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Interview with BOKEH

11 Nov 2019 // An interview by Steve Shyu

BOKEH is the artistic alter-ego of New Zealand raised, Berlin based audio-visual artist, Chole Lewer. With her debut EP Don't Leave The Fire released in 2017, Chloe is also the director and producer for her own film production company, Ramona Ramona.

Steve from Muzic.net.nz spoke to BOKEH about her solo musical journey, musical influences and Berlin. Here's what she had to say:

First round’s on me; what’ll you be having?                   

I get very uncomfortable when someone wants to buy me a drink as I think it suggests some kind of expectation.

But I’ll make an exception in this case. So, whiskey soda, on ice with a dash of lime. And bitters.. will hold you to that.. Cheers! ;)

In twelve words or less, how would you describe BOKEH?                          

Howling painful, dreamy nostalgia. Searching for strength and catharsis in the haze.

What set you off on your solo musical journey? How did all of this start?                             

Actually, I fell into music making very accidentally. I was in my early twenties. I was working as an actress in Auckland at the time and was feeling uninspired and unfulfilled, somehow. I was craving some new creative energy. A filmmaker I had just started to see was already moving to Berlin when we met. After about a month he said, ‘come with me’. So off I went, on some idealistic whim. I started to busk on the side of the street just to get by. I knew four chords on a ukulele and was terrified of singing in public (still am) but found some sense of liberation in the fact nobody knew me. I remember feeling that this was the freest I’d ever felt in my life.. This street busking act ended up becoming a touring band of six to twelve members called Charity Children, together with my then-boyfriend. We toured Europe and made two albums and currently are recording a third ‘comeback’ record, after a three year hiatus - in which BOKEH was born - in a time of great heartbreak, blur and reinvention. 

What do you believe is the single most important component to a BOKEH tune?                        


Who are your top five musical influences?

I listen to a very broad range of music and always feel ridiculous when I mention my influences. As of course all of my influences sound nothing like me (I wish). So, I’ll mention my top five NZ artists instead, in which you can expect to hear zero similarities. Apologies.

Marlon Williams, Tiny Ruins, Lawrence Arabia, Fat Freddy’s Drop and Aldous Harding.

Which band or artist throughout music history (current or defunct) would you most like to share a stage with and perform live? (and why!)

Beach House. Because I’ve been listening to them for so long. I know every song. They transport me somewhere else. I saw them play last year in Barcelona and they were incredible. I was super scared about seeing them live, as sometimes I go to see bands I really like and then I end up feeling disappointed by their live act. Being a studio musician and being a performing artist are two very different art forms. Many people except studio bands to be amazing live, but it’s not everyone's strength to be great at both- and that’s totally okay! There’s a lot of pressure on recording artists to perform live, which I don’t understand. It’s not for everyone. 

Honestly, I was also a bit scared of falling asleep at Beach House, as they’ve been my bedtime soundtrack for about ten years. Alas, they kept me awake (well done) and entertained the entire time. Would be an honour to share a stage with them - But I’m the worst ever fangirl.. I turn into an anxious mess when I’m around artists I admire. In a very obvious and creepy way. Like a 16 year old school girl. I'm pretty much that fangirl from Flight Of The Conchords. It's terribly embarrassing. 

In what ways has life in Berlin influenced your music - If at all?                      

In every single, possible, imaginable way. I’ve been on this whim here now for eight years. Not sure why or how I am still here, but every time I leave a magnet keeps drawing me back. I found a great sense of liberation here that I can’t imagine having found anywhere else. I started my musical career here and have been fortunate enough to focus on various artistic endeavours here over the years. It’s a very free and inspiriting city. Nobody gives a fuck about who you are, what you wear, what you choose to create, who you are kissing. There’s a niche for everyone. For instance, there’s a cinema and German classes which you can take your dog too. 

My first five years in Berlin, I spent singing on street corners. This meant my music had to be stoppable worthy - high energy, emotional.. It was a beautiful time, one of the most magical periods of my life. But it ran its course. More buskers came, spots got too hard to get (i.e. people camping overnight to get the best spot). And of course, the constant stops by the Police… it’s not legal.

My last three years in Berlin have been spent exploring the electronic music realm. You are spoilt for choice for this in Berlin, I’ve become a total electronic snob. I love to work with mostly analogue gear - of which there is an incredible pool to dive into in Berlin.

Your very first single Options is out now - Care to run us through its recording process?           

I initially wrote the song at a songwriting camp in Tuscany, Italy. I was there to write for some other artists, which is one of the other things I do, but I finished the song and went, ’Nah. Not giving away this one!’

I applied for NZ On Air funding, which they very kindly gave me. This enabled me to bring the song back to Berlin, where I recorded with my long-time producer and collaborator - a Dutch chap called Wouter Rentema. He shares a studio with the band Bonaparte - that’s where we worked on the production together, just the two of us. There’s a lot of analogue toys in that studio. I’m always like a kid in a playbox there.

I directed and produced the music video at the same time as I was co-producing the track, so the two really go hand in hand. To me Options is very much so an audio-visual project.

It’s said that Options is about “moving forward, plunging into the unknown and finding your own sense of pleasure and freedom in what you want and who you want to be”; was there a particular event or collection of occurrences that set you off in writing this song?

I think a lot of people are in unhappy relationships, with themselves or other people. I think a lot of people are forced to live out their days in ways that don’t bring them happiness, only content. I think a lot of people don’t explore so many things, out of fear. This audio-visual project was a dedication to people who have suppressed their true desires, sexuality or gender - as you can see in the video. 

..I was musing on these feelings at the time I wrote Options. If I was to be honest to myself, then this was me saying that I wasn’t entirely happy with where I was right then. I was content. I was in relationship model that didn’t match my ideals. I was in an unhealthy relationship with myself, riddled with anxiety and depression, which is something I still constantly struggle with. Options, is therefore, in a way, me lending some advice to myself, as well as others - there’s more reasons to get up, to get out there, to feel free, to explore new things and play, if only you can let go of fear and the unrealistic and unattainable expectations of the world that we live in. Because everyone has options. But you have to make a decision first to change and that’s even harder..

You’re a proud advocate of the concept of self-love; what does it mean to you, personally? And how does that reflect in your music-making?                          

I think if you can’t practice self-love, then you have nothing to share. I spent years trying to find self-love through affirmation from external sources and I got to a point that I realised the longest relationship you will have in life is with yourself - so it’s an important one to work on. I’ve become a total cynic about any other type of love, so in some way self-love is my last resort * insert nervous, self-pitiless laughter here.

Which Kiwi bands or artists have you been listening to lots of lately?

I love Marlon Williams. Total crush. His song Beautiful Dress is my favourite. And the very ending of Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore - omg, this cuts my heart strings to shreds. He’s just such a great songwriter. I saw him play live last year in Berlin and he was incredible. Such a generous performer. On a somewhat related note.. I’m also listening to Aldous’s The Barrel on repeat. They played it in a yoga class in Berlin that I attended last week, which was an interesting choice but I discovered it’s a great soundtrack for child pose. 

What’s coming up the horizon for BOKEH? Live performances in Aotearoa? Full-length album?

I’m gonna pop home to NZ to do some writing and get some daylight. As Berlin Winter is literally THE WORST. My family has a little cabin in a small coastal town just outside of Westport. I find it really inspirational to go there, so I will hole up there, go crazy alone and see what comes out. Then go back to the Berlin Winter and probably write some really dark songs to match the weather. I would love to release some more audio-visual single projects next year and I am also hoping to film a music video when I’m back in NZ in January. As for live, I’m developing an audio-visual show at the moment and would love to bring that home at some point soon too. But for the next couple of months, studio is more of my focus. As for a full length album, my third record with Charity Children will be out also next year.. It’s the opposite to B O K E H sound-wise. Expect to hear nothing electronic, songs stripped back to their very core with only organic, live instruments. 

Greetings from Berlin and thanks for talking with me, muzic.net!



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