Arts & Culture

Handsome Girl: Songwriting is a Communal Activity

Songwriting is an introspective process.

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Represented by Singapore-based label Middle Class Cigars, Handsome Girl is the moniker of 23-year-old Aqi H who moved from Singapore to base themselves in Glasgow, UK. In a relatively new and liberal environment, Aqi has been able to question and experiment more.

Universal themes such as identity, sexuality and longing translate themselves musically through their lyrics and the raw, honest quality of their voice. Think Karen O, Frankie Cosmos and Girlpool.

Their debut release Shut Up Cutie delves into a whole range of human emotions, punctuated by their guitar playing. As a solo musician, is their journey of songwriting as introspective as their songs make it out to be? Or is it more than what meets the eye?

How long have you been involved with music?

I have been writing and had many other personas since the age of 15. Handsome Girl is the most recent project and I have sustained it for the past two years now.

From when you first started to now, how has your approach towards music evolved?

I have never really seen myself as a musician per se. I use songwriting and instruments as tools to tell stories. It used to be a really spontaneous process of strumming a few basic chords on the guitar and simply singing about recent incidents or personal accounts that I struggled to articulate. I am still doing that (haha) but now, everything seems a lot more considered. I begin thinking about including other instruments and the possibilities of collaborating with other artists.

Share with us your most comfortable approach towards songwriting.

Whenever I am songwriting, I will have a sound recorder to record everything. Then I will keep playing the same thing and edit as I go. I have over a thousand sound recordings in my phone right now. It is terrible! But sometimes I beat myself up for not being able to “complete” a song within a session. So I will leave it for a while until I find time to revisit and feel invested enough to work on it again. This is a weird thing, but being in bright spaces definitely affects the quality of my lyrics. I write so much better with the lights off or at night.

What is one most misunderstood perception of songwriting?

Two things.

One: That it must be thematic. You should never think of the theme while writing a song. I believe that should only happen when you are curating a setlist or trying to put together an album. When you are writing, just spout bullshit and you can edit later. Record millions of recordings until you feel it is right. Be free!

Two: That songwriting is a one-person process. I personally think that songwriting is a very communal activity, even if you are writing the most painful and private lyrics. While you are writing to clarify your thought processes, you should also consult the people you trust along the way. Sometimes lyrics that do not make sense to you might make sense to others. Sometimes words that you feel very passionate about might be offensive to others. Songwriting should always be a personal process, yes, but I have found that sharing my music with my pals and hearing from them is always constructive for me.

How do you gain inspiration?

I guess the clichéd response to this is to read, look at things and look into your own experiences. It is true! Do that! Songwriting is such an introspective experience. You are constantly reflecting on your own thoughts and you need to feed off something.

What is one key towards honing your songwriting skills?

Record many, many versions of the one song you are trying to write. You are not going to reach a conclusion so easily. Go crazy! Scream. Add vocal layers. Make noises. Everything! Try it all. You need to be brave <3

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