I’ve had the chance to meet Hee Young twice. The first time, I interviewed her in a crowded and noisy coffee shop in San Francisco. The second time, she was visiting the San Francisco area during a vacation and I helped her get a impromptu show in Oakland. It was during that show that I got a preview of some of her new songs from Sleepless Night.
Hee Young is a different type of artist that I’ve talked about. Mainly because she’s local to New York, but signed to a Korean music label. I originally thought she lived in South Korea and sang in both English and Korean. Her second full-length is different from 4 Luv because it sounds much more organic.
Hee Young was nice enough to take time during her time in Seoul to answer questions about her new album and the recording process.
Hello, my name is Hee Young. I write and play music mostly in New York City and in Seoul, South Korea.
With an EP and one full-length already released, how does it feel to release your second album?
It feels great. The 2nd album is special to me cause it’s my first self-produced album.
Did you record Sleepless Night differently from 4 Luv?
Me and a couple of my talented friends drove to Long Island with car full of gears and instruments and recorded at a barn and in an old church building for a week. So both the sound and the vibe are different from 4 Luv, which was recorded in the home studio in Brooklyn.
Where did the influences for Sleepless Night come from?
From lots of different places. From late nights alone with my guitar, from love stories of mine, from observing people and my own life (sometimes) from the distance or from close by. From music I listened to and books I read. Lots of things. 🙂
The songs on Sleepless Night have a slight alt-country and bluegrass feel to them, was moving into this direction a conscious decision or did the songwriting organically lead this way?
I think it’s heavily because of adding banjo and mandolin which was the last minute decision after jamming with my good friend and a talented musician Kenji Shinagawa. I do think that I have always had a little bit of country feel in my music because of my short stint in the South as a teenager.
While the songs sound simple on the surface, there are a lot of layers of instruments. Was there a lot of collaboration with other musicians in fleshing out songs?
This record has only 7 musicians in total including myself who played: Raymond who has been playing cello in my live shows lately and Kenji who I started jamming with only a month before the recording, Gabe and Alex who helped me planning this whole ‘get away and record’ trip, Meredith who sang on Sleepless Night, and Saul who helped me polish the record and who mixed it. We tried to keep everything as raw as possible and as close to a couple of rehearsals we had prior to the recording, which was still raw and a lot of them improvised.
How is the reception of your music in South Korea?
With this record, I just wanted to make something I was happy with and not care much about what everyone else would feel about it. Surprisingly and thankfully it’s been getting good reviews by the critics in Korea. It was picked as this week’s album by Mnet’s Must, which is decided by 6 different music critics and experts.
Are there any Korean musicians or bands you’d like to collaborate or perform with?
I’d like to collaborate with older musicians like Shim Soo Bong and also my ultimate favorite songwriter Jung Jae Hyung.
As a New York-based musician signed to a Korean-based label, do you find it hard to have a presence in South Korea?
I think it’s inevitable not only because I live in New York but also because all my songs are in English.
Is there a preconception people have when hearing your music in South Korea?
I’m not sure. My only guess is that maybe people have expectation because of my label Pastel Music, that they’d hear Pastel Music’s signature indie sound?
Is there a favorite song on Sleepless Night?
Each song means something different to me, and therefore all-important to me. I like listening to “Show Me What You’ve Got,” because I like the arrangement and collaboration with my musician friends in that song. That’s my favorite as a producer.
Was it challenging to produce your own album?
It was a challenge because it wasn’t my plan to self-produce in the beginning. It just naturally fell on my lap and I had to make it happen. Everyone who participated in this record pretty much produced it with me. Without their help, this record would have not come out!
Do you think your music has changed from So Sudden to Sleepless Night?
I don’t make changes intentionally, but I do grow as a person and as a songwriter and my taste changes with time too. So I believe that shows in my music as well.
Is there any message that you hope listeners take from the album?
I hope this album will keep you going with your difficult days and sleepless nights as my favorite records have done for me.
Anything to say to readers?
Thank you for reading the interview! This record is like my first child. I hope you like it and that you’ll like it enough to spread the word to your close friends and to the Internet world. Much love!
I really like Sleepless Night. The style of the music is different from what I usually listen to, but I’ve found each album by Hee Young to be very interesting. The change between 4 Luv and Sleepless Night is obvious, but now I think I’d like to hear 4 Luv re-recorded in the style that’s present on the new album.