Houston Music

Azy Chyr Draws Inspiration From Singapore and the S.W.A.T.

Azy Chyr
Azy Chyr Photo by Caleb Bedford, courtesy of Azy Chyr
Scrolling through Azy Chyr’s social media, or falling down the rabbit hole of her recent video, it’s clear how deeply this genre-bending, medium-blending artist has immersed herself in the arts. “Get High,” her 2022 single, is a good example. Her soulful vocals are matched to music intoning the chopped and screwed culture she favored growing up in Alief. The song is set to trippy, radiant visuals.

Azy (she prefers to go mononym when discussing her art) seems to be a supernova of creativity, so we wondered if she recalled the very first art she created. Was it a grade-school poem? Maybe an early sketch that foretold her interest in fashion design? Her answer was unexpected but spoke volumes.

"You know what's funny is when I was a kid my mom would give me the bowl cut, you know, the bowl haircut and throw me in whatever clothes," she thought back. "I mean, she dressed really well herself but when it came to me, I was always getting bullied in school because of the way I looked.

"I remember clearly lying to my mom, like 'Hey, I'm going to the library to read some books,' and I went to the nearest hair salon and dyed all of my hair, just straight blond,” she continued. "She came to pick me up from the library and she was so upset, but that was the day I decided to create my own identity through fashion, through looks. I had to figure all that stuff out on my own 'cause I was the weird kid, you know?”

Weird kids make for fascinating adults, the sorts who consider forging their identities their first strokes of creative genius. Innovative as they may be, those creatives also recognize their art comes from some place and Azy’s no exception. She said her greatest influences come from close to home and a world away.

"I grew up here but I was born in Singapore. I've lived here since I was like eight," she said. "A lot of my culture and a lot of my music, I grew up listening to chopped and screwed."

We pause to reflect on Alief and what Azy calls its “artistic renaissance.” From Lizzo to Tobe Nwigwe to the culinary minds behind Blood Bros. BBQ, the area has proven rich with ingenuity.

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"Get High" released in September 2022
Album cover art
"I think it's the culture. There's so many different kinds of people from all different kinds of walks of life celebrating themselves in the best way possible —  through art, through food, through music - just bringing their culture and mashing it up and creating something beautiful with it," Azy said of the area.

Music wasn’t her first form of artistic expression.

"I actually started off as a designer, as a fashion designer, and I worked with a local Houston designer, Danny (Nguyen), I worked under him for awhile, I still do his PR. I had my own fashion brand for awhile before I left to go back to work in Singapore,” she said. “So I'm definitely getting back into my fashion brand and I'm trying to rebrand myself as an artist encompassing music with fashion."

Azy said she presented her first fashion collection in 2016 but those career moves were detoured a bit a year later when she returned to Singapore for two years, where she worked in marketing.

"I stepped away from it for a while to just take care of family stuff. I think me going back to Singapore to work there really got me in touch with my roots and my culture and I think I needed that for awhile."

That allowed her to spend time around her grandmother, Ang Chay Huang, whom she considers another influence.

"My grandma is actually a seamstress and she had her own seamstress school. She taught people how to sew and make their own clothes and she was also the tailor for the prime minister. She grew into that whole career,” Azy said. “She came from poverty, she came from China during communism to Singapore to escape from that and make something of herself. It was like man, if she can do it, I'm here with all these resources, I gotta make something shake, you know?"

"I think it just passed down into me, all her creativity. Just getting back in touch with her really inspired me to go full force into whatever I wanted to do.”

What Azy Chyr wants to do now is music. During the pandemic’s lockdown, she started writing music with an eye toward merging her passion for design with the songs. “Get High” is her first big attempt at bringing those worlds together.

"Music, for me, is actually a new venture. This song in particular, I wrote it in a place when I was struggling a lot with ego. I was going through a dark time in my life and it's about facing that ego, facing your inner demons and becoming friends with them,” she said.

The video intentionally has Alice in Wonderland/Go Ask Alice vibes.

“I do want to mention for people watching my music video or people listening to that 'Get High' song in particular, it helps if you're high," she said with a laugh. "But you don't have to be. It's more or less more of a state of mind than an actual physical high."

"When I was writing this I was going through 'Who am I? Who am I?'” she said. "I'm a first generation immigrant, I was born in Singapore, so I got to experience both cultures growing up. And as a first gen immigrant you struggle a lot with identity and trying to assimilate with being American or being part of another culture. I think in a way you've got to embrace both and you've got to create something new that is unique to you and your experience. "

"There's this whole identity crisis of being an artist. I was really struggling with that at one point and really that's what this song is about, it's about letting go of that sense of identity and just escaping for awhile.”

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Azy's first love was fashion design
Photo by Caleb Bedford, courtesy of Azy Chyr
Back in the real world, Azy’s reflective of a trend where musicians are pursuing their interests in fashion design. Musicians like Kanye West, Rihanna and Beyoncé, and closer to home, hip hop artist SEROTONIN, are all active in fashion design.

"Music has that creative expression but doesn't have the visual representation to fill it in, if that makes sense. That's why we have stuff like music videos, stylists," Azy explained. "Definitely it’s that visual representation of who the person is as an artist, as an icon, as a more physical means of the art that they're putting out."

She said she plans to create mini-collections to coincide with singles she’ll soon release, which sounds enthralling considering the sounds she’s got in store for fans.

"I'm working on a couple of singles that I'm collaborating with producers on. I am going to be paying homage to Houston with this next song that I'm coming out with, it's called 'NASA.' That's in the pipeline, it's in the works. It's kind of got the ‘80s retrowave feel to it."

Forged from the influences around her, in the S.W.A.T and in Singapore, Azy Chyr is trying to make her mark and is doing it all with full creative control, with the sort of verve that hearkens back to breaking the mold of a bowl haircut and replacing it with something new and exotic.

“I'm an independent artist so I don't have any label or anything like that. Everything is from the ground up. I work with a small team and they help me come up with ideas and they're the ones helping me with the music videos as well," she said. "I just think I'm in this stage where I'm trying to put myself out there as much as possible."
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.