At the tender age of 21, this emerging Taiwanese starlet, Eric Chou, has earned two bestselling albums, a string of self-penned hits, and a reputation for being the new prince of ballads. Not too shabby at all for one who was talent spotted at 17 while singing at a wedding. The Distance Of Love, Chou’s signature tune (and a ballad from the idol drama, The Way We Were), has racked up over 75 million views on YouTube. More recently, the crooner released his sophomore set What Love Has Taught Us – which he promoted in Singapore with what he calls his first ever full-scale concert.
A love for music runs in his family. His elder brother Alex, 22, is also a singer, and it was their mother who enrolled the younger sibling for piano classes when he was a child. Having spent six years studying in Boston as a teenager (which explains Chou’s fluent English and accent), he has also developed a love for English love songs. Although he professes to be a fan of Tanya Chua and JJ Lin, he says: “to be honest, I don’t listen so much to the current Mandarin songs that are out – I feel like the music in Taiwan can sound too similar. I want to absorb as many different sounds and genres as I can.”
It’s been about two years since you came into the music scene. What have been the most memorable moments so far?
One of them would be my first time on stage in Taiwan – I was doing school concerts, going to different colleges and doing performances for the students there. It was pretty crazy with people screaming, and it was hard to adjust to all that at first. But now I see it as a way to connect with fans. The other moment for me was performing at this particular arena in Taiwan, because I went to this place to watch concerts as a kid.What will you be busy with after your concert here?
I’ll be off to Taipei, Malaysia and Hong Kong to promote the album and perform concerts. Hopefully, I’ll also be going to China. I’ve already started writing for the next album too.
Since you brought that up, what can we expect from album number three?
My second album has a lot of different genres, and is very me. The future albums will definitely have a few ballads. But I’m into future house music now, so I might throw that in. Maybe I’ll have more dark R&B tones, and something more “swaggy”.
Your mom got you into classical piano. Did you always like it, even as a child?
(Laughs) I didn’t like it at first. As with most kids, the parents force you into something, and make you practice and practice. But for the first year after I moved to the US, playing the piano actually made me feel more at home as it was something I was used to doing.
Did the move to the US help in preparing for the music business?
The culture there is really different from Taiwan’s. For one, English is a straight forward language. In many ways, Taiwan is stricter and people are shy, and less obviously social. When I was in the US, I lived in a boarding school with roommates from other parts of Asia. That forced me to mix around, and be more of a social person.
How did you get into composing music then?
Well… When I was in middle school, there was this girl that I liked. And things seemed to be going well with her at first, but then she just wanted to be friends later on. I thought I’d really get into music to make myself appear more charming, and that was actually the initial motivation.
What’s the one song that you’re proudest of so far?
How Have You Been. It’s from my second album, and I really like the song. I think it represents me – a mix of Taiwanese culture and the music style of the US. It’s catchy too.
You’re best known for your romantic numbers. What are your favourite sad songs?
When I go to the KTV’s, I sing JJ Lin’s songs. I always sing this song of his called Afraid, which is pretty old. I also do Stay With Me by Sam Smith, and Photograph by Ed Sheeren. I used to do KTV every day when I had just returned to Taiwan, but now I eat there while my friends do the singing.
At your young age, where does all the inspiration for writing and singing love songs come from?
A lot of it comes from imagination. And from movies. Since I was young, I was really into movies – romance, action and drama. When I’m touched by something I see, I really sink in and put myself in a “break-up mode”.
The first album that you bought was…
(Pauses) Do you know Evonne Hsu? Her album was the first one I bought. I was 10 or 11. The CD had a heart shape on it. I liked her voice, and she’s Taiwanese American and somehow that attracted me enough to buy it.
What’s on your iTunes playlist now?
Sam Smith and John Mayer. I started liking Justin Beiber recently. The songs in his new album are really catchy.
Your male pop idols are…
Jay Chou, Wang Lee Hom and JJ Lin. They’re all singer-songwriters who have influenced me.
What’s the most exciting fan encounter you’ve had?
My fans aren’t super crazy. They’re passionate and sweet. When I arrived here in Singapore, they came to the airport to say hello with flowers and gifts.
Describe your sense of style.
When I was in school in the US, my uniforms were suits with ties and button-downs. It’s typical of kids from there to dress like gentlemen. When I came back to Taiwan, my manager asked me why I’ve always dressed so old (laughs). So now, my style is more of a street and I wear a lot of neutral colours. Maybe when I hit 25, I’ll wear suits again.
What can we expect from Eric Chou next?
I’d really like to act, and I’m in the midst of talks about starring in movies and a TV show. I’m also hoping to write songs for a soundtrack, because I feel it’s best to pair what I’m listening to with what I’m watching. In terms of the new album, it should come out sometime next year.