When we think of music from Korea, K-pop usually comes to mind first. But amidst the shiny pop bangers and slick music videos lie rare gems like songs by singer-songwriter John Eun.
Like most of the world, I had first heard of John's music in 2020, when Twitterverse shared a song called 'Hope'. BTS' RM had contributed backing vocals to the folk-pop track, and it was enough to get me curious. After my first listen, I added it to my playlist, and it became part of my regular rotation. It left me asking for more (I still think 2:05 was painfully short for such a beautiful song), so I backtracked and discovered his previous singles, as well as his debut EP from 2019, Groove Merchant.
Over the past couple of years, in between working on his new album, he's reunited with RM sharing co-writing, co-producing, and co-arranging the 2021 FESTA song, 'Bicycle,' and playing the guitar for eAeon's latest studio album, Fragile.
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Now, it's John's turn in the spotlight as he finally shares his first full-length album, Suna. Released three years after officially entering the music scene, the new record brings John's music from the neo-soul stylings of his debut offering into full atmospheric folk-pop/rock territory. Sonically and thematically cohesive, Suna takes us across rich soundscapes created by the guitarist, who occasionally tinkers with the trumpet, bass, piano, and mandolin. Made "the old way," John also shares how he didn’t use any kind of pitch correction on any of the vocal tracks on the record.
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In an email interview, we speak to the singer-songwriter about his musical journey so far, creating records that last over time, and introducing listeners to his music.
Hi, John! How have you been doing these days?
Great to say hello to all the people who’d be checking this, I’m doing great. Thanks for asking, hope you all are doing great too.
Tell us a bit about your musical journey. How did you get started in music? What drew you to the guitar? Was it your first instrument?
Well, I started when I was in middle school when I used to live in New Zealand, 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.
Who were your influences growing up? Who are your favourite artists to listen to now?
My dad is a HUGE music guru and truly a master listener. I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley, Steely Dan, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Art Blakey, and for the past few years, I’ve been a huge fan of a band called Kirinji from Japan. They are really really amazing songwriters with poem-like lyrics. [A] huge influence on me in recent years.
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What’s it like being a singer-songwriter in a country known for K-pop music? In Manila, there are small gigs every night featuring local musicians. What’s the local music scene like there?
Well, Korea wasn’t always K-pop. I mean the word ‘K-pop’ means pop music from Korea, right? To be honest, I left Korea and moved around 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, like I said earlier I was listening to The Beatles and Joni when I was in middle and high school.
Speaking of local music, it has decreased a lot since COVID-19 appeared, but it seems like some jazz clubs are opening up nowadays and I’m happy about it. I’m not that involved with the live music scenes (and actually never was that into) anymore, and when I play live it’s mostly jazz gigs.
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What made you decide to pursue music professionally?
Easy, but tricky question. To be real I know it could sound a little corny but I really felt and thought as soon as I got my first guitar and practised for like a week, I told my parents I wanna be a musician when I grow up.
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Your debut EP, Groove Merchant, leans more towards neo-soul and your succeeding singles ‘Walkin,’ ‘Heart,’ and ‘Hope,’ progressively take you into atmospheric folk-pop/rock territory. Can you briefly take us through your musical journey from your 2019 debut EP to your new album in 2022? Has the pandemic affected/shaped this trajectory? How so?
You’re right. The first EP was all about showing up to the scene and telling 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 including me. And was really aware at the time of the trend and all that.
As I kept writing music and lyrics I sort of realized that all that trend and “hipness” per se, doesn’t really matter to me and more importantly I found myself that I’m not the kind of person who follows the trend and everyday news. Most of the music that I listen to is at least 50-70 years old and they still sound so good to my ears. The point is, as time passes by, I become more confident about what I hear in my head and just writing and recording them, going for it.
[The] pandemic definitely had an effect on me too, the song 'Heart' is my take on it.
Your first full-length album, Suna, is finally here. Can you tell us more about the new record?
I want the listeners to take them in their own ways.
There are some old, old songs that I wrote at least 2 years ago, and some I wrote pretty recently. Most of the song’s lyrics are in English except one. Still to this date, I mostly think and process my feelings in English I reckon. My mom told me when I was younger that when I sleep talk I say stuff that’s not in the Korean language nor English, but to her ears, it sounded much closer to English. Weird right? So all the songs' lyrics came out very very naturally, not forced to choose between the two languages. I left and kept writing them with the first words that came with each song.
What song would you ask someone to listen to introduce them to John Eun? Why do you think this piece of music represents you and your artistry the most?
When I was talking to my distributor (The Vault) I told them if I could release this without a "title track" because all tracks almost feel equal as far as considering the importance on the record.
For some who want a breakout, I’ll ask them to check out ‘Heart’, ‘Hope,’ or ‘Doppelganger’. For some who need silence but want a little music in the background, I’ll say ‘Shape of Rain’ or ‘Love’s Whisper’.
What do you hope you impart with your music, and what do you wish listeners can take away from the new record?
I really think it’s not the artist who can decide or suggest [to] anyone [what] to take or feel from the record.
Everyone’s life is so different in their own situations. Things could be rougher from the inside closer look when it’s almost nothing to someone, right? I just wish for this record to live a long life. Like all the legendary albums that we all listen to. I’m not saying this record is on any level of the albums and artists that I talked about previously, but I put my heart and soul into this for almost the past 2 years. Stuff that you put effort into stays and shines even if it'll ignite later. I believe in my music and everyone else’s music these days.
Thanks for reading this and hope you all have a wonderful day, week and month.
John Eun's first full-length album, Suna, is now available on streaming services via The Vault. Listen here.
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