We apologise for the factual error of “Charlie was accepted into the prestigious programme at Berklee College of Music…”; this article has been updated on Jun 21.

Pedestal by Charlie Lim.

Video and Image Credits: Charlie Lim.

The up-and-coming Melbourne-based Singaporean singer-songwriter, Charlie Lim (http://charlielim.net/), was in town for Music Matters, which has been notably dubbed as ‘Asia’s celebration of live music’, from May 24 to 26 . (http://www.musicmattersasia.com/) UrbanWire had the privilege of chatting with him over the phone.
When he was 15, he had started playing in Australian bars under the little while lie that he was older. He wrote his first song when he was 17. Charlie went to Monash University in Melbourne, and by 22, he released his EP (http://www.charlielim.bandcamp.com/), which consists of 4 songs, Pedestral being the one with the most plays on his official Myspace page.

Charlie and his guitar have stepped foot into Singapore, Australia, Malaysia and Hong Kong, and performed in the Mosaic Music Festival. In the past year, they have graced more than 20 different locations in touring.

How different do you think your career and life would have been if you’d stayed in Singapore instead of moving to Melbourne at 14? 

“It’s hard for me to say. A lot of things have changed in the past 5 to 8 years, in Singapore, in local music, more than ever there are just so many things happening. Like this Music Matters Conference and Mosaic Festival. Everything is really just picking up and there’s a much stronger indie scene, everyone’s coming together. People are very proud of their local talent. There are a lot more exports now with Inch [Chua] (http://www.inchchua.com), and you know, the guys going overseas. The only thing that would be different could be the style that might have influenced me ‘cause I really got into jazz and soul, and hip hop when I moved to Melbourne, and when I studied in University. When you play with different people and that really slowly permeates into your own kind of musical consciousness.”

What prompted the move- a family decision or was it your idea because you wanted to study music?

“It was just by chance. I honestly wanted to study journalism or medicine. But I think music really got the better of me.”

Why the change in ambition?

Simply out of love and realisation that I’m the happiest when playing music. I think I’m making full use for my own potential as a human being when I’m doing so. I’m very lucky to have been aware of my own purpose from a young age. I just need to keep focused and work hard at it.

When did you start playing music?

“I’ve always been playing piano since I was 6. I started improvising from very young, as I couldn’t stand reading notes from a page. I’ve been playing in church, in Singapore, so that got me into improvising. I was more of a pop-pianist. I sang at church and then, was in the choir in Victoria School and that let me open my eyes to many other things. It was great.”

As a songwriter, what are your songs mostly based on?

Just my personal experience and observations, like most songs. I come from the singer-songwriter school of thought, I guess. We try to tell a story rather than just putting random words that sound good.

What does your family think about your career choice?

I think just being a full-time musician is hard enough to accept for most people, let alone being a singer-songwriter, but I think you slowly prove to people around you that you’re able to stand your ground and work towards being self-sufficient. My parents have faith in what I do but it’s a kind of trust that needs to be built over time. Honestly, I’m just as scared as them about my own future but at the same time I love music too much to give it up. I’ll give myself another good 10 to 15 years to see how far I can go before getting a real day job, whatever that means.

You’ve performed in Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore over the last year. Which was your most memorable gig, and why?

They were all fantastic, and every city we played was different. Hong Kong was interesting because nobody has heard of me before, but there were people who rocked up to the show! There was also this director who won an Oscar for the visual effects of Spider Man 2, and he wanted to do a music video for me. Malaysia was cool, I went and did a few shows in KL and Penang and the crowd and musicians were all very, very supportive. Got to meet some really cool people as well; a lot of local independent talent working their butts off and it was just inspiring and refreshing to play with them.

We often read about racism in Australia, did you experience any of that as a performer?

“As a performer, not really, because it really depends on where you choose to play at. I mean, it’s not just Australia. Like everywhere you go, even in Singapore, if you go to play at a bar, in a not-so-good environment, if the people going there are not open-minded, then everywhere you go, you get the same problem. But all the crowds I’ve played to in Melbourne are all very open-minded and they’re very supportive. So I think the whole racism in Australia, it’s not just in Australia; it’s everywhere.”

Asians tend to look younger, so did you face any problems trying to perform in bars when you were too young to even get in, at 15 or 16?

“I think the first half of the question is debatable, I mean, it’s a stereotype. You just have to lie about your age. But it wasn’t that much of a problem, it happens whether you’re Asian or not.”

Is it true that you’re planning to move to New York?

“I will not be moving, I just want to travel. I want to spend most of my time in America. Because I’m so in love with what’s happening and what’s coming out in the States. I feel like we’re constantly playing catch up sometimes, even in Australia. It’s like I just wanna go and see where and what’s there, what it’s all about. I’d like to go to the States next year, not so much with the typical “I’m going over to try and make it big” sense of bravado, but more just to understand and learn as much as I can from the scene there because I want to go to the source. The plan is to grow up and be the best person I can be, and hope the music will follow.”

What are your plans on becoming more recognised in the global music scene?

“Everyone longs to have some sort of affirmation in the work that they do, and it’s a varying threshold that determines success for each person. I think a lot of Asian artists like myself who sing in English and have been heavily influenced by Western pop music do need to work through a lot of things internally, even before drawing up the battle plan. There are a lot of questions like identity and relevance that we need to sort out, and more importantly, whether we have anything to say that is worth putting down on tape, let alone marketing the crap out of it.”

You’ve been described as a perfectionist. Does that help or hinder you?

“It definitely hinders me to get quantity. But it definitely helps me when I wanna release something, I wanna make sure I’m proud of this. I don’t cut any corners, to the best of my ability. And you know, it is very expensive so the only thing that limits me is really funding at the moment but other than that, I’ll try my best to keep doing it to the best of my ability.”

When will you be back in Singapore again?

“August for a late night showcase at the Esplanade Studio Theatre on the 31st I think and then, a tour around Asia.”