A conversation with South Korean producer and songstress, HEESU.
South Korea-native and US-based, HEESU is a multi-talented singer-songwriter and producer, whose music invites you into a world of dreamy synths, traditional Korean sounds, and tight grooves. I had the pleasure of interviewing HEESU and getting a chance to peek into her thoughts on how she carries her Korean heritage, empowering women and gender-expansive people through music, and her upcoming projects.
Hi Heesu! I’m so excited to be talking with you and I want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to dive into your creative process and your background. First of all, how are you doing today?
Hello Valeria and Beats by Girlz and thank you so much for having me today! I’m so excited to have an amazing conversation with you and I’m feeling great!
So good to hear, let’s dive into the questions! You take pride in showcasing your culture, how does Korean culture influence your work?
Growing up in Korea, my mom was a traditional composer and conductor, and growing up, I did not appreciate her music at all, I was very rebellious. After I got into music professionally, I started to appreciate Korean music and what my mom was doing back then. As a Korean musician living in the States, I really wanted to showcase the beauty of the Korean sound and my heritage, and embrace my culture and celebrate my culture. I don’t see a lot of Asian artists doing that and a lot of hip hop artists they sample Asian music, but I don’t see a lot of electronic pop artists sampling traditional Korean sounds. As a Korean artist I really wanted to do it because, you know, it’s my sound and I’m really proud of it.
I totally agree and your music is very authentic and innovative, which is why it’s so fresh. As you may already know, Beats by Girlz is an organization that centers on empowering women and gender-expansive people in the realm of music production. What women and gender-expansive songwriters and producers are your biggest influences?
My biggest inspiration is this artist called SUMIN, she’s this badass Korean, female producer and also electronic artist. She worked on an EP with Red Bull Music, and it was like a special EP celebrating Korean music and that really inspired me to incorporate traditional Korean elements in my songs. Aluna is another one, she’s fire, she produces and she’s an amazing songwriter. Also, Rina Sawayama is so inspiring, I went to her live show last fall and, wow, that was the craziest experience, you know, she can dance, and sing, and her stage presence is great. One of my favorite tracks is STFU! It portrays the racism in the U.K. and being Asian in a foreign country. She really highlights that in her music videos and I think it is so cool.
How have you navigated being a woman in the music industry who’s from another country? How has the contrast been here vs Korea and what have you learned from that process?
I think it’s very similar because I’m seeing changes. Today there are so many female fire producers in Korea and people are starting to recognize those talented producers and highlighting them and I think Gen Z has someone to look up to because even like five years ago when I was in Berklee [College of Music] it was very a male dominated industry but I’m seeing all these small changes in Korea and the U.S.
Totally. One thing that’s really important is to have a community and that representation of other women and gender-expansive people doing what we want to do. How have you found a network of other female musicians and creatives and how has that supported your art?
This is a great question. So, I’m very proud of my track Honey Eyes from 2021 and I think we should really highlight that because every single person who was involved in my project were female. You know I did the songwriting, I produced it, and my mixing engineer was female of course JSONG, fire JSONG and my mastering engineer was Heidi, now she’s the assistant engineer for Justin Bieber’s mastering engineer, Josh Gudwin. She’s now Grammy nominated, like female engineers and producers are killing it in the industry. Also, Heidi’s from China, I’m so happy to see someone looking like me making it in the industry.
Also, I moved to New York after I graduated from Berklee [College of Music] and I met a lot of artists just playing gigs in New York, and we got connected or had dinner, and we would brainstorm future show ideas, and it was so nice to meet a lot of female artists in New York and everyone is very supportive. I really want to mention her name, Tatiana (@tatianalimamusic) she’s one of my really good friends I met in New York in my first gig there. Especially in the music industry people are so competitive and there’s a lot of jealousy and I don’t like that. We’re all growing independent musicians, and we have to support each other and Tatiana, every time that there was an artist event, she would send it to me and we would go and it was so special to have that.
I totally agree and it is very important to have a community mentality because we all should be supporting each other in this industry. Is there’s a specific method or environment that is integral to the creation of your music? How do you facilitate that for yourself?
For me performing on stage makes me the happiest, and I think about how my song is going to sound on the big stage and now I realize, after playing gigs in New York, I want to make more bops. I love to see people dance, freeing themselves, enjoying, just vibing to my music, and I just want to produce and make positive, happy songs.
You’ve released a great catalog of music in the last three years now, how has your songwriting and production process changed and what are some things that have made you a better musician overall?
I mean of course you start somewhere, right? I was cleaning my laptop and in iTunes I had old demos and I was listening to them thinking Heesu, you’ve come a long way. Oh, my goodness. But honestly just by doing it. Just do it, like the Nike slogan. You know, it’s so simple but it changes the whole game. It’s hard, you think about all these excuses but just by doing it you’re making something and making improvements. That’s the most important thing. When I first started, I didn’t know what Ableton was. Actually, the founder of Beats by Girlz, Erin Barra taught me how to use Ableton and I’m very grateful. But just by doing it you get better every time.
It's so simple but it really is true. And what keeps you motivated?
I think performing, that really keeps me motivated. Because, yeah, I’ll call myself a producer because I produce too but I’m more of a performer. I love being on stage and engaging with people and that’s what I want to do every day, so to get there you gotta make some bangers.
We want to thank you again for sharing your valuable insight with us and the Beats by Girlz community. Do you have any cool projects coming up or recently released that you’d like to share with us?
Yes of course! So, I recently dropped by latest single CHEONGSAN and I’ve been working on a music video for a year and it’s finally out! This is a very special project to me because this song was inspired by a thirteenth century Korean poem and I collaborated with a Koran producer called AVERZI and we used traditional Korean sounds but there are Western synths, so it’s a Western-Korean Fusion track that is very peaceful and calm. Especially with the Asian hate crimes, I saw women like my mom and my aunties being killed because of their race and it was so painful to see these things happening. As a Korean artist living in New York City, I really wanted to release something that’s positive embracing my culture and sharing the beauty of my heritage. The music video is very special because of the team, mostly Asian and female. It was a long process because it is a fully 3D animated music video and we ran into some technical difficulties, it was an emotional rollercoaster and it is finally out so go check it out!
HEESU, thank you so much for joining us for this conversation with Beats by Girlz, we are so grateful for your time and wish you the best with your future projects!
Thank you so much! Make sure to check out CHEONGSAN music video.
Written by Valeria Orrantia