“I was into all kinds of art when I was growing up. One time I wanted to be a painter, then I thought of becoming a fashion designer, I wasn’t sure about singing,” CHE, a Seoul-born singer-songwriter, says thoughtfully as he speaks about whether music was his intended career path from the start. 

Exposed to art from a young age, CHE was lucky to get familiar with various forms of art, as he explains: “Since I was little, my mum often took me and my sister to art exhibitions. She wanted us to be exposed to the arts; I kind of grew up being surrounded by it. My mother later sent us to art school [in Australia], and naturally I got to study more art, I also learnt about sculpting and painting.” While CHE’s sister came to become a painter, he – without his parents’ knowledge – dropped out of college and decided to pursue music professionally. He left Australia, where he had spent his teenage years, and moved back to Seoul at the age of 21.

“[While in Korea] I tried to explore [my options] and meet new people. I didn’t know anyone in Korea [at that time], I remember I was sending emails to everyone. Although being a singer wasn’t my first choice, I always relied on music, especially when I lived in Australia. As a foreigner, music was [and still is] one of the most important things I have, it helps me to find myself and be true about myself.” 

Photo © Courtesy of EGO Entertainment

After a while, CHE found a record label, EGO Entertainment, through which he was able to produce music he likes. Although many artists are often restrained by the companies they are signed with, CHE wasn’t. To prove that, he recently released his 1st EP called PINE, a personal and sincere record on which he ‘talks’ about his emotions, including sadness, loss, and love. The EP itself is deeply rooted in R&B with hip-hop overtones and includes 5 songs, with each giving away a different vibe: “I started to write lyrics and melodies many months ago. I was thinking a lot about what kind of mood I want to create on the EP. Just like you said, they all have different vibes. Those five tracks analyse my five main emotions that I have been feeling, since I felt love for the first time. PINE represents the five major emotions, they are pretty depressing,’ he laughs. ‘But, I also wanted to show it’s okay to accept those feelings as they are part of my life, I didn’t want to silence them. [Through that release] I am more accepting towards my own emotions,” CHE explains heartily. 

Although CHE is only 24, his life is filled with stories one would love to listen to over a beer – unfortunately, we were only ‘equipped’ with an ice coffee and a 45-minute time limit for the interview. 

It is worth mentioning that CHE shines on his new release; he balances light rap verses from BewhY [rapper], with strong vocals from Sumin [singer] and Sogumm [singer and rapper], two superb female artists that are currently taking South Korea by storm, as well as Seol Ho-seung of SURL. PINE truly makes an impact thanks to its lyrical honesty, and the EP manages to be casual in its delivery while carrying emotional heft for the listeners. In addition, it presents his raw emotions, and their complexity, with disarming originality. 

Photo © Courtesy of EGO Entertainment 

Now, to the question of the EP’s title, PINE, and the reason he chose to use it. While I was bewildered by it, CHE has an interesting story behind the appellation: “It is a long story really. I grew up around my grandpa’s plants, my mum always had flowers around me; I just naturally loved plants.”

“Korea has that thing that when you have a baby, or rather, prior to realising you are going to have a baby, you dream. Apparently, my mum dreamed about me being like a huge, giant shining tree; I found out about it earlier this year,” he laughs. “I generally love plants, I even have loads of plant tattoos on my body too. So, in terms of the title, the five major emotions that I felt, and me accepting them when they grew out, it became like a pine tree. [The EP’s title] is an abstract concept really,” Che admits with a chuckle.

Music Video © Courtesy of EGO Entertainment 

As mentioned before, after listening to PINE and reading the translated lyrics, the EP feels personal. While the entire release is a solid one, Bright (featuring BewhY and Sogumm) and Scars (featuring Seol Hu-seung of SURL) made the biggest impact on me, not only because of the lyrics, but also because of the music arrangements. Of making the song, he explains: “With the sounds, I really tried to put something together that was really different. I always try to see how the Korean [music] scene is working with melodies and sounds, from K-pop to R&B singers here. I pay attention to how they tribute their sounds as well, and I also ask myself “why don’t I put out something one-of-a-kind out there?” I have always loved unique melodies. I feel like Korea doesn’t have that much of that right now; I also feel like many artists concentrate on trendy sounds more often than not,” CHE admits honestly. Nevertheless, being in Korea, working hard on making Korean songs and letting the domestic audience listen to them might turn out to be a mammoth task. However, to stay true to himself and the music he likes, CHE found Glowing Dog, a talented producer who agreed to work on his songs. As a result of their collaboration, PINE is even more of a triumph. It is no secret that while making original songs, CHE – at some point – wants to add in some trendy tunes. However, he enjoys creating without compromising much of the sound.

In terms of Bright, there is a story worth hearing about, as CHE reflects: “With Bright, I actually started to write it after my grandma passed away; she took care of me since I was a baby. Sadly, she died two years ago.” He goes on: “After her funeral, every night I heard some Christian sounds and songs in my dreams. I didn’t know why, especially because I am not a particularly religious person. But, for some reason, I started to go to church and meet Christian people to talk about it; I really don’t know what happened back then. I was really depressed after my grandma passed away, and I think I also tried to meet people who have experienced the same thing. I talked about how it’s fine to feel the way we feel [after losing a person we care about] and that it’s okay to accept the feelings that come with it.” 

Scars, on the other hand, was written after CHE’s first break-up and it also explores his personal relationship with his parents, and their relationship towards each other. The song details the artist’s emotions, as he explains: “When I was writing this song I was thinking about why I can’t just forget about this [the feelings of pain], it’s a simple question. [The feelings I have] are like a scar, it’ll be there forever, I can’t hide it even if I try. I don’t like that scar, but I needed to accept it and express it [through the song].” While he still has those feelings inside him, CHE has finally come to terms with the fact it was the right time to help himself and accept the emotions he has been battling with. Through the feeling of catharsis he has gained new insights and perspectives on life. 

Photo © Courtesy of EGO Entertainment 

There is no denying that emerging artists find it challenging to go up against mainstream music, however, this doesn’t discourage CHE from writing songs and making music. Covid-19 might have disrupted our lives, but the young singer has used his time wisely and has been thinking of what to release next.

When he isn’t working on a new material, CHE spends his free time with friends, whenever the situation allows him to do so: “Before the coronavirus hit, I normally went back to Berlin [Apart from Australia, CHE spent some time in Germany too] to meet my friends there. Now that I am in Korea, I meet friends for drinks. But with the virus situation, many places are closed so there isn’t much to do but drink with friends.” 

Looking at the current situation, what’s CHE’s wider vision? What does he hope to achieve within the next year or so? 

“Right now, I have already written songs that have a commercial sound to them, songs that Korean audiences might accept more than the PINE EP. I want to release music that combines my experiences of different cultures, something that doesn’t sound very Korean, but [at the same time] it is mixed with a commercial melody. I would like to show the [domestic] audience that I am capable of being a diverse artist,” CHE explains. He also adds that by releasing such songs it might make it easier for a listener to understand them, this is one of CHE’s aims for the next year. 

Ultimately, CHE’s music appeals mainly to those who find pleasure in listening to R&B and hip-hop, nevertheless, one can only hope that with future releases, CHE will attract more audiences than he already has. Without a doubt, this young artist has a bright future ahead of him. 

Photo © Courtesy of EGO Entertainment 

Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Roxy Simons

All photos © EGO Entertainment

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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