For singer-songwriter and producer cehryl, music is a life calling.
Cehryl, whose name is Cheryl Chow, dove into songwriting and playing her own music before she was 9. The culture of her hometown helped her to be an observant listener, a quality that seeped into the perspective reflected in her songs, she said in a recent interview from her home in Hong Kong. Her sound also formed through a well-rounded variety of influences over time.
“I honestly grew up listening to a lot of Abba and Avril Lavigne, and my parents listened to a lot of Air Supply,” she said. “So I listened to both Cantonese pop music on the radio, which was super melody-based, as well as a lot of English-speaking pop music when I was young.”
Cehryl ventured to the U.K. for high school. But even as she stayed with other family members who lived there, it took her time to grow accustomed to living in another country.
“I hated the food there. I was super spoiled because Hong Kong is the best for food,” cehryl said, laughing. “So it was more homesickness, rather than culture shock.”
When it came time to figure out what to do next, she was set on taking her love for music production to the next level. But that leap did take some convincing for her family.
“I wasn’t thinking of studying music at all [before] because, I think, [for] a lot of traditional parents and families, especially in Southeast Asia, doing art is not really considered a real career path,” cehryl said. “So I had conflict with that, but it’s totally understandable, and I know that it’s out of concern for financial stability. But I definitely had to fight for it, and now they really support me.”
She attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where her interests, artistry and personal transformation truly took flight.
“The friends I had at school growing up, more of them had more of a conventional path, and so I wasn’t really exposed to that much music,” cehryl said. “When I moved to Boston and met my friends who introduced me to so many genres of music, they really expanded my musicality and my understanding of the world.”
Berklee made such an impression on that she dedicated her upcoming sophomore EP, Time Machine, to all the best memories from those times. The name suited the nostalgic themes of the tracks. Cehryl said she feels a special connection with “Philadelphia,” which she wrote in 2019 about missing her college years.
“I think a lot of people relate to this, just the sense of you’re adult enough to have graduated high school, but also you’re not ‘adult’ enough,” cehryl said. “In my experience I felt really carefree, like I wasn’t adult enough to worry about my life just yet. It’s this era where you’re just meeting new people and you’re exploring what you want to be as a person. I just felt the most free.”
When she first started making music, her main focus was production and engineering, in addition to songwriting. She released her first album, Slow Motion, in 2019. She said that because she had a shy personality, she never imagined she’d one day sing herself, which she started after moving to Los Angeles.
“One of the first times I performed live in Boston, I was about to start, and there was a crowd in front of me; I was truly planning on running away. I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” cehryl said. “But since owning it in L.A., because I had to do live shows and couldn’t just run away from that, I would just stick it out. And I found that once I started singing the music, and once I just closed my eyes, it felt like I was in an empty space, just with the music.”
After a problem with her visa arose in mid-2019, cehryl moved from L.A. and to Hong Kong. She has since been working to balance her songwriting and a full-time job, first as a digital media manager and now in an operational position at a coworking space. Even though she misses Boston, she said moving from L.A. was liberating.
“There were a lot of expectations about what you should do or how you should be as an artist in L.A.,” cehryl said. “There was a lot of competition that kind of made me doubt my own music and focus on the wrong things.”
Hong Kong helped her to clarify what she wanted out of music.
“In a sense, it also made my passion and desire to make music stronger,” cehryl said.
She’s not sure of her next plans because the pandemic leaves many questions unanswered. For now, cehryl plans to continue making music as well as pursuing her other interest: photography, which she said she’s enjoyed since the seventh grade, when she went around with a cheap, Hong-Kong-made Holga.
“I take photos and draw as well, and will be releasing more of that,” cehryl said. “A lot of my friends are photographers, so it’s been a really natural part of my lifestyle.”
Follow writer Amelia Parreira at Twitter.com/AmeliaParreira.