When it comes to what to most look for in an artist today, London-born and raised songstress Chinchilla wields those many traits in absolute abundance. The top-hat-toting pop powerhouse paints bold strokes over even the bleakest of topics, lyrically displaying a discerning intellect and sensibility well beyond her years. Deliciously sharp and achingly vulnerable, every word Chinchilla pens brings you face to face with both her fiery, confident demeanour and undeniably home-grown aesthetic. After releasing her debut single ‘Elements’ back in 2019, Chinchilla has accumulated well over twenty million global streams, notably earning a huge majority of them through her collaboration with Estonian artist NOËP on their single ‘Fk This Up’. She also supported Sting on the European leg of his tour last year, performing at arenas all over the continent. Back and better than ever with her sophomore EP entitled ‘Moon Maintenance For Dummies’ and a string of exciting upcoming live shows, Chinchilla is sure to continue dominating with her bodaciously empowering sound. She is roaring her future into existence, powerful and poignant as ever.
Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about your background as an artist and how you would describe the sound you create?
So I’m originally from London. My parents were both actors when I was growing up, which meant I was privileged enough to be raised in a very creative environment. My parents were always so supportive of me, and being brought up like that was very grounding. It’s been my dream to be a singer for as long as I can remember. I think I thought it was the same for everyone else growing up, haha.
In secondary school, I was in a band with six other boys. We were all really good friends and used to practice with these huge amps. I was incredibly shy when I first started, so I was constantly being told to sing louder to compete with the amps, which taught me to belt it out. I’ve always naturally gravitated towards listening to huge female vocalists like Janis Joplin, Etta James and Beyoncé. The band went our separate ways once school was over. I had a gap year before uni, which is where I taught myself to produce and created Chinchilla. It’s all been go since then.
Would you describe Chinchilla as an alter-ego, exaggeration or end goal?
Chinchilla and I are very much one. It never felt like two separate people. She’s almost a permission for me. That’s how I would describe it. As I said, I used to be so shy and could only sing in front of people if it was behind a wall or a screen. Giving myself the name permitted me to be that larger than life person who lives inside me but sometimes gets buried.
So you recently released your latest single, ‘Fingers’. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind the song and visuals?
I wrote it a while ago and have been sitting on the demo for a few years now. I remember the day of the songwriting session. I was feeling angry at how people were trying to crawl their way back into my life when they saw I was having a bit of success and moving forward in life. It made me insanely angry, and I wanted to capture that energy. We wanted to write a song that stylistically bridged the style of my ballads and upbeat tracks together, so we made the song have verses that are vulnerable and validating. The verses lure you into a false sense of security before the chorus shatters that completely.
I had the idea for a murder mystery, Poirot inspired set of visuals for a while. Initially, I wanted each character to have to be interviewed and interrogated, each having different accents and personas. To make it work in the context of a music video, we instead focused on the characterisation through backstory, costuming, movement and personality. It was a really fun one for me. I enjoy the acting side of things.
Fashion-wise, you are an absolute chameleon, evolving hairstyles, colours and references on what seems like every single. Is your approach to style thought out, or does it depend on how you feel on the day?
If I were ever to go into any industry other than music, it would probably have been the fashion industry. I just love it and have always had a keen interest in the creative side of it. I am usually wearing a hat and some seventies platform boots which tie in with my other choices naturally. Sometimes my songs conjure up an image of what I think I should wear, and then sometimes, it’s more challenging, especially dressing for the ballads because they are more serious. I like to make my clothes playful and extravagant, which doesn’t work for every occasion, but that’s part of the fun. There is so much power in vulnerability, and I still feel empowered when I sing the slower songs I have written. It’s pretty fun working out how to shape your style for each song or performance.
Your first EP ‘Awakening’ thematically seems to flip societally enforced gender roles on their heads. What message do you think your music has overall, and is it intentional or dependant on the song?
It’s definitely dependent on the song. I care a lot about a lot of social causes, but nine times out of ten, I write depending on my mood or a specific experience. It blows my mind how we are all constantly growing. Every year I think I am the most mature I have ever been, then a few weeks later, I realise I still know nothing, which is why songwriting never gets boring. There is always a fresh perspective to be had as you develop further into your artistry.
I know you taught yourself to produce your music, which not every performer does. How did you get into production, and how do you usually like to collaborate?
I like to work with producers and do my own thing equally. There are pros and cons to both. The reason I learned to produce was purely accidental. I wanted to be able to get my more weird ideas across to producers clearly. They can be pretty self-righteous about things before seeing if an idea will work or be practical. I wanted to learn enough so that I had the terminology to be able to contribute successfully and get what I could hear sonically across. Through making demos, I improved and eventually, my manager and I realised I was capable of producing my tracks for release on my own. I think you get imposter syndrome as a woman, and I used to think that obviously, a man needs to redo this. You have to trust yourself.
In the same vein, I think there are songs I can write with other people and songs I just wouldn’t, especially the personal ones. Some artists can go to a session and be very open to the extent of it being therapy. I just haven’t ever been able to do that or to open up so freely about my life to people that I haven’t met before in a creative space.
For most artists, writing music is a form of cathartics. Looking back, which song of yours released to date means the most to you and why?
I would have to say ‘Shadows’. It was so real to me at the time, and I felt scared to put it out due to its deeply personal and introspective nature. Also, I would have to say ‘Demand Respect’ produced by Mört. That one was really fun. The tracks I love most are the ones with lyrics about a specific situation where I have utilised something someone has said as a lyric. It puts that moment into a time capsule that you can revisit whenever you’re performing.
The music industry has changed so much in recent years, some say for the worse. Do you have any rituals or mantras to deal with the stresses of being a young female creative?
I do actually. But it’s not really to do with being female. It’s just to do with being a musician. Doing sessions with other people is a huge one. Feeding off new energy, in general, is so important. Whenever I get into a rut, I realise it’s because I haven’t done a gig in ages. As soon as I perform again I am reminded that I love this, and it’s my dream. I wrote a list the other day for days that I feel hopeless about being a musician: shower, do your hair makeup, go on a walk, cut bangs and masturbate.
What has been the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career so far?
The most challenging aspect I think I face is battling this strong sense of imposter syndrome. I remember in the months building up to when I supported Sting on tour I was thinking, what the hell am I doing! The realisation that I would be performing at a certain time, on a certain date at a certain arena in front of thousands of people was insane, especially as I was at home sitting in my pyjamas thinking about it. Of course, once you are there in the moment, it all makes sense, and you want to do it all over again. After my first show, I went backstage and sent my mum a video of me in total disbelief, saying, ‘I just supported Sting’. You come off stage, and it’s back to reality. It’s such a strange and funny feeling, but I was proud of myself nonetheless.
One of the most rewarding things is the different interpretations people can take from your songs. Through the release of ‘Fingers’, I have had many messages from young women specifically detailing how what I have written is helping them get through a situation. It’s so empowering, and you sort of forget that even a lyric that you might not have given a second thought to can be so meaningful to some people. I think that’s the disconnect when you write a song in your bedroom, you forget it will escape the four walls it’s written in, and it’s so rewarding when it does.
Reflecting on your journey so far, do you think ultimately you’ve had control of your career since or has it taken whatever direction it’s found?
It’s been so random! I could not have predicted or put what happened down as a set of goals. From collaborating with Estonian artist NOËP and performing together at the Estonian Music Awards to support Sting on his tour’s European leg, it’s all been incredible. When opportunities come up, you have to go for them. I guess I’ve had zero control over my career in that sense, but I’m also lucky to work with a lot of people who respect my choices, and we are a team in the way that we work.
What’s coming next? I know that you’re playing at the Isle Of Wight festival in September. Do you have any upcoming projects set for release?
I’m releasing a new EP in August. It’s definitely more of a fun, crazy and upbeat project compared to Awakening which was a bit more conceptual, stylistic and live sounding. There’s a country song on there and this super experimental interlude, to name a few. I’m extremely excited about it…
For Chinchilla’s new EP click here.
Words: Connor Aiden Fogarty
Images: Nick Pope @nickpopemedia
Fashion: Ignacio De Tiedra @ignaciodetiedra and Beca Montenegro @becamontenegram
MUA: Danielle Wetherell @daniellebilliemakeup and Alex Reader @alexreadermakeup