Singapore’s Charlie Lim has collaborated with Japanese singer Miho Fukuhara on a new song, ‘Ashes’.
On the moving duet, released today (October 27), the two artists sing of loss and loneliness – a theme that was informed by the coronavirus pandemic and the distance and isolation it imposed on people worldwide. It includes lyrics in both English and Japanese, and marks Lim’s first time singing in Japanese on a studio recording.
‘Ashes’ also features piano and arrangement work by Lim’s frequent collaborator Chok Kerong. “We wanted to keep the sounds organic; things that felt warm and inviting and meditative,” Lim explained in a statement. “But at the same time placing everything in a huge space, like a cave or a temple, where as if you could be alone with your thoughts.”
Lim and Fukuhara talked to NME about how they met, the first sessions for ‘Ashes’, collaboration, artistic independence and much more. Stream ‘Ashes’ below and read on for their interview.
How are both of you holding up during this unpredictable year?
Charlie Lim: It definitely hasn’t been easy, but I’ve just been trying to tell myself that it could be a lot worse, and we’ll just have to adapt somehow and hope things blow over soon. Obviously gigs and touring are a no-go right now, but it’s also forced me into writing and doing more production work again.
Miho Fukuhara: After lockdown in Japan began, I felt a sense of loss and uncertainty about the future. I spent a lot of time incorporating meditation and practicing it more than ever to remind myself that I am an artist and that things will hopefully blow over soon.
How did you get to know each other in the first place?
Charlie: We got to know each other through her husband Sebastian, who booked me for a festival a few years ago. We became friends and they let me crash with them when I was in Tokyo back in 2017. I helped to dogsit Sparky, their Jack Russell Terrier, when they were away.
They were in Singapore the following year and wanted to stay for a longer period so they flew Sparky over, too. Unfortunately they had to head back earlier due to unforeseen circumstances and I ended up dogsitting again. If you listen closely enough to my last record [2018 album ‘CHECK-HOOK’] you can hear Sparky barking and whimpering on a couple of tracks.
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this is Sparky, @miho_fukuhara’s jack russell. i got to take care of her in 2017 when i was staying with miho & her family in tokyo, and again in 2018 when they were in singapore and brought Sparky over. i was finishing up vocals for my last album, so if you listen closely to a couple of tunes off CHECK-HOOK you’ll hear Sparky barking and whining in the background…’twas a wonderful time. p.s. miho and i have a song coming out tomorrow 🐶 it’ll be my first recording in japanese!
Miho: I listened to his music after my husband told me that Charlie was a great musician and had a wonderful personality. He was looking for a place to stay for a writing session in Tokyo and so he stayed in our spare apartment that was also my part-time studio. From that point, he showed great affection [for] our dog and helped me walk her during his stay in Tokyo.
When we had to go back to Japan after a long stay in Singapore, he took care of my dog for a month! We also spent a very memorable (wet!) New Year’s Eve with Charlie, his wife and our family.
The collaboration that is ‘Ashes’ began while Miho was in Singapore. What were your in-person sessions or discussions like?
Charlie: It was just a chill hang without any expectation; I was just noodling around on my guitar and Miho felt inspired by a riff I was playing and wrote the melody from there. Miho’s got such a soulful voice, even though we didn’t have proper lyrics then, I knew we had to do some layers and harmonies just to get an idea of what the song could be. So we put together a demo and let it stew.
Miho: He was very relaxed. I was a bit anxious, and Charlie being so kind made me a throatcoat tea. After gaining a bit of composure, we went into the session. I guess we both went in without any expectations.
I had no idea what it was going to be like until Charlie started playing a few songs. He was tuning his guitar to prepare for the recording and the tone and the chords were amazing, so I suggested, “Why don’t we do an intro with that vibe?” He was able to come up with a great intro quickly and the song just grew together from there.
The lyrics of ‘Ashes’ are personal for both of you. Did you write them together?
Miho: At first, Charlie was moving to London for a half year, so I thought, “Why not make it a love song for someone you love, whom you won’t see for more than a six months?”
However, after that, our world obviously changed because of COVID and the lockdown. We worked on the song little by little, giving it a title early on while thinking about not being able to see our loved ones and the thoughts of those who had lost their family and friends.
Charlie: We’d finished the melody and main structure of the song when we were together, but wrote the lyrics separately. We didn’t have anything that concrete until this whole COVID thing happened. A close relative of mine had passed away, and I couldn’t go to his funeral because of all the quarantine restrictions. I was working on the song and it became a eulogy of sorts, I guess. I just wrote about how much I miss him and hope that he’s in a better place now.
Charlie, you’ve released quite a few collaborations this year: ‘Two Sides’ with Gentle Bones and ‘Hummingbird’ with Linying. How have these recent experiences singing and writing with others been?
Charlie: I think this whole year has been about collaborating and learning to work with others. It’s been really refreshing, because I’m usually the one doing everything on my own and nothing’s worse in the world of writing than hitting a roadblock without someone to help get you out of your own head.
Collaborations do require a bit more juggling moving pieces and variables, not just on the music front but also logistics and whatnot, which makes you a little less precious about things because you just have to trudge along if you want to get it across the finish line.
Miho, you founded your own label Upopo Records last year, and released the EP ‘Love Don’t Come Easy’ after many years with Sony Music Japan. What was the experience of going independent again like?
Miho: It feels really good, LOL. However, right now I don’t have much time because I have to do everything myself. It’s fun to think about what I can do and work on it rather than waiting for someone else to do it for me, and it’s also fun to make mistakes at my age.
When I was at Sony Music, there were many staff members who worked to bring the music to an audience. I think that’s a really great asset and I’m very grateful to them. But, as you know, there are so many tools available now for anyone to communicate to their fans themselves.
Doing music at your own pace and not having to deal with major label pressure is very much in line with the current times. I think a lot of people may have lost their confidence during this pandemic, and a lot of people have lost their jobs. Some of my friends practiced and learned their first instruments during the lockdown.
Things can be fun if you change your perspective. I want people to realise that the truth is that everyone is born an artist and I want them to be exposed to a lot of art. It’s just a matter of doing it or not doing it.
Both of you have new music coming up – what can fans expect from you in the next couple of months?
Charlie: I’m on a song with another Japanese artist named Kan Sano who’s a great producer and instrumentalist, and I’m doing a couple of remixes for some bands. I have a single that’s coming out at the end of the year as well, which is also going to be a duet.
Miho: I’ll be featured on a track next month by legendary Japanese rocker Hotei who’s best known internationally for “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” – the theme song for Kill Bill. The track is produced by Bluey from Incognito whom I previously toured with before.
The songs I’m preparing are an extension of what I’m feeling right now. I wrote them because I believe they convey messages that my fans need to hear. I was depressed many times this year but music always brings me back. Next year is going to be a great year! I want to release my accumulated energy as I have a tour lined up in January.