What if you had a million streams of your dreamy self-mastered synth pop -- and the tech superpowers of a Cornell engineer? Well, then you’d be JAIE, and you’d be very conflicted at the moment.
1. You’re interviewing for tech jobs by day and making music by night. Are you an artist or an engineer?
I’m still figuring it out, I feel like.
Right now, it’s kind of scary because everything is so open, and I don’t know where to take it yet. I’m still on that path where I’m trying to do both as much as possible. But I definitely want to keep those parts in me because I feel like they’re both really strong parts of who I am.
2. Do they support each other or are they in conflict?
Both, I think. Sometimes, especially in school, when you have all these different projects going on, especially more technical projects, and you’re trying be creative too, it feels as if the two different parts of your brain are at war with each other. You have to be in a totally structured mindset when you’re approaching an engineering problem, versus when you’re making music, right? The creative side of you just wants to let everything go. But I feel like, in the long term, the two parts support each other because I’ll always have both to lean on, for the days when I wake up and I feel like being an engineer more than I feel like being a musician, and vice versa.
3. You were born in Malaysia, went to boarding school in England, and college at Cornell. It feels like, if there was a plan along the way, it probably wasn’t music?
Yeah, it was engineering. The Malaysian education system gears you towards very straight paths. You’re either going to be an engineer or you’re going to go to med school or you’re going to do business. In high school, I was a pure science student, I took biology, chemistry, math, and physics, of course.
But then there was Asian family tradition too. You grow up learning to play piano really young. I hated it, though. I just didn’t like being forced to play in such a strict way.
4. Then you discovered you had a good voice?
That was a revelation. I was very introverted -- I’m still introverted now -- but after I went to boarding school, I grew into myself more. That’s when I started writing songs. I’d basically make these acoustic covers on GarageBand and upload them on SoundCloud, and the second year of boarding school I started making actual productions in GarageBand.
Around then, my friends were saying, “Wow, you have a really nice voice!” And I was like, “Oh, really? Thanks.” Then I started posting covers on SoundCloud, and more people started telling me that they really liked my voice, and that’s how it happened. It wasn’t like I was like, “Oh wow, I have a great voice!” It was more slowly learning that I do have a certain voice and how to sing with that voice.
So even though I was going to college for engineering, I stuck with music. My first year at Cornell was really crazy… it was so hectic, I spent so many hours in the library, and I think I overworked myself for sure. And in engineering, you know, the first year you’re piled on with all of these super technical courses. But I remember very clearly that I spent a lot of my nights learning Logic, the GarageBand plus. Looking at it in hindsight, I can’t explain how I managed it all. I think I just loved both things.
5. Then something happened, people started listening – how did that all go down?
I released my first original song, “Honest Oceans,” the winter of my sophomore year. That summer I went home to Malaysia, where the music scene is kind of tight knit, and I met Isaac -- he’s my manager now and someone who loves taking on a million projects and helping other artists achieve what they want. I’m super grateful for having somebody like that to help me. He basically reached out to me and said, “We want to make something with you,” which ended up being the release of my first EP.
6. You released under the name JAIE. Why not just go out there as Chelsea Chan?
"Jai Ee" are the characters in my Chinese name. I feel like I kind of wanted to have another identity but still related to something about myself. JAIE isn’t something that everybody knows about, so I kind of like having that wall of not really knowing who I was.
7. So you could be JAIE while you’re an artist and Chelsea while you’re the engineer.
8. When the numbers started growing and then passed a million, were you just stunned by it?
I was! I was stunned by it – even now I am. I’m still like, “Wow, this is crazy. I could do music seriously, if I wanted to.” But more than that, it reassured me that people connect with what I make, and that’s a really great feeling. But it doesn’t take away the doubt, that’s the thing. I’m still questioning the main reason why I make music. I don’t want to make it for other people, you know what I mean? I want to make it because I love making it.
9. Like you loved making Honest Oceans, right? It’s a love song, isn’t it?
Actually, when I think back on it, Honest Oceans, at least the chorus, is about my feelings towards making music. It was about the love of making music. I filled in the verses to make it sound like a standard love song, but it’s a love song to music. That was the seed of the idea.
10. Have you written a love song to engineering?
No, no. That hasn’t happened… maybe in the future.
Check out JAIE on Quadio!