The best pop music is paradoxically about tactile transcendence – stimulating the senses to take you beyond their limits. That’s the kind of abstract conclusion you draw, anyway, after listening to the music of Cayenne – a 23-year-old Singaporean who calls herself Celine Autumn and who has just started releasing happily post-internet pop music. which is still rooted in humanity and sorrow. .
Take Cayenne’s second single, “Sugar Rush,” which is exactly as sweet and manic as its title promises. Filled with bubbling synths, punctuated with digital distortion and defined by a wacky synth line and monstrous drop, this is a polished, indebted pop wonder by PC Music. And for all his sonorous antics and carefree classic slogans (“I would like it to last all summer“”, “Throw it away, don’t take it slow“), ‘Sugar Rush’ always alludes to a human heart hurt in its heart:”But maybe I don’t know how to keep my mouth shut / Take the fall, lose it all, that’s all I really got. “
Maybe that’s what Celine Autumn means when she describes Cayenne as a “more exaggerated version of me”, but still a “relative” figure. “I don’t feel like I’m writing for a character,” she said NME, a few days before the release in June of his eponymous EP. âI write for myself. Do you know how pop is so full of ‘swag’, so cool? You have to have the atmosphereâ¦ I don’t have that, and it’s Cayenne, you know? It’s me, it’s embarrassing.
Although a longtime lover of pop music, Autumn has only recently had to personally grapple with decisions regarding pop presentation and personality. These questions aren’t as important when Celine performs as the lead singer of Singaporean indie trio Sobs, who made a name for themselves in Asia with their effortlessly catchy dreamy pop, playing cheerful, freewheeling shows while warming up scenes for likes of Japanese Breakfast and Postal Mail.
It was with his bandmate Sobs Jared Lim that Autumn concocted the pop magic of Cayenne. Together, the duo wrote Cayenne’s debut song – ‘Centrefold’, the EP’s closing track, which Lim is credited with as co-producer – following the release of Sobs’ debut album, ‘Telltale Signs’ in 2018. The sequel to their 2017 EP ‘Catflap’, it wasn’t an easy record to make, says Autumn.
âWe were very exhausted after this album,â she recalls. âIt was a very aggravating process: recording, writing, everything. Back then, we weren’t sure how things worked yet, so we found out as we went. Even things like the dynamics within the group: communication, all that. It got so stressful that she couldn’t even listen to guitar music for a while, Autumn reveals with an embarrassed laugh. Instead, she listened to music from Carly Rae Jepsen, Charli XCX and SOPHIE.
âDoing DJ sets as Sobs over the years has really solidified our overlapping tastes in pop music and probably influenced the way we write for Cayenne and Sobs,â says Lim, who recalls one New Years Eve party where they played a set that was âpretty much exclusively PC Music and other adjacent SoundCloud pop from the mid-2010s with a Charli XCX track inserted between a few songs.â Most of the time, the duo work remotely. , bouncing files – many of their in-person writing sessions went off the rails, says Lim, “going down rabbit holes on YouTube of 2000s pop music.”
“You don’t even really know who you are sometimes, and that’s part of the process of discovering your sound”
Autumn and Lim have been creative collaborators since 2017, when they met at longtime Singaporean music forum Soft and formed the group that would become Sobs (now completed by guitarist Raphael Ong, who also runs their Middle Class label. Cigars). Completely new at the time, Autumn learned to write songs, slowly but surely, working with Lim in Sobs. She considers him a personal inspiration.
âFor some reason Jared and I just have the best musical chemistry. I don’t think I’ll have that with anyone else,â Autumn enthuses. âEven when I meet someone to work with. with the producer of my dreams, it will never be so magical. I know that. âThere were times when the two, while writing songs for Sobs, hummed different tunes – but hit the same notes at the same time.
At first, when writing the songs that would later become material for Cayenne, Autumn approached them as if she was a songwriter in office, writing songs for another pop artist. This explains some of the more generic lyrics, she said – she probably wouldn’t write the lines. “We’re two kids just trying to have fun / Bottles of champagne and whiskey on our tonguesâ, From ‘Centrefold’, today.
âWhen I first wrote these songs, I didn’t know who Cayenne was,â she says. “I didn’t know what was going to happen nextâ¦ I was just playing and experimenting.” The songs “Sugar Rush”, “Centrefold” and “Fav Treat” stayed on her computer for a long time – until she started playing with Ableton last year when Singapore was under lockdown. âI kept doing loops and stuff and then I wrote ‘Drivin’ Away ‘,â which later became Cayenne’s first single. âThat’s when it clicked in my head: I have the Cayenne sound now!
She then revisited her old songs, which she initially thought had moved on. âBut the more I listened to them, I was like no – they’re Cayenne too. You don’t even really know who you are sometimes, and it’s part of the process of discovering your sound. So it’s Cayenne, but a different phase.
âThe whole idea of ââsongs defying genres and without genre. I think that’s where the future of pop lies.
This phase of Cayenne is undeniably influenced by the chrome and clatter of PC Music, the musical and aesthetic movement that has become a London label defined primarily by AG Cook and the late and beloved SOPHIE. You can also hear songs in Cayenne – especially unpublished ones, which NME heard – the influence of mad 100 gecs hyperpop scientists, especially their gleefully blind approach to the genre and their love of the chaotic dynamics of songs.
And Autumn’s lyricism – playful but concerned with matters of the heart – recalls Cayenne’s greatest ancestor, Charli XCX. On her projects ‘Pop 2’ and ‘How I’m Feeling Now’, the British artist marries cutting edge pop song with deep emotion, while rejecting the idea that the pop star must be an untouchable goddess. If Cayenne has a model, it’s Charli. âShe can do pop that isn’t super mainstream. It’s pretty unconventional, but it has both the mainstream crowd and the underground scene, âsays Autumn. “This is what I want to hit: both sides.”
After releasing her oldest songs under the Cayenne name, Autumn is planning new singles with fresher material and her next art move. She tries to go back to her indie rock roots, but to combine them with electronic production. She is currently fascinated by the music of Harry Teardrop, James Ivy and Wave Racer, and speaks enthusiastically about this wave of artists incubated by SoundCloud who have managed to merge the sound of an indie rock band with the elements of a solo electronic producer.
This is not a simple transformation that can be summed up as ârock becomes popâ. âEven the production structure is different,â says Autumn. âIn dance music they loop and loop – while in groups they write chord structures. When somebody goes “from electronics to band” you can still hear the loopsâ¦ But I think at some point it gets mixed up, you just can’t figure out what it is anymore.
âThe whole idea of ââsongs defying genres and without genre. I think that’s where the future of pop lies, isn’t it? ” She adds. âWhere is the pop going? The genres no longer matter.
‘Cayenne’ is out now