Interview: Hae.zy on the creation of her debut ‘Love letter EP’
Hae.zy is an emerging Korean American artist who is releasing her debut EP, Love letter, on April 28th. I had the chance to chat with Hae.zy about the release of her EP as well as her influences and hopes for the future. Check out our review for Love letter EP here.
This interview has been edited for clarity and concision.
Could you begin by introducing yourself?
My name is Hae.zy. I’m from Boston, but I’m now in Los Angeles. I am a Korean American. I came here when I was three years old and I’ve been living the American Dream ever since! (laughs)
What kind of message do you want listeners to hear when they listen to your music? You talk about Love being a Higher Source–could you talk about how you came to believe that?
Love letter is the title of the EP, and Love represents God and the higher source of whatever we call it. And I believe Love is like the highest frequency we can share, and it’s the most powerful frequency in this world. It’s very crucial to our life.
Each song represents something different. I wrote “The lesson” when there were a lot of little young kids separated from families because of the border wall that Trump created. I felt something, so I felt like I needed to write something. I remember praying about it because I was very upset about that.
Every song on the EP was co-created with God, so all the messages and feelings I was taking in I was writing down and expressing it because my higher-source God gave me the clarity to do that.
Each song represents a different story. One song I wrote is called “mong,” which means dream in Korean, and that song was about a pregnancy dream that my mom had and shared with me about when she was pregnant with me. That was also something like God sending a message to me. I have another song called “Love will always be found,” and that’s just about God and how we kind of get lost in the sauce in our society. It’s not to say who’s right or wrong, but I feel the only thing that can keep us grounded and balanced is God. And if people feel better to call God “Love,” then I feel that it is the most gentle and tender way to go about God.
Because we all believe in Love. We might not believe in God, Allah, or whoever, but we all believe in Love… so that’s something I decided to go with.
You mentioned that pregnancy dream in “mong” and its ties to Korean superstitions. Could you elaborate on the song’s inspirations?
My mom said that when she had the dream, she was walking in the desert and was really thirsty and tired. But as she kept walking, she saw this big tree. This tree had so many fruits, like apples, pears and melons. And in Korean superstition, if a tree has more than one fruit, it shows feminine energy. So that was a sign of my mom having a daughter. And if the tree has one fruit, it signifies having a son. That’s how she knew she was having a daughter.
But she also mentions that in the dream, she felt was hopeless and tired at first, then hope and love for the baby after seeing the tree. I thought that was powerful. My mom shared this with me during the pandemic, and it really affirmed to me what my life purpose was: to just go for Love. It was a spiritual moment when my mom shared that. I was like, “Wow that gives me the drive to live more.”
With your EP, as with your press material and album cover, you’re constantly using mirrors as a visual theme in your work. What is it about mirrors that draw you to them?
I use the mirror to look at myself. This is how I am. There’s a lot of negative things I’ve heard about mirrors, like they’re a representation of evil. [There are] a lot of conspiracies with Disney movies and what they’re teaching little kids and stuff, but I wanted to take that narrative and put it away. I just wanted to show myself as I am. This album is strictly for me. Not to please nobody else but for me to be like, “This is me and I’m going to be okay with it, so take me.”
And I called it Love letter because I’m being very vulnerable with who I am and what I believe, which is Love. I wanted to make it a mirror image of who I am. I think that’s what [the mirror] really represents.
In your press release you write that your music is influenced by artists like Amy Winehouse, Erykah Badu, and Ari Lennox. How have they shaped your sound as an artist, and also as a listener?
I think the biggest influence for me, since I was young, was Amy Winehouse. She was just a jazz singer, a very talented jazz singer that got caught up in fame, but not by choice. People were just mesmerized by her energy and talent so they put her up on this pedestal as a celebrity. But she just strictly wanted to sing at a jazz bar and connect with people. She didn’t even want anything crazy. And I think her story really resonated with me. I have so much respect for her.
For her to channel all her life experiences, the realness and rawness in her music, but also how she is because everyone knew she had problems. But she wasn’t scared of it. She’s like, “Yo, we all have problems but let me write a love song about what happened to me. Let me tell you the tea but in the most artistic and creative way.” And I think that soul really resonates with me. I want to be like that.
You want to be able to speak your truth, like in an artistic way.
Yeah, and not have other people mold me–like me being me. I can only mold myself and that’s what [Amy] really embodied–that confidence and no one can tell you what to do. And especially as an Asian woman I definitely want to do that because Asian women are so molded. My family is very old-school, so it’s like “follow the man of the household”-type mentality. I was always having a problem with that. I clashed with a lot of male authorities because of that and it’s just dark. I think a lot of Asian people in the Western music industry have already paved a way for me, so I think this is a perfect time for me to be like, “Hey what’s up,” to the world because it’s already been paved.
How does your identity as an Asian American influence your music, especially when you speak out on cultural matters?
There’s a lot of things that influence me as an Asian American, but the main thing I would say is that being an Asian American woman in the music industry is quite different. I think there’s that stigma that the music industry is predominantly male–white male too–but even working in the Asian music industry (because I interned at an Asian music label) the level hierarchy between male and female is very present there.
I’m more hyper-aware and I have to be more confident when I’m in those environments. It used to be intimidating, but now I feel I’m not intimidated which is why I feel like now is the perfect time. I think I’m very confident with who I am now. I love my Asian-ness, I love my culture, and I love the people that paved the way for me. The traditions that we have are very important to who I am and my spirituality, so it kind of affects everything–from how I present myself to the music industry to the general audience.
I definitely want representation to be at the forefront. I’m also in the process of finishing my second music video for one of the songs in the album. I have my sisters [in] there and they’re all Asian women but representing different places. I want so many different kinds of representation of the Asian community and to know we’re all the same and we all connect in some way.
Who would you say your ideal audience is? Since you said your EP is primarily for yourself. Who would you like to be able to reach?
I want all these messages to go out to the world because it’s just for my Asian brothers and sisters. It’s for everyone as a human being because I think love and God and spirituality–those things exist everywhere. I think the more people know about it the better. My dream and greatest desire is to have these messages reach all over the world. But that’s also a really scary thought for me. Sometimes I’m like, “Dang I don’t know if I can do that.”
Just the thought of that gives me anxiety, with so many people. But if I think about it in a way where I’m just a messenger, I’m just a vessel here to be used and to connect with others just like me that grounds me. So my goal is to just connect with people and share stories.
I wanted to ask about the melodies. As a violinist I tend to focus on the melodies in songs. I really loved the melody you created for “mong.” When you write your song, do you write the melody first or do you just flow with the lyrics?
No, actually I hum out the melody first, then I write the lyrics to match the melody and rhythm. As a vocalist I learned vocal training from school so my ear is better than my brain. But when it comes to music theory, I am trash. (laughs)
But with hearing and melodies, I thank God for that because it helps me write songs. And that’s just what I do. I do melody first then lyrics.
And what comes after that? Do you produce the music yourself?
The producer for this album is Hanwoo. She’s a Korean American producer as well. She and I met at Berklee and we graduated the same year. We were in the room for “mong” in her studio and she just made a beat. She’s a drummer so she put the drum beats first, then she made the rest of the beat. For this one I was more proactive. I wanted to use my voice as an instrument in the song, so all the background vocals were me. I was just like, “Hey do you think this sounds good?” and she’s like, “Yes let’s cut it and put it in all those things.” It turned out really dope. We did it together.
What has your musical journey been like over the years? You say you grew up with music and went to Berklee. When did you realize you enjoyed singing and songwriting?
I started singing when I was in 8th grade and I started singing at church and school choirs. I was in the background all the time, but when I sang solo, many people said my voice blessed them. And I took that as a sign that this is something I can go into. Before that I thought I was going to go into the medical field.
I pursued music from there. Music just started falling so easily in my life. I started doing it and then I got to college, and I sang covers until sophomore year of college. I sang so many covers but it didn’t feel like me. I had one good friend at the time — her name’s Molly — she’s the one who taught me songwriting. She’s an incredible songwriter and she taught me how to be vulnerable, that songwriting is really just being vulnerable with yourself. That was so hard for me to do, but I finally did it. Once I did it I was like wow. Sometimes I look at the songs and can’t believe I wrote it. Because I really feel like I black out when I’m songwriting. I’m just so present in the moment that all those white noises don’t bother me.
When I’m performing someone else’s songs, all these voices of “You’re not doing it perfectly like how this person did it, you need to do better.” These perfectionist voices in my head ring so loud. But when it’s something I wrote I’m like, who could write this better than I can? It’s my story and it gives me confidence to express myself.
I started songwriting junior year of college and ever since, my journey [has become] more like an artist. I kind of knew I wanted to sing and pursue this career from singing at church. I had a couple encounters with God and just felt in my heart and spirit that this is what I’m supposed to do, to just run with it. Now that I’m here I can’t go back.
Love letter EP is out now on all streaming platforms.
Johan Qin is a writer based in Northern California. He is also a musician, artist, and avid fan of Asian pop music.