Asian talent is finally getting the spotlight it deserves in the international (and local) performing arts scene, and Josh Kua is a name Malaysians can be proud to hear. We got to speak with the talented musician about his new single ‘Sail Away’, life during the pandemic in Melbourne, and what he misses most about Malaysia—check out what he had to say!
Your new single, Sail Away, has a very moving and almost melancholic sound. What is the story and process that went into composing the track?
Josh: So, sailing away is about finding the time or struggling to find the time to remove yourself and reinstate yourself into a situation or a relationship that you might have some big issues with that’s been bothering you a lot throughout your life. The song was inspired by that moment or a series of moments. It’s about flying away. So, sailing is a more of a metaphor. Well, you do sail in the clouds; it’s about flying in an airplane and that was inspired by my trips out of Melbourne.
As you know, I’ve been working mainly in Malaysia and around Asia. I’d come back for trips to visit home and I used to leave a lot before the pandemic. So, it was inspired by sort of feeling this sense of regret of having to leave each time and not having dealt with my issues or the pain or from the past. It’s sort of felt like running away. It would be the moment of just boarding the plane, walking from the gate onto the plane and then getting all buckled up and stuff and then taking off. So that’s the whole sailing away and it was inspired by the whole process of boarding and taking off from the plane and sailing away into the clouds.
But at the same time, there’s also like a dual meaning of sorts which was inspired by coming back and being sort of innocent at first, stuck here for a while and almost forced to face my fears. So, it’s actually about how the release is not just the temporary one of leaving, but also coming back and looking inside and dealing with what you have done to free yourself and move forward in a new way, which is where I am now in my life.
How did you personally discover your life’s purpose and calling in music?
Josh: I guess I always knew from young that I had a bit of an artistic flair, on top of being a very good Chinese or Asian kid and studying really hard. I had the academics but I always knew I liked music. So, like my mom says, around three years old, I saw someone playing violin on TV with an orchestra and said I wanted to play. That’s just the story I’m told, and no it wasn’t some sort of “tiger mum” thing. Luckily, I actually enjoyed it and I later took up piano and it was just something that I realised later on that was my emotional outlet. Being a very reserved and timid sort of child, music has always been my place to shine in a sense, and also to just be myself. I think I actually discovered more than just like my talent, but a passion for music.
I grew up being raised in church and I was able to explore improvisation and playing on stage, you know, to bring an audience with you on a journey, and I realised that that was where I could be the most myself and just be a little bit melodramatic and just get really into it. Other times I felt a lot more reserved, just not having the instrument with me. So yeah, I think that was all those years of practice in church that got me to realise that I have a thing for lyrical, moving music that’s more melancholic, so that’s always in my vibe though I do like other stuff as well. That really helped me to explore and from there I started to do covers and that’s where years later, create my own compositions.
What are some of your life passions outside of music?
Josh: One of the first things that comes to mind is my cats. I think a lot of us who are in our twenties, maybe early thirties, are not having kids as early as our parents and it’s just not like feasible. During my uni years, I had a friend who got a cat and I just somehow became a crazy cat lady. In the last few years I’ve adopted three cats. There’s one here with me and two still in Malaysia. Yeah, I’m pretty obsessed with them.
Is there an artist that you would love to collaborate with and why?
Josh: Yeah, I’ve thought about this and right now, I’ve been quite inspired by this artist, Tina Guo. She’s Asian American and you’ve probably heard her play, but don’t realize it’s her because she’s played in so many soundtracks for all these big movies. She’s worked a lot with Hans Zimmer and she’s amazingly talented. She’s also a cellist and if there was any instrument that I wish that I would have learned instead of the violin, it would have been the cello. I’m super in love with like the tone and I love how deep it sounds. And the reason why Tina is because I identified with her quickly because she is also an Asian that’s grown up in the West, so I know there’s some relatability there for me.
I look up to Asians who have been successful in their careers in entertainment in the West. Also, it’s another string instrument and she just plays amazingly and has more of a rock skewing vibe so but she’s also so versatile and I just love the way she plays. I think it would be a dream to play with her.
As for singers, I’ve always said John Mayer, who was one of my first inspirations in music. And then of course there’s Beyonce, because she’s an amazing performer. Lady Gaga has also always been an inspiration to me because she’s a singer, but she’s also a musician and she’s a true artist and I appreciate her musicality and that she’s so versatile. She does musical theatre, she does jazz, and I sort of identify with not being put in one box in terms of what I do.
How have you been coping with life during the pandemic in Melbourne, and how has your work as a musician been affected?
Josh: I think no matter what industry you’ve been in, it’s been quite challenging, especially at the beginning. For me, it was kind of unexpected, being in a different location, being based out of Melbourne instead of KL. I literally came back for a wedding for one week and then that’s when all the lockdowns happens. Being separated from my cats because I’d sort of just begun my life with them was a bit tough. And of course, there was no more performing for a while. I was very fortunate to get a couple of gigs that I could perform live online, but it’s just not the same.
So yeah, my life’s changed quite a lot. Not being able to travel for work was a bit of a challenge, but at the same time, like some messages in Sail Away. That I was able to think and it’s in the detours in life when we experience the most growth because we’re sort of thrown on a path, a catalyst, to grow and change. So, I guess I’ve evolved like as a person and in work, it’s been sort of refreshing to just go back to the essence of my passion and why I do this, because before that it was good, but it was also easy to get caught up in all the PR and going on trips with fancy brands, constantly performing and staying in fancy hotels. It was all great, but having that all stripped away from my life and being stuck at home, I was able to come back to my love for music and that’s where Sail Away just finally came out from and the start of more original content, so I’m grateful for that and the emotional healing that I was able to do while being here. So yeah, always positives and negatives at the same time. I think that’s just life. You got to roll with the punches.
What do you miss most about Malaysia (besides the food)?
Josh: Well, I have friends and family there, so obviously I miss them and just spending time with them. Apart from food, probably the lifestyle. It’s a bit different because I’m out here living with the family, my parents. I’m in the suburbs; it’s not bad, but it’s different. It’s kind of like I’m living in Damansara Utama but the equivalent of it here, versus when I was living in Malaysia and I was living in the centre of town
So, it’s just a different lifestyle, but it’s fine because I’m also more of a homebody and I’m more introverted, so I tend to spend more time at home anyway. And all of the cats. I’m kind of sad that there’s a lot of stray cats there, but at the same time, I miss just seeing them everywhere. I’m constantly surrounded by my own cats, I do miss the stray cats of Malaysia.
It’s a different crowd too. I feel like in Malaysia, I know more people in my industry as well, so I sort of missed that comradery. I guess it’s different because I didn’t really have as much work here because of the pandemic, plus Australia’s never been very kind to Asians. We’ve had to really fight to get seen here and we’re only beginning to now get cast in things and being seen on TV in non-stereotypical roles. So yeah, it’s been interesting to come back and to see how I guess the rise of China is slowly impacting our representation in my industry.
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