I was skeptical when haer asked for Korean Indie listen to her music. Recently, a lot of submissions or discoveries have been lacking or were missing experience. Missing experience comes from new artists and musicians living within a “positive reinforcement” bubble. Everyone around them provides a tsunami of praise leading to the stagnation or premature releases.
During our conversation, I found her Spotify and started by listening to “Till It’s Over.” The track’s strong foundation gave me hope. After I listened to HYAER, that was when I knew haer planted her roots and is evolving at a very fast pace. She’s among this generation’s artists to watch – as long as she doesn’t get comfortable.
Can you introduce yourself?
haer here. My name is Haerin Jang, and I’m a 24 year old weekend musician based out of Brooklyn, New York. I say weekend musician because I currently work as a full-time tech consultant, so sometimes I only have the weekend to be haer. I love working in tech but I love making music more, so please don’t tell my boss.
What’s the meaning behind your artist name?
With my first name being Haerin, I’ve always had people make jokes about my name because it sounds like “hairy” or even “Harry.” Cue the Harry Potter jokes. I distinctly remember crying in the 5th grade because a boy made everyone at lunch laugh by calling me “Haerin my butt,” which unfortunately sounds exactly like “hair in my butt.”
I can laugh about it now but thinking back, it was sort of traumatic, and I remember wanting to change my name throughout most of my adolescent years. As I grew older, my friends started calling me haer on their own, and the nickname grew on me. Now, I can’t imagine representing myself another way.
How did you get started writing and recording music?
I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was 10, and I wanted to be a rock star, so I would write these really intense, angsty songs and jump off my bed like how musicians do on real stages. I guess my songwriting began then and continued throughout high school but I didn’t actually start recording music until I was in college.
I never knew how to work a DAW or that songs had to be mastered, so everything was super foreign. I’ve only been releasing music for two years, but most of the songs I’ve released use melodies and lyrics that I wrote back in high school. It’s cool to see these dormant ideas have places in my life now.
Any influences that inspired you to get started?
My biggest influence for starting music is Lorde. Maybe it’s controversial to say but I think Lorde paved the road for a new version of pop. Her single, “Royals,” was not like anything I heard at the time, and the Pure Heroine project is still the best album I’ve heard because it defined a lot of what I was feeling in a confusing time of my life.
I remember feeling so many new emotions while listening to every track, and maybe it was because I was still going through puberty (lol) but the project was and still so special even seven years after its release. I knew that if I ever made music for myself, I wanted to define a genre like she did.
How do you define your genre: suburban pop?
Haha, I love this question because I actually made up the genre, suburban pop, while I was writing my EP, so right now, it’s pretty fluid in definition but simply speaking, it’s a minimalist and suppressed version of pop. I shamelessly love radio pop music, which tends to get a bad rap, but I love the catchiness of it so with my music, I wanted to preserve that element while stripping back on the production and adding my own flair.
I grew up around cul-de-sacs almost my entire life, and I wanted to escape them because the bubble made me feel ordinary. But I’m realizing now that a lot of my upbringing conditioned me into making melodies that sound familiar and comforting and when I lay those over a production that isn’t so familiar, I’d like to think it’s pretty special.
I attribute the creation of this genre to all the long car rides listening to the radio and the rabbit holes I would get into on the internet. My genre is for the sheltered and the adventurous, the quiet and the curious, and most importantly, the suburban.
How did you get connected with Jae Luna to work on your EP?
My friend, Joe, who goes by LATE LEE, is based out of Los Angeles, and we connected through Instagram through a few mutual friends. One day, we both planned a trip for me to come visit him in LA, so I could work with him and his producers.
One of the producers I met was Jae Luna, and we all wrote a song idea together in a few hours, one where I had to take a step back and be like, “Woah, this is the type of music I want to make.” I think that thought became more pronounced after the trip, and I just knew that he was the right fit for producing the EP.
What was the split of responsibilities in the production?
For the EP, Jae was the executive producer so he was the one who was actually driving Ableton. However, every song was a collaborative effort because for every session, it would start with me calling in through Zoom, so we could walk through every step of the production together.
For example, he would go through samples, and I would say “Wait, go back to that one. Let’s use that.” and sometimes, it would work and sometimes, it would flop. I still appreciate his willingness to incorporate my ideas while still maintaining his own sound and creativity on the songs.
You named your EP, HYAER, as an homage of your Korean roots, how has your ethnic background contributed/not contributed to your artist’s journey?
As someone who grew up in a highly dense Korean American community, I attribute most of my journey as an artist to this subculture. There’s so many nuances to being Korean American like being Christian, so most of my songwriting style in the beginning of my career was inspired by worship songs.
More recently, the inspiration behind the EP cover is from a sermon by Louie Giglio.
The music video for “Sugar” released before the EP, what was the idea behind the video?
“Sugar” was written about a past relationship where I felt like both of us were trying to make something happen that wasn’t meant to be. Towards the end of the relationship, I realized that we were two very different people, but I still had a heart for him and wanted to make it work.
I wanted to depict Einstein’s definition of insanity in the video which is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I also wanted to show the idea of how aesthetics without functionality is meaningless.
The beginning scene shows me watering a garden full of balloons. It’s visually pleasing but there’s no real function or reason for me to water them and if you catch the last frame of the scene, the balloon actually pops which was not planned at all but I’d like to say that I did! The second scene shows me sleeping on what seems like a bed but at the end, I step away and it shows that I was standing the entire time, not actually getting any sleep. Again, doing something with no function or reason.
You start to see the idea of insanity start right at the instrumental breakdown where all the scenes are in reverse. The wheels on the bike and the motion of how I’m riding are all representative of doing the same thing over and over only to go backwards. We see more of this in the scenes where I’m driving only to find that the car has been in reverse the entire time. The bridge shows me stirring a spoon in a mug in circles, similar to the bike scenes.
This is the one scene where I am absorbing and reflecting instead of doing, so you see the montage of prior scenes from the music video. The last scene is me stepping out of the car that is in reverse and taking ownership of my decisions.
It’s pretty cool how most people who saw the video were able to gather the concepts and share them with me. It was the first video I directed, so I was proud to see that the ideas worked.
What do you see as the next milestone?
My next milestone is the release of my second project. HYAER is definitely the closest I’ve ever been to capturing my sound, but I think this new project I’m working on will show a more focused sound. It’ll certainly show off some of that “suburban pop” I’m talking about.
What would you consider success?
This is a tough question because I go back and forth on it. As someone who has always put her career first, I found how unfulfilling every achievement was when it was said and done. I still wrestle with not placing too much of my worth in those things but I think now, I see success as the feeling that you get when you’ve put your all into something AND the work you did was truly “you.”
I find a lot of joy in doing things sit organically and honest with me and when I pair those up with hard work, I feel more successful than how I feel achieving some of the more impressive things in my life.
Korean culture is popular in the West, but it’s only really a slice of the cultural wealth the country has to offer. Do you see yourself, as an artist, a part of telling that story?
I would love to but if I’m speaking candidly, I don’t feel all equipped. I was born in Seoul and came to the US when I was four, so I always felt more American than Korean.
Being raised by my grandma for most of my life, she’s shared a lot of stories with me that helped me grasp the culture more but I know I still have long ways to go in my independent research.
Asian American representation is also a popular topic of discussion, do you see yourself becoming a spokesperson for that in the future?
Yeah, most definitely. Growing up in one of the largest Korean American communities in America, I’ve learned how many facets there are to not being Korean but being Korean American.
It constantly felt like I was living a double life, and the dichotomy is something I’m still trying to understand.
My hope is that through my own understanding and interpretation of my identity, I can pass that knowledge onto others.
Is there a specific message you want listeners to understand?
I don’t think I can ever put myself into one box, which is why I created my own genre of suburban pop. It really can be whatever I want it to be but there is always going to be the common denominator where I want to create melodies that sound familiar, so even though people want to define me as this or that, I hope they can listen to my music for what it is. 🙂
Any current artists in rotation?
I have been going back to The XX because I’m trying to learn how to make my production more minimalistic, and I think they do a fantastic job at that.
Anything to say to readers?
Thank you for listening and reading. Again, it is haer, not Haerin My Butt. Please don’t get it twisted.