KICKSTARTING THE WAY FORWARD
Ahead of the official launch of her Tuxedo EP tomorrow, Chess tells Michael Bugeja about her musical journey so far, the benefits of crowd-funding and her plans for 2014.
It might seem like 2013 was a quiet year for upcoming artist Chess, but a closer look will reveal otherwise. Not only did she release the Babygirl remixes (which did well in Greece during the summer), she also put out a music video for her song Storm and hooked up with local producers Re-Ne & ER on the dance track Perfect Love. Behind all this, she was also working on her latest release, the Tuxedo EP which, like the Storm music video, was financed via a Kickstarter campaign.
If it seems she is more career-focused now than ever, that is because this is her first year after finishing her HND in Vocals at Guildford’s Academy of Contemporary Music. “I’m also planning to expand my choreography and dancing skills at Pineapple Studios in London and of course I dedicate a lot of time working on my voice with the help of my incredible tutor Joshua Alamu”, the UK-based singer-songwriter explains.
Last June you released your first music video. What feedback did it get?
I was incredibly nervous about releasing the video as it’s not your conventional pop video, but people loved it, I think because they appreciated the fact that it was creative and different. It's a strange feeling with music - it's almost like if someone criticizes your music, they are criticizing you, which is really not the case but it really is that personal.
What attracted you to hook up with Kickstarter to fund the video, and again for the financing of your latest EP?
Kickstarter is a brilliant platform and a very good opportunity for anyone with a great ambition and a good idea. I felt that if the concept is good and if you offered a fair reward, then anyone in the world can contribute towards the project and really I had nothing to lose. Of course I was nervous that I wouldn't reach my target, especially the second time with an ambitious pledge of £1,400, but you have to hang on until the last few hours, even if it seems impossible; there’s always someone who believes in you enough. I've had people I've never met donate twice to my projects, from many places around the globe so I must be doing something right. I also keep in touch to make sure they know I am very appreciative.
The songs on Tuxedo are rather different to what you did on Babygirl, more dance-orientated perhaps…
I wrote the main skeletons of these songs over summer and then involved my producer Edd in order to get the perfect electronic sounds. A few talented musicians also had their input, among them Terry Michellis on guitar, Billy Grammatikos on drums and Dan Aquilina, who plays bass on Dangerously Beautiful. I wanted to give another dimension to Chess with this EP, an edge that implies things aren't always as clear as they seem. The sound in itself is more raw to that of Babygirl; there were less backing vocals to do and less post-production, but more musical input. We used guitar distortion on my vocals on Tuxedo in order to make it sound dirty. This EP was recorded in my living room…I've set myself up pretty well so I can now record whenever I like.
There’s a sly reference to Carly Simon’s You’re so vain on Vanity and a guest appearance by Chris Birdd on Dangerously Beautiful...
Yes, I’ve always liked the song You're so Vain, and when I was writing Vanity I wondered whether it would be too cheeky to include a blatant reference to the song, but it’s more of a way to juxtapose the two similar situations within the songs and appreciate that Carly's art has been reincarnated. As for Dangerously Beautiful, I wanted to feature rap on this EP and, since I can’t rap, I got in touch with Chris, whom I’d been following on social media for a while. He exudes passion and dedication so I thought he would be a great talent to have on the EP.
A quick run-through the 3 tracks on Tuxedo…
Vanity is about the warped view of ‘perfection’ that the media gives the public and the downward spiral everyone is caught in when they try to achieve this. They are so focused on the outside image, but how are we developing mentally? How intelligent can we be if we are becoming a slave to society?
Tuxedo is about being your ultimate self, but not necessarily all the time; sort of like an alter ego, an onstage personality which allows one to be daring, creative and confident.
Dangerously Beautiful is about loving someone who has a reputation of being a little bit of a daredevil, someone with a dark side but who funnily enough makes you feel safe and secure.
With the EP ready to launch tomorrow, what are your plans for 2014?
Well, Vanity has already been picked up by BBC Radio, who described it as "a cracker of a tune". Apparently they had many people texting in to say that they really loved the song so I’m quite excited about it especially as it’s the first single off the EP and comes with a state-of-the-art music video. I’ve sent out the song to Maltese radio stations and a few in the UK for airplay beginning this month. This EP is also getting a bigger launch since it’s out on iTunes and Amazon besides Bandcamp.
I plan to release singles from now on, so expect a few of those. The next time I release a collection, it would most probably be an album, but I will wait until I am at my best for that. I also have a booking agent who is helping me find more gigs and opportunities, but most of all this is the year I am taking to discipline myself into becoming better; I’m going to work very hard on my voice and my musical knowledge to bring something even better to the table with my next release.
A final question - is Malta in your plans for 2014 too?
I really miss performing in Malta and the island itself, so it's definitely on my list for 2014. I was invited to do a few performances in 2013 but they coincided with the projects I was working on in the UK at the time, so this year I will allow myself more free time to accept any invitations to perform, like Rockestra for example, which I think is brilliant.
This article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta (12 January, 2014)
Photo by Martin Gardner