I first heard Choo several days ago, clicking around on Instagram. His single, Who Cares?, was an immediate connection with me, and I was pleased to find that highly respected curator David Dean Burkhart had shared his song on YouTube. I spoke with Choo, an “entirely solo” project by Jonathan Chiu, about Who Cares? and about his songwriting experience.
Jonathan lives in a small New York City apartment, and has found music as a solace for working through his life experiences, especially difficult or traumatic ones. “One of my driving motivators in songwriting,” is processing thoughts through music journaling, he shared.
Who Cares? is a highly relevant and timely song for the crisis we’re all experiencing. There are a lot of thoughts behind the lyrics of this song that he released on April 20. He explained:
“At its core it tries to capture the wild swings in rumination and irrational self-blame that can happen after a traumatic or painful event, and tries to capture the journey towards acceptance, the light at the end of the tunnel so to speak. There are sub-themes baked in as well that explore feeling ‘abnormal,’ betrayal of trust, being used, etc, though ultimately a reminder and urging for people to be kinder to themselves when these things happen (and in general).”
Musically, there are a lot of things I love about this song. The synth layers and chorus on the rhythm guitar layer works really well with his steady vocals. The electric guitar melody has a spacious reverb, reminding me of SALES’ guitar work, making it both groove and dreamy and the same time.
Jonathan enjoys mixing in samples from movies, which you can hear in Who Cares?. “I’ll find a spot in the song to include a random sample from a movie that I really love that I think captures the mood and story of the song.” He took clips from one of his favorite movies, Chungking Express (directed by Wong Kar Wai) and created a music video for Who Cares?, which matches the sound perfectly.
Choo mixes his love for bedroom pop with bossa nova influences and the timing and melodies of math rock. He draws from SALES, Last Dinosaurs, Clairo, Vansire, and Ruru, as well as bossa nova artists Lisa Ono, Kings of Convenience, and math rock bands Elephant Gym and Toe. “They’ve all shaped and molded me in one way or another.”
I asked him about his writing and recording process, something I’m passionate about and find quite interesting. Choo records regularly in his apartment to sketch guitar or vocal melodies. “I only intentionally sit down for a longer period of time and try fleshing it out more if I feel good about the idea, and then try turning it into a song. A lot of it is influenced by personal events in my life as well; I tend to gravitate towards recording and writing music if I had a tumultuous week/month for example, or if something’s been weighing heavily on mind.”
A few world’s apartChoo – Who Cares? (Genius)
What’d I miss this time
Pacing all the time
Hard to think alright
He usually begins with rhythm guitar and a looping drum sample. From there he adds melodies on guitar, and a simple bass line. “From there it’s a mixed bag depending on how I’m feeling that day or what’s been inspiring me recently. I’ve taken a big interest in synths and keys lately so I’ll find a way to add some of that. Throughout all of this, the structure of the song is changing constantly.” He adds vocals last after he has ideas for lyrics that, “capture the feelings, moods, or experiences I’ve personally had.” He sees his vocals as an added melodic texture. While mixing, he aims for a, “lofi/muted sound overall on the track and try to let the instrumentals speak a bit more than my vocals.”
Thank you Choo for writing this song, and for sharing so openly! We appreciate your music and your insight, and look forward to hearing your next song.