This month we have another exciting new artist to showcase and introduce. Singer-songwriter Yayyoung has been slowly releasing quality music and racking up a steady number of collaborations. We consider her an exciting prospect for the future. She excels in meaningful pieces as well as demonstrating dexterity in her recent track [Look at me now] which is upbeat, playful and rhythmical. Her first release [Do you feel like you have no-one to turn to] was an immediate online success; a testament to her considerable abilities. Yayyoung is now at a stage in life where she can choose to pursue music full time, and she spoke candidly and with good humour about her upbringing, interests, music and uncertainties about her chosen path.
This talented artist is gradually building confidence, continually learning, doing things her way and ‘going with the flow’. It has served her well thus far and we look forward to seeing more from her in the near future. We hope you enjoy learning more about Yayyoung through this interview and exploring some of her music with us.
We’d recommend starting by listening to her newest song [Don’t wanna fall in love again] to get a feel of her R&B style. It’s a good one!
You can follow Yayyoung’s activities with the following links:
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I’m singer-songwriter YAYYOUNG, based in Los Angeles! My name is derived from my Korean name, in the hope that English speakers would be able to pronounce it better. Ironically, a few Korean people now have a hard time pronouncing it.
I’m still at the early stages of my music career, getting my genre, style and preferences shaped together, and I’m experimenting with different types of music and with a lot of different people!
What are your favourite foods?
My favourite cuisine is any seafood that is raw! I love raw shrimp, crabs, fish, everything!
What was your childhood like and how did your relationship with music develop as you grew up?
I’ve always loved singing along to my favourite songs while growing up; I sang so much that it would have been a good reason for my whole family getting kicked out of our apartment.
Growing up was a classic 1.5 generation Korean American situation, where my parents wanted me to study over pursuing extracurricular activities. They weren’t necessarily against me doing artsy activities, but I had to study first before I got to do something other than studying. Basically, it was a case of give and take. In a sense you could argue that it may have hindered me from letting out my creative juices, but in fact, I’m very thankful for that. Now I know how precious and exciting it is to have music in my life 🙂
Can you expand a little on what growing up was like for you? Did you feel accepted as a Korean American? Why do you think the mindset of being defined by numbers is instilled into so many people?
Thankfully, I grew up in a generation where Koreans were more widely accepted in Los Angeles, so I never really felt alone growing up as a Korean American. But I think my parents grew up in such a conservative Korean culture that they always instilled a mindset that numbers defined how great a person is. Over the years though, I’ve noticed they have definitely changed their mindset and they are not as pressing (with those opinions) with my younger sister.
Who would you consider as being your greatest supporter in backing your decisions so far?
My younger sister has definitely been my number one supporter! I always get shy talking about my musical activities with my family, but I feel encouraged by my younger sister. She’s always excited when I have a new song out 🙂
What do you consider to be special about the area in which you live? Have you done much travelling?
I think Los Angeles is very chill when it comes to daily life, and that reflects my production style as well. It would take me forever to write a hook, but Koreans living in Korea would finish it in a tenth of the time that I take! It’s a skill that I respect, but at the end of the day, I gotta do me and take it slow and steady 🙂
Travelling-wise, I’ve been to Korea, Indonesia, Singapore and a few states in the US, but I definitely want to travel more in the future! Honestly, I’ve learned more about life through travelling than my 4 years at college haha.
Travelling really broadens one’s perspective. Even when you don’t realise it at the time, there is always a certain point when you look back and have a moment of reflection. I wasn’t much of a traveller during my teen years, but after heavy travelling during my mid-college years, I realised how narrow my perspectives on life were. The price of a cup of coffee can be a luxurious meal for those in other countries. The trips to McDonald’s that we easily take for granted can be a rare and exciting thing to others. A lot of things were life realisations and realisations about people in general that I treasure ‘til this day, more than the equations in my statistics class. I hope that those who have yet to escape their bubble, may be able to do so as soon as possible!
What did you think of Korea when you were there?
Korea was a huge learning experience for me, and the whole trip was valuable. Living in America, I had always identified myself as more Korean than American, but after going to Korea, I found certain cultural things that didn’t match me as much as I thought it would have. The competitive society, and extremely fast-paced trends were things that I had a hard time adjusting to, but I also found more respect for those living in Korea. I found that there were a lot of things that I appreciated about America, and now my identity is completely torn in half. I can’t say that I lean towards one culture more than the other.
What are your thoughts on how things really kicked off for you, and the soaring success of your first self-penned track [Do you feel like you have no-one to turn to]? What spurred you to write this type of song?
One of my most well-received songs has been [Do you feel like you have no-one to turn to]. It was the first song I ever wrote. I had just failed a midterm for a class and felt so frustrated and trapped in an unchangeable mentality of grades and numbers defining who you are. Before this song I was only doing song covers and mashups, so it took a lot of guts for me to post this song online. I felt super insecure and vulnerable especially because I didn’t know what I was doing during the process of writing the song. I never had any experience in music besides karaoke… I moved forward with whatever felt good to me in choosing the lyrics and melody.
After a few weeks of posting this song, I got an email from a record label in Germany called Majestic Casual, and honestly my life has never been the same! People from all over the world were telling me how they felt encouraged by my song. What I thought was one of the most devastating events of my life turned out to be a blessing in disguise!
You’ve written some very meaningful lyrics. We loved your words in [Do you feel like you have no-one to turn to?], “when the moonlight is the only right way to feel that you’re okay, you just close your eyes, let the stars fall down, they will never dry.” Do you consciously try to make your lyrics relatable?
Yes, when I write lyrics, I always want people to relate to my songs. A good song that isn’t relatable to anyone might sound good at first, but a lot of times, it won’t have a lasting effect!
Did you meet many musicians on the back of the release of your first song? Or did you approach anyone on your own, for example to collaborate with?
I’ve been pretty shy about contacting artists first for a ‘collab’. I think I’ve just recently got the hang of talking to artists and approaching them first, not necessarily to collaborate with them, but simply just to give them words of encouragement! But yes, all of the collaborations I’ve done in the past have stemmed from being contacted.
Do you have any memorable moments or stories from your collaborations so far? Do you work together remotely? Does this way of working suit you?
Hmm…my song with Dawn has been the most memorable! It was my first ever collab, and I really wanted to perfect it in every way possible! The part that I wrote was super short, but the pressure to compose the intro and the hook was like being first in line for a major performance. I sent him the demo and thankfully he really liked it. I didn’t know I’d get a green light with my first sketch, and the rest is history!
Due to location, I’ve never been able to work with someone directly in a studio. Although I’ve never experienced both ways of working, I’m sure each has its pros and cons!
Personally, I like taking my time and getting a satisfactory melody before letting others know, but I’m really open to hearing suggestions and on-the-spot critiques if I ever get the chance.
In your collaborative song with DAWN, we were impressed by the rhythmic intricacies in places, which from an outsiders’ point of view, seems challenging to sing! How was it for you? What were your thoughts about including quick phrasing in an otherwise calm and slow song?
HAHA thank you! Dawn gave so much freedom to write whatever I wanted, and at the time, I had a lot of confusions about my career path, which reflected in the song. The title later ended up translating to Insomnia, and I really approved of it because I was feeling like an insomniac, [as a result of] always worrying about my future! I ended up changing the lyrics to a lover’s perspective because Dawn wanted to do so, which I didn’t particularly mind.
How do parts and responsibilities normally get allocated during a collaboration?
Parts and roles are usually assigned by going with the flow! There are times when people would leave it blank for me to sing, but if I wanted to sing a certain part or if I wanted someone to sing a certain part, there would be serious discussions and considerations.
Are artists sensitive to negative feedback about their work? How forthright are you about giving your honest opinions?
So far, all the people I’ve talked to have never been overly sensitive about honest feedback! For me, all the feedback I usually give is subjective because I’m in no place to judge other people 🙂
There has been a trend in favour of collaborations in the general music scene. Why do you think this is?
Yeah! Definitely collaborations are always going to be favoured by listeners because fans of one artist get to see a different facet of an artist they may not usually listen to! I feel like collabs are generally a win-win situation; it just opens so many doors and possibilities!
Your song [Look at me now] is very different to [Do you feel like you have no-one to turn to]. What were your thoughts on the song while writing it?
The song was inspired by the movie ‘Call me by your name’. It is a movie that really reflects so many layers of relationships and intimacy. Contrary to the outer and condensed storyline about a teenage boy who develops feelings for another man, among the infinite number of themes and symbolism portrayed in that movie, there was a theme of not shying away from your feelings. Even though I’ve never truly been in love, I felt like the whole depiction of Elio and Oliver was so honest, that I couldn’t resist making a song out of it! The film definitely put me through an emotional rollercoaster despite it being an LGBT movie!
Did you use the contrasting elements of the song to reflect the emotions of the movie?
Yes, yes! The song is a bit more upbeat compared to (spoiler!) the sad ending of the movie, but I thought that it was interesting for a romantic film not to use ‘love at first sight’ as one of the main themes. Of course the same is the case for many movies, but it just hit me hard for this movie especially! I wanted to put the feeling of uncertainty into my song; the feelings that many people may experience when they begin to fall in love with something that they never imagined they would fall in love with!
Would you say that your approach to songwriting now has largely stayed the same, in that you don’t have a clear concept in mind but let ideas form organically?
My method changes from song to song! I don’t think there is one algorithm to creating music. Sometimes I let my feelings take control, sometimes I let stories or past experiences take the lead. I can’t say that two songwriting experiences can ever be the same, for me personally.
Have you invested in any recording equipment yet? How do you maintain a good level of sound quality when working on a song?
I’ve come to realise that the quality of a microphone is super important when it comes to the listening experience. Over time, I was able to keep upgrading new gear as I learned more about the equipment. I’m pretty satisfied with the setup right now, with the classic audio interface, microphone, and decent headphones. I learned how important a good mix is, so I listen to my songs constantly before I release it to the public. What sounds good on a computer may sound horrible on a phone, so I test things out on all sorts of platforms multiple times until I’m satisfied!
How are you planning to develop your skills further?
I’m definitely trying to learn more theory so that I can explain why certain progressions sound good and some don’t, rather than being clueless all the time.
Are you influenced by what music is popular at a given time?
I’m very late with trends to be honest…I actually don’t know if the songs I listen to are even part of a trend. For me, if it sounds good, I like it and I’m going to stick to it. Trends are important in the music industry, but its crucial to realise that just because you follow a trend, it doesn’t necessarily mean that song will be good. Maybe it’ll attract a wave of people who currently like that kind of style, but sooner or later it’s bound to die down.
There have been some discussions around the skewed ratio of male artists and producers to female equivalents. Do you have any thoughts as to why this is?
I think the hip-hop industry really influenced a lot of male rappers and producers. Like Drake’s song that goes “started form the bottom”, there are a lot of rappers that end up trying music with hopes that they’ll be as successful as these famous rappers. On the other hand, I don’t think there are too many female singers who have expressed a humble upbringing as opposed to actresses. Even though Taylor Swift was revealed to have a privileged background despite being known as an ‘underdog’.
How much attention do you pay to the statistics (number of streams, shares and likes) once you’ve released your songs? Personal satisfaction in what you’ve produced is a high point of the songwriting process, but do you also want to gain a level of external validation?
In the beginning I religiously checked my stats, but after a while I realised that looking at it too often can lead to obsessive behaviour, so now I only check it every so often. I can’t say that I don’t seek external validation because they do reveal a lot of things, but I’ve come to accept that everyone has their own tastes. In the way that I don’t particularly gravitate to country music, other people may feel the same way about my songs as well!
If you could spend a day in the shoes of any artist, who would you choose?
I’m a huge Ed Sheeran fan! I’ve loved his songs ever since ‘A-team’ and I think he’s a musical genius 🙂 It would be great to be him for a day!
Do you listen to any music from Korean artists?
Yes, I love and started out with Korean music! I grew up listening to BoA, TVXQ, Wondergirls, and Girls’ Generation. Then I started to listen to more mellow music, so my current playlist consists of Hyukoh, Crush, Baek Yerin and Dean!
How do you slot in working on music while you are studying? How do you see your routine changing when you start to do it full time?
Haha, I still have trouble getting the balance right. I’m very guilty of skipping classes when I’ve felt too tired after spending the night in the music room… I think one thing about being a full-time musician is the hard discipline. Personally, the busier I get, the more I feel like I have to get things done as quickly as possible. But I can just imagine myself getting really lazy when I’m doing music full time, because of this freedom that I have.
Would you ever consider writing music for other people?
I would love to write music for other people! I think it’s always fresh and exciting to have someone else sing your own song! There are so many genres that I listen to, yet so little that matches my style and abilities, that it is actually a blessing if I can write something for someone who can convey the song better than I can.
In your opinion, what constitutes a good song?
For me, a good song is one that is interesting and doesn’t bore you. Whether that be through the lyrics, the singing, or the production, it should be something new and different. It’s always hard to put out something like this because everyone is inspired by everyone else, so we are all in this limiting loop.
Is there anything that you are nostalgic for that you’d like to bring back to modern day if you could?
I really miss the times when physicality was super present. These days, everything is done with the press of a button that there is little significance to it. When I was growing up, physical CDs were super precious, and going to the VCR tape store was exciting. Of course I enjoy the convenience of everything being online, but there is just something personal and meaningful about going out of your way to enjoy things.
Other than your music activities, what do you like to spend time doing?
I love to draw! During my primary years I grew up in a school environment where art was particularly encouraged and I’ve had a passion for arts ever since. I actually entered college as an art major!
Would you send a demo somewhere in the USA or even to South Korea?
Oh man…I’ve never really thought of sending demos to anyone before, but I’ll definitely send something when I feel confident and ready! Currently, I’m leaning more towards Korean companies because of the convenience. Once you get in the company, they manage everything for you, but maybe I might be better suited to the flexibility that I can have with American labels!
Many thanks to Yayyoung for granting us an interview – we sincerely wish for her continued success.
Featured image and in-article images source: © Yayyoung Kim. 15.05.2019. All rights reserved. Images were provided by the artist for the purposes of this interview. No reproduction is permitted.
© Interview with Yayyoung. 01.07.2019. Inspire Me Korea.