spill tab is the project of Los Angeles-based, French-Korean artist Claire Chicha, who’s been carving out her own space in the bedroom pop genre for a couple of years now. After landing a straight-out-of-college gig as merch manager for none other than Gus Dapperton, she decided to focus on her own music and teamed up with producer and principal collaborator David Marinelli for a series of singles leading up to the December 2020 release of their debut EP, Oatmilk (“I am so goddamn lactose intolerant, so my lifeblood during quarantine has been Oatly and Chobani oat milk,” she explains). With a total of four tracks each clocking in at less than two minutes, it’s a testament to spill tab’s creativity as an artist that they end up sounding both infectious and distinctive as they careen across different modes and styles. There’s a common thread between the dreamy, playful, and forward-thinking aesthetic of the EP and that of a number of Gen Z artists currently been breaking onto the scene, but these songs also showcase spill tab’s ability to not only tweak a lot of these emerging tropes but also inject her own personality onto them in a unique and memorable way.
We caught up with spill tab’s Claire Chicha for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about her influences, Oatmilk, being honest, and more.
I know you moved around a lot while you were growing up. Could talk more about your upbringing and how you feel that has influenced your sound or your sense of identity in any way?
It’s influenced me, I think, especially ‘cause I moved around when I was at these ages where you just have – like, when you’re twelve, thirteen, fourteen you hyper absorb everything in your life, those are such formative years. My first memories sort of begin when I’m like six, seven, eight, and then by the time I’m like 10 I have a minimum sense of identity. And then the next five years are just like ingesting everything around you so hardcore, and those years are when, like, my parents lost – they went bankrupt during the recession and I ended up moving to Thailand for a year with my mom, because it was just cheaper to live there at that time with the money that my parents had saved up. And after that I moved to Paris for a year with my aunt and my cousin. My dad passed away at the end of that school year, so my mom decided to sort of – it made sense for us to go back to what was familiar, so we ended up moving back to LA for high school.
And all those travels put me in places that had largely different music. I feel like, in Bangkok, there was a lot of traditional Thai music, but there was also a lot of – Bangkok is like the party city of Southeast Asia, so there was a lot of dance music, a lot of techno and house. But funnily enough, a lot of those songs had been popular six months prior in the US, so there was a lot of weird overlaps in terms of popular music making its way towards the East. And Paris was kind of a different version of that where there’s a lot of like dance, trance, and all that stuff, but a lot of more hip-hop, rap-leaning artists come out of France as well.
And then I moved back to LA where I attended a high school that was really known for their show choir, so I did show choir for four years and that was a really intense shaping of my performance skills and my stamina skills. It just kind of taught me how to be a better performer and how to be more confident onstage. And then I moved to New York for four years and I was in acapella and I was in the New York scene, and that’s a whole different vibe – it’s a little bit more weird, a little bit more experimental. I think living in Brooklyn sort of gave me access to more music that isn’t, you know, popular at all.
I noticed that there’s kind of a different vibe to the songs on your EP that are in English and those that are in French. Do you find yourself getting into a different mode when writing in French and English?
I think the reason why stuff sounds a bit different in French is that I’m not quite so comfortable in French as I am in English. Like, when I express myself through music in English, I can be very intimate and very personal. And in French I have a hard time expressing myself, so it’s so much easier to just sort of like catch a vibe and then create a story and build up from that, and that’s like, much more fun than trying to find, you know, the perfect word.
My favorite track on the EP is probably ‘Name’ – I really love the idea of giving up someone’s first name, it’s such a unique and creative metaphor. But kind of in relation to that, I was wondering if you could talk more about the line “being honest is my worst trait.” Is that something that you felt strongly in that moment or is it something that you kind of relate to more generally?
I guess when I was writing it, like the person that I was seeing was asking me to be very very honest, and my whole life a trait that I’ve always had was to be very diplomatic – just trying to always find the best way to put words, you know, if you’re breaking something to someone, trying to measure how abstractly I can say it to be easy on them. So this person was asking me to be like super fucking honest and because I’m not well-versed in being honest, I feel like when I try to really be honest it can be quite hurtful. Or at least I feel like I’m being very hurtful, because there’s honest and then there’s like, mean. So I guess I was trying to say, “being honest is my worst trait,” like being just honest and not mean – I don’t know how to do that.
That’s interesting. I thought of it like, you’re good at being honest but it always ends up having negative consequences. But do you feel that it’s kind of different with music for you? Because there’s a lot of intimacy in your songwriting – do you feel more comfortable being emotionally open that way?
Yeah, definitely. I think songwriting is really cool because you can say things that are otherwise really corny and cheesy, and if you put them in a song, it’s like, considered so much cooler. [laughs] I feel like if you were to take someone’s lyrics most of the time and just say that in a conversation that would be so corny and almost cliché, you know. But you can say those things in a song and it lands so much better. And it’s also more fun because in the song there’s sort of like, metering and emphasis that you kind of want to stick to to create something that sounds nice, like, metering-wise. That’s one of my favourite things about writing music, when you come out of it with something that’s pleasant to listen to just when it’s spoken.
You co-produced the track with your collaborator, marinelli. Could you talk about how your collaborative relationship started out and how it developed throughout the making an EP?
Yeah, we started working together two and a half years ago. I was still living in New York and he was in LA so we just did a couple of sessions over the summer of 2018. And then honestly from there, we just became best friends outside of music, we just hung out all the time. And I was an A&R intern that summer, so I was going to a shit ton of shows just for my internship and I always got a plus one, so I would bring him. So we were just like so deep in music, making it and also attending shows and it was such a packed summer. And then I went back to New York that fall for my senior year, and he came to visit and met all my New York homies, and a lot of my New York homies have now moved to LA, so that sort of informed the friend group that we all have now. It’s crazy how, like, in the past two years – like random little things, you know, people have moved different places and we’ve all sort of landed in LA.
But I think since we first started working together I’ve also just practiced a shit ton of production. I used to not be able to produce, and as we were doing things bi-coastally I sort of had to learn how to process things at least a minimum amount of well so that I could send them to him. And then that sort of opened the gates to Ableton, so I’ve just been getting better at producing. I think throughout the relationship David’s been so supportive and he’s always teaching me new tricks and helping me find cool plugins and stuff.
Is that one of your goals, to keep learning more about production and be more involved in that side of things?
Yeah, 100%. I’m producing some stuff for a few friends that they might actually put out, so that’s really cool to just sort of not at all take part in the writing or the melodies and just take part in like, delivering another person’s vision of something. It’s a different way of expressing oneself creatively that’s like – I don’t have to steer the ship, I can just, like, you know, clean the decks and build the mezzanine. [laughs] It’s just a whole new space to have fun in.
I wanted to mention – I was actually looking at an interview you did in 2019, and you were like, “2020 is gonna be such a great year,” like, “no doubt!”
[laughter] Dude, you’re crazy! What interview was that? It’s crazy that you pulled that up!
It was for Voyage LA, I think. I’ll link to it.
Bless you for finding that, that’s the funniest shit. Were you like – for some reason all my friends were like, “2020 is gonna be the year!” Did you feel the same?
Weirdly enough, yeah. I kind of had that feeling.
It just felt like it was gonna be an insane – but you know what, low-key, I don’t think I would be anywhere close to where I am if it wasn’t – not that I’m on some crazy shit, but it’s like, just the fact that I’ve been blessed with so many people that are just fucking with the music, that have been able to find the music. Like, I don’t think it would have been like that if it hadn’t been for a pandemic. I mean, ‘Calvaire’ came out March 3 – I was in New York – the pandemic came, like, March 15. And then everything from then on was just immediate quarantine and everything kind of went to shit. But I was set to TM a tour around April, so I was getting ready to go on tour, and then obviously that tour is gonna be like, two months long, so it’s gonna be like April to May to June and then I was gonna try and get a new tour after that. I wanted to continue working in touring because I love it, but obviously it doesn’t lend very well to anything other than being on tour. So I went to LA and we’re all quarantined, and for the next like 10 months I got to just do music and build something with spill tab because of that.
I know this is a really uncertain time right now to ask about future plans, but going into 2021, what are some things you’re looking forward to in terms of the development of the project?
I think these past two years have been a lot of like – because I was still in school or still working, like David and I would never have any songs on deck. It was just like, we would make a song, we would finish it, we would spend months at it, working on, tweaking it, and then it would be out. And then we’d start a new song. So there was never really an opportunity to build a project or create a narrative of any sort. So I think it would really cool to sort of – because this year I get to do this all the time, if I’m able to build out a sort of unreleased catalog, kind of see if there’s a way to create a narrative or just put songs together that feel like they should be together. And keep songs on deck for the next release, see if they fit better. And then also, like, touring in general, I cannot wait to be able to do that stuff.
Yeah, of course. I look forward to seeing how that works out! Is there anything else you feel like you want to add?
No, I’m definitely not gonna say, like, “2021 is gonna be the year!” [laughter]
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
spill tab’s Oatmilk EP is out now.