It’s time for another Kpopalypse interview! Read on as Kpopalypse talks to Korean independent musician UZA!
Many of you will be familiar with UZA thanks to the inclusion of her song “Suitable” on my favourites list for 2017. UZA herself also became aware of her inclusion on this list, due to many caonimas not only alerting her to her chart position, but also taking up my suggestion of buying her music. As I had only found out about her myself through links that had been sent from my readers, naturally I was keen to talk to UZA to discover more about what she was doing, and find out her views and how she felt about being an independent musician in Korea.
UZA isn’t overly fluent in English, so rather than doing a Skype interview which is the standard procedure for interview subjects, we exchanged emails over the last two months so she could answer questions at her own pace. I’ve edited the answers somewhat for clarity, while still trying to retain as much of the original flavour and context of what she said as I could. Please enjoy the following interview!
Hi! How are you?
Hi. I’m pretty much busy, but I’m really happy these days! I’ve mainly been working in preparation for this year (2018). This year my goal is to make better sounds, and release many albums, as both “UZA” and “UZA&SHANE”. I manage my own brand “UZA” and I’m one half of the duo “UZA&SHANE”, (and every Monday I do live streaming on YouTube with “SHANE”) so I want to make good stuff using both of my projects!
Can you describe how you began as UZA. What made you want to start making music?
When I was a young child, my parents always listened to 1980s music, so it is really my biggest influence. Naturally, I loved the music and I wanted to be a musician. I started singing and composing at 17 years old, and I practiced a lot for entrance into a music college. The name “UZA” was my band name, we were a trio rock band. We were so funny and happy in our music. I graduated college in 2013, but the UZA band broke up in 2014. I decided that I needed to make my own brand. I thought that as I’m not famous, I would have to be an ‘independent’ musician. I tried to make a good name better than “UZA” but then I thought that as UZA band is my first band, and I was really happy with my band, I decided to keep using the name UZA continuously. 🙂 When i was 17, I was usually making modern rock tracks. I love music, and I like lots of genres, for example rock, electronic music, hip-hop, RnB – so I just make what I want to listen to. When I’m making my music, my brain is really empty. I just want to make what I like!
Describe the musical difference between “UZA” and “UZA&SHANE”. What does SHANE bring, musically?
UZA is just where I use only my own motive, and I do what I want to make for myself. Some might think this is like a little obstinate lol, but I need to elicit my desire in my musical activities in UZA. My personality is so much that of an obstinate person and I am always thinking about my own motivation, so UZA songs are where my desire to make music is open.
UZA&SHANE songs are a little bit more like pop tracks than UZA, because SHANE is a more positive person not like me (lol) and he has more bright emotions than myself. In addition, SHANE is a really good producer, he has lots of skills when we make music, so we make tracks together. He makes the art, and he is doing the sound design in UZA&SHANE, whereas I write lyrics and vocal lines. 🙂 We are quite successful in division of labor.
Describe your process for writing songs.
First, my hips will be up at my chair, and I’m starting my computer. I use Ableton, so I start with Ableton and first, I make the drum beat. I really have a crush on making beats, that’s why my Facebook page name is UZA ; TASTY BEATS. I think choosing the kick drum in particular is super important to me. So I make the beat first, and then over the top I layer synthersizers and effects. I think I am more free than anyone to make music. I have no set framework in how I make my music and I don’t care at all about what I shouldn’t do.
Where do you draw lyrical inspiration?
From within my music. (especially melody and lyric!) My beats are usually ‘powerful’ but my melody and lyrics are ‘soft’.
What equipment do you use when you perform?
This changes every time I perform, but I usually use Native Instruments’ Maschine Jam and my Mac/interface system. Oh! And I got a gift, a new synthersizer for my birthday! lol My new synth is a Korg Minilogue! I will perform live with my new synth from now on!
How often do you play live?
Almost once or twice a month! When spring begins, I always get a lot of performances 🙂
Is it easy or hard to get gigs as an independent artist?
It was difficult at first, but now it’s not as hard to get shows because the music scene has been more spontaneous and energetic all around for about four years now.
Where is the best place for UZA to play live?
Definitely ‘Club Freebird’ (the name has changed, now the name is ‘Convent’). Because that is the place where I debuted.
How much money do you make being an independent musician? Is it possible to make a living?
I earn money in three types of ways – teaching, live performance, and bandcamp! Music royalties are so little, so it really possible only to ‘survive’ lol. These days, I really appreciate my overseas fans because they bought my tracks in BandCamp and super support me! So I’m really happy and that’s why I want to make more higher quality tracks for them. I think, my biggest customers in BandCamp are overseas fans! ❤
Did many more people buy your music on Bandcamp after you were featured on my top 30 list?
Yes yes absolutely yes! So much support from you and my new fans!
You say that you make some money from teaching. What type of music do you teach? Where can readers in Korea get lessons from UZA? Also have you considered teaching online (via webcam)?
I’m teaching for amateurs 🙂 and I have been teaching for the Korean army for 2 years (currently in progress). I teach guitar, piano, vocals and electronic music (making beats, and layering). In my lesson, they can have fun and also get a view of the value of music. I haven’t considered teaching online because I don’t think anyone can learn from me online. lol
What kind of opportunities are there for you to become more famous playing independent music?
I think, I have to make more videos for those who don’t know me yet. I like making the tracks and (live performance) video, so I’m a heavy user on YouTube, where I manage my own channel. However, I always think that I’m an artist first, so I should think more about the nature of my music than the fame. I only make video or remix tracks of what I want to make. 🙂
Do you think there is a lot of pressure on artists in Korea to have a strong visual image?
There’s not a big pressure for me personally, but I think anyone needs to do this. In my opinion, art is compound stuff. So if I want to show myself as an artist, I have to make an intense image to complement my musical artistic ideas.
Do you think Korea is a better or a worse place to be an independent artist than other countries?
That is a really hard question to answer because I haven’t been living other countries, so I’m just judging by hearsay about the system in other countries. In my case, I think it’s not a good place to be an independent artist, because so many people here don’t care about intellectual property, they just use Korean streaming apps or sites. I think the Korean musical property system is so weird, that’s why I never use Korean streaming system. Although I have some albums distributed in Korea, I do not put them on Korean streaming sites at an exorbitant price separately. This is my only rule, it is not my role as a composer to use those sites to take the most money. Also I think many people don’t want to search for new artists. Of course they don’t have to, but because of this I think that it is not a good situation for independent artists in Korea.
What do you think is the best thing about the Korean music industry right now?
Umm, I don’t know… (I sometimes think, I wonder where I can find good things to say about the music industry!) However it seems like people are starting to care more about different kinds of music from Korea.
Many people who want to get into the Korean music business want to become idols. Is this something that you ever considered, or did you always want to go the independent route?
When I was super young (10~18), I wanted to be a famous like Shakira or Britney or Rihanna, but I changed my mind when I was 20 years old. I really want to be an ‘artist’ these days, so I want to continue to go the independent route with my music and my art.
What was it that made you change your mind?
I was an independent person, I changed my mind because I felt that if I wanted to be an idol, I would have to satisfy the needs of others, not myself.
Will there ever be a UZA music video?
I have a particular interest in video. I always study a lot in making my music video. I want my work done well, so I’m preparing to lead the video directing well. I hope I can bring my album and video as soon as possible.
Who are your favourite artists right now, both within and outside of Korea?
In Korea – Aseul ❤ (a.k.a Yukari). Outside – Sakima and Chase Atlantic ❤
What plans do you have for the future?
In addition to the UZA&SHANE album this year, I am also working to make a personal album for UZA. I wanted to refresh my mind with a new mood, so I threw away all the songs I had made previously. It’s taking longer to do it this way and it’s more effort, but it’s also more rewarding to start all over again. I will be able to see my episode 1 album without fail this year. I hope many people can look forward to my new album!
What would you like to see change in Korea for independent artists?
I hope all artists can live a life free from pressure while avoiding publicity. Hopefully, artists will be allowed to escape from the unique criticism of Korea and spend much more time creating an indifferent, creative style.
That’s all for this edition of Kpopalypse interview! Are you, or do you know someone who is or was involved in the world of Korean music and who would make a good Kpopalypse interview subject? If so, get in touch!