Culted Sounds: Merry Lamb Lamb talks drifting, intensity & J-Electronica

Culted Sounds: Merry Lamb Lamb talks drifting, intensity & J-Electronica

by Stella Hughes
11 min

In today’s day and age, it’s rare that artists are able to craft a truly unique (and enjoyable) sound – but Merry Lamb Lamb is a pro at it. Creating hypnotic beats and singing in three languages, her sound surpasses the usual genre binaries to become something that could be played everywhere from the sweatiest of clubs to the chillest of afters. 

We caught up with her to chat through all things music, identity and combatting the winter blues in London.

Hey Merry, how are you? You recently moved to London. How has the big city been treating you? Do you already have some favourite spots to hit up?

I love every part of it really! Although it’s super cold right now, I’m not complaining. I think London is definitely the perfect balance between Hong Kong and Toronto. It’s not too crowded, yet vibrant and inspirational as a city. I met so many creative fellas here in the past four months. Everyone has different backgrounds and respects each other most beautifully. 

I’ve been inspired by Crystal Palace lately; that’s where I live in South-East. There is this little chocolate cafe that I will always go to for tea, and they make the most delicious handmade chocolate and the most extraordinary vegan cakes in London. My favourite one is the mango and passionfruit cake. I went there so often that the owner started recognizing me and my partner Lung. She would greet us joyfully, and I always feel welcome going in there!

There’s a beautiful lake called South Norwood Park near my home, and I always go there for a stroll when I need a break from work. Every time I go to the lake, I feel calm and positive. Sitting on the bench all day and listening to duck quacking sounds is truly a blessing.

Before jetting off to London, you were living in Hong Kong, your home turf. Do you find that Hong Kong has influenced who you are as a person and an artist – and not just lyrically speaking?

This is a yes and no question. I left home when I was 14 to study abroad in Toronto. After being so far from home for almost ten years, I returned home to form Merry Lamb Lamb after university. Although I was born in Hong Kong, I sometimes felt distant and weary from it. Every day in Hong Kong is very intense and breathless. I even felt stressed and manipulated by the people around me. Hong Kong almost felt like a familiar home but with unfamiliar distant relatives living inside my house. Sometimes, I have a sense of uncanny familiarity with Hong Kong. 

But through living in this unfamiliar and intense city. I formed a very persistent and dare-to-try personality. Living in such a fast-paced city, everyone is hardworking and devoted to work. Therefore, I devoted myself to Merry Lamb Lamb. I devoted myself to becoming an artist and my way of choosing life instead of being so hardworking and drifting. Hong Kong has made me the person that I wanted to become, and I’m truly thankful.

@merrylamblamb ©

What immediately stands out in your music is the use of three languages – English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. Is there a language you feel most comfortable in? And is that the same you tend to write music with the most?

I relate to Billy from the book The Minds of Billy Milligan, because that’s how I split my brain when processing things daily. I never force myself to stick with one language because I fear I might take the sparks away from creating songs. I love to take advantage of all these three languages to convey different sides of myself more complexly.

However, I felt the most comfortable writing in English out of the three languages. When I’m writing songs like ‘Empathy,’ I want to convey my calmness and a genuine side of me. There is an open-your-heart emotion to it, which I felt the most confident writing in English because it’s my native language. I can be free and as personal as possible when speaking English. I wanted ‘Empathy’ to be private and instant, almost like a fragmented memory and nostalgia-like language. 

Being able to switch languages doesn’t mean I’m hiding from another personality; it’s not that. With Cantonese and Mandarin, I’m still being myself, but that specific language felt more fitting for the persona and purpose of the song. For every piece I produce, I aim to reveal my most truthful side and state of mind while writing that song. And it is so important to express yourself authentically. To me, there’s no other thing that is more important than that. 

Do you ever find yourself writing a lyric you then translate into a different language to sound better?

I never thought of that before. I primarily know what I want from the start, and the language I want, or sometimes using both simultaneously, will sound the most to me for that specific persona. I will go for it and finish my thoughts and my song. 

Your music definitely has an ‘80s electro-pop vibe to it. Do you find yourself inspired by artists who were big in the ‘80s? What other artists, current or not, are you inspired by?

Growing up, I listened to many 90’s J-pop, J-anime, and J-electronica music. People like Namie Amuro, SPEED, and especially Perfume have opened my vision to music and my purpose of writing electronic music. I’ll only see them on TV, wearing very Barbie-like clothes. They are very utopian-like, almost out-of-this-world. They’re sounds that I didn’t consider as sounds, but more of whips of magic, very glittery and unexpected in the most beautiful way.

But then my music taste changed. I was alone growing up in Toronto, having relocated there for school when I was 14. I didn’t know anyone back then and was a pretty shy teen. I desperately needed company, so I gravitated towards music. People like Belle & Sebastian are my power source to cure my melancholy. Their songs are sorrowful but still a little bit dancey for you to express your sadness away. There are songs like “Electronic Renaissance” and “The State That I’m In” that I would always sing along and play when bored. I still sometimes play Belle & Sebastian on my phone, especially in winter in London, and with the winter scene being visualized in front of my window, everything makes much more sense with the sad and moody lyrics that Stuart wrote.

Songs like “Tranquility” perfectly embody that hedonistic feeling of being drunk in a club till God knows what hour, having fun with friends or a random lover met then-and-there. Is that the feeling you want your listeners to receive when tuning into your work?

My music-making was significantly shifted when making my EP ‘Exodus’ because I listened to much more club-oriented music during the pandemic – especially 2-step and techno music.

I guess for songs like ‘Tranquility,’ I wanted my listeners to feel the same intensity that I got from club music; it is very daring and bold but with a hidden bitterness at the same time. I love how dance or club-oriented music is structured as a whole. Not only do I want it to be purely dancey, but it is almost to be able to open up entirely with current struggles and dance to your matters. To be able to pull up your heartstrings and how it could intensify you through it and feel for it is what I want my listeners to think from my songs. How dance music is structured is an open gate for me to experiment using a new view to produce my style of music.

Then there are songs like “Empathy” where tender lyrics are almost masked by the electronic back track. One lyric specifically stood out to me as quite a head scratcher: “Your empathy is my enemy.” What’s the meaning behind this one?

In ‘Empathy,’ I continue my journey to self-affirmation and belonging. It was almost a complaint to God about my whole life, with my knees bowed down, but I feared accusing him because he is God. In my past life, I was constantly drifting. Not being able to settle in was hurtful. The encounter that I had as a child being bullied at high school brought me to realise that I have the habit of forming a fence unconsciously between the outer world and stoning my heart like a rotten egg. I became easy on myself and felt every encounter in life was meant for a loss. Sometimes, when I think about it deeply, all I want from God is to be merciful and have a hug or a shoulder to cry on when I’m weak. I felt like I was never asking much, yet empathy seemed so far away and out of reach to me all the time.

Therefore, in this specific line from the lyrics ‘your empathy is my enemy,’ the enemy itself refers to empathy as an ‘enemy’. Sometimes, when you want something so much, it becomes grief because you can’t own it. It is so far away yet so hard to reach. It is a gift turning into an enemy because it is so impossible to defeat.

Music isn’t the only creative alley you excel in. Your visual identity has become so carved out, as is beautifully highlighted on your Instagram. How would you describe your own style?

I think Merry Lamb Lamb is an unexpected, experimental and future-forward creature. Ultimately, I want Merry Lamb Lamb to become an anime-like, almost out-of-this-world creature. I want it to become almost utopian-like, allowing my audience to be in the clouds. In Merry Lamb Lamb, I want to experiment with a new style for her whenever she presents a different persona. I needed to experiment with new things; she could wear a Lolita-inspired princess dress with new rock-high boots one day and become a feisty and fierce woman wearing Rick Owens the other day.

I want her to try it all primarily since most of my music revolves around vulnerability and breakthroughs. Visually, I want her to try them all, just like what I wanted to convey in my piece: very bold and honest.

@merrylamblamb ©

Clearly, we’re not the only ones who are fans of your style, as you’ve caught the eye of many fashion brands – Gucci, Chanel, Acne Studios. Have you always had an interest in fashion, wanting to break into the industry?

Not intentionally. I wanted to bring everything I love and put them into Merry Lamb Lamb. Apart from being a singer, I always wanted to become a fashion designer when I was younger. I loved playing on the MyScene Barbie website a lot when I was younger, playing dress up with Barbie and Teresa up daily on the site. I gained my love for reading Japanese fashion magazines, especially Cutie and Zipper. I love them so much that I would instead save money and get them and not use my money properly for school lunch. I think my ‘sprout’ started to grow  in fashion when I was younger.

And sometimes, I believe that opportunities will fall into place when you have the courage to do the things you love. I remember early January this year when I launched my latest capsule collection with Italian brand YOOX and named my first collaboration 8 by Merry Lamb Lamb. It is a capsule celebrating the Year of Rabbits, and I created a very punk yet cute clothing series called Holy Bunny. It was my first time ‘properly’ designing clothing. I went through the thinking process and eventually developed a set of clothing that I felt was very bold and rebellious, as I always wanted people to think about my music.

In the future, I want to create a jewelry line because my parents are part of the jewelry gold business. I would love to keep the tradition going, knowing that jewelry and gold artistry are slowly fading in Hong Kong. I would love to see how I could be anti-traditional and create diverse and unique pieces. 

Do you think a visual identity is as important as a musical identity for artists nowadays, considering how much of our time is now spent looking at images on Instagram or Pinterest?

I never considered my identity separately as music and visual, but they were always in sync. The visual aspect of it reflects what you do musically. To me, visuals and music are inseparable and exist fluidly like water because they’re both the first impression of your identity. And its visual aspect definitely adds a profound layer to your music.

Lastly, do you have anything to tease our readers with? Any special projects in the works?

I’ve been making new music lately with my partner, Lung. It was my first winter here in London, and I don’t want to waste any of those winter blues away to spark my creation. We’ve been doing many jamming sessions at our home studio, constantly making loops and loops and developing them into new songs. I’ve also been very inspired by Crystal Palace lately. And I would always go to the lake near my home for inspiration. I think my new music will relate to themes of being close to Mother Nature. I can’t wait to see how it will turn out.

For future projects, an interesting one will come up with my girlfriends Miso Extra and Aimei媚. It will be a collaboration song coming out next January 2024. It is a song about being fully empowered after an unforgettable breakup. It was also my first time collaborating with more than one artist, and it was fun and surprisingly enjoyable. I can’t wait for you guys to listen to it. 

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