You may remember Isaac Hong (홍이삭) when he competed in Super Band 1 a few years ago, or perhaps recognise his soothing vocals from the many popular K-drama OSTs (“Pain” in “Happiness”, “I Think I Know” in “My Liberation Notes”) he’s sang in.
His latest music project sees him releasing his first English language album, an EP titled “everland” with jazz pianist Chin Sooyoung (진수영). The duo described this collaborative effort as a record of their conversations over piano. The EP features 4 new tracks – “her”, “everland”, “pages”, and “a bird” – in addition to “(n)everland” a pre-released track, and “her” (director’s cut).
Here’s a brief rundown of the inspiration behind each track:
- “her” – Inspired by the 2013 film “Her” starring Joaquin Phoenix. “The instant I heard the melody, I imagined someone walking alone on a dim street,” Sooyoung shared that he imagined a pale blue color, like that of a dawn.
- “everland” – A diary-like song about a boy who wants to find love and happiness but struggles to do so
- “pages” – A mash-up of the pair’s complexities and brainstorming.
- “a bird” – “It’s like my prayer. I’m shouting to heaven, desperately howling my heart out to be heard,” Isaac told TKH.
We recently had the chance to chat with Isaac Hong about how the “everland” EP came about, his relationship with Chin Sooyoung, what he wants to do with his craft moving forward, and more. Scroll down to read more:
1. Hi Isaac, congrats on the release of your English EP. Could you walk us through the writing process for the “Everland” EP? How did you guys come up with the concept?
Thank you so much! The whole process of this album was a result of hard work, but it was incredibly rewarding. This album is a collaboration with pianist Sooyoung Chin. Interestingly, I didn’t know him until a few weeks before we started working together. It all began with a photographer named Rie, who took separate pictures of both of us on different occasions. One day, she suggested that we should meet and talk. A few days later, we met, and our conversations led to more opportunities to connect. Eventually, we decided to work on our music together.
On the day we decided to meet, we started around 11 am and finished working around 11 pm. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel like work at all. It was more like an enjoyable science project. We delved into discussions about life, music, and shared our preferences and aspirations for future projects. These small talks gradually developed into musical ideas. I would sing some parts, and Sooyoung would play the piano, and we would react and build upon these small elements.
We continued this collaborative work for a few months and realized that we had a few good songs for an album. I focused on developing the lyrics and melodies, while Sooyoung mostly worked on the arrangements and instrumental parts. This collaborative effort resulted in the creation of ‘Everland’.
2. How are “her”, “everland,” “pages” and “a bird” connected to one another? Or are they completely unrelated?
I firmly believe that the ideas, instruments, and arrangements that came from just the two of us are interconnected. The lyrics, musical stories, and narratives within the album are intertwined to create a cohesive whole. From a personal perspective, the lyrics hold a significant meaning as they originate from my own emotions. Upon reflection, it becomes clear that the subconscious themes woven throughout these songs evoke a specific type of longing. Whether it is a longing for love, a thirst for dreams, or a desperate cry of prayer, these sentiments draw out my deepest desires, often unspoken outside of my comfort zone.
3. How many songs were written for this EP and how did you narrow it down to these 4 tracks?
Before finalising the album, we initially wrote around 8 to 9 songs. However, we narrowed it down to four tracks. Although some songs were initially written with a focus on the guitar or other instruments, given that this is a collaboration with a pianist, we decided to make the piano the sonic centerpiece of the album.
4. Which track from the album took the longest to finish and why?
The song ‘Her’ took the longest to complete. While the idea and concept were there, I struggled to find the musical narrative for the song. I continually asked myself, ‘What is this song about? What is it that I want to say?’ However, I can confidently say that the time we dedicated to this song has paid off.
5. About the title track, “Everland”, what made you decide to release an English version of “(N)everland”?
Language is truly fascinating. It can change the way we think and express ourselves based on its structure. Interestingly, I didn’t consciously choose a language to write the song in. Instead, I naturally gravitated towards English as I searched for the most natural expression.
6. Could you talk about the decision to remove the “(n)” in the title for the English version?
Initially, the song was titled ‘Everland’ when I first wrote it. Ironically, when I wrote it in Korean, I added the character ‘(n)’ to the title. I wanted to showcase the subtle differences between the Korean and English lyrics in terms of expression and storytelling. The imagery conveyed by the noun marker ‘(n)’ felt particularly fitting and appealing.
7. From our understanding, “Everland” is about a boy struggling to find love and happiness while “(N)everland)” depicts more of his conflict between reality and dreams. How do you compare both songs?
In my view, both songs tell the same narrative. It’s about a boy who desires to remain a child and resents the responsibilities of adulthood. Yet, they must confront the realities that come with growing up, leading to feelings of dissatisfaction and regret. I believe this is the common thread shared by these two songs. However, when it comes to language, I feel that the Korean language I use tends to express inward storytelling, while English may lean more towards outward expression.
8. Could you share more about your relationship with Chin Sooyoung? What makes this dynamic so special?
Sooyoung Chin and I are quite different in various aspects. Our personalities, approaches to interacting with people, and the musical paths we pursue are all distinct. However, I believe that true understanding and connection between individuals are not solely based on shared preferences but rather a common perspective on life. It was during our collaboration that we discovered a shared approach to music, and I believe this synergy greatly influenced our creative process.
9. You’ve sung on many OSTs for K-dramas. How is the writing process like?
Although I would like to claim that I wrote all the songs I sang for OSTs, ironically, the OSTs I am currently singing are not my own compositions. Perhaps my role as a singer, Hong Isaac, takes precedence. Of course, if the opportunity arises, I would also love to participate in OSTs as a composer, but it seems that the timing is not right just yet.
10. Are there plans to release more English music? Or is the next album going to be in Korean?
Given the chance, I would love to sing in English. Nowadays, I embrace a more unrestricted approach to expression and experiences in my life. Regardless of the genre, my aim is to convey the stories I want to tell in the most authentic way that resonates with me. Whether it involves language or religion, my goal is to use music as a medium to depict my thoughts and experiences without holding back. I hope to have the capacity to create music in diverse languages, allowing me to express my life fully and honestly.