“My Constant Wish Is to Make Good Music and Have a Lot of People Listen to It.” – In Conversation with Grizzly, a South Korean Singer-songwriter

R&B, like many other musical genres, has evolved over the years. Originally having its roots in blues, jazz and gospel, with time, it embraced a mixture of pop and soul with elements of hip-hop. And with many new emerging talents on the horizon, the R&B music market is experiencing a huge boom – just look at the commercial successes of Beyonce, Rihanna, Frank Ocean, Drake and The Weeknd, as well as at the albums of less popular but great-sounding artists such as Kehlani, FKA twigs, Tinashe, and Donald Glover. In other words, modern R&B is undoubtedly a powerhouse in the West. But what’s the situation on the other side of the world? Asia might be a leader in pop music nowadays, South Korea in particular, but R&B has yet to be discovered in full. 

Photo © Courtesy of EGO & Grizzly

Looking at the South Korean market, R&B is slowly pushing its ways through the walls of K-pop. With prolific stars such as Dead, Zion.T, Gaho, Jung Jin Woo, G.Soul, Woodz, Penomeco, Jay Park, Lee Hi and Grizzly, just to name a few, the R&B scene can boast impeccable talents that can deliver quality content. 

Go Young-ho, a.k.a Grizzly, is one of those artists; he sings, writes and produces. With his lifting vocals, good vibes and well-arranged music, Grizzly not only brings the best part of his artistry in his releases, but also shows his overflowing passion for what he does. Debuting in 2014 with a single, D.C, and then a studio album, I, he showed that he is able to deliver aesthetically pleasing music. Throughout the years, the singer released another full-length album, Life, Breath, Rest (2020), over a dozen of singles, a couple of EPs and his latest mini-album called Flower Shop, on which he shows, yet again, that he is capable of bringing soulful hits to life. 

We recently had the pleasure of chatting to Grizzly and talking about his journey of becoming an artist, his work and the inspiration behind his current and past releases. 

Photo © Courtesy of EGO & Grizzly

First of all, let’s talk about how it all started. Was music a path that has always called to you? Was there a moment when you realised that music was for you?

Grizzly: I have never once thought of music as ‘my road’ and I still don’t! That’s because I think it can change at any time. I haven’t found anything more fun than music though. And to be honest, I don’t want to find it [smiles]. But I do remember thinking during my first stage, ‘So this is how fun it is to sing my own song in front of people. I must have been born this way!’

In January of this year, you released your 2nd full-length album called Life, Breath, Rest, on which you beautifully combine various genres such as Soul, R&B and Pop. A few months later, you produced an eight track EP, Fake Red, a release which dives deep into old-school R&B. What kind of approach did you use when writing and producing the music on Life, Breath, Rest and Fake Red?

Grizzly: My second full-length album was something I made only for me, not for someone’s feedback or to satisfy other people. So, I tried to say everything I want to talk more about, what I’ve been feeling, and what I had wanted to say in the past. It’s an album I love very much. In my album Fake Red, I wanted to do something more fun than my full-length album. Before I knew it, I was in my late 20s. Perhaps I could express a love that is slightly more mature? That’s how I approached it. 

What inspired you to make those aforementioned albums? Looking at Life, Breath, Rest, each song is named after a European city, such as Prague, Paris, Vienna; only one song has a non-European name, Seoul:1960. Why have you chosen such titles for the songs?

Grizzly: I wanted the song titles to be like that for Life, Breath, Rest because this album was based on my notes from when I went on a trip through Europe alone. The album is really the result of the notes I took on how I was feeling, inspirations I got from the cities I went to, or the creative writing I did while in that city. As for Seoul, it is in our country after all, so I wanted it to be in our language! As I mentioned about the Fake Red EP, the starting point was my desire to express my thoughts on mature love.

Music Video © Courtesy of EGO & Grizzly (Music Video Directed by Sungwi)

In addition to your two studio albums and EPs, you released over a dozen digital singles. You worked with artists such as Sole, Punchnello, Coogie, Khundi Panda, JaeDal, Jang Pil Soon, Che and Chung Ha, just to name a few. What was that experience like for you? Were there any artistic differences between you and the aforementioned artists during the recording process?

Grizzly: It is always a new and electrifying experience to work with different artists. I get to make different results out of thoughts or musical elements that are not my own while staying under the same established point. I don’t think there was any one collaborating artist who made the greatest influence or difference on me. It’s always such a new experience when I receive the collaborating artist’s recording after I have recorded my own. I plan to continue having fun making music by working with many more artists.

On November 22nd you released a brand-new mini album called Flower Shop. What was the creative process behind it and how long did it take you to produce Flower Shop? And while making Flower Shop, was there a deliberate message present from the very beginning of the production?

Grizzly: The Flower Shop album took longer than I was anticipating. Most of the songs were already finished beforehand, but the album took a long time because we were working on the details to bring up the level of polish and completion. But this album was especially fun and easy to work on because I had already decided on the album name before I began. I think I put a lot of effort into developing the sound aspect. 

Sometimes, it was hard to work on this album because I had to think really hard about which of the songs I’ve written I would have to eliminate and which songs I would keep. I was contemplating on that up to a week before the album’s release. But I think it came out with a high level of polish and completion, so I’m happy. Please listen to my album Flower Shop a lot!

Looking at your life since you debuted back in 2014, to what extent do you think your surroundings shaped you, creatively speaking, and in what way?

Grizzly: I often recall memories of the first few years of hardship after I debuted. I think those times are what made me grow a bit more mature. I tend to be affected a lot by my environment and my state of mind, so I think those things always have a direct and extensive effect on my albums.

Photo © Courtesy of EGO & Grizzly

You predominantly play R&B and Soul, combined with some Pop. Are there any concepts, or certain music styles, that you would like to try out with your future releases?

Grizzly: I do want to try music that is so futuristic or so dark that people question whether it’s really Grizzly’s music. But that isn’t actually who I am, so I wonder if the music will actually come out that way. If it isn’t who I am, I don’t necessarily want to force my way into trying it out.

Would you say the music that inspires your work matches what you listen to when you’re a part of an audience? Or are you a fan of genres other than your own?

Grizzly: I think they are totally different. When I’m working, I definitely get a lot of influence from pop music. The music I listen to alone in my car or while I take a shower is really widely diverse. Lately, I’ve only been listening to Ariana Grande’s album non-stop.

Looking at the Korean music industry, and since you debuted, what do you find are the main challenges of being an artist?

Grizzly: It’s when I thought I was doing a good job but the result, in terms of numbers, fails to satisfy. Maybe when my effort and my music are not getting through to someone? Afterall, my constant wish is to make good music and have a lot of people listen to it.

Photo © Courtesy of EGO & Grizzly

Improvisation is a large part of the creative process for many artists. How strictly do you separate improvising and composing in your work?

Grizzly: It’s hard to separate the two. Recently, I’ve tried out the strategic approach many times, but nothing but a ‘strategic’ song came out as soon as I did that. And yet, ironically, people seem to like it more when it’s strategic. I think it’s something a lot of artists struggle with. If you do what you want to do, there’s no response from the audience. But then it may feel like you are stuck in one place even though we are all people who are always seeing, listening, and feeling new and different things. But at precisely those times, I think the correct answer has always been to focus on myself and work that out rather than cater to the audience.

It is the job of the artist to win over an audience, but listening is also an active, rather than a passive, process. How do you see the role of the listener in the musical communication process?

Grizzly: Is there really a role they need to take on? If they want to listen, they will. If they want to judge it, they will. That’s just what our job as artists is like. Nowadays, people will catch onto it if I think, ‘I, Grizzly the artist, am going to win the audience over to my side’ [laughs]. One must always approach the audience naturally.

On which of your songs do you think you delivered your personal best performance so far, from an emotional and technical point of view?

Grizzly: I think I brought my emotional side up to 90% on my second full-length album. I carried over my thoughts and feelings exactly as they are into this album’s tracks. In terms of technical… I don’t think I’ve shown my best yet, but I’m going to do it soon!

Music Video © Courtesy of EGO & Grizzly

When you are not working and writing songs, what do you do to get away from it all and relax?

Grizzly: When I’m in a relationship, I spend a lot of time with that person. When I’m single, I stay home alone a lot and rest. I watch Netflix, I work out. But if I take a break for even a few days, my mind gets flooded with anxiety, so I never really feel like I’m resting. I think it’s a good thing but maybe it isn’t. I’m not sure. This has always been a difficult thing for me.

In 2018 you performed in London, have you thought of returning to the UK’s capital in the near future? And is there a message you would like to send to your fans in the UK?

Grizzly: [Laughs] All my happy memories of London feel like a dream now. All my days there were full of only really great memories. I will go whenever they call on me. I need to drop by and see Son Heung-min anyway. I am always surprised and grateful that I have fans at faraway places. I hope I get a good opportunity and perform there again. Stay safe and healthy. Everyone – be happy and have a lovely day.

The world has been consumed by Covid-19 and made it very hard for musicians, and other creative professionals out there, to organise tours, meet fans, etc. Looking at the current situation, what’s your wider vision? What do you hope to achieve within the next year or so?

Grizzly: Like others, I hope Covid-19 ends soon. But regardless of the circumstances, my wishes are the same as always. I want to go around this big wide world and sing. And I want to sing with artists I like, artists I enjoy listening to. 

Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler

Translation by Esther Kim

Edited by Julia Litwinowicz

Photo © Courtesy of EGO & Grizzly

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, arts and fashion, worldwide.

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