Surrija is the music project of singer-songwriter Jane Lui, a hyper-talented woman with a most beguiling singing voice. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she moved to Southern California with her family when she was 12 and is now based in Los Angeles. She began studying classical piano at the age of five, and that traditional training, combined with her love for the music of artists like Tori Amos, Kate Bush and Björk, helped shape her unique sound and music style. Recording under her given name, Lui produced three studio albums between 2004 and 2010, along with numerous singles and covers, which you can find on her Spotify, Soundcloud, and YouTube pages. Despite her success, however, things just didn’t feel right to her. Lui states that she “felt a bit constrained by my YouTube personality, and stopped writing music to get a grip on who I actually was. I had to shed my clinical approach and befriend my slightly feral tendencies.”
It was with this new approach that Lui decided to rebrand herself as Surrija. In 2016 she spent time in Barcelona, Spain, where she was initially inspired by Picasso’s artistic output during his own years spent living there. But eventually, she became fascinated instead with his famous lovers and muses who he kept in the shadows, often preventing them from realizing their own potential. Wanting to tell their story, she began researching about some of them and writing songs for what would become her self-titled album Surrija under her new music project. The album is set to be released on April 3, and the first single in advance of the album is “Nothing Love“, which dropped on January 10.
“Nothing Love” actually predates her time spent in Barcelona, as it was written in 2013. Lui explained the song’s evolution on her Facebook page: “I only wrote two songs in 2013. This is one of them, written in a half-empty apartment that I was moving out of. The walls were so thin in that building that I didn’t play the piano much at all. Back then, songs came on like the flu – I’d feel a scratch of a lyric or line, then it just takes a sneeze and I’ll want to quarantine myself to sweat through the fever. I sneezed that day and spent many days after as the loud obnoxious musician neighbor. I looked at the chicken scratch afterwards and thought ‘Mm. There’s something here.’ Since then I’ve tested this song at shows, we’ve destroyed, reworked, subtracted, multiplied, and overhauled it into what you [now] hear. This is the last song from that time of my life and I think we succeeded in bringing it forward with flying colors.” I think so too!
The song is a captivating musical feast for the ears. Starting with a foundation of skittering dubstep beats, Surrija and her team of musicians layer a rich and colorful kaleidoscope of sounds and textures to create a dramatic, ever-changing soundscape that thrills and surprises at every turn. The array of instruments and synths used are impressive: Surrija plays the Moog synthesizer, electric organ, piano and mellotron, Matt Chamberlain plays drums, mixed percussion and modular synths, Maxwell Gualtieri plays electric guitar, Sophocles Papavasilopoulos plays piano and clarinet, and Christine Tavolacci plays the enchanting flute that’s one of the song’s highlights for me.
Surrija has a gorgeous singing voice, which she uses almost like another instrument to seduce us one moment, then startle us with a feral urgency the next. I found myself entranced by the interplay between the lush instrumentals and her vocals. She told the webzine Clout: “‘Nothing Love’ is about the kind of heartbreak that hurts so much it feels absurd”, and her passionate vocals most definitely convey that kind of emotional intensity. The wonderful backing vocals were provided by Albert Chiang, Sophocles Papavasilopoulos, Callaghan Papavasilopoulos and Mano Koolhaas.
Listen to this exquisite song and hear for yourself: