When I listened through Caro Juna’s most recent EP, Violent Delights, I learned quickly that she loves playing with sound: through her voice, unusual percussion, and instrumental textures. Digging a bit further, I learned that the EP was self produced and also that her music journey, though just shy of two years, has shifted significantly.
I got to talk with her over video call about her music and the vast possibilities of music in general. In conversation, she is passionate and earnest about her craft and how she wants to explore it to its fullest potential. By the end of our call, I was excited about what’s to come for her discography and where her curiosity and storytelling will take her.
One of the immediate things that intrigued me in your music was your voice. It’s textured and layered and really engaging, almost like an instrument with its color. How would you describe your voice?
A lot of people are surprised when they meet me and then when they hear my music because my speaking voice sounds very different from how I sing, but I think it’s because I grew up listening to so much jazz and R&B. Growing up, I practiced emulating that for a long time.
Because your voice is an instrument, just like any other, you can manipulate certain things in your voice to sound a certain way. I also studied opera; when I sing that, I put it in a different register than, say, jazz or when I speak. And actually, when you speak different languages, you put your voice in different languages too. It’s because there’s different things you want to convey when you have a different hat on.
When I’m singing, I want to make people feel warm inside. I want them to feel like they’re hugged or tenderly caressed, like being comforted. That’s what music is to me, so I want my music to feel like that way too.
In my mind, I’d like my voice to sound like aquariums with koi fish, orange and blue. I’d love my voice to feel like that for someone. Like a Wong Kar Wai film, you’re just sitting there looking at it.
You started in classical music with piano, violin, then had some training in opera and jazz voice. From these different fields/approaches to music, what concepts are you pulling to apply in your music?
For me, I feel the beauty of being able to call myself a musician is recognizing the vast world of inspiration around me.
For a long time, I kind of shunned classical music and that came from the pressure from my parents who pushed me into it. But then I remember a few moments I had where I was really captivated by it like a Lang Lang concert or a symphonic orchestra concert, and my ears were opened.
I came to producing as an instrumentalist. My dream was to be a classical pianist and you can see that in my music now; I think a lot about structure in my songs. My musical composition is more classically based.
You first started as Caro, then on November 21 announced on IG that you decided to add on Juna as a nod to your Korean name. What’s the story behind that decision?
When someone sees my name Caro, they wouldn’t know immediately that I’m Korean. And not that they would know when they see the name Caro Juna but it does have a more personal meaning to it; it is my Korean name and my American name together.
Is there a difference between Caro Juna the artist versus you as a person?
Being an artist is really interesting. The hardest part about it, especially as a singer, is that it’s inevitably a brand that you’re starting. You’re trying to get people to buy into you. Especially as a woman, inevitably your brand is you. No matter how much you try to separate the artist from the person, there’s always going to be a level of confusion and it’s never going to be clean cut.
And for someone like me who likes to have things in boxes in my head, that was really hard for me to understand. For example, if someone doesn’t like my music, it’s not personal. But for someone just starting out, it’s hard not to be in your head about it.
How do you see the connection between lyrics and music?
I think the lyrics are the most important part. It’s like a building; the lyrics are the structure of it and anything else is like floral arrangements on top. For other people, their creative process is different but for me, I want my music to say something to people. Because of that, words are so important. And there’s power in a word that I think people don’t realize.
I view music and lyrics as different processes, actually, that I try to merge together. I think they’re two different muscles that you use.
Your beginning with self production was Kite Song in August of last year. Since then, you’ve amped up to producing a full EP with your recent release Violent Delights. How was the journey going from working with producers to becoming one?
Working with a producer helped me learn how to write and I think it was the perfect opportunity to try something I’ve never done before. But I realized that I could sit there and tell my producer I wanted these sounds, but he’d never really understand what’s going on in my head. No matter how great they are, they’ll never be me. They’ll never understand exactly what I’m looking for.
The pandemic was a blessing in disguise. By virtue of the fact that I can’t go into the studio that often, I was at home a lot. Also, my partner who is an electronic musician helped push me to just sit down and try. Why not? This is the whole point of it, to have fun and experiment.
This is the time to enter a whole new world of possibilities which is what producing is, in my opinion. And there are no boundaries; you can make any instrument you want from a synth and manipulate it in any way. That’s so much power! It would be a waste of potential to try to not leverage it a certain way.
For me, with my newer music there’s an element of being more proud of it because it literally all came from my mind. Also, “Kite Song” was the first time I felt like I really didn’t care anymore about people who were telling me I had to be a certain type of musician. I can just release whatever I want to release just for the sake of doing it because I’m proud of it! And if this one person doesn’t like it, it’s okay because I’m doing it for me. That was a huge perspective shift for me and it helped me grow as an artist.
Violent Delights is really about my anxiety as an Asian American woman trying to find her place in the world, especially as a third culture kid asking about my identity.Caro Juna
Also, I realized that my music doesn’t have to be limited in my writing. Before, when I was working with producers, I was focused on conveying my words. But with producing, I can focus on what story I’m trying to tell.
For example, in “Satellite Lover” there’s a train sound. When I sat down and started making it, it was the first time for me to experience producing, writing, then building on top of it. I had the first layer down with standard sounds then asked about what feelings I’m trying to capture in the song. For me, I was trying to convey my anxiety.
Violent Delights is really about my anxiety as an Asian American woman trying to find her place in the world, especially as a third culture kid asking about my identity. That comes with uncovering stress, anxiety, and insecurity growing up. One feeling that really represents that is a moving train. Maybe you’re moving a little too fast. And it’s actually a little off beat if you listen to it.
I live in the city and I’m so proud to be a New Yorker but because of living in New York, there’s a lot of competition and stress. Even if I want to slow down, I can’t. What is that but a train? If you want to slow down, a train will also move without you; you can’t control that.
In a way, that’s how music becomes poetry too, through the little details that are so subtle but so clever. That’s what I want my discography to sound like.
What would you say to someone who’s just starting producing?
We always have to remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Everything is a journey and people are on that journey with you; that’s what being a musician is.
The whole point is not to cater to anyone else but you. That’s the only way to have a sustainable, lifelong relationship with music. Music is a draining industry and the only way you’ll be able to sustain your love for it is if you really learn to love the process of learning. That’s the best part of it and you should enjoy it while you can.
Flower language and Violent Delights are very different from each other, reflecting the titles but also the sound palettes of the two. How would you describe the difference between the two?
I think the best way to describe it is that I grew up.
I lost a bit of my innocence going through the music industry. And that’s okay, it’s part of the process and just understanding the world. When you’re younger, it’s so exciting and life is full of possibility and it should be that way.
But especially with the pandemic making me evaluate my life, my journey, and what I’m looking for, Violent Delights was my first time expressing all the anxieties I’d built up over the years.
I’m really proud of Flower Language because there’s a lot of honesty in it, but there’s also a little bit of not really understanding why I’m doing music. I was just doing it because I love it and it’s exciting and fun. But I didn’t really understand what I was trying to do with it and get out of it. So a lot of it was me trying to cater towards what other people wanted me to be.
When I really listen to music and think about music that has lasted in my mind, they’re really raw and honest. There’s nothing that they’re hiding. There’s a lot of parts of me that I felt like I needed to hide, like my insecurities. But the most relatable things people will attach themselves to are the most honest things you can express.
With Violent Delights it was the first time I was honest about the things I felt and the things I’ve experienced growing up, like having a difficult relationship with my parents. I don’t think people talk about that a lot; it’s a very awkward thing to talk about.
But I do have a contentious relationship with my parents and I think a lot of people can relate to that. And it’s okay that I can be honest about it because I have no shame about it anymore and that’s how it should be. It’s a bit of learning to not be ashamed anymore and learning to be honest about it.
When you’re growing up, there’s a sad loss of innocence but it’s empowering too. There’s a strength I draw from to remember that this is who I am and no one now can tell me otherwise and I’m proud of that.
Why is the EP titled Violent Delights?
It’s pulled from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, specifically the quote that says “These violent delights have violent ends.”
Flower Language was right before the pandemic. It’s really poetic, in a way; before a crash, there’s a flurry of activity. It was exciting, running around New York, but in that process you kind of lose yourself too. You’re out and about but you’re not spending time reflecting and finding balance within yourself.
So I thought the phrase “violent delights” was a perfect way to describe it; it’s so exciting and fun but having fun all the time has its own things that come with it, its own anxiety that gets built up.
Someone described anxiety in an interesting way to me, that people are being mean to themselves because they feel like they can be mean to themselves first so no one can be meaner to them. That’s very “violent delights” to me.
What about the artwork for the EP?
Along with being very personal, Violent Delights is also my love letter to New York.
I’m a city girl; I’ve been in New York for 10 or 11 years. Because I’m a third culture kid, New York is the city I’ve been in the longest. To me, New York is home, it’s where I grew up and developed into a human being and adult that I am. The hustle of the city is so beautiful but also so dreadful in some ways. It’s difficult. I think a lot of people move to the city and develop mental health issues. But how do you not have anxiety in a city like this?
When I first approached my friend, Khoi Pham, about doing the artwork for the EP, he took a listen to it and we talked for a bit about what it all meant to me, and he said the strongest image that kept coming to his mind was of me sitting at the windowsill looking out at the city. The more I thought about it, I couldn’t think of something more perfect than that, of me sitting at the window looking into the city.
The EP is me acknowledging that the city’s taken so much from me but has also given so much as well. It’s me sitting at the window looking into the city that is everything to me but has also taken so much from me.
Both your music videos for “Raspberry Tea” and “Unalone” are visually loaded pieces. How do you see the visual aspect of your music/artistry in relation with your music?
Part of my growth as an artist was realizing that everything can be intentional. Because I want my music to be so honest, I can be very active in every choice I make, whether it’s my lyrics or my sound or the visuals. I want everything to feel really specific but still really universal, like everyone can relate to it. And I think that’s where the best art comes from.
How would you define the role of an artist?
I think the ultimate goal of the artist is to inspire. But I think the first goal of the artist is to storytell. To make good art is to be a really good storyteller through whatever medium you choose. And then the ultimate goal is to inspire and make people feel less lonely in the world. To make someone realize that there are others that understand their experience and can encapsulate it in a story.
Any upcoming projects?
I don’t have anything specific that’s ready to be announced yet. But I have things I want to do, like making something that makes you want to dance. I’m really inspired by the city coming back to life. In the future, I’d also love to release music that doesn’t have my voice in it, like a movie score.
Violent Delights is a rebirth of my type of music being released. Because I made that, I think from now on things will make sense for how they sound and why they sound that way because it’s me touching every part of it from start to finish. I’m gonna keep playing with different sounds because life is short! And why not!