What do Jo Micali, U-Bahn, Muxu and Carlo Gerada have in common? The answer is, of course, they’ve all worked with Maltese vocalist Chess, each production turning out to be a resounding success every time to the point that despite being based in the UK, Chess is quite a familiar and in-demand name within the local dance and pop scene.
The decision to move to the UK was, as one might expect, not easy, but for Chess, it was the only way forward. Music is her dream and the only way she felt she could come close to making it happen was by moving to England; yet another young Maltese talent, alongside the likes of Fraser Gregory, Carrie Haber, Dana McKeon and several others who have taken the bold step of seeking their future in music in Britain.Just over two years since she took the life-changing decision and enrolled at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, Chess has finally achieved the first of her many aspirations, namely the release of her debut solo EP, Babygirl.
The three tracks on offer, Breathe, Storm and TTT (Things Take Time), were all written by her and produced by Edd Holloway, a music production student she got to know at the academy. While the songs do cover different aspects of Chess’s versatile musical register, they are ultimately all firmly rooted in the artist’s R’n’B leanings, daubed with a flowing pop sensibility that openly flaunts where this debut outing is aiming for. Here, she speaks to us of living in London, her latest work and the challenges ahead.
How much have your new surroundings seeped into your songwriting and in how do you feel you’ve changed as an artist?
Living in London is one of the best places to be if you want to pursue music. The city’s multi-generic music scene itself is very inspiring and challenging. One manages to establish the direction of fresh pop music and therefore tries to be the most innovative and fresh emerging artist.
Moreover, the fast-paced lifestyle and the hurdles one faces help to stimulate creativity. My songwriting has definitely become more metaphorical and I have explored my voice in many different ways, be it genre or technique, through a lot of practice throughout these two years. I’ve also managed to try my hand at drums, guitar, bass and keyboards.
The most important thing you’ve learnt about the music business so far is?
The music industry is brutal. Nobody will help you unless you know someone or you’re making a lot of money. That’s why I’ve opted for the independent artist route, which has taught me to manage and promote myself without the need for a manager/promoter.
By using social media platforms I’ve drawn a fair bit of interest for my music, and online radio and live performances have also helped in this regard. The idea is to create a ripple in the popular music scene in the hope of attracting major music labels, as they only seem to look at artists who have established themselves as a brand, as I am trying to do.
“All I really want is for my music to be appreciated and for it to have a positive effect on the people listening to it.” Can you elaborate on your ethos?
This is one of my staple statements, so whenever I have doubts I always try and remember this. It’s hard to make an impact due to the media, which nowadays consistently bombards the public with new music, but you just have to rise above it and always aim to have a unique selling point to attract attention.When writing, I do want to stay true to the music I love, so it’s trying to tie in these factors while still enjoying what I do that is the biggest challenge.
Of the many songs you’ve written, how hard was it to decide which ones to feature on Babygirl and what aspects in particular do the three songs on the EP reflect in terms of who Chess is?
It was all a case of trying to showcase versatility by having a ballad, an upbeat pop song and an R’n’B type tune; basically I wanted to make sure I could use my vocal range well in the songs as well.I decided to go for a pop/R’n’B hybrid as this is what I set out to do after working with DJs and as a topline melody writer. I think it reflects my emotional yet optimistic view on life along with that daring adventurous spark within me.
You worked with Edd Holloway on the EP; not your first or only collaborator to date. How different was it working on your own material with someone else compared to your previous collaborations with Maltese DJs?
I had a good idea of the sound I wanted and Edd was the first one to understand what I was after. He helped with some music and harmony ideas and suggested some top lines and lyrics; he is really great at what he does.
Working on this EP was more about delivering the sound I had envisioned whereas working with DJs revolves more around a fusion of artistic inputs. It’s great in its own way too, which is why I still do it to this day… In fact, watch out for my next release, Perfect Love with Re-ne and Er...
What’s the plan now that Babygirl is out?
Apart from radio interviews in the UK, I’m planning on putting a band together to prepare for gigs around London and Brighton next year and currently talking to a director about a video for one of the Babygirl tracks, with possibly a couple of remixes and more recordings to follow.The plan is to come to Malta in summer and hopefully perform at a couple of venues here. Of course, if a deal comes my way I’d be grateful for the chance to promote my music further, but as long as there are people out there appreciating it and feeling good when they listen to it, then I feel successful anyway.
Babygirl is on sale at here.
This article was first published in The Sunday Times of Malta (16 December, 2012)
Photo by Martin Gardner