Nokdu is an independent singer-songwriter from Seoul who is using the shifting trends in the South Korean indie scene to put out his unique synth popping singles from his at-home studio. With a growing audience from his latest EP and collaboration with fellow artist Jacoby gaining popularity, we recently sat down with him for a chat about where his music comes from and where it’s headed.
Photo © Nokdu
Your EP Nokdu, Vol.1 has such a distinctly nostalgic vibe to it – what are the main influences to your music style?
Well basically I listened to a lot of 60’s Motown music when I was younger and more recently I discovered 80’s music with its retro synthesizer sounds and I just fell in love. I was always mainly influenced by western music but 80’s music in Japan specifically started picking up cues from the west so there are a lot of musicians from Japan that have influenced me, too. When I began making music for myself I just started collecting instruments and synthesizers from that era to try to replicate the sounds that I loved. The music from that era is just so cool and I wanted to go backwards with my own music to something more retro and reminiscent of that era.
Rumour has it that you actually studied music over here in the UK?
Yeah, I studied music in Liverpool. I didn’t actually mean to go to school here to study music, but there was a poster that said something like “Welcome to LIPA – audition here!” With a picture of Paul McCartney and I was totally fascinated and thought, “What’s this guy doing here?” Later, I found out he had actually raised funds for the program which was amazing but the poster intrigued me so much that I actually went to the audition – and I got in! Merseyside has a huge indie scene and prog-rock scene so I absolutely loved it. The only downside was the Liverpool accent which was a huge shock at first.
That’s not surprising, it’s really is a strong accent even for people who are native English speakers, where did you study English?
Most of the English I learned was actually at University in Liverpool [laughs]. Just learning bits and pieces the more I spent time there.
But you didn’t pick up the accent?
I can do it, but I won’t right now [laughs].
Photo © Nokdu
Okay then, we won’t force you! Let’s get back to your EP. What sort of response are you getting from it and your recent collaboration with Jacoby?
I don’t know why but suddenly I’ve been getting a lot of fans, specifically men which is interesting [laughs]. Also, when I decided I wanted to release music, I didn’t know many other musicians in Korea since I was away for so long studying. So before I put it out I thought I needed to build up some more contacts in the industry, but without me asking they somehow heard my singles and called me first which was really surprising. I realized then that it is a lot easier than I thought to put out music and to gain followers – just as long as your music is good. For example, the title track Just the Two of Us was produced by Jinbo. He is one of my favorite producers in South Korea and he actually DM’d me on Instagram out of the blue after I released my track 비 오는 밤이니까요 back in October and he said “I really like your music” and I totally didn’t believe it was him! I woke up and checked my messages and instantly got filled with energy. When he asked if he could make music with me and come to my studio sometime, I said – I’m ready right now! [Laughs]. He liked some of my vintage gear and we made the chorus of a song the next day together while we were just jamming and I asked him if I could turn it into the title track on my EP and he said – of course! I was so honored and happy.
That’s incredible! So did you find the artist for your album artwork the same way?
Pretty much! The artwork is by a guy called Zeunoong – I was really happy that he found me and my music. He told me he really liked my sound and I checked out his artwork and I was so impressed, I knew his style worked with the theme of my EP so I asked him to do some artwork for me and it turned out really great. We want to keep collaborating together, we even talked about maybe an exhibition or something. His artwork on the walls and I could play live music – it could be cool!
So, you’ve been building up to this EP – is it the only thing you’ve been doing? Does Nokdu have a regular daytime job or is this it?
I graduated from University in 2016 and I didn’t want to have a normal job, I wanted to make money through my music and live off it while trying to reach out to other artists in Korea. But, when I’m not making music I have to still make money so I teach music also, like songwriting, composition, singing and things like that.
Photo © Nokdu
And so on days where the money isn’t coming in or you don’t have lessons or gigs, how do you keep yourself motivated? How do you keep your inspiration wheels turning?
Ah, well, I wanted to be a musician since I was a kid and part of my journey until now has been realizing that this is the only thing I want to do. Now, since I studied music at university, it’s the only thing I can do [laughs] – I only have skills in music, now. So I have no choice but to keep writing and composing.
So, desperation keeps you motivated?
[Laughs] Yeah, pretty much. I’m 31, I’m too old to try out something new. Now, I’m basically a music freelancer so I have to be self-motivating.
Has releasing your EP been something that’s encouraged you?
Actually, it’s been amazing. I had serious writer’s block from last October when I released my last single, until the beginning of February this year. I had originally planned to release the EP in February but that didn’t happen at all. A huge writer’s block got in my way.
How did you get out of that?
Well, I just kept writing 4 bars, 8 bars until I finally found something that was decent and I felt better. I didn’t put too much pressure on myself, and having encouragement from other artists was a huge help.
So, what’s your process like? How do you write your music?
I basically just find a theme or a subject that I like, make notes and play around with chords and then store that away for later, some of them end up on my phone and I never look at them again. But, like a month later when I’m looking for inspiration, I’ll find them and be like “Oh! Yeah! That was a good idea!”
Photo © Nokdu
And what about the lyrics, because you compose the music and write the lyrics for all your own songs – where do the lyrics come from?
Well, let’s just say that I’ve lived quite a long time… so I have some life experience haha. I won’t go into anything specific but I’ve lived a long time [laughs].
In that case, what in your life inspires you? People, places?
Liverpool is one of my biggest inspirations, I spent half of my 20s in Liverpool and I have lots and lots of memories there. Happy memories, desperate memories and I always find myself thinking about my life in Liverpool when I’m writing music.
Is it the same place you left three years ago, now that you have come back?
Actually yes, nothing has changed. It’s kind of weird. My old house, the cafe I used to go to, the university – everything [laughs]. It’s really weird to visit your university that looks exactly the same but you don’t recognize anyone. The place hasn’t changed but the people are all different. Except for the security at the university who remembered me – which was really nice.
What sort of music are you listening to right now?
I’m really into the most recent Anderson Paak album. I’m a huge fan of him, and Kendrick Lamar – I’m not usually into Hip Hop but their music is just so special, I love it. Usually, though, while I travel I prefer not to listen to music at all, I like to let the sounds of the city inspire me.
Being back in the UK now for the first time in 3 years, how do you feel about the wave of your popularity that Korean music is receiving here, now?
Well, it’s big because I was talking to my friends back in Liverpool who are so into the indie scene there that I thought that there was no way they would know about Kpop or Korean music – but even they knew about BTS! It’s kind of weird to me. In the news back home I see them talking about the popularity of all kinds of Korean music acts in the West but I always thought it was over-exaggerated and I didn’t realize it was a real thing until I got back here. I only left the UK three years ago and now that I have come back the difference is amazing. I can’t believe it. My home is such a small country and I never really thought that being Korean would be such a selling point!
Now that the spotlight is pointed at Korean music and you’re building your own following – what’s next for Nokdu?
So, I’m going to be releasing a new single every three months and hopefully another new EP in February so hopefully, I will just be able to keep bringing out music regularly for my fans.
That’s not too much pressure? Every three months?
No, it’s fun! [Laughs] I’m really glad people want to wait for my music, I feel very honored.
Photo © Nokdu
Written and interviewed by Mickey Ralph
Edited by Sanja Struna