star in Singapore’s music scene.
“It’s directly proportional: my happiness grows in tandem with my fear and my imagined sadness”
In ‘This Time Tomorrow’, Linying muses a little on how she’s changed: “Used to cause a commotion to know / If I’m supposed to be on my own… But then these days / I’m bold, I know better.” And compared to ‘Paris 12’, with its aqueous production and knotty metaphors, ‘There Could Be Wreckage Here’ is certainly a bolder record. Linying’s crisp voice is front and centre, her lyrics by turns vulnerable and wry.
‘There Could Be Wreckage Here’ is also Linying’s most collaborative release yet, though you wouldn’t necessarily know that merely from listening to it. The production is spacious and subtle, belying the number of producers whose fingerprints are on the record: Tentendo, Rob Amoruso, Micah Jasper, MILCK and the duo Myriot.
“Music and songwriting has always been such a personal and emotional process [for me]. I’ve always been very scared to share it with people,” Linying says. “But after a series of botched writing trips, of being matched to the wrong producers and it just not working out, I have learnt to appreciate real musical collaboration.”
One of those collaborators is Chris Walla, the former guitarist of Death Cab For Cutie, who co-wrote the enchanting closer ‘Daylight Blows Into One Door’. After a spell talking about disappointing cowriting sessions – including one with a producer who was on Snapchat the entire time – NME reminds Linying that she worked with one of her heroes and she lets out a high-pitched exclamation of joy.
“That’s the highlight of my life,” she says of the weekend she spent in New York City writing with Walla. “He would give me a lot of space, and then he would just come in with, like, one little thing that would change everything.”
Linying had been inspired by a ray of sunlight coming through a window in her London Airbnb – a mundane image made melancholic by her homesickness. “Initially I was singing ‘daylight glows into one door’. And all of a sudden he was like, ‘what if we made it blows?’” She gasps and laughs. “Yeah, you know what, that actually captures the feeling so much better. Just makes it all the more fleeting and ephemeral. He doesn’t say much, but when he does, it really changes the song.”
Linying’s preoccupation with inevitable, impending loss – the darkness after the daylight – shades even her lighter songs. On the sprightly ‘Springtime’, she’s convinced the romantic attentions she’s enjoying are just the trappings of infatuation that’s as temporary as the seasons. “The tides are turning now and you find / I get your insides churning,” she says knowingly, “It’s not that I’m unfazed – I just know my place.”
So you find yourself rejoicing when on the radiant ‘Good Behaviour’, she throws caution to the wind and declares she wants to give the great leap that is love a shot. As she puts it, “I’ll stop the surprise jam-braking / I’ll stop all the ‘Springtime’ shit, all right / I’ll stop it with the self-preservation that’s pushing me to ask all the same things twice.”
NME singles out the “self-referential” ‘Springtime’ mention in ‘Good Behaviour’, and Linying sucks in air between her teeth. “Is it self-referential or is it self-absorbed?” she splutters, laughing.
“It’s quite difficult for me to write about things outside of my experience,” she admits. “Maybe I’ll find a way to do that one day. For me, right now, music is something that comes from this place of emotional intensity, and the only way I access that is through my own experience.”
Linying grapples with the implications of this “self-centered” approach to songwriting – and how she moves through her life, as a friend recently pointed out to her, as if she were its main character. “I have always known that the more specific and the more personal your work is, the more it will resonate with people because as a listener, that’s how I’ve always felt with music,” she says.
“So I’ve always made that my goal, but I think it’s been so long since I’ve made that decision that I focus so much on the mechanics of it, like: OK, be keenly aware of how you feel about these things.”
Linying calls that attention to interiority, that honesty with herself, “emotional dexterity” – something she hopes to maintain as she continues to make music. She’s already writing her next album, working with Singaporean producer and songwriter Josh Wei of Snakeweed Studios. They’ve known each other a long time, but had never worked together closely, “because we’ve always assumed that we have very different sensibilities. But we had a conversation and he was in the same headspace as me: To just make music that sounds good… Focus on making it the best it possibly can be, then everything else will come.”
“Whatever we think we know about pop, or what people want to listen to, we clearly don’t know well enough… We give people too little credit for what they’re willing to listen to”
Working with Wei, Linying says she’s pushed to think less about big theoretical questions and more about the visceral ones: why is a song catchy, and why does it keep her listening? She grows animated as she talks about pop music’s boundless horizons, expanding as if before her very eyes:
“Over 2020, I was listening to a lot of The Carpenters. And I realised that, you know, these songs were pop once, they were hits on the radio. Whatever we think we know about pop, or what people want to listen to, we clearly don’t know well enough. We keep restricting ourselves to these rules, or we define ourselves by – it’s either top 40s or you’re obscure. But that’s not true.
“We give people too little credit for what they’re willing to listen to. ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ has like, a million chords in it, but we always say that in order for it to be a catchy song it needs to be four chords, which is not true. As humans, we are drawn to things that aren’t so simple.”
Linying’s ‘There Could Be Wreckage Here’ is out now via Sony Music Entertainment Singapore