Given the spatial and temporal dissolution of the Georgetown community this fall, we’ve adapted our Spotlight features to bring music to our community, rather than necessarily reflecting D.C. as a location. It was a privilege to speak with Korean-American artist Hunjiya about her music and her thoughts on art. You can listen to Hunjiya’s latest EP, FOLD, on Spotify, Apple Music, Youtube and other streaming services.
How did you come to be involved with music?
I think I began to take it seriously, as in wanting to pursue music, when I was about 16. I’ve always done musical things throughout my life but I never really considered it an option for a career until I bought my ukulele. It was, like, $20 o! of Amazon, and I was just covering songs. Then I transitioned to guitar and to writing my own songs. I’d kept my music on the low until I applied for a program called YoungArts in Miami — it’s basically just a multidisciplinary program where kids from the US gather to do masterclasses and everything. I think that’s where not only I but my parents began to take my ability to pursue music as a career more seriously. Then I went to music school and I decided to release my own music online.
You not only write your songs, but produce them. Do you like one or the other better? Are they one in your mind?
In the beginning, I was just songwriting. Then, I wanted to record my songs just to have them for myself, so I learned how to record. For me, it kind of goes hand and hand now. One isn’t more important than the other. But definitely when I need to hone my production skills, I’ll only do that. Lately, I’d say I’m doing a lot more producing than writing.
Do you have any big inspirations in music or sound?
I listen to a lot of music and it definitely changes every day in terms of what I’m inspired by. I’m always trying to find new things. The staples I go back to are Frank Ocean, bon iver, Lianne La Havas — she was the one who really pushed me to want to learn more guitar. At the time when I was starting guitar, I wasn’t seeing a lot of guitar female singer-songwriters who did more soul/R&B based stuff. So, her, and Moses Sumney, and Joni Mitchell. I would say those are all definitely up there.
Your artist moniker Hunjiya is your given Korean name, I believe?
Kind of. My given Korean name is Jyunji. Before Hunjiya, I was using ALICE K and I never really liked that name. Before my first official release, I wanted to change my name to something that had a bit more meaning. In Korean culture, if you’re close with someone, they will add -iya or -ee to the end of your name—sort of like a nickname. I always liked the way “hyunjiya” sounded and wanted to use it somehow in my stage name, but I tried to Americanize it since a lot of people would have a hard time pronouncing the “hyu”.
I like Hunjiya! I think it rolls of the tongue well.
Thank you! Though my mom always says she’s not sure if she really likes my name because apparently Hunji is another name for, like, old paper in Korean? I didn’t know that.
I wanted to ask about the projection of your music from Lineage to Look After August to FOLD. Do you see a trajectory of sorts or are you just creating in the moment?
Usually, I’m definitely creating in the moment in terms of what I’m listening to and what I’m inspired by. But yeah, Lineage. It’s funny because people assume that I started out as a folk singer of sorts — that album is very folky and acoustic. This is actually not the case. Lineage was out of my comfort zone. I made it in the middle of college, when I was just very inspired by listening to my grandparents’ stories while I was in Korea. I was there for a long time and it was the first time I was able to have full conversations with my grandparents. At the time I was also listening to a lot of folk music and I just felt like it fit with what I wanted to write about then. After that I wanted to start showing what I usually do which is more pop/R&B based. This new project, indigoworld, is a collaboration between me and my friend, Justin Trout. He makes a bit more electronic music so it’s our ideas combining together to make this pop, electronic, fusion thing.
What does being an artist mean to you?
Self expression and connecting with others. Entertainment and arts of any sort have been in humanity since the beginning of time and I do really find them necessary. People need joy and happiness, whether they’re releasing their emotions or hearing their favorite songs. For me it means being able to freely express yourself in a territory where, yes, you can be judged but art is so free that there’s something for everyone.
Art is something that I think is personal for the artist but also obviously out there for the public. As you said, it’s about self expression yet also connecting people. Do you think that gives artists a certain level of responsibility?
That’s a great question. Yes and no. As far as the responsibility to be a good influence—artists are humans who also make mistakes. I don’t think anybody should rely so heavily on one person’s opinion/actions whether they are an artist or not. Nowadays, social media makes it so easy to cancel people, but I don’t believe that’s the best way to keep people accountable. If anything, it’ll make those who’ve made mistakes, to further want to learn from them.
The responsibility of an artist can vary on what they choose take on. However, personally, I do believe that if you are passionate about certain issues, you have a platform to reach an audience, and know you could make a sizable difference, then there is some responsibility to encourage others to make some collective effort to help one another in this crazy world.
Are art and artists separable from each other?
I’m still trying to figure this out. I’ve had this discussion with a lot of my friends. In my opinion, you can appreciate a work of art as a separate identity. Although I throw all of my emotions into my work, I don’t want people to make assumptions (good or bad) of who I am as a person only through my music.
At the same time, I think if an artist has made a crucial mistake (ex: being abusive, not giving credit where it’s due, etc.) it’s up to the consumers to decide if they want to keep supporting the artist which means consuming their art. It’s a gray area for the answer to this question because it’s up to each individual to decide whether they want to separate or see it as one identity.
As a consumer of art and media, I don’t often think about an artist’s perspective on this question.
Yeah, but it’s important to remember you’re not just a consumer. This is a moral question, but artists are making for the consumers. So you have a say in the conversation.
With respect to your album covers, music videos, and promo photos, do you also play a role in the aesthetic display of your music? If so, how do you choose what to do?
As an independent artist, I definitely do take a large role in it. I’ve also done art even before I began doing music and it’s something I’m very passionate about. I like having control of the aesthetics. But also, as an independent artist, I’m the only one who’s running it and I can’t just hire people to do these things for me right now. I create all the album covers and do all the promotional stuff too. For photos, my friends help me take them. In terms of choosing what to do, I don’t know. It’s really just based on what I feel like the song looks like. For Look After August, I personally thought orange and blue — I don’t know why. I don’t have synesthesia, but it just sounded like that to me. A lot of it is just intuition.
As an independent artist, you are part of the process every step of the way. Is there one part that is harder or more tedious than another for you?
The best part of being a musical artist doing my own stuff is the creative portion, just because that’s the most in the moment I can get. Whether it’s performing or making the song, I’m only zoned into that and don’t think about anything else. The part that’s most tedious or kind of just not fun is doing all of the promotion and the emailing and trying to get PR and whatever. If I could not do any of that, that would be so fricking awesome. I think that’s why a lot of people scout out labels because there are people who can do that for you. As an independent artist, it’s hard to get your name out there anywhere, so it’s a lot of spending days just emailing a bunch of blogs that won’t respond to you or getting on playlists or whether you pay a different PR person to help you out. That’s the most difficult part that I’m still figuring out how to do.
Where can people find you, connect with you, and listen to your music?
Anywhere that you listen to music, you can find my music. My Instagram and Twitter are @hunjiya and I update the most on there.
Gene Kim is the Local Spotlight Editor and a sophomore in the College studying Theology.