It’s finally Jukjae’s time to shine: After years as a session musician, the songwriter has become a fixture on TV
The 30-year-old singer-songwriter and guitarist got his first big break when actor Park Bo-gum sang his song “Let’s Go See the Stars” in a popular commercial last year.
Since then, TV producers have cast the talented musician to appear on several shows, including JTBC’s “Begin Again 3,” where he gives live street performances in Berlin along with the likes of Paul Kim and Taeyeon from Girls’ Generation.
Jukjae has now gathered a sizeable following of loyal fans. This winter, he’s planning to hold two solo concerts at the 600-seat M Theater in the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
What’s most remarkable about the rising star’s journey to fame is that he got to where he is without the help of any big-name label or entertainment agency.
Jukjae knew that he was going to pursue music as his career by the end of middle school.
“I almost only did music,” he recalled during an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily. “It was more fun than going to the PC bang [internet gaming cafe] for me.”
Jukjae dropped out of school during his first year of high school, and opted to take the qualification exam to go straight to college instead. He got his first gig as a professional musician soon after graduating from the Seoul Institute of the Arts with a degree in Applied Music in 2008.
Coincidently, the first venue he was ever paid to perform in was also Sejong’s M Theater.
“I was invited to play the guitar at Jung Jae-hyung’s concert,” Jukjae recalled.
Jukjae’s career picked up from there, and he’s since worked as a guitarist with some of the hottest artists today, including Kim Dong-ryul, Park Hyo-shin, IU, Sam Kim, Jeong Eun-ji and Taeyeon.
More recently, he’s worked on arrangements and played the guitar on AKMU’s latest album “Sailing” and singer Kwon Jin-ah’s “Shape of Me.”
“My skills have improved as I have continued working. I’ve been inspired by other artists and picked up new styles while collaborating with different people.”
The following are edited excerpts from Jukjae’s interview.
A. When I was in my second year of middle school, I saw our school band perform and thought “this is it” and signed up to join. That’s when I held a guitar for the first time. I didn’t have much interest in studying, but when I was practicing the guitar I didn’t realize how fast the hours were passing.
My guitar skills improved really quickly and I got along with my bandmates. I felt really happy when we harmonized well. Six of us in the school band formed a separate group and performed in festivals at other schools and entered competitions. At the time I mainly focused on rock.
In 2014 you released your first album, managing everything yourself, including composing, performing, singing and producing. Why did you decide to become a singer-songwriter?
If I wanted to graduate from university, I needed to know how to compose. That’s when I began learning songwriting. I’ve actually had a thirst for singing ever since I started music. I wanted to sing myself but I didn’t get the chance to because there were other friends who were better than me.
In 2013, when I was performing in concerts as a session musician, I suddenly thought to myself that I would never be able to release an album if I didn’t do it now. I liked how I could deliver my story and emotions in the lyrics while singing. When I’m performing, I like to play songs that involve a lot of difficult and complicated tempos. My introverted personality comes out in the songs I write. That’s why I’ve written a lot of sentimental pieces.
Each of your five albums only includes songs you’ve written yourself. Why is that?
I’m not a complete vocalist. I know the melodies and the lyrics I can sing and express best.
What does the name Jukjae mean?
Nothing. When I was in middle school it was trendy to put the “k” sound in our names. So some of my friends started calling me “Jukjae” instead of my real name, Jung Jae-won, and I began feeling a closer bond with them. When I was performing gigs as a session musician I used my real name, but there were many people with the same name as me, so I’ve been going as Jukjae since the early 2010s.
Do you have any role models?
American guitarist and singer-songwriter John Mayer. I can feel that he thinks a lot about his music.
I’m a really big fan and I even bought the same amp and guitar that he uses.
What kind of show are you planning to put on at the Sejong Center?
The past year brought a lot of changes in my life. I feel like all the things I’ve been doing finally rose to the surface, and I now have a lot of fans who listen to my songs. But I still want to show my transformation and growth through music. I’m planning to release a new album soon and perform songs from it during the concert. I want to give my audience the feeling that they’re having a special day.
BY LEE JI-YOUNG [email@example.com]