[Behind the Lyrics] Close your eyes, sit back and relax with O3ohn's music
K-pop often conjures thoughts of acrobatic dance moves and bass-heavy hits performed by the many members of the boy bands and girl groups Korea has to offer, but the pool of talented indie singer-songwriters is just as rich and colorful as the sounds they create. Unlike many of the idol bands that perform songs written and produced by others, these singers take their music into their own hands and establish fan bases solely based on their songs. Through this series, the Korea JoongAng Daily will sit down with up-and-coming solo indie singers and learn the stories behind their lyrics, while also finding out more about their lives, loves and interests.
Powerful beats and exotic melodies will surely catch listeners' attention but do they have staying power? Softer sounds with calming melodies may be more easily found on playlists, especially the ones people play in the evenings to calm themselves before they fall asleep. Singer-songwriter O3ohn’s songs are perfect for those playlists.
O3ohn is a name familiar to indie lovers, especially people who look for serenity and peace of mind through music — and rightly so. O3ohn’s goal in writing both his lyrics and melody is to “make sure that there’s nothing harsh on the ears.” That goes for his music videos too. From his last official EP “Simple Songs” (2019) to singles “Loner” (2019), “Kalt” (2018) and his debut EP “O" (2016), slow and gentle sums up his vibe and he hopes this will mean that his work remains on people’s playlists for a long time.
“The thing I focus on most is making the songs comfortable to listen to,” he said. “I always try to write songs so the melody sounds comfortable both for me and the people who listen to them. So it can’t be too deep and I have to find it nice and comforting to listen to as well."
O3ohn, pronounced O John, began his singing career in 2016 as the result of an unexpected chance encounter with musicians while serving his two-year mandatory military service from 2013 to 2015. He had always thought that people who made their own music were cool — but no more than that. He studied hard like most students in Korea and enrolled in the humanities department at a university, aiming to enter the workforce straight after graduating.
“I met with someone who made music in the camp,” he said. “It made me think a lot about how I wanted to make music as well. So I started right after I finished my service, but I didn’t have any specific plans. I just started making music and I was fortunate enough to release an album in 2016.”
While his first EP garnered him some fans, it wasn't until 2018 when his music really began to gain public attention after he appeared in two episodes of KBS music show “Yoo Hee-yeol’s Sketchbook.” His shy, yet honest and humorous remarks stole the viewers’ hearts on the ninth anniversary special episode of the show on April 29, 2018, and he was chosen as the No. 1 indie act to look out for among the other acts that also took part in the show, such as Lee Woo, Lee Bada, Say Sue Me, Yun DDan DDan and Adoy. He was given the opportunity to feature in another episode of the show, which he used straightaway to appear on the May 5 episode the week after.
“It was a big opportunity for me to be on TV and sing. It was the first time for me to be on such a big show with a lot of publicity where I got to show myself to so many people, and I was so nervous. But the feedback was a lot better than I thought and it made me feel really good. Some people recognized me afterwards and asked me if it was me on TV, and I said yes. They didn’t know my name, but I was still happy,” he said, laughing.
After working alone for three years, O3ohn signed his first contract with DooRooDooRoo Artist Company last year, joining famed indie acts Hyukoh, Car, the Garden and Idiotape and marking the start of another chapter for the singer. The Korea JoongAng Daily sat down with O3ohn to talk about his unexpected career moves and late start in the industry. The following are edited excerpts.
Staying away from stress is actually the one thing that I think is the most important, and I keep little habits to do so. I see and hear a lot of things that get on my nerves when I get sensitive, and when I see that in my music, I try to get rid of all of that — in both the instrumentals and the lyrics. I ponder on each word and note to make sure that the song doesn’t make the listeners uncomfortable. The goal is to make the lyrics seem like they were written without much effort, but the more you look into it, you find traces of hard work.
I really like the word fantasy. I like to listen to music before I go to sleep, and there are some albums that let me draw a clear picture of a scene or an image. I like it when people say that they do the same with my songs, and I think words like magical and fantasy describe that.
Music wise, the album is going to be about nature and taking care of it. It’s not an environmentalist movement or anything, but I’m going for a more natural and acoustic sound. It’ll have acoustic drums and classic guitars instead of electronic sounds, and I'll also put the focus on my voice.
I did think about compiling the stories I wrote for the songs and writing a book. But it turned out to be really difficult. So I’m writing short things — not exactly poems — but I’m just keeping them to myself just in case I get to use them someday.
BY YOON SO-YEON [email@example.com]
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