Occupation: Musician, Illustrator, Writer, Photographer
Current release: Jinnwoo's new album dreamcreatures is out 3rd September via Square Leg.
Recommendations: Sam Pink’s collection “The Ice Cream Man and Other Stories” [book], “M” [painting] by Sebas Contreras.
If you enjoyed this Jinnwoo interview, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started making music when I was a teenager – I was in a sort of pop-punk band. We used to practise every Saturday morning in my parents' living room, and wear eye make-up. All our songs were about suicide and death-do-us-part love. We didn’t know much about either, just what we’d learnt from watching The OC and Avril Lavigne songs. But I loved the story telling, even in that very adolescent form. We made an album and gave it out at school.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I have very little technical ability, so I think I’m always trying to write my version of other songs, and they just come out wrong. It’s like following recipes for a really fancy dinner, then cooking it in a washing machine. I don’t have the right tools, so things just sort of come out in my voice. I’m learning to like it.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I guess there are queer and spiritual elements to a lot of what I do, which is a direct product of my identity. I don’t really feel like I have much choice in it. I’m a Millennial, so everything is about me, even if it isn’t.
My friend says it’s because I’m an Enneagram 4. I think it’s because I grew up watching Sex and the City and sometimes forget that people maybe don’t want to hear a monologue about my feelings. I couldn’t help but wonder …
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think confidence and fear have been big barriers for me. I used to have to drink a lot before I’d get on stage. On one of my first big support slots supporting Kyla La Grange, I drank so much that I remember performing and thinking to myself “don’t push the note too hard or you’ll throw up”.
I still get very nervous. I’ve pretty much stopped performing solo shows, I’d much rather perform with my other band Bird in the Belly.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
My first [non-shit] guitar was a gift from my then boyfriend. I’m not a confident guitarist, so I bought an autoharp, so I could focus more on the melody, rather than what my fingers were supposed to be doing.
Singing and writing lyrics is my main focus, I just want to streamline everything else as much as possible to stop it slowing those things down.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I have always seen both technology and instruments as a bit of a barrier. I’m not natural with either, and they intimidate me.
When it comes to recording, I have to work with other musicians and technicians to get what I want. It the past, that’s been really frustrating, as egos, and schedules and clashes of opinion can get in the way. That’s why its been so great working with Tom Pryor on the new record – he has zero ego, and a way of putting musicians as ease in his studio.
It also helps that he has a studio cat, and made me eat a lot of soup. I follow cats and free food.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I have collaborated with other artists a lot in the past – done a few features and had a lot of people feature on my work. I really enjoy the process, but I struggle to do it in person because I’m quite shy. I’d rather send emails back and forth so I can write and re-write, and people don’t have to see me fuck up in real time.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I work fulltime in the homeless sector, so the days are completely gone. I often think of little lines or ideas though, and text them to myself to work on later. Then when I have a big list of one liners and ideas, I try and force myself to sit down for an hour every day and write them up into full songs.
I have to have that strict approach with myself, like “Right, I’m going to sit at my computer and try and write for an hour every day. If I can’t think of anything to write, then I will just have to sit there staring at an empty screen for an hour”. If I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t do anything.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I think working with my producer Tom Pryor on the new album was a creative breakthrough for me. I had a few bad experiences making the first record – with both producers and labels. Then when I started making the second album, I had issues with producers again, and just got sick of the whole mess and shelved the record.
Tom had a very gentle approach to recording, he’s very laid back – he’d set me up to record demos, then leave me to it – wander around cleaning, or go to the shops. Then he’d take the demos and build on them. With my confidence being as low as it was, it was the only way I could have recorded really.
Tom also has a great way of capturing a raw moment, rather than trying to polish the life out of everything. I remember asking him if I could redo a line in a song, and he told me I could record the whole track again, or nothing. The album is better for it.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I wish I knew. I’m still working it out. I think I always wanted to be one of those writers who just sat down and it flowed out of them whilst they drank wine and took on lovers. But I need to sit down and really concentrate, I can’t be doing anything else, no one else can be in the room. It’s not pretty or romantic. It’s like giving birth to a table.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music is a very therapeutic thing I think. But also nostalgic and kind of cruel. I went through a break up recently, and it’s horrible how I can’t listen to certain songs anymore, or songs I used to love I sort of hear in a whole different way now, like I finally get what they are singing about.
Maybe that’s therapeutic too though, I don’t know.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think its hard not to borrow from, or be inspired by cultures around you that you find interesting. But I understand why that is a kick in the face to people sometimes. Especially when a culture that has been abused previously is taken on as a bit of a fashion statement, then dropped again when the new season is in.
I don’t know if there can be a regulated measurement of what’s acceptable or not. I guess a mixture of common sense and respect needs to be applied. But there is a world-wide shortage of that.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I guess songs or music that create images – remembered or imagined – have been important for me. Without meaning to sound wanky, a lot of songs just give me a feeling that reminds me of a certain time or person – I’m not sure if that would count as a “sense”.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I don’t purposely try and be political in my music – although I guess it might be taken that way because of its queer or spiritual elements. I understand why people make political or protest music, but for me personally, I like music to be an escape from politics as much as possible.
I know that’s probably not what I’m supposed to say, but politics find their way into so many elements of our lives, it makes me tired. I just want to hear people’s stories.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
My first album Strangers Bring Me No Light was essentially all about my dad dying, and no one bought it. I guess I’m not the person to ask.