I am incredibly honored to feature Jae Jin for this month’s interview with My Music Canvas. Jae Jin is a singer-songwriter from Baltimore, MD, and has been gaining rapid attention for his music worldwide. Letters & Drinks, his third and most recent music release has received over half a million streams on Spotify in its first month, and he has since been nominated for the Hollywood Music in Media Awards.
As an independent artist, Jae Jin has self-released two full length albums, Kairos (2015), Letters & Drinks (2018), and one EP, Baltimore Boulevard (2017).
Jae Jin does a phenomenal job of storytelling and painting beautiful imageries through honest lyrics in Letters & Drinks. The twelve track album that was released earlier this summer is beautifully written and interwoven with songs of love, pain and hope. Each vocal filler, falsetto, percussion clap, acoustic and piano riff, string and brass instrument heard throughout the album plays a beautiful part in conveying the tones and expressions of what he is trying to convey emotionally through his lyrics.
I personally had a lot of fun putting these questions together and hope you’ll enjoy getting to know this talent. My intentions with the interviews on here is so that fans new and old and visitors alike will get to know the artist featured in a more personal way. I highly encourage you to play his ‘Letters & Drinks,’ album in the background for the ultimate experience in audibly putting a voice to the artist behind these words and photos!
Speakers up, ready? Here we go!
What are three adjectives your friends would describe you as?
Passionate, intense and confident.
Do you have a favorite K-pop group/artist?
What countries have you performed in?
Outside of America, I did a 9 concert tour in South Korea, and did a few shows in Singapore. I also performed in London and also in Paris.
How did you first get into writing?
I have been writing all my life from a young age. In terms of writing music and songwriting, that came a bit later in life and more seriously once I began my music journey. I think for the first KAIROS album, I wrote most of my songs first before melodies and top lines were formed, but for the more recent album, there was a nice mixture.
What inspired the theme of your album, ‘Letters and Drinks?’
I tell people my name is Jae Jin like the letter (J) and the drink (gin). But there is a significance behind both letters and drinks. Over the past 4 years, I had committed to send hand-written letters to many people every week.
There is something powerful about sitting down to write a letter carefully, without making an error. You then have to be meticulous with each letter that you choose and carefully map out how you’ll set up the sentence you’ll carefully write out in ink. Also, I love how libations bring people together and allow for amazing conversation. Whether its a nice dram of whiskey or a warm cup of coffee, it creates an avenue of connection.
Which song off the album is your favorite and why?
I always feel that these questions are quite hard, because I narrowed down to these perfect 10 songs each for a different specific reason why they ended up making the cut on this album. I do think a darkhorse track that I really love is Wild Child (track 4), because it’s a fun, weird sounding track, but the message behind it is quite deep.
Who are you singing to in, Six Feet Above?
I wrote this song for a dear friend who passed away last year by suicide. I wanted to create an honest, vulnerable song that touches upon all the different emotions one goes through when one loses someone close to them. There is guilt. There is sadness. There is anger. And then you find that there are so many other emotions, too. I also didn’t want to just come to some sort of conclusion. When it comes to a human life, there are just so many dimensions to life and death, and if you love someone, even in death, they are able to live on through memories and the impact they made on others.
What is the story behind, One Last Light?
That is the very last song on the album (track 12) and I initially had named my album, One Last Light, almost to attempt to create a full-length album that I would be proud of if it was my very last album ever. Obviously, I hope to release more music, but it really gave me this sense of purpose in being more intentional about the 12 tracks I brought to fruition with the help of my dear friend and producer, Tim. The song itself, is about my own struggles with depression and suicide through various seasons of my life. I actually did a really cool podcast for Mentally Ch(ill) in Los Angeles earlier this year where I spoke more about it. You can listen to it HERE.
Were you thinking of anyone specifically while writing 11:11?
No, I wanted to create a love song with the creative songwriting focusing on the concept of “making wishes.”
Which song off the album did you have the most fun collaborating with/recording?
I had a lot of fun recording, Atmosphere (track 3), because it had so many layers of live instruments including live orchestra. It’s a great arrangement full of so many layers of intricate details.
If you could describe, Letters & Drinks as a color, what color would it be and why?
I almost feel like the album is like a rainbow with each song being a different color in its own right. But if I had to commit, I’d choose indigo blue. I had a song called, Indigo Road on my Baltimore Boulevard EP and it highlighted my favorite color. It is my favorite because blue signifies a wide array of feelings. Some say, “I’m feeling blue,” to express sadness, while others point to “blue skies” to signify positive optimism. So, I’d choose indigo blue!
I love the color and musical surprises that comes with each song: different elements of violin riffs, claps, horn, whistles, and chimes. Did anyone contribute to the creative production of the album or were these all birthed in your mind?
I worked on this album with my dear producer, Tim, (Tim Be Told). He’s a creative genius and he helped take my ideas to the next level. He’s also been a dear friend of mine for almost a decade and I trust him wholeheartedly. The two of us came together to work out this album and I was so happy with the final product.
Right now, you have released 3 studio albums. If you could describe each album with one adjective or phrase, what would it be?
How long did the writing and production take for this album? What were some of the obstacles during the process?
Honestly, for the writing, I had written all of the songs by the time I arrived in studio to record, but there was some fine-tuning and re-tweaking that definitely had to occur. As for production, the time-line was tight. I had made a last minute decision once I received my award from the WeWork Creator Award to put all of it into getting a full-length album done ASAP. So pre-production to post-production was mapped out at less than 3 months and surprisingly came together the way it was meant to.
As a songwriter, what is your greatest strength?
I think every great songwriter has something to say. I emphasize the SOMETHING because not everyone TRULY has something to say. But the songwriters I respect, really do have something they can put out into the universe that will make a deep impact on those who hear the songs. I do believe I have a lot to say and the most exciting part of my journey thus far is that the things I want to say continues to grow as I grow. Thus I think my strength is having a myriad of life experiences that give me a challenging task of creating something that can be palatable and universal enough, yet not too specific that only a few can relate.
What is an area in music that you’d like to grow in?
I’ve always wanted to become a better musician and so I work day by day to become better at guitar, piano, etc. I’m even learning electric guitar now to bring my live shows to another different level. I also think it’s important as a creator to know how to play everything, so you have an idea of arrangement and how you want things to sound.
What do you do when you have writer’s block and what does it take to get back into writing and making music?
I suppose writer’s block is when you run into a wall with solid writing ideas. That’s a part of the process of creativity. What it takes is to simply keep writing. Even if you’re writing crap or writing things that you know won’t necessarily make it onto a song. You just do it. Sometimes, I’ll even write letters to myself or to friends or even to God and usually that helps me break through. In the end, inspiration comes at different points in time. It’s important to be ready to write with excellence when those times come.
Is there a music genre you would love to try experimenting with in the future?
I’m not against doing things I haven’t done. I do think I’ll dive into lending vocals for EDM and maybe collaborate with some talented K-Pop folks, but in the end, it’s important for me to stay true to creating things that are excellent and timeless. In other words, I’m not saying I won’t do a song that aligns with the trends in the current place in time, but if I’m releasing music, I do want it to be excellent whether people hear it now or 25 years down the road.
How do you want to establish yourself as a recording artist?
I don’t try to worry too much about how others perceive me. In the end, as an artist, I think I’ll always feel misunderstood. But I also know that I want to CHALLENGE people. If they’re inspired or encouraged, that’s great. But I don’t really want to care too much what people think. I do want to challenge people to think in a different way than society or social constructs make them normally think.
Now that your album is out on the market, do you have any upcoming tours?
I’ve currently been on hiatus from touring as I was taking on a new opportunity but that’s wrapped up so I’m going to start figuring out how to set up a tour wherever I can get.
Who are some mainstream artists you’d love to open for/tour with?
Some mainstream artists I’d love to open for are Allen Stone, Matt Corby, Ray LaMontagne, Marc Broussard, and PJ Morton.
Do you have hopes to eventually be ‘signed’ to a major/indie label?
If it was a major label, I think the contract would have to be pretty favorable one for me to consider it. The people involved would also play a major factor. Indie labels are also changing drastically. Right now, while it’s extremely difficult, there has never been a better time to be an independent musician, so right now, my main focus is to continue to create excellent content with like-minded, passionate creators, and self-release it until I make enough noise and am able to get the right distribution deals to get my music out to even more people.
You’ve struggled with depression and suicide. What has been the biggest source of encouragement or hope during this time?
Whether people admit it or not, depression is a part of the human experience. It is human to feel a wide range of emotions, and that includes sadness. I don’t necessarily think its healthy to hold back emotions or to remove them. I do think some people need to be able to control them so again, it depends on the individual.
For me, where I am at this point in my life, is that no matter the circumstances, I have a sense of peace always. So I know the highs and the lows will come and go, but I have joy. The source of this is my faith as a follower of Christ. I aim to love God and to love others. I meet others where they are at, especially given that we are all going to have different journeys.
Can you share a little about your health condition and how it’s affected your outlook in life and also your music? How do you feel it’s restricted you in your everyday?
While my illness does play a role in who I have become and the experiences that have shaped me, I made a decision before I started my journey to not let any aspect of it become a hindrance on my life moving forward. Medical science might state certain things about my life expectancy and what might occur sooner rather than later, but I don’t give those things any power over me. I am living life to the fullest with a sense of urgency and it has made all the difference in the here and now. Another way to think about it, is that I have taken the past to use it to be more intentional about my present, and let go of my future.
To answer the second question, my illness and health does not restrict me in any way at all. It fuels me.
If my story encourages or inspires others, that’s great, but the thing I try to focus on is to have my life and music challenge others. If they can be challenged to be more intentional about their time here on this earth and to be more intentional about the relationships and people around them, then that’s amazing. Furthermore, a person’s vocation/calling is always a tricky situation. But the more people I meet, I realize that the biggest hindrance to someone’s potential is oftentimes, their own mind.
You also act on the side. How did you decide to pursue acting?
I kind of fell into acting and am grateful for the opportunities I continue to receive. Initially, I was brought on as a Principle in House of Cards on Netflix for an episode, but my time on set and speaking with the director and casting directors was influential. They suggested that I had a type of energy that I should really give it a go if I can. So I did, and then won a lead role in a short film that ended up playing at the Atlanta Film Festival earlier this year. I became SAG and am currently in talks and planning to audition for a few feature film roles.
As an actor, what would be your most ideal role?
My ideal roles would involve breaking the typical stereotypes. I don’t think I can play a “pretty boy” character or a “nice Asian guy” role. I’d prefer to do roles similar to what Tom Hardy takes on. Complicated, dark/broken, and intense but always with a side of humor, even if its dark.
Any last words?
I’m so very grateful for opportunities like this where people want to actually hear my inner thoughts and workings. Thank you for what you do to give artists a platform to be heard and to be better understood.
Currently calling L.A his new home, Jae Jin is actively seeking for more opportunities to share his music and use his platform to share his story.
‘Letters & Drinks’ is the perfect soundtrack to the ears as we enter into fall season. Oftentimes known to be a reflective season, a transitional one for some, and to others, the season of looking for love, one can probably agree that it sometimes leaves us in a deep and pensive mood. A longing for something more, purpose, love. This album is sweet, nostalgic and even the sorrowful lyrics in a few tracks are delicately and beautifully uplifting.
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