Jang Yong-ha, often known as Yonko, is a Seoul-based independent artist who, although fearless to combine various genres in his music, truly expresses himself while playing Soul.
Yonko’s soulful vocal tone, stellar music, and straightforward lyrics makes him one of the most promising new artists from South Korea. Undoubtedly, his delivery is always 10/10. While Pharrell Williams and Kanye West are his current musical inspirations, the artist admits that meeting people and his personal experiences have always influenced his songwriting. Yonko creates the most delicious tunes that can take you to the world of D’Angelo, Maxwell, Celeste, and Erykah Badu with just a single breath.
If you give Yonko a listen, he will capture you with his sound and engaging lyrics. Yes, he sings in Korean, however, for true lovers of Soul, it is worth translating his lyrics as you will be left hypnotised by his incredible charm and talent. The artist has released a hefty amount of music since 2017 and has been building his career on his own terms.
Recently, Yonko performed on ONSTAGE, a Korean platform that showcases the talent of new and up-and-coming artists. After watching his performance, I was truly blown away by the quality of his singing and his stage presence. I wish I could see him performing live in London one day. A few days ago, I interviewed the singer and chatted about his musical journey, his inspiration, and his plans for the future.
What was the role of music in the early years of your life that made you want to become an artist?
I loved listening to music and singing ever since I was a baby, but the moment I decided I wanted to become a singer was when I saw Brian Mcknight’s live performance of One Last Cry. It was a kind of vocal performance I had never seen and I was just stunned.
Looking at your releases, past and present, I have noticed that you effortlessly combine various genres in your music, with emphasis on R&B and Soul. With this in mind, what kind of approach do you use when writing and producing your music?
I’ve loved Soul for a long time, dating back to when I first started doing music. My favourite Soul artists range from Curtis Mayfield and Otis Redding to Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, D’ Angelo, Maxwell, and last but not least, Frank Ocean. I’ve gotten trained in applied music and had some experience with all genres, so you could say I’m an all-around musician, but I think it would be right to define myself as a Soul artist.
This question is also related to your past and present releases. How much of your personal experience influences the creative process of your songs? Lyrically speaking, of course.
My lyrics are 100% from my personal experience. I’m an honest person. I have no problem talking about myself, so the things I usually talk about with people appear as they are in my lyrics.
Since your debut, you have released a few singles, an EP, and 3 studio albums (2017’s Tiie, 2019’s Diary and 2021’s Love Lost). As a songwriter, you must constantly write songs, but not necessarily all of them end up being recorded. How do you generally choose which songs you want to release?
I express and document the feelings I have in the moment like I’m writing a journal. When there are some specific songs that I want to share with other people out of the numerous pieces I’ve accumulated, I release them according to a theme.
You recently performed on ONSTAGE, a platform that showcases the talent of Korean artists, regardless of the music genre they play. Your performance was mind-blowing, with 내 맘이 그래 being my favourite song. What was that experience like for you?
ONSTAGE is considered the gateway to the music scene for new singers. I was blown away by the fact that I was actually invited to be a part of it. A lot of people went out of their way to support me for my performance. I was grateful for everything and it made me think I need to keep working harder.
You often collaborate with Mushroomshake, and other artists for that matter. I was wondering, were there any artistic differences between you and Mushroomshake during any of your recording sessions?
Mushroomshake is my family who I have shared my life with for 10 years. We both know what the other person wants or doesn’t want. Our creative process is that I build the framework and he adds substance to it. I’m much better as a player and he’s much better as a producer, so we maintain a reasonable balance and keep adjusting to each other.
Looking at the Korean music industry, and since you became a singer, have you suffered any ‘resistance’ or scepticism from within the industry? What would you say are currently your main artistic challenges and has being an artist changed other aspects of your life?
What other people think doesn’t really bother me. It’s not that important to me whether it’s the scene or the industry. My ultimate goal is to just express myself and communicate my good energy through music – I want to create a better world with my music. My current goal is to become famous so that I can play my music for even more people.
On which of your songs do you think you delivered your personal best performance so far, from an emotional and technical point of view?
Definitely 내 맘이 그래 on ONSTAGE. It’s the song that’s the most “me”, so I was able to focus without being distracted and feel comfortable conveying how I felt.
How does it feel when you release music in general? Personally, I feel like when an artist exposes their work it’s like revealing their soul to the public. I have major respect for that and I’m curious how you feel when putting your music out there for people to judge.
I love letting other people listen to songs that I like to listen to and I release music that I myself like, so I’m always excited and nervous. Of course, getting a good response makes me even happier.
As you have been working in the music industry for a while now, what is your favourite part of being an artist? Your least favourite? And why?
Freedom of expression, people’s interest, and expressing myself are things that are exhilarating for me.
Do you feel that you chose your “passion” [in reference to music], or did it choose you?
I’m good at a lot of things. But I love music the most, so I chose music.
If you got a chance to come to the UK and perform live, what would you like to achieve after performing in London, for instance?
I’d love to make songs with local musicians. And party with them.
When you are not working and writing songs, what do you do to get away from it all and relax?
I meet people – at parties, for example. I like to just have fun without thinking too much and recharge my inspiration.
What are your upcoming plans? Are there any other projects that you have planned for the future? New studio album or an EP perhaps?
I’ll be releasing an EP titled PLAYA. It’s an album that has my current vibes. It’s also a collaboration with CHE who’s my favourite artist and my homie.
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Translated by Roc Lee