When Lucinda Chua recorded her debut album “YIAN,” it served as an escape from the pandemic. As a cellist and composer based in London, she retreated to the studio and created a world of her own. Chua explains, “I was making a place that I could return to in my imagination, somewhere I could just let go and lose myself. I like that feeling of transport: how music can take you outside of your existence.” Even as the pandemic becomes a distant memory, Chua’s ambient pop remains a refuge. Her album encourages listeners to pause their daily worries and immerse themselves in the music. Building on her previous successful EPs and her time as FKA Twigs’ resident cellist on tour, “YIAN” showcases Chua’s unique style. The album has received rave reviews, with critics praising her ethereal sound. Most of the songs feature only her vibrating cello and empathic vocals, creating a sparse and drifting atmosphere. Despite its beauty, there is an underlying urgency that challenges the notion of ambient music as passive.
The intention behind “YIAN” lies in its lyrics, which draw from Chua’s own experiences and explore her biracial identity. Born to a Chinese-Malaysian father and a white British mother, she delves into the confusion that comes with having a mixed heritage. Rather than seeking answers, Chua embraces the ambiguity she finds. Lead single “Echo” is a pop song about ancestral trauma, while “Golden” is an orchestral lullaby in which Chua comforts her younger self. Although she didn’t set out to address any specific themes on her debut album, Chua reflects, “I actually got pretty far in before I realized what it was about. And after that, everything else felt trivial.”
Named after Chua’s middle name in Mandarin, “YIAN” translates to swallow, a migratory bird that appears throughout the album’s tracks. Chua resonates with the symbolism of the swallow as a songbird that exists between two places, feeling at home in both but not truly belonging to either. Looking up at the clouds, she adds, “The sky is also this in-between space – but it’s also a home in itself, you know?” Exploring the meaning of “yian” has been a crucial part of Chua’s journey. She notes, “It’s one of the first times I’ve dug into my identity just for me… So I’m trying to tap into my heritage and build my own relationship with it separate from my parents.”
Chua’s musical career has been shaped by her exposure to classical, punk rock, and chamber pop genres. She began playing the piano by ear at the age of three and discovered the cello during a family trip to Covent Garden. By 15, she was regularly gigging and played cello in various bands. Chua’s chamber pop two-piece, Felix, even signed a two-album deal with an indie label in the US. However, Chua’s solo work allows her vocals to shine, as she takes her voice to the forefront and fills the gaps between her notes, engaging in a musical conversation with the instruments.
Now that “YIAN” has been released, Chua is savoring the joy of creating without any constraints. She expresses her contentment, saying, “It feels nice to just live life as an artist. To play for the love of it without the pressure of making anything.” Chua believes that thinking too much about the industry can hinder creativity, and she finds excitement in breaking habits and exploring new avenues. Recently, she has started learning Chinese dance and Chinese cello, embracing a beginner’s mindset and relishing the process of growth and change. Chua concludes, “It’s my favorite place to be.”