The K-SPOTLIGHT has discovered another great artist! This time we present YOONCELL, a truly multi-talented person! Not only does she song-write, play the guitar, sing, and produce her own music, but she balances this with her important work as a doctor too. She’s a very admirable person, and we are delighted to be able to bring this interview with YOONCELL to our readers this month 🙂
YOONCELL is one of four artists/groups who signed with the first K-indie sub-label of Universal Music Korea (On the Record). This just demonstrates how K-indie is growing and gradually getting bigger, which is very encouraging because we greatly champion K-indie music! YOONCELL’s tracks so far are pop-based; they are generally fun and bright songs, though she also has a ballad track too. As a person, she has a good sense of humour and is a wonderful communicator, so we feel that this interview should reflect that!
Support the artist by buying her music! YOONCELL’s debut album is called ‘X1’ and is available in CD and digital formats. Buy the digital tracks through Amazon, iTunes and Google Play, or stream through services like apple music or Spotify. The CD can be purchased online from Yes Asia.
Let us get started with the interview!
A sneak peak into Kwak studio where the mixing took place
After a series of busy days, YOONCELL sat down to answer our questions, sometimes armed with a coffee in hand (iced coffee, in case you were wondering!). She was a little shy but her personality is such that when she is comfortable she becomes very funny, makes jokes and makes people laugh!
She started by talking about her beginnings, when she began to explore music more and thought about becoming a songwriter. We were also curious about her stage name!
“When I started music, I was part of a band. I first joined a school band and liked to sing. Then I started to write songs and it became more serious. My main instrument is the guitar. Violin was an instrument that I learned for years, but since it is usually for classical music, I learned guitar because I wanted to do pop music.
I didn’t really have any specific goal, but music was my passion and I wanted to be good at it. I just wanted to be a musician who makes good music.
My music is probably a blend of influences (Korean and UK or American music); the musicians I listened to and the music I play. I think the musician who had the biggest influence on me is Elliott Smith. I’m also not a person who does well with plans, I’m better with more freedom.
I wanted to use a stage name, and a friend of mine looked at my blog that contained pictures of dermatopathology, and suggested ‘YOONCELL’ because I deal with cells. I thought that it sounded good and demonstrated the other part of my identity.”
“…music was my passion and I wanted to be good at it.
I just wanted to be a musician who makes good music”
YOONCELL is a fan of UK music, and led to her studying for a period in London (the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance). We asked what it was like studying in London.
“It was great and helped me to have much more experience playing music with other people. Personally it could be lonely because I didn’t have a lot of friends there. But I was able to meet some good people.
The classmates were really nice and were very kind to me. I performed on an open mic day, and it was a chance to perform my own song to the people there. At a songwriting class, my friend and I wrote the lyrics for my track ‘Hot Noodles’ so that was a memorable moment.”
The vocal recording booth at Kwak studio
We wondered what song she would choose as a soundtrack for that period of her life and for the present YOONCELL.
“I would say ‘My heart is grey’ which will be a song in my 2nd EP. It was written when I was in London so I think the song has that vibe. For the present me, I would choose ‘Summer Night’ (from the X1 album) because it is a brighter song with a summer vacation feeling.”
She then went into some detail about her music tastes (including Kpop)!
“My reason for choosing to go to the UK was because I just loved UK music! I love Radiohead and Blur. That was the only reason, but it was enough to make me want to go there! When I went to the UK, I encountered much more generosity, and found that people really respected others way of music making. I still think that the UK music scene has a lot of diversity; something more. It always has.
I would say that I still have the same taste in music that I used to have, but I also like Korean pop music as well. I’m a big fan of f(x) and that’s because in my opinion, they are really unique lol. I think they are a type of girl group that hasn’t existed before.
Have you heard of ‘public etiquette’, the one man band? I like musicians who have unique things about them! And I’m also a big fan of Tame Impala these days.
I recorded enough songs for a full length album and gave the demo to a friend of mine. She passed it onto Universal Music Korea. Later on, they contacted me and told me about their preparations for a project (On The Record) to make a new label for K-indie musicians.”
She was enthusiastic about her debut album ‘X1’ and discussed it animatedly. She is the executive producer and music producer of the album. Even the album artwork, the idea of the paper sculpture for the cover and all the pictures inside were ideas from YOONCELL and generated by herself. She had to record most of the songs on weekends to balance with her duties as a pathologist.
The name, ‘X1’ refers to the magnification of a microscope, the identity of YOONCELL and is a symbol for the first album.
“X1 shows the diverse sides of myself and it is an album that contains popular songs but also songs that have some more unusual sounds. My uniqueness is represented by the use of different instruments and variation in musical genre to show the best parts of being a solo musician.
I knew that this EP was going to be released during the spring or summer, so I wanted to include bright sounding tracks like ‘Hot Noodles’ and ‘Summer Night’ that matched the season. Then I chose some others that would show my diversity. Some tracks with sad vibes I left for the 2nd EP, which will be released later this year.
I wanted to have a minimal design for the album art and colour scheme.
I worked mostly on my own for this album. Except the vocals, I played and recorded the guitar and violin myself, and I programmed everything else (bass, drum, synth etc). All the songs were written and arranged by me. I would love to work with a larger team in future though.”
There is a teaser trailer for the album – at the end the figure of YOONCELL in a labcoat and surgical scrubs appears under the shroud of darkness.
“I don’t normally wear scrubs lol, I always wear my own clothes. Actually in the teaser, they are pajamas and a gown, but it just looks like them (a labcoat and scrubs)! My friend said I looked like a surgeon who came to ask for the result of a frozen section haha.”
The songs were mixed here!
Releasing a debut album is a huge undertaking and achievement, so YOONCELL told us about the way in which she wrote the songs, throwing in a few jokes for good measure!
“When I had an idea, I recorded it onto my phone. I think I don’t have to be in the mood to write something, but I was always ready to record any idea. I usually write lyrics base on my personal experiences; it doesn’t have to be something that is happening right at that moment but most of the lyrics are based on my experiences 🙂
A friend of mine in the UK co-wrote the English lyrics for my title song, ‘Hot Noodles’. I hope that this will greatly contribute to the development of diplomatic relations between Korea and England, I mean the hot noodles :p The idea for the song came from the fact that I was eating noodles a lot at the time!”
During the conversation, we were curious about what era of music she would choose to go back to, if she had the chance.
“I think I would like to return to the 90s because it was the time that I spent my youth and I was influenced by that music. It’s nostalgic. I still like Nirvana, Blur, Elliot Smith and Radiohead…Hanson, N Sync, Savage Garden and 98 degrees…haha! 😀
YOONCELL had to take a break to walk her dog, but during the time in between, we reflected on how busy she is. When she returned, we asked what she would do with a completely free week where she could do anything or go anywhere she wanted.
I would like a completely free week! I would go to another country…maybe Japan or any place with a beach? And just enjoy spending time there without thinking.’
“I think afterall, my music should be the thing that attracts people
and I am the one who is responsible for my success.”
After allowing time for her to switch to sitting on the sofa(!), we discussed the aspects of fame, success and about the balance that must be struck between her musical life and normal work.
“How do I think of myself becoming famous in the future? When I was younger, I would have thought it could be exciting, but now I think it may restrict my freedom, especially because I have another job. I want both parts of my life to be separate but it’s not always easy.
As I work on weekdays, I get tired when I reach home. Just making a song wouldn’t take too long, but as I need to do all the arranging, recording and other things, making music for my album took a while. I hope that I will become faster when I meet a team or if I work with someone else. I would like to do things like cover versions but I always feel too busy or tired. I’m looking forward to taking a break during Chuseok.
Success to me would be to make songs that can satisfy me and that also can be loved by people. I will consider it to be an achievement when my music sells a lot and to know that people like it. Plus collaborating with musicians that I like, for example Krystal from f(x) or the Black Skirts.
I think afterall, my music should be the thing that attracts people and I am the one who is responsible for my success.”
YOONCELL was part of a launch party for the ‘On the Record’ label. She performed there with the 3 other signed artists/groups and told us about the experience.
“I think my performance was alright. I was very nervous before the show, but felt okay once I was on the stage. The audience reception seemed good, most of them came to the show to watch the launch of the ‘On the Record’ label so I thought they were friendly.
I like that I have colleagues (the others working with ‘On the Record’) on the label, and it is good to have some friends to talk about music. We met a few times at Universal Music Korea, at the launch party, and we even met at a pub in Hongdae before our album releases and sometimes chat on Kakaotalk 🙂 ”
Having all this new music to hand, we asked about her promotions and about potential gigs in the future.
Other than the showcase for the label launch, I was also a part of the lineup for the greenplugged festival, but I didn’t have any more gigs after releasing the album. I will record alternative versions of my studio album songs for the Naver musician league so I may upload those songs online. There are no plans yet for any other gigs.
She finished with some words that she would give as advice to her younger self.
“I would tell my younger self, ‘don’t waste your time and be more passionate. Invest in what you want to do’. I could have been more focused on what I needed to do if I knew what I knew now. But it’s not easy to know what to focus on.”
(Responses have been partially edited for clarity with permission from YOONCELL)
With that, we wrapped up the interview! We would like to say a big thank you to YOONCELL once again for fitting us into her busy schedule, and answering so well 😀
Remember to return to the blog in a few days time and read our review of ‘X1’ by YOONCELL – it’s not to be missed!
Featured image and in-article image source: © On the Record and YOONCELL. 19.08.2017 and 18.09.2017. All images were provided directly by the artist for use in this article.
© Interview with YOONCELL. Inspire Me Korea. 20.09.2017.