Interview: How rising musicians Jong Lee (Peach Luffe) and Eunice Keitan are helping each other conquer the Toronto indie scene
After sitting down with Jong Lee and Eunice Keitan at a coffee shop, I realized how much their personalities complement each other—just like their musical styles and skills do. Eunice speaks softly and radiates warmth and positivity, while Jong is energetic—talking himself in a frenzy whenever topics like anime or music theory are brought up. They’re quite the interesting pair: Jong produced Eunice’s newest songs and even lent her some guitarwork on her latest release, while Eunice lent her soothing vocals onto Jong’s newest songs. It’s a symbiotic musical relationship that has produced some great music. What’s even more notable is that their musical collaboration sprouted from their friendship, not the other way around.
I had the chance to see the two of them in action during the debut of Eunice’s new single “Hope is a Bird” show at the B-side Lounge in Toronto. The space was small and intimate with many of their closest friends in attendance. In front of this tight-knit community, Eunice shared her own personal struggles with mental health, which inspired the healing message of the song. But the show itself served a dual purpose. It gave her a chance to bring people together as a way to talk about and reduce the stigma of mental illness—a cause Eunice is a huge proponent of.
Even though the two are such close friends and work well with one another, their musical journeys and styles couldn’t be any more different. Jong, for example, is a South Korean-born singer whose music lies in the realm of bedroom pop. His musical background started from classical music at an early age, which led to a bachelor’s degree in classical music later on. He’s already successfully recorded and produced several songs under the name Jong SL—only recently rebranding himself as Peach Luffe.
Eunice, on the other hand, has a more international sound as a result of growing up and travelling the world as a child. Her eclectic influences range from R&B, to jazz, to even Latin music. Eunice drew inspiration from the people and sounds she met along the way—seeing common struggles that united people across locations and culture. That insight inspired the creation of her previous EP, Where The Road Begins which was nominated for a Toronto Independent Music Award. With the release of “Hope is a Bird,” she’s continuing to use music as a tool to bring communities together.
Now that both Jong and Eunice are now both based in Toronto, I sat down and talked to them about their unique journeys, how they got into music, and their present and future goals for their work.
Jong Lee (Peach Luffe)
So how did you first get started in music and then later music production?
I started in violin just like any Korean kid. I started around the fourth grade and stuck with it for a while; I actually ended up majoring in college with it cause I didn’t know what else I was good at. But I was playing in bands as a guitarist the whole time. The production started when the bands I were in wanted more control of their sound and not have to depend on other producers or mixing engineers. So I started learning Logic Pro which is a digital workstation software… and I think I got pretty good after eight years of it.
The mixing is relatively new in the last three years because I was confident in mixing other people’s stuff but not in mixing my own. Cause after you make a song, record it, write it, and practice it, you don’t hear it properly anymore. But now I have other friends that help me with that for reference. I started singing about four years ago because I was going to make songs for other people, but I didn’t want to write lyrics and then have someone else sing my songs.
Do you play all the instruments in your songs?
All of them except the drums! The drums are computer generated, but they sound pretty good at this point. I think I’ve gotten to a point where I can kinda fake it and you can’t really tell—at least to the average listener.
You rebranded recently from Jong SL to Peach Luffe. What’s the story behind the name, and why the rebrand?
Have you heard this anime called One Piece? My name is based off the main character, “Luffy.” I can’t copy his name completely or I’ll get sued or destroyed, so I just tweaked it a bit. I always wanted an artist name, an alias to go by, but I couldn’t think of anything while I was releasing stuff so I just released it under my name. But I like the word “peach” and I like the character “Luffy.” He’s really dumb and clumsy like me but he’s also very good at certain things and very determined, which I want to be. I can be a little air-headed sometimes. The rebrand will happen more as time goes on, so I don’t want to force something that I don’t feel is me.
Who are your musical influences and role models?
I really like artists like Coldplay, Mac Demarco, and John Mayer, as well as the new indie DIY scene that’s happening. I just like music with interesting chords and textures to it. I’m not really a rhythmic person, but I like the textures of songs as opposed to the rhythms.
You’ve mentioned that you hope to gain citizenship through you career as an artist. What is that process like and how is that going?
Yeah, so it’s pretty different. There is no one I know who has actually done it, which is kind of frightening but I’m on three-year work permit so I just have to make enough money as a musician to survive or live. It’s a little bit of pressure but the pressure can be good motivation.
Do you have any advice for people who want to do the same?
Marry a Canadian!
How did you first get started in music?
So like Jong, I started when I was really young. I started playing piano around four, and as a teenager I got expelled from music school because I always wanted to do things my own way. The classical music they taught was more structured but I always wanted to create my own chords and experiment. They would give me homework to write a song according to their structure and afterwards I would always come back with something different than what they wanted. The school had a reputation as a classical school so I guess that they wanted everyone to conform to their standards, but the creative part of me was not able to stay in that box.
Although I started music when I was really young, I would move around a lot with my family so I would start and stop a lot as we moved. But there was a chunk of time when I was a teenager where I was able to take classes for a longer period of time in a more structured environment—but apparently I don’t do well with structure.
I started a punk band band in high school where we went into the studio and the sound engineer there told me that I had potential and could do something with it. That was what first inspired me to actually do something with my music, and from then on I started to explore my sound a lot more.
You’ve travelled a lot throughout your life. How have your experiences shaped your music?
I like being able to connect with people through music, so wherever I travel I try to learn a little bit more about their culture through their music. A lot of the times I can’t speak the language so the best way to really connect is through music. I think I also gravitate towards sounds that are more unique, so I try to use whatever I’ve learned or heard to make my own music.
You’ve probably heard that some of my songs have a Spanish influence—that’s because I’m married to a Colombian! We’ve travelled to Colombia and his family are all musicians, so a lot of the influences I’ve had lately are from Latin America because I’ve found they have a very strong music culture and also a great appreciation of the arts. My influences are also from Southeast Asia since I grew up in Malaysia and Singapore. I use these sounds to push my music in different directions and to explore other ways of writing music.
Who is a musical role model of yours?
The one person I look up to a lot is Jeff Buckley, mainly because of his voice and the type of energy that he puts into his songs. My music is very chill but there are bits of it that also very raw and soulful. That’s stuff I learned from listening to Jeff—how to use your voice to convey the message that you really want.
What was the motivation and inspiration behind your new song “Hope is a Bird”?
This song is essentially about struggling with depression but finding hope again within community. I think that apart from the general misconceptions and stigmas attached to depression and mental illness, there is an additional pressure as an Asian. I feel like we are worried about “saving face” a lot of the time—concerned with how things reflect on our family, culture, and community. I’ve found in general, the Asian community is not too open with emotions and feelings are thought of as not being “efficient,” so to say. This can make the healing journey even more challenging. This song tries to cover all of those feelings and helped me process a lot that I was thinking of, while at the same time expressing gratitude for the people I met along the way who reached out to me when I was in my darkest moments.
My journey with mental health started when I was four. All through the years I’ve seen the process and how society and my community deals with every stage. Even up to now, I think in the Asian community whenever I talk or others talk about mental health, its still under hushed tones and I hear a lot of phrases such as “that person was too sensitive.” I think there’s a lot of conversations that still need to be had, and the more we don’t talk about it the more people are going to suffer.
What was the idea behind the video for the song?
The idea behind the video is that mental illness and depression are universal experiences—something that anybody could experience at some point in their lives. I wanted to showcase a community of all different types of people to sing one line each in the song to convey that it can be a shared experience. Mental illness and depression are things everyone can relate to but they can also relate to hope, specifically finding hope in community.
Jong & Eunice
How did you two first meet and start collaborating?
Jong: We’ve known each other for about a year and a half at this point as friends, but I don’t remember how we first came to work on music together.
Eunice: I think we met through a mutual friend and became friends, it was through our friendship at some point we decided to work on music together. I guess it was so natural! I had a song and I knew Jong was doing production at that time so I asked him to help me out. I actually just said “can you put some guitar lines on this” and he came back with a full arrangement and I was blown away.
Jong: I’m honored that you would trust me and risk that! The song was really good to begin with so it was not hard to add layers to the song since the foundation was already solid.
Eunice: I actually do not know most of the time what I am playing. I know in general the type of sound I want and I experiment until I find something that works. When it comes to making chord charts and telling people what I’ve played, it becomes hard. So it helps to have someone like Jong with a strong technical musical knowledge who can analyze and explain the music better.
What do you admire about each other?
Jong (to Eunice): I like how relaxed you are. You seem like a perfectionist but at the same time you’re very relaxed about it – it’s a good balance. We did a show together, I played guitar and it was the sound guy’s first time and the sound at this venue was bad. Eunice was so chill about it… if it was my show I’d be angry but I like how calm she was.
Another thing is that Eunice is always in tune. Out of everybody I’ve worked with she is the most in tune. She did her vocals and guitar at her house and sent me the raw files and it was perfect, I don’t know how many times those took but I didn’t have to do anything!
Can we expect more collaborations in the future?
Eunice: I hope so!
Jong: For sure! It’s for sure gonna happen. For sure.
So Eunice has a new EP coming out soon, anything upcoming for you?
Jong: Yeah! 10 days after her release I have song coming out too on Sept 20th.
Eunice: It’s a really good song!
Almost enough for a new EP?
Jong: I definitely have a lot of things stacked up right now, since I just moved my life is on a pause which is really stressful. I haven’t done much in the last few days but everything is piled up and ready to go. I wanna release something once a month or two for a year, that’s my goal.
This interview was conducted in person by Derrek Chow in Toronto on September 8, 2019.
Edited by Li-Wei Chu. Header photo taken by Derrek Chow.