An up-and-coming Malaysian-Bornean artist named “a shes” divides his time between London and Cambridge. He creates nostalgic synthpop anthems with the intention of capturing the messy, frightening, but frequently euphoric nature of growing up and embracing adulthood. He writes and records these songs for young adults experiencing the pandemic. He intends to release a dance pop banger with an indie twist to follow up his debut single, “movies & music.”
Party Politics captures the joy and anxiety of partying as a young adult trying to find their place in a brand-new world by combining the exhilarating sounds of late 2000s club bangers with the reflective lyricism of 2010s indie pop. This song, written by “a shes” and co-produced with Palestinian producer Imad Salhi of London, aims to replicate the spiritual experience you have after a wild night out and the reflection that follows the post-party debrief. Check out the single & the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how you got started?
A_SHES: Right so basically I grew up in Borneo, East Malaysia, specifically Sarawak, and moved around a bit after school. I moved to Australia to finish off high school, and then to London after for university. I was a huge choir and musical nerd growing up, which is how I picked up singing. At university I started an acapella group which taught me so much about arranging music, and eventually, informed the way I would approach production. I never considered songwriting until very recently; as a kid I had interests in poetry and creative writing, and I never thought to combine that with my love of music until the pandemic hit and I couldn’t sing with my group any longer, which sort of forced me to seek out an outlet for my creativity elsewhere, hence how I came to songwriting! I tried producing the music for myself, but I was a total novice at the time and nothing I made sounded up to standard. Then, halfway through my masters, I moved out of college halls and back home because of lockdown. In doing so, I was able to save on scholarship money that was meant to go to rent. I then took that money, invested in a producer and studio time, and here we are
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
A_SHES: In terms of singing, I was mostly self-taught through my participation in choir and theatre growing up, but when I was 18 I actually trained with a vocal coach for a year, specifically for musical theatre singing. But yeah the voice I sing with now is completely different to the voice I used in choir and theatre… I call it my ‘pop voice.’ As for production, I was completely self-taught, picking up on things my producer would do in the studio and then replicating them at home on my dusty old MacBook. YouTube was also a big lifesaver. The production on my first single was mostly done by Imad (my producer) but nowadays I’d produce as much as I can at home before bringing it to the studio, and most of the stuff I produce now actually ends up making the final cut! Although I still depend on Imad to help elevate my stuff haha
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘A_shes’?
A_SHES: I actually never really listened to pop music growing up, I lived in a pop culture vacuum of sorts, only really listening to whatever was on the radio. My parents never really introduced me to music from their generation, unless it was ABBA or really old country music. As a kid, I mostly listened to Jpop and Kpop because I grew up in Asia and that was the cool thing… and then a little later on in life I listened to a lot of show tunes. But everything changed when I heard Royals by Lorde on the radio – it completely changed my perspective on pop music and taught me that it was cool to be unconventional and pop can be meaningful! So yeah I’d say Lorde is my biggest musical influence at the moment, I refer back to her work every time I need to figure things out in my own art. I think I have a huge soft spot for the early 2010s in general as I fully believe alt-pop peaked then haha, and a lot of the influential alternative artists of the time like Florence Welch or Troye Sivan are people I listen to for inspiration as well.
As for the name a_shes, that had been something I was experimenting with for a while now. I thought it was a fun play on my real name with a deeper meaning and I dug that, I didn’t really put too much thought to it. Although I have to give a shoutout to this girl I met at a house party who gave me the idea for it by jokingly comparing it to the phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” I thought that was neat. The underscore is purely there for algorithmic purposes, it turns out ‘ashes’ is more common than I thought and I needed some way for people to identify in a search engine more easily haha.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
A_SHES: Other have described my sound as ‘nostalgic’ and I’m inclined to agree. I think if you’re a fan of dreamy, ethereal synths paired with organic instrumentation in the background and a catchy beat, you’d really vibe with my stuff.
5. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative and entertainment?
Hmm at the moment I try and avoid politics in my music, not because I’m an apolitical person, in fact I’m a very political person in real life! It’s just sometimes I feel that when artists incorporate social causes into their music it ends up benefiting them more than the causes they seek to support, if that makes sense? Like, writing a song about climate change might get you clout, but realistically what difference would it really make? And I sort of feel the same way about incorporating aspects of my culture into my music. It feels almost exploitative to me, like I’m tokenising it to accrue social capital. But maybe that’s because I’m at a stage in my career where I may not understand how to do any of that tastefully… perhaps things will change and I’ll learn how to better incorporate culture and politics into my art without seeming tacky haha. Right now, I’m just using music to process the things I’m going through, to capture very specific yet relatable feelings. It’s been very therapeutic for me and hopefully others will find it just as cathartic!
7. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head?
I used to approach music with lyrics first, followed by a melody, and then the chords, and then everything else haha. You should see my notes app it’s just filled with random lines of lyrics that I think sound fire but haven’t quite found a home yet. But nowadays I arrange and produce the instrumentals first before writing the lyrics and melody over it… I believe that’s how the professionals do it? I want to make sure each song can stand on its own and carry a unique sound, so oftentimes if I find that I’ve written a song with a particular beat or chord progression or production style already, I’ll push myself to write a song that sounds different to it. So yeah in that sense I envision how I want the production to look like in my head, and how it would make sense in conjunction with the lyrics and themes of the track.
8. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
Definitely the lack of industry support – it sucks because I know my songs have an audience out there but I just can’t reach them the way big label artists can. And as much as I love the creative process of making music, I struggle a lot with the marketing side of things. I’m just not a business-oriented person haha.
9. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
I think getting to know the people who have come to love and appreciate my music – I mean, they’re mostly my friends, but knowing that they get and vibe and believe in my art makes me feel as though there’s a reason for doing the stuff I do, ya know?