“‘Blue’ is the emotion I wanted to express,” Katie explains.
The Korean-American singer wanted to express her emotions and experiences during the time of her hiatus since releasing her last single ‘Echo’ to her new EP Our Time is Blue, which dropped earlier this month.
As the keyword “Blue” suggests, the narrative of the album flows naturally ― from the opening track “Classic” to the last “Lullaby” ― like a calming river of sound. The six-track set was helmed by Stint, the Canada-born, Los Angeles-based producer who has worked with the likes of KUYA, Kesha, Gallant, and Nao, while the lead single “Blue” features Leven Kali.
Katie sat down for a exclusive chat with Billboard Korea to discuss her new record, the recent deal with Columbia Records U.K., future promotional activities, and more.
Billboard Korea: It’s been a while since you released an album. Did anything change while you were preparing Our Time is Blue?
All my communication was held through online meet-ups since my agency is in Korea and I’m in the States, and with the new travel restrictions it wasn’t easy trying to figure out all the logistics of creating a new visual project under those limited circumstances.
There are a total of six tracks on the record. Could you walk us through each track, and what message you wanted to deliver?
There were a lot of things that happened to me personally before making this album. The whole world went through an unexpected transition and I experienced a lot as well. Every track was like a learning process, and a reflection of my memories and thoughts [laughs]. I think I was able to capture my gradual personal development.
Was there a certain challenge while making it? Do you feel like you’ve progressed?
I think the time between my last EP and this one was a challenge for me. There’s always a difference between ‘what I want to do’ and ‘what I need to do,’ and the fight to make a decision between the two is always while working on a new project is always challenging and which is why this album is more meaningful.
The main subject is “Blue.” Do you think Our Time is Blue would have released even if we weren’t going through this pandemic?
There isn’t a real or direct connection with COVID-19. I didn’t really base my thoughts or think about the current pandemic [at least musically] while I was working on this project. I just wanted to express my emotions surrounded by the idea of ‘Blue,’ But because we are in a difficult situation, I wanted to release something more relatable than an easy-to-listen track. I think that’s how I was able to write more emotional lyrics. If it weren’t for the COVID-19, I think it would have been a more visually-focused and different project.
Is there a reason why you prefer to do only English tracks?
There are a lot of songs that I’ve written alone that are in Korean. There are so many beautiful ways to express yourself in Korean. But since I worked with a lot of producers in the States, I think it was only natural that I made English tracks. I definitely want to one day release a song in Korean. I want to be able to express [ in Korean] my deeper inner thoughts instead of expressions that feel less personal.
During this pandemic, was there ever a moment you felt “blue”?
It was hard right before the pandemic hit hard in the States. I feel like I was born to feel blue though. I am normally sensitive, and once I feel depressed it’s often very hard to come out of it [laughs].
Is there a special reason why you chose to specifically work with Leven Kali? He doesn’t have much of a presence in Korea.
He was on the top of my wishlist of collaborators. I don’t think it mattered whether or not he was known or ‘popular’ in Korea. I hope the song ‘Blue’ is an opportunity for people to get to know him better.
What is your biggest concern when working on your music?
I think I am adamant and very specific about my music. I’m not close-minded or anything, but I have a clear sense of musical preferences and styles that I prefer. I want to make music that feels authentic and lyrics are a very important aspect of that. I want to make music that feels sincere to me, and not feel forced to make music for everyone to like. I wanted to create music that can touch someone’s emotions. I honestly want to add my in-depth and intense emotions. But I also consider about what the general public would like.
You say lyrics are important. Are there lyrics that you paid more attention to on this record?
I don’t think there are any intense tracks on this album, both musically or lyrically. I just wanted to express the subdued emotional hardships. I personally get comforted and stronger when I can endure difficulties with others than just getting advice based on false hopes like, ‘It’s going to be okay,’ or ‘It will get better.” I hope that this album can mean something similar to everyone that listens to it. Out of the six tracks, I like “Blue” because I think I was able to detail my emotions well. I wanted to express my chaotic struggles and fears with hopes that it will get calmer.
Is there a genre that you would like to try other than R&B?
If I were to try something new, then it would likely be a genre related to soul music. I think groove, rhythm and blues gives energy [laughs]. I think putting hip-hop and jazz elements together and making a track would be fun and cool, too. Or I would want to try something really simple.
Is there something that you regret since you haven’t been very active or aggressive on your Korean promotional activities?
Yeah, of course. I didn’t get to perform much both in or outside of Korea. It was hard, but I believe if I work harder then the opportunity will come [laughs].
Did anything change after you signed a deal with Columbia Records?
There wasn’t anything particularly new since I’ve been signed to Columbia Records. We did our first online meeting after I was done with my project and met all the staff members that would be helping me move forward. I was grateful that I had a great team of people helping me.
Is there anything you’re looking forward to? New commitments, perhaps?
I see myself anticipating more opportunities, like being able to perform more as well as engaging with more and a diverse group of artists. I hope when those opportunities do come, I would be able to do it well.
K-pop isn’t clearly defined, but would you consider your music as K-pop?
I’m also not really sure how or what defines K-pop. But I do know that I don’t want to be framed or restricted by tradition. Whatever the subject or concept, I want to be able to deliver something that feels and looks new.
Most musicians that competed on K-pop Star Season 4 are all actively promoting. Do you keep in touch with anyone from the show?
I met and made some meaningful friendships during the competition. I’m a real fan of Lee Jin Ah and keep in touch with her occasionally. I also respect and get inspired by Lee Bong Yeon also known as Paullkyte. They are one of the few artists that I talk to and learn the most from. I haven’t had a lot of chances to meet Kwon Jin Ah, but she is a friend that I am always supporting and caring for dearly.
What does this album mean to your career?
I think this album will be like a ‘scar.’ There are a wide-ranging of emotions that are captured in this album, and it made me more motivated to do better for my next album.