Singapore musician Inch Chua looks to rustic Pulau Ubin for musical inspiration

A view from the back as Inch Chua performs to passengers. Photo by Jensen Ching.
A view from the back as Inch Chua performs to passengers. Photo by Jensen Ching.

“I’m a big patriot,” says singer-songwriter Inch Chua. How patriotic? The 25-year-old loves Singapore so much that she plans to stay in Pulau Ubin for two months as inspiration for her next songwriting project.

“I love my country. I hear a lot of musicians saying that they don’t feel inspired to make music in this country and I can understand that due to the compactness of living here. I get that feeling in New York City as well. But you don’t have to go somewhere far away that’s majestic and exotic to get inspired. We have places here, like Pulau Ubin,” she said.

Chua spoke fondly of the island, which currently has less than 40 kampong residents left, and hopes to stay at an Ubin resident’s home while she works on her new music. “It’s about time I can find somewhere locally that I can write,” she said.

The pint-sized musician spoke to Yahoo Singapore during a pit stop on the Bandwagon bus over the weekend, as the bus returned from the Urbanscapes festival at Genting Highlands.

Formerly the lead vocalist of local band Allura, Chua’s music has made waves internationally. She was the first Singaporean solo act to be invited to perform at the South by South West (SXSW) festival in the U.S. in 2010.

Since going solo, she has performed at numerous gigs in Singapore, including the annual local music festival, Baybeats. She has also released two albums – “Wallflower” (2010) and “Bumfuzzle”(2013), and a book titled “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”.

While Chua, whose real name is Chua Yun Juan, is based in the U.S. for now, her heart will always be with her birth country.

Moving to the US

The cheery acoustic guitarist moved to Los Angeles three years ago and relocated to New York City in early 2014. She shuttles to and from Singapore at least three times a year, but will be returning more frequently in 2015 as she is involved in several SG50 activities to commemorate Singapore’s 50th anniversary.

As much as she would love to be based in Singapore, Chua feels the need to reach out to more people who will relate to her songs, and visit new places so her talent can grow.

“The moment you are comfortable, it’s easy to just plateau. And I’m all about being uncomfortable all the time so that I know I can push myself.”

“Singapore is great but it is a small country and if you play a show in Jurong and you play a show in Bedok, the same people are going to come. So the amount of people you can hit in terms of trying to spread your music is relatively limited. Support is one level but it’s more of population as well. I think, when you’re doing English music like I do, the next thing you want to do is reach out to other areas where you feel you can grow and I thought being based overseas would be a completely different challenge in learning where I can be in the music industry in a global level.”

While in Los Angeles, Chua was able to perform for audiences at popular venues in the city such as The Viper Room, Hotel Café, the Echoplex and the Satellite. Actor Johnny Depp and the Rolling Stones’ vocalist Mick Jagger have been known to pop into The Viper Room.

“And what I learned so far is that the grass is never greener on the other side, it’s just different,” concluded Chua.

Grappling with challenges

As a performing artiste, two kinds of insecurities are never far away - the comparison trap and financial stability.

“I’m sure every artist I know suffers from some kind of insecurity. A great amount insecurity especially when you peg your self-worth to the work that you do and the results that come with it,” she said.

Chua makes sure she performs enough number of shows to cover her financial needs.

“As long as I can cover myself, it’s good. I would tour for the rest of my life earning my money in a brick-by-brick manner rather than trying to be a superstar. It brings so much more gratification to me,” she said.

“There’s a quote from Jack Conte from a band called Pomplamoose, that said, ‘now is the age of the middle class/blue collared musician’. Balancing your cheques or trying to market yourself, that’s important. But the music always comes first.

“A successful musician is someone who doesn’t lie to themselves or anyone.”