Q&A: kiyu offers listeners introspection and catharsis through his music

The NYU junior talked with WSN about his inspirations, developing his musical identity and his long-term goals.

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NYU junior kiyu is an indie pop singer-songwriter. His songs touch on mental health and the complex experience of growing up. (Image courtesy of kiyu)

Stephanie Wong, Staff Writer

Indie musician and NYU junior Jackie Chak Kiu Chan, originally from Hong Kong, is voicing your deepest anxieties and worries through subdued indie pop as kiyu. In his semi-autobiographical songs about the complexities of growing up and struggling with mental health, kiyu’s deft songwriting abilities and mellow vocals provide his listeners with a soulful listening experience. Having performed his first live show in New York City last month, kiyu has only just begun his musical journey.

I spoke with kiyu over Zoom to discuss his musical inspirations, how NYU has helped shape his musical identity, his long-term goals and more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WSN: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your music?

kiyu: Yeah! My name is kiyu and I’m originally from Hong Kong and now live in the United States for my studies, and also because I feel like my music belongs here in the States more stylistically than it does back in Hong Kong. I went to an international school, so a lot of my musical influences came from the States or overseas, and I want to be where my influences are. 

My musical style mostly follows the styles of artists like Jeremy Zucker and keshi and EDEN, with some hints of the styles of bands like The Script or The Fray, with more intimate elements. My music is very melodic in the sense that it follows a lot of what Hong Kong artists tend to bring with their bands and their music — they all use instruments to support a really good and consistent melody line, and that’s something that I believe is also intrinsic to my music.

WSN: Can you explain your moniker “kiyu” to us?

kiyu: It’s from my Cantonese name — I took the last character but I thought that it looked a bit weird on its own. You know what I mean? So I added a “y” to it to kind of balance it out. I’m actually thinking of changing it because people keep mispronouncing it as “kai-you” over here.

WSN: When did you first realize that music was something you wanted to pursue? Was there ever a moment of epiphany that you can trace it all back to?

kiyu: Yes, 100%! I actually came into college wanting to do musical theater, mostly because I was really interested in both acting and music. For some reason, I thought that putting the two together would perhaps be a good idea — combining my interests in both music and theater — but funnily enough, that was decidedly not the case. What it just came back to was just reflecting upon myself and which of the two interests I wanted to pursue more in the moment, and I instinctively gravitated more strongly to music just because it’s a passion that’s been with me all my life. As a 7- or 8-year-old, I would always be singing in the car, and in middle to high school I would try to form bands — they didn’t work out. At some point I just told myself that if I don’t try to pursue music in some sort of capacity, I would regret it for the rest of my life. Music is just such a big part of my life — my Spotify Wrapped minutes are crazy. I had to give this a shot. When I ended my freshman year, I just knew that musical theater wasn’t my thing or what I wanted to end up doing, and so I decided to do all this.

WSN: Apart from realizing that musical theater wasn’t your thing, how has going to NYU shaped your journey and development as an artist?

kiyu: Going back to freshman and sophomore year, I think my classes really taught me a lot about the place that storytelling has in music. It really helped build my ability to write lyrics — I’m taking a class right now called “Autobiography” with Laura Levine. Essentially, what we’ve been doing is writing a holistic work about a hundred pages long about our experiences. NYU is really great at making you realize what you are and what you aren’t. It’s really helped me come to realize what I really want to write about by making me ask myself questions — like, what are my troubles? What are the things that I want to share? And what do I want other people to feel? I’ve been able to then create a personal artistic space where I can talk about these things, which is why a lot of my music centers around my personal struggles with depression and anxiety.

In recent years, my music has really found its own identity. Most of what I write about are experiences that I see others go through in college — when you leave home for the first time, feeling alone, the struggle to make new friends, forcing yourself out of your comfort zone, being constantly bogged down by assignments. It always feels like you aren’t doing enough. I’ve felt that way, like everyone else does, especially because I came from an environment in high school that was highly competitive. That pressure never ceased to exist in my mind. With my music, my hope is that by writing about what I know and what I’ve experienced, I can create an outlet for people to go to.

When I start doing live performances, what I hope is that I can become a vessel for everyone to yell and shout and share the cathartic experiences I hope my music brings to them. 

WSN: I saw that you performed a show in New York last month, how did that go?

kiyu: Yeah, that was in East Berlin! It turned out way better than I thought it would — it was my first show in New York. I performed with a live band — NYU offers such great talent in terms of musicians, everyone playing their instruments, they’re really goated. They’re all really great players that brought so much to my music. There was a good turnout of people, both friends and people that I didn’t know. A lot of people in New York, I think, are able to relate to the feelings and struggles that I express in my songs. Going into that performance, I think the crowd was able to let go and experience what I wanted them to. Just allowing that space to exist within that hour, I really think I was able to achieve what I sought to achieve.

WSN: Clearly, lyrics are a core focus in your music — is there a song that you’re particularly proud of lyrically?

kiyu: It’s not released yet. Every year I do this thing where I write a song themed around what age I’m turning — last year it was “twenty,” this year I wrote a song called “twenty one,” and I plan to continue that series until I stop making music, I guess. Every year those songs are a reflection of where I am at that point of my life. “twenty one” is coming out soon — it’s a reflection of where I am now as a junior, one year away from graduating, with all those associated feelings contained in that one song. We actually played it live in East Berlin and it was really great, I think a lot of people either knew what I was expressing or were feeling the same way.

WSN: What can we expect for any upcoming music or projects that you have?

kiyu: I really just make what I want to express and feel. At the end of the day, the music that I create is really inspired from the artists that I listen to. It’s ultimately an accumulation of different musical aspects from all the artists that I like — Jeremy Zucker, Lauv, HYBS. All those different instrumentations and sounds combined into one singer is basically what my music is. I’ll continue doing that and trying to be that vessel for other people, as well as using my songs as a therapeutic experience to express what’s going on in my mind.

WSN: Is there anything else that we haven’t discussed that you want to share with our readers?

kiyu: I just want to thank everyone that’s been there with me from the beginning, especially my fanbase on YouTube — it’s small, but they mean a lot to me. The people that have followed me through the two years since I started this journey, I thank them so much and I hope that they know how grateful I am for them. Moving forward, I hope to keep them on this wild ride as my music gets better and better.

kiyu’s new single “overthinking” is out now on all streaming platforms.

Contact Stephanie Wong at [email protected]