Humans of KR: Nigel Cheah
Nigel Cheah: Deman behind Denim
Kent Ridge Hall’s very own Charlie Lim Jr and Karl Marx enthusiast, Nigel Cheah, is a singer-songwriter who is a master of melancholy with his lush vocals and soulful nuances. Not one for formulaic pop hits, Nigel croons the experiences of his past and transforms them into compelling compositions that is overflowing with both emotion and passion.
The reflective and poignant nature of his music juxtaposed against his jovial and easy-going disposition, is a duality that is exhibited in his performances. Jumping instantly from goofball to sincere artist, Nigel welcome’s listeners into an intimate and relaxed environment, where one experiences a sense of cathartic relief-- feeling both suffocated yet having never breathed clearer air.
With Nigel’s recently released single, “Denim”, gaining traction, we sat down with him to find out more about Deman behind Denim.
R: So Nigel, how did you first start getting into music?
N: My mum signed me up for drum lessons when I was about 12? I was living in New Zealand at the time and my school actually offered classes, which was very cool. One of my schoolmates wanted to form a band and he knew I played drums, so he asked me. We played together for 3 years and eventually got to recording our first EP when we were 15. I think staying in New Zealand definitely shaped my passion for music because people are quite big on home-grown music and are generally supportive of musicians. They always played local music on the radio and the TV so it was so accessible. I think just being immersed in such a community definitely enticed me more to want to keep doing music.
R: Has joining KR Rockers/Inspire shaped your musical journey in any way?
N: Yeah for sure! I’d say it forced me out of my comfort zone because I was thrown into various bands with people I’ve never met, let alone played with before. It was definitely a very sobering and humbling experience getting to meet so many talented musicians (shout out to ma b0is in Terrestrea). But more importantly, getting to know other musicians who shared the same ambitions and struggles as I did was a great reassurance that music was not only something I wanted to pursue, but something meaningful altogether. My seniors were especially supportive and they gave me all kinds of advice, especially in terms of gear and equipment. Sitting in on their rehearsals was always one of my favourite things to do because it was so inspiring and interesting to see how they approach their craft. That is something that I’ll always miss now that most of them have graduated, but they do come back occasionally so I’ll always try to catch them.
R: How would you say your music has evolved?
N: I try to pay more attention to how the music acts as a vessel for what I’m trying to get across? Especially emotionally. Previously I’d just bang out a couple of chords and whack some random lyrics over it. Now I try my best to stray away from conventional chords and sonic textures to really carve a spot in the music scene for myself. My music taste is always evolving and so does my approach to songwriting. I’m really obsessed with music so I spend a lot of time trawling the internet for new artists and bands to listen to, so that has definitely seeped into my music.
R: And how would you describe your sound now?
N: Melancholic? Someone recently described it as invoking a “profound sadness” LOL I think it’s pretty funny but I guess there’s a certain truth to that. I always struggle to describe my “sound”, so much so that when I had to enter a genre into the online music database I had to ask so many people to help me out. If I had to categorise it, I’d probably say… sad b0i music.
R: Who are some of your musical influences/inspirations?
N: Definitely Charlie Lim. Charlie’s songwriting is just so fantastic and his shows are always an emotional experience. He just has this enthralling quality to him where time and space are made irrelevant. It sounds so strange, but if you’ve ever watched him perform you’ll totally get what I meant. Some other artists would have to be Mac DeMarco, Thundercat, Tom Misch, Jacob Collier and Karl Marx.
R: What is your favourite song of yours to perform and why?
N: If I’m doing a solo set, I think ‘Denim'. I feel that the stripped down version resonates well with audiences because it captures the overall tenderness of the song perfectly. I wrote the song on my acoustic guitar so I think there’s a certain quality that comes with that. It’s also much easier to connect with an audience because it’s literally just me with no other frills, so the message of the song is completely apposite to the medium. If I’ve got my backing band with me, definitely ‘Asylum’. The song just works much better with a full setup because of all the dynamics that I feel doesn’t translate as well if I’m doing it on my own.
R: What has been your biggest struggle so far?
N: Managing all the non-music related affairs. There’s a ton of administrative work and planning that is often glossed over, and I’ve definitely been very guilty of neglecting all that in the past. It’s a music industry after all so it’s tough straddling the line between being an artist as well as being a product. It’s pretty much like running a small business on my own and that can be very constraining at times, especially with limited resources.
R: How do you define success?
N: Sitting in a car with my good buddies and hearing them sing my song at the top of their lungs. Or getting sponsored by Milo.
R: Lastly, what’s the next big thing we can look forward to?
N: I’m currently working on my next single ‘Asylum' and that will be out in January. The next big gig will probably be the Noise Music Mentorship final showcase in December. I’ll be playing with my backing band alongside many promising local acts like Royal Estate, Sine, and Astronauts—just to name a few. It’s gonna be a fun time!
Nigel’s debut single ‘Denim’ is now available or streaming on Spotify and Apple Music. Follow him on Instagram (@nigel.cheah) or his Facebook page (nigelcheahmusic) for more updates on his gigs and music, or visit him in E Block for a free Sociology crash course.