Clean-shaven and creative again

After three years without a new album, YouTube singer-songwriter David Choi had to take drastic measures to rouse himself from his creative lethargy.

In July last year, he declared on his Facebook page, which has more than 316,000 followers: "I have decided not to shave until the release of my next album. It will be messy, it will be gross and it will be itchy. I hope this will force me to complete this album before the year ends."

Some fans were amused, others distressed. All, however, were happy to see that six months' worth of facial hair were exactly what the 29-year-old needed to snap out of his funk.

In February, he released his fourth album, Stories Of You's And Me, four years after 2011's Forever And Ever. He describes the new album as more "mature-sounding", which is no surprise since last year was an emotionally trying one for him - he had to deal with the consecutive deaths of his maternal grandparents and paternal grandfather.

Those sombre experiences set the mood for the album, featuring melancholic and lyrical ballads - a marked evolution for the Korean-American singer who made his big break in 2006 with the humorous ditty You Tube (A Love Song).

Since emerging from the tribulations of 2014, Choi seems to be charged with a renewed sense of productivity.

"I feel good, refreshed. I have been working on things that I want to work on, like my Web series, David, and just pushing through the year," says the singer, who has just finished touring America for the new album and is about to embark on promotional work globally.

Of the album's unique title, he explains: "I wrote down all the titles to my songs and realised that with everyone of them, there was a person attached to it. Someone who had inspired it."

One of these people happens to be a mystery girl from Singapore whom he serenades in the song Dempsey Hill. With a shy smile, he tells Life! that the song, with lines such as "Twenty questions through the night/Let's have our little playful fights", was based on real life. When asked about the identity of this girl, he shakes his head wordlessly, demonstrating his signature poker face.

Apart from lingering love interests, the independent artist also misses Singapore's food when he is home in Los Angeles. "I love the food because it's really good, but not too expensive. I crave the chicken rice when I'm in the United States," says Choi, who was in town for album promotions.

Next year will mark a decade since he rose to fame for his laid-back, melodic voice likened to folk-pop singers Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat.

Since then, he has emerged as one of several Asian-American YouTube artists who have forged a strong support base along the American West Coast and across Asia. Other personalities include Kevin Wu (KevJumba) and Ryan Higa (NigaHiga), both of whom often collaborate with Choi to produce YouTube material.

While many things have changed in the past decade, Choi says he still feels very much the same.

"Someone once told me that I act like I'm either 80 or 12 years old and it's true. I have always been this way and I always will be," says the musician, who is known for alternating between deadpan humour and deep sentimentality.

Yet, this is not to say he has not had to make adaptations to his lifestyle since his rise to fame.

"I miss being unknown. I miss being able to go by myself into a restaurant, have a good meal and just watch people. I know some people don't like that, they feel lonely or sad or whatever. But I love it. Being one with food is great."

Sentiments such as these reveal his enduring roots as an accidental YouTube star. Choi, who is classically trained in violin and piano, did not set out wanting to be a celebrity.

The introverted musician stumbled into the limelight at a time when social media was just exploding and could not have conceived how large his following would become.

Today, he has close to one million subscribers on his YouTube channel, which has more than 98 million views.

Unsurprisingly, he continues to hold extremely intimate performances and maintains a close relationship with his fans despite his popularity.

"I try to keep my audiences at a scale where people can hear me and I can hear them. I had a gig in the US recently where I had to play for a few thousand people and it was really weird. I didn't feel connected," he says.

This article was first published on May 27, 2015.
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