On his new EP, The Chase, the 24-year-old singer comes to terms with himself.

One morning in 2019, Alex Bong, who goes by the stage name alextbh, was idling in bed, wondering if his room would look better painted white. When he turned to ask his hookup from the night before, the guy only offered a shrug. Bong would eventually paint the bedroom, where, in addition to hosting romantic encounters, he writes most of his songs. For his latest EP, The Chase, the whitewashed walls served as a kind of literal and figurative backdrop—a carte blanch to process his year of dead-end hookups.   

alextbh is a minimalist: His white walls match his white sheets. He owns ten black t-shirts, two pairs of black shorts, and two pairs of trousers. And he says that, in the period before writing The Chase, his inner life matched his spartan aesthetic. Sick of experiencing heartbreak, he sought to “Marie Kondo the shit” out of his personal life.

Prior to this, Bong had once used scholarship money on a trip to see an ill-fated love: After he arrived in China, he realized the guy was seeing somebody else on the side. “I was ready to simp, and I was ready to give my all to that person, regardless of how they felt about me,” he says. “And that’s just the most naive, one-sided kind of relationship ever.” That’s when his self-professed “ho phase” began.

By last year, he was accustomed to letting people in a little, only to ghost them soon after. “It felt good to quote-unquote ‘hurt’ other people,” he recalls. “But I felt empty. And I didn’t know how to convey that feeling.” He’d regarded his trials in hookup culture unsentimentally, until beginning to write what would become The Chase, which dropped in July. The key was a few heart-tugging chords, strummed up by his frequent collaborator, Maths Time Joy. “I got really, really, really emotional, and low-key [was] almost breaking down,” Bong says. “I’m not the kind of person that shares my feelings at all. At that point, I knew I had to just let it all out.”

Bong has always been somewhat sentimental when it comes to the process behind his music. His DIY process relies heavily on an aging 2012 MacBook that he’s had since high school. “I refuse to give her up,” he says, referring to the device, which houses his entire catalogue. That includes 2016’s Alivewhich is technically his first EP. But its EDM stylings are so different from the lo-fi vocal tracks on The Chase that he doesn’t consider it his debut. The laptop is as indicative of Bong’s fluidity as anything: “If you look at [the songs I put out] chronologically, you can literally see the progress of me as a person. It’s kind of weird,” he says.

A week after dropping The Chase, alextbh released a Malay-language cover of a Cigarettes After Sex song, Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby, as part of the online festival Asia Rising Forever, put together by the Asian hip-hop and pop collective 88rising. He translated the song years ago, back when he was still releasing music on Soundcloud. Born and raised speaking English in Kuala Lumpur, he used Google Translate (and the help of a high school teacher) for help with some of the trickier phrases.

His identity as a Malaysian often intersects with that of an out-and-proud gay artist. He’s a huge proponent of the Kuala Lumpur queer scene, which he succinctly describes as “eclectic” and “electric.” He has met many of his friends and collaborators there, namely by performing in tiny gay clubs in KL. “Once you meet the right people, you realize that we’re all in this together. Not in a cheesy way, but we really are,” he says. “It’s like: ‘I don’t know you, but I know you’re queer, so we’re going to uplift each other, and we’re going to be okay.’”

It’s those memories of the community he holds onto while he rides out the coronavirus pandemic. The Chase’s release was pushed back (then pushed back again, because he wanted to give space to and amplify the BLM movement). He was supposed to go to Indonesia to play “We The Fest” later this month, before it got cancelled, then revived as a virtual event.

Like everybody, he’s struggling while stuck at home. “It’s like there’s five ropes tied to my body right now and I can’t fucking move, but I’m just flapping around, like, okay,” he says. “At least I’m breathing. That’s how I feel right now.” He does personal mental health checks, reminding himself to take breaks and be present. He talks to fans over Instagram, and to himself in the shower. He’s performed at Club Quarantine, despite the fact that his set started at 9 am, Malaysia time. But if anything has helped Bong along most, it’s arguably his learned knack for not sweating the small stuff: “I’ve had to learn how to let things go, and just be content with the way things are.”

Watch the music video for the new single and EP title track The Chase here. The full EP is now available to stream everywhere.


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