Inside Rising Producer Paul Chin’s Experimental Bedroom Pop Universe 

After finding inspiration at an industry songwriting camp, the Polaris-nominated producer returns from a five-year hiatus with his lush Full Spectrum EP. 

“I just need one thing to make it weird, so I can feel like myself,” says Toronto-based producer Paul Chin. 

Raised in the Cayman Islands, Chin landed in Toronto as a young art student and quickly set about releasing complex, forward-thinking instrumental projects. 

At the heart of all his creations, the rising producer loves experimenting with sound. His early work was cosmic, sample-heavy, and despite being loosely structured, very danceable. The lone music video he has available – for a 2012 track called “HOUSEPARTY (JOSIAH’S THEME)” – features Chin and his friends carrying a boombox around downtown Toronto, dancing wildly to a flurry of rave synthesizers, hi-hats, and filtered Ludacris vocals. He put together similarly eclectic sonic collages on his last two releases — 2014’s Forest EP and 2015’s Dancing Drums — prior to taking a five year hiatus from releasing music.

Chin has been expanding his vocabulary in private for five years, and the result is the aptly-named Full Spectrum, his most cohesive project to date. Full Spectrum sees Chin embracing his inclinations towards mass appeal and experimental flourishes in equal measures. The free-form structures he used throughout The Forest EP and Dancing Drums have been distilled down, leaving tight pop scaffolds for his guest vocalists without sacrificing his organic sound and knack for energetic drums.

“My whole life has been preparing for this moment. All those years my parents were telling me to get off the internet — well, look at me now!”

The Phoenix Pagliacci-featuring “Slow Wine” flips a classic dancehall beat on its head, with subtle neo-soul pads and rich, foley percussion hits. Chin’s production needed an assertive, energetic performance, and Pagliacci delivers exactly that. “Take It Or Leave It” is another undeniable ear-worm; the offset piano refrain and anthemic strings almost demand listeners clap along, and guest Desirée Dawson turns in a commanding vocal performance, baring her heart to a new love. “I wanna thank you and remind you that what you’re seeing is what you get,” Dawson croons in one line, which could double as Full Spectrum’s guiding mantra. 

Chin still finds ample space for his far-out instincts on Full Spectrum. “Take Two,” featuring frequent collaborator Shad, is trunk-rumbling and industrial, and Chin’s frenetic percussion builds energy around the Juno-winning rapper’s vocals as he weaves in and out of the track. “Helios,” the only purely instrumental track besides the intro, is a collage of rapid-fire drums, lush pads, and echoed, wailing vocals. It’s tightly-controlled chaos, and the subtle call-and-response relationship Chin creates between the track’s dense layers makes it hypnotic, rather than an all-out sonic assault. 

Full Spectrum took many years to come together, and in conversation, Chin is open about the reasons for the long break between projects. “I kept setting myself up with these expectations of what would happen on the other side of a new project, and it never ended up panning out the way I imagined,” he ruminates. ”You can have your name out there, have guaranteed press coverage for your projects, have enough demand that you can manufacture physical albums, and you’ll still have to relearn everything.” 

This space allowed him to do that learning outside the pressures of a regular release schedule, and to set his second act up to be his strongest. “As someone without a dedicated team, part of the hiatus was taking the time I needed to study and improve my skills as a producer, hash out a release plan, and execute on it.”

Early during this re-calibration period, Chin also spent nine months with his family back in the Cayman Islands in immigration limbo due to issues with his work visa. After he arrived back in the city, he dove right back into music, but as a behind-the-scenes collaborator and an event facilitator, rather than as a producer-artist. “There was a lot of making myself available to work on projects with friends, and a lot of making myself available to support other people in Toronto’s music community,” says Chin. 

The best-known of these community-driven projects was IstolethesoulFM, the pop-up radio station Chin and fellow DJ Josephine Cruz – a.k.a. Jayemkayem – led in 2018 and 2019. Istolethesoul’s marathon broadcasts often ran up to twenty-four hours at a time, popping up everywhere from basement studios below Vietnamese restaurants, to by-the-month coworking spaces, to empty shop fronts in Scarborough Town Centre. “We had hundreds of kids coming out, getting into music, getting into DJing and seeing them excited about all these corners of the industry was great,” he says. Chin’s Istolethesoul collaborator Cruz would turn out to be the person who suggested he apply for the songwriting camp – hosted by R&B icon Babyface and Black Box Records co-founder Jason Murray – that jump-started Full Spectrum. 

According to the number of streams, Full Spectrum is proving to be Chin’s most successful project to date, despite being released mid-March, just as the coronavirus took hold in North America and upended all semblance of everyday life. Like many artists releasing albums in the current climate, Chin has postponed his live dates and has had a considerable challenge breaking through the din of virus coverage in the media. “All the music in the world at your fingertips isn’t the most important issue in your life, when you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to pay rent,” he muses. “People who only nominally cared about music before now have far more pressing concerns, and you can’t fault them at all for that.” 

Having his live shows cancelled hasn’t deterred Chin, who has quickly pivoted to livestreaming to present his album. In fact, adapting to the new reality came more easily for him than for some, as he already had all the gear he needed to take his act online lying around in his bedroom studio. “My whole life has been preparing for this moment. All those years my parents were telling me to get off the internet — well, look at me now!”

On Friday, May 1 at 7pm EST, Paul Chin will be performing an all-new performance for Music Together, called Full Spectrum Suite, sharing an entirely live remixed medley of all the songs from his EP. URGNT LIVE will be broadcast via their website and Facebook. Music Together will be simulcast via YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Periscope, and Twitch.

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