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[INTERVIEW] R&B Singer Katie is ready to step back into the spotlight

By Yim Hyun-su

  • Published : May 22, 2019 - 19:39
  • Updated : May 22, 2019 - 19:39

After years of hard work, winning an audition show and a label move, she is ready to show off her talent

Katie poses at Axis’ head office in WeWork Yeouido, western Seoul, on Monday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Sitting down on the couch at her label’s office in Seoul, Katie seems composed but excited to show the world what she’s been working on over the last few years.

The Korean-American singer had just wrapped her first photoshoot with The Korea Herald, showing off her new hairdo with bright red streaks.

Its a significant time for her, as her debut EP “Log” was released Wednesday. And according to the singer, the record encapsulates her essence as an artist and as a human being.

“I love that it shows my personality, as well as my taste for music as well as my emotions,” the singer says of the record in a delicate speaking voice that sometimes takes people by surprise, given the power she puts behind her singing.

Though she had just flown in from the US, she has a busy schedule ahead.

“I arrived in Korea two days ago and I’ve been getting over my jet lag and trying to do all these interviews I have. I’m preparing for Seoul Jazz Festival that’s on Saturday. (I’m) practicing with the band later today as well.”

“Log” comes nearly five years after she won the fourth season of music competition show K-pop Star in 2014 where she stole YG Entertainment’s music executive Yang Hyun-suk’s attention and was signed on with the label.

Last summer, she released her single “Remember,” which went on to rack up over 10 million views on YouTube. Then things went quiet, leavings fans wondering and wanting more.

“Well, I know I’ve been missing in action for quite a while, but I have been working on my music and I’ve been learning a lot of stuff about music and life and growing up a bit more I guess,” she said.

Since then, a lot has happened. She has moved on from a major record label and is now with AXIS, a new independent label that was set up last year and operates in the US and Japan as well as Korea.

When asked about what’s changed, she gives a gentle smile before answering, “I would have to say I got more freedom in terms of how I want things to be in my music and how I want to present it to the world.”

But it was her feisty follow-up answer that speaks to her conviction -- and that she’s not one to give her ground.

“But wherever I was, I would’ve still been stubborn about what I wanted to do and still try to achieve it that way.”

She is “super thankful” and happy that she finally gets to show fans her music and be able to connect with them.

“I don’t know how to express this enough but I’m just super grateful that people are actually waiting on me to release songs because it’s been way too long for them to just wait on something that wasn’t promised.

“I didn’t have many places to say my opinions or how I’m doing or what my plans were beforehand. It was kind of frustrating for me as but it’s over now,” she said.

She’s referring to all the online comments asking when she’d release a new song. Thankfully for her fans, they got more than what they bargained for this week.

Though she didn’t write the lyrics herself, her involvement in the making of the EP is noticeable throughout.

“I was in the session from beginning to end. And in the beginning, I have to give them what I want and all my inspirations and references if they need. I would give them, ‘I want this kind of vibe and this kind of story’ and as they are building their song, I’d have to comment and say my opinions throughout.”

Track six is a good example, a jazzy tune with lyrics that she personally says are more relatable than any other on the EP. “I love, love, love that track, and I’m so happy that it’s included in the EP,” Katie said of “Better Off.”

In the song, she sings the chorus in a soothing, yet lingering voice, “I’m better off without you” ? and that’s exactly where she stands when it comes to relationships at the moment.

“As of now, I’m fine with anybody not around. I feel like it’s kind of dangerous for me at this point to be dependent on someone else so I think I’m better off with just my dog,” she said as she grinned.

While she said there was no prospect of her dating anytime soon, her debut EP is ironically full of relationship-related stories told with heavy R&B influences, which is no wonder when her two all-time favorite records are Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” and D‘Angelo’s “Black Messiah”

“I first started signing and got really into becoming a musician with jazz. I’m really into ‘60s jazz so Ella Fitzgerald has to be my favorite.” She also loved the likes of Frank Sinatra and Chet Baker, but her taste in music began to diversify.

“When I went to college, I actually fell in love with R&B, jazz, soul and funk and everything. I dug deeper into R&B and black music. All of them are very huge for me. Lauryn Hill and Frank Ocean.”

Speaking of music figures, she got to collaborate with Ty Dolla Sign on “Remember.” And she says the whole experience has been “unbelievable.”

“I think I was in the office when they told me that it finally worked out,” she said. “He actually enjoyed the song to be a part of it. Ty is such a huge star and for him to join my record is like unbelievable.”

She moved to the US at the age of 10 and grew up as an immigrant. When asked whether her background shaped her as an artist, she says “Definitely.”

“Yes, of course, 100 percent, because that’s how I grew up and who I came to be in the present moment. Every little thing I think affected me to become who I am today.”

“I guess my personality changed a bit when I moved there. I was more of an outgoing person if I remember correctly in Korea. When I went to America, it took a while for me to settle there and make friends. So I spent a lot of time in my room just listening to the radio back then. I think that’s why music came into my life and kind of filled the emptiness I guess, which I’m really grateful for right now.”

“And having my time and being somewhat of a loner or outsider in the community made me better my understanding of those kinds of parts of the people in society.”

It’s a great time to be a K-pop star at the moment, with many acts enjoying success and eyeing international audiences. But when asked about which label fits her best, Katie says she wants to be remembered as just an “artist.”

“Although I really love belonging in parts of a label to feel associated, I think I don’t really want to categorize myself in some things because I feel like it just blocks me from having a broader spectrum. I would just say an artist or an R&B singer.”

Her EP is all in English, which prompted some people to think whether she was aiming for a US breakout but she says it’s to connect with everyone rather than a marketing strategy given her American background.

“It was more like I sing more naturally in English than in Korean and that’s better for me to express and people to listen to and actually understand me better,” she said.

Katie’s debut EP “Log” is out now.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)

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