Picture credit: Nikki Loh
Standing at 1.45m (4’8″) tall, Singapore’s Grace Charis is a reclusive singer who’s songwriting is more revealing than any interview could be. Armed with an acoustic guitar, the strength behind her lyrics lends power to her soft vocal deliveries. Her latest and first-ever song – “Hindsight” is a 6-and-a-half-minute testament to how engaging her pen can be.
Based in Melbourne, Australia; Grace’s foray into music making was inspired by the many musically talented friends around her. As she credits the courage she’s built to her friend Amanda Ong, “seeing her push herself into being a self-made artist really made me realized that maybe that jump isn’t too high, maybe I didn’t have to be a freaking amazing musician just to write songs.”
Still, the focus of her work isn’t to sell records or make a name for herself. Instead, releasing music is a form of catharsis, like “a flow of lamenting, reflecting and regretting.” Grace frames her music in particular moment of time, serving as a reminder for the healing she had to do to reach this point. Almost like a time capsule that’s easily accessible to anyone that’s willing to listen to her bare her heart out.
With the help of Amberhill‘s Joshua Lau and Scenery‘s Jeremy Chua, “Hindsight” was Grace’s first foray into non-acoustic music and an experience that taught her about the intricacy in music production, along with what it takes to creates a song that adheres to her singular vision. Though she admits it was a vision that she did not have at first, as she gives both Joshua and Jeremy their flowers for helping steer and guide her into crafting a song that’s “something I’m proud to release.”
Listen to her song “Hindsight” and read on below for the full interview.
“Just to get things rolling. Tell me about Hindsight.”
“Honestly, I wrote the song as a stream of consciousness kind of thing. It came all at once…no actually it came all in parts. I started writing the chorus first, and then I jumped to the verses. 3 verses with the same structure and same chords. And there’s this chorus thing where everything changes. Like the vibe changes, the story changes, everything changes. Then there’s this post-chorus which is a reply to the chorus.
So, it’s a very weird, not a very commonly structured song, simply because I wrote in parts and I hard a really hard time trying to piece them all together to flow. So yeah, this song is a stream of consciousness type of thing. It was me lamenting a lot of things and thinking about what if I did this, instead of this. A lot of what ifs. It was like trying to figure out how I felt.
Songs and songwriting are a form of expression for me, but it’s not just an expression of emotions…it’s more untangling my emotions. I think a lot of people will be able to sense that…like it’s a flow of lamenting, reflecting and regretting; slowly getting to a point where in hindsight, everything happened the way it should. Where it’s okay to feel like shit, where it’s okay to be not okay.
So, the main point of the song is that it’s okay to feel everything. And that’s was like the point in my life where I was going through a lot of things, where emotions were my biggest enemy. Where I hated myself for feeling so many things. The main tagline of that phase in my life is that: ‘it’s okay to not be okay’. I feel like in Asian culture, I learned how to suppress my emotions, learning how to make a devil out of my emotions. It was a healing moment for my own self in the form of a song.”
“Is there a particular instance in your life where you felt like you HAD to write this song?”
“Hmm I never thought about that. Damn. My songwriting is really a mess. When a good song comes, it’s not when I’m thinking a lot., but when I’m sitting with a lot of emotions. The moment I wrote this song is the moment I thought of letting go of everything. The chorus came first, which is actually the release moment – the healing moment. And everything else came afterwards, which is weird and makes sense because it’s called hindsight, so everything was written in hindsight. I guess it was the moment I decided to let go of negative emotions and thoughts…and regrets, and telling myself “you know what? Fuck this. This is good. This is alright. This is fine.
“Since you said your songwriting is a burst of emotions, when you go back to listen to it, do the same emotions come back to you? Or do they exist in an isolated space of time?”
“Oh my God, this is a question I’ve always wanted to ask my favourite artists. I’ve started to realise that it’s isolated. For me, the first time I sang it in person, in front of a large group of people, I was very emotional. I can safely say that because I can remember the moment of that time and when I play it now, the feeling I felt back then felt more…right. Everything felt more genuine. Now singing it definitely feels like reminiscing about a certain time when I felt that way. Not that it’s less genuine, but it’s certainly a bittersweet feeling like, “oh yeah I remember feeling this way.”
Compared to when I started writing the song, how I felt and how I wanted the song to go is very different from how it eventually became. The whole process of having so much emotions but growing and stepping out of that phase, and then producing it and being more logical about it – like the technical side of things: producing, mixing; I had to restructure a lot of things. My emotions changed as I sang it and as I grew.”
“Tell me about how you produced the song.”
“Well, I didn’t produce the song. Jeremy did. Jeremy Chua. The process was actually really hard.
I started out with Joshua [Ho] from Amberhill first. He was the person that really pushed me to put the song out. Joshua heard it first and he wanted me to play the song for his portfolio, for his music degree. He really started giving confidence about my song, singing praises over it and I was very touched, since it was an intensely personal to me and I never thought anyone would wanna listen to it. It was never intended for public listening. But Josh said “Nah nah nah. Put it out. Just put it out. It’s so good you just need to put it out.” He also wanted to produce it. So, we started recording, but we did it with his final project in mind.
We have a version of hindsight that is ‘his’, then we moved on to a version of what I wanted it to sound like. Josh had ideas everywhere. It was that Cloud 9 moment where there’s so many possibilities and you get yourself to caught up in how the song could sound like, how to make it better. Then, when we started recording it, a lot of things fell flat for me.
Unfortunately, Josh had to head back to Singapore so he passed “Hindsight” on to Jeremy. Thanks to Josh, I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t want. It helps that Jeremy is also a very good producer where. From the beginning, he took in the notes I sent him and by the next week, gave me a mix that I never heard before. He took all my points into consideration and it was mind-blowing for me. From then onward, my part of producing was just me deciding what parts I wanted for my song, which was difficult for me. I’m a songwriter, not a ‘musician’ since I’m not as well versed when it comes to music. So, when it came to the instruments to add to a fully acoustic song, it was difficult but I learned a lot. I’m very thankful for Jeremy. He really made the song into something I’m proud to release.”
“Do you think you have a vision for how your songs will sound like in the future?”
“No. [laughs] I mean it’s because I’m new. I’m allowing myself to be involved in whatever I can. I personally want to explore other genres. As I improve my guitar skills, I might get into funk or rock, though probably not rock [laughs]. I want to explore other genres but I’ll always have a heart for singer-songwriter and folk. Maybe that might be something I’ll stick too.”
“Is there any artist in particular that inspired you when writing Hindsight?”
“Lucy Rose. She’s a very big inspiration in the way I write songs. Taylor Swift as well. She writes, lyrically, in a storytelling kind of way and brings you through a journey. I like that flow of writing such songs.
Lucy Rose introduced to me ‘Open D Tuning’, which a completely different tuning on a guitar, so when I wrote Hindsight, I didn’t know what the chords were called. I just kinda pressed stuff and used whatever sounds nice. Because of that, I was able to make a song that I felt was not something people hear. It’s quite different from what anyone has heard…I hope. That Lucy Rose folk, gentle, soft vibe was something I resonated with. She was the first person where I was like, “oh my god I really love her voice.”
Her voice also reminds me of me, which was someone I could emulate and makes me like my own voice a bit more because I never thought my voice was that great. So, to have someone similar to me write so many beautiful songs and sing so well, it gave me encouragement to write my own.”
“Then, are there any particular lyrics that you like the most from Hindsight?”
“So many…I guess the one that hits me the most is, well I would say more relatable, would be in verse 3 where I say, “but it feels like I can’t breathe/I wish I had some release.” It was something I physically felt. I struggle with anxiety a lot, it’s a sense of suffocation. Going through this time, that was not abstract, it was exactly how I feel. For me to pen that experience down into words, it was something I felt…proud to express.”
“Is there anything in particular you want listeners to take away from your song?”
“I guess it’s directly the lyrics that I just mentioned. Again this song to me is a release, letting my emotions go, letting the past go by and not thinking about it anymore. But not in a suppressing way, more of a moving forward kind of way, which is ironic cause the song is called hindsight.
If you listen to the chorus, “heart why do you spill over/it’s like I’m not meant to be all together” and the post chorus is, “so heart just spill over/it’s okay to be not to be together”. I just hope that people feel and hear that flow of release when you get to that part of the song. If anyone feels that way, if there were holding on to something for a very long time, maybe they would consider of letting it go. But honestly, I didn’t write this with an audience in mind, it was mostly written for me. If anyone to take anything away from this song, I would be very grateful.”