When you think of Korean music, K-pop usually comes to mind first. But amid the shiny pop bangers and slick music videos are rare gems like singer-songwriter songs. John Eun.
Like most people, I had first heard of John’s music in 2020, when Twitterverse shared a song called ‘Hope’. MR of BTS had contributed backing vocals to the folk-pop track, and that was enough to make me curious. After my first listen, I added it to my playlist, and it became part of my regular rotation. It left me wanting more (I still think 2:05 was painfully short for such a great song), so I backtracked and checked out his previous singles, as well as his debut EP of 2019, merchant groove.
Over the past two years, in between working on his new album, he reunited with RM by sharing co-writing, co-producing and co-arranging the song FESTA 2021, ‘Bike,’ and play the guitar eAeon’latest studio album, Brittle.
Now it’s John’s turn to be in the spotlight as he finally shares his first full album, Suna. Released three years after he officially burst onto the music scene, the new record takes John’s music from the neo-soul styles of his early days into full-on atmospheric folk-pop/rock territory. Sound and thematic cohesion, Suna takes us through rich soundscapes created by the guitarist, who occasionally tinkers with trumpet, bass, piano and mandolin. Made “the old-fashioned way”, John also tells how he did not use any type of pitch correction on any of the vocal tracks on the record.
In an email interview, we talk to the singer-songwriter about his musical journey so far, create records that last over time and introduce his music to listeners.
Hi John! How are you these days?
Great to say hello to anyone checking this out, I’m doing great. Thanks for asking, hope you’re all doing great too.
Tell us a bit about your musical journey. How did you start music? What drew you to the guitar? Was it your first instrument?
Well I started when I was in college when I was living in New Zealand I saw the music video for ‘American Idiot’ by the band called green day, and I got my first guitar for my birthday present that year. You know how the rest went, haha.
What were your influences growing up? What are your favorite artists to listen to right now?
My dad is a HUGE music guru and truly a master listener. I grew up listening Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley, Steely Dan, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Art Blakey, and for a few years I’ve been a big fan of a band called Kirinji from Japan. They are truly amazing songwriters with lyrics that sound like poems. [A] enormous influence on me in recent years.
What’s it like to be a singer-songwriter in a country known for K-pop music? In Manila, there are small concerts every night with local musicians. How is the local music scene there?
Well, Korea wasn’t always K-pop. I mean the word “K-pop” means Korean pop music, right? To be honest, I left Korea and traveled the world living in several different countries since I was 14, so I wasn’t really catching up with the whole pop music scene in Korea, as I I said earlier, I used to listen to the Beatles and Joni when I was in middle school and high school.
Speaking of local music, it’s been down a lot since the outbreak of COVID-19, but it seems some jazz clubs are opening these days and I’m glad for that. I’m not so involved in the live music scene anymore (and actually, I wasn’t there anymore), and when I do play live, it’s mostly jazz gigs.
What made you decide to get into music professionally?
An easy but tricky question. To be true I know this might sound a little corny but I really felt and thought as soon as I got my first guitar and practiced for a week I told my parents that I wanted to be a musician when I grew up.
Your first EP, merchant groove, leans more towards neo-soul and your successive singles “Walkin”, “Heart” and “Hope”, gradually take you into atmospheric folk-pop/rock territory. Can you briefly explain your musical journey from your first EP in 2019 to your new album in 2022? Has the pandemic affected/shaped this trajectory? How?
You’re right. The first EP was all about showing up on stage and saying to everyone, “Hey, you don’t know me yet, but see! I can do this, that and also that! I was trying to prove myself to everyone, myself included. And was really aware at the time of the trend and all that.
As I continued to write music and lyrics, I kind of realized that all that trending and “hipness” per se didn’t really matter to me, and more importantly, I found myself realized that I’m not the kind of person who follows the trend and news every day. Most of the music I listen to is at least 50-70 years old and it still sounds great to my ears. The thing is, over time, I become more confident about what I hear in my head and just write them down and record them, go for it.
The pandemic definitely had an effect on me too, song ‘Heart‘ is my point of view.
Your first full album, suna, is finally here. Can you tell us more about the new record?
I want listeners to take them in their own way.
There are very old songs that I wrote at least 2 years ago, and others that I wrote fairly recently. Most of the lyrics of the song are in English except one. Still to this day, I think and process my feelings mostly in English, I think. My mom told me when I was younger than when I sleep, I say things that aren’t in Korean or English, but to her ears it sounded much closer to English. Weird isn’t it? So all the song lyrics came out very, very naturally, not having to choose between the two languages. I left and continued to write them with the first words that accompanied each song.
What song would you ask someone to listen to to introduce them to John Eun? Why do you think this piece of music most represents you and your artistry?
When I was talking to my distributor (The vault) I told them if I could release it without a “title” because all the tracks are almost equal in terms of the importance of the record.
For some who want an escape, I’ll ask them to check ‘Heart’, ‘Hope,‘ Where ‘Double’. For some who need silence but want some background music, I would say ‘Rain shape’ Where ‘Love’s Whisper’.
What do you hope to convey with your music and what do you want listeners to take away from this new record?
I really think it’s not the artist who can decide or suggest [to] somebody [what] to take or feel from the recording.
Everyone’s life is so different in their own situation. Things could be tougher from the inside, take a closer look when it’s next to nothing for someone, right? I just wish this record lived a long time. Like all the legendary albums we all listen to. I’m not saying this record is on any level with the albums and artists I’ve talked about before, but I’ve put my heart and soul into it for almost the last 2 years. The things you put effort into stay and shine even if they flare up later. I believe in my music and everyone’s music these days.
Thanks for reading this and hope you all have a wonderful day, week and month.
John Eun’s first full album, Suna, is now available on streaming services via The Vault. Listen now.