Jay Marie on Moving to Korea, Working with HYUKOH, and Much More
Jay Marie opens up about gaining confidence, transitioning to life in Korea, connecting with others through songs, and what’s next.
Please introduce yourself and describe your new single, “19”!
Hey, my name is Jay Marie, the vocalist of [the band] Audrey No. I'm from the U.S., and I'm a singer-songwriter in Korea. I've been living here for almost eight years now and making music for six of those years. I came to Korea for the first time to visit a friend from university and found the city really exciting, so I thought I'd come back to teach English for a year or two. But I ended up studying Korean and trying a lot of odd jobs instead. I was still figuring out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. I was young, so I wanted to try everything, even recording music. Suddenly, it was all I wanted to do.
I wrote "19" during a particularly hard time about a particularly sore subject. My goal was to take a painful story and turn it into something I could enjoy. I wanted to write a more upbeat song about heartbreak instead of a sad song, because sometimes heartbreak is in your best interest. Sometimes someone betraying you is the biggest gift they could have given you, because you get to see the future mess you avoided, and that's something you can celebrate.
For those who have not heard your music before, how would you describe it to them? How would you finish the sentence “Jay Marie is ___” or “Jay Marie’s music is ___”?
[“Jay Marie is] desperately trying to communicate with you”! One of my friends described [my voice] as bird-like. I wouldn't know how to describe my voice or my music, to be honest, [but] when [people say] they connect with or are touched by one of my songs, I also feel touched and connected to them. It feels like my reason for being on Earth, as corny as it sounds. I find it so hard to communicate with people well in daily life, and I think a lot of people do. I want people to feel less alone when they listen to my songs. If my music can accomplish that, then [I’m] satisfied.
What were your early days in Korea like? Did you deal with culture shock when you first arrived?
My early days in Korea were a mess. It was my first time living in a big city. I lost my passport the first day I arrived. Later that same week, I was staying at a hostel, because I didn't have an apartment yet, and the owners [took] us out for drinks. At some point, I was alone with one other person who was too drunk to function and realized I didn't know how to get a taxi. I couldn't speak Korean, [and] I didn't have the address to my hostel written down. I ended up calling one of my friends from university and asking them to pick me up. It must have been 3AM.
I think I dealt with more culture shock the longer I lived in Korea, instead of at first. At first, because I didn't speak Korean, I wasn't really in situations where anyone expected me to know anything. But after three years of living in Korea, I started speaking Korean and found myself in more and more situations where I was the only foreigner, and I started interacting with people who had never been abroad or never even talked with a foreigner before. There are some social norms here that are so fundamentally different that I have a really hard time with [still].
When your band name changed from Dayless to Audrey No, did anything else about the band change?
We actually just changed it because it was too similar-sounding to many other band names in Korea, and there was another band in Germany with the same name. It was actually OHHYUK [from HYUKOH] who suggested that we change the name. When we were doing the photoshoot for the [SSaW] tribute album cover, he asked what the name of my band was and admitted it was a bit forgettable. He even gave me some name suggestions. We hadn't put out an EP or album yet, so we thought it would be fine to change [the band name]. We still haven't put out an EP or album yet, the main reason being that we haven't been satisfied with our overall sound yet. I've been told we can put out an EP this year. We'll see.
What first compelled you to release music solo?
When I first met Yangsu, the producer and guitarist of Audrey No, we were recording demos, and he thought I should release music solo, but I didn't have the confidence. The idea of doing it on my own was terrifying. I didn't even consider myself a singer at that point. I felt like I was just tricking people into thinking that I could sing. I was also admittedly lonely. I spent a lot of time alone and thought it would be nice to meet people often - that maybe I could find my community. So I insisted [on being in a] band, really. I only started releasing solo music because of Covid. It was hard to meet [people due to covid, and] I still really wanted to work on music but couldn't ask more of anyone during that time. But I had a friend, U-Turn, who was a producer who had mentioned he wanted to work with me before, so we started to work on some songs together. So far, I've done all of my solo music with him.
Do you consciously try to separate your solo music from that of Audrey No? In other words, do you see “Jay Marie” and “Jay Marie from Audrey No” as different?
I think in the full EP, you can feel a bigger difference between my solo music and Audrey No's. There is definitely more experimentation from me in my solo music. I'm still learning and finding my point of view. Audrey No is musically full of input from all of the members, so I think it is deeper [and] filled with more experiences. My solo music is eager, and Audrey No takes her time.
How did you end up collaborating with OHHYUK and INWOO, and what was that experience like?
We were introduced through mutual friends. Months later, I got a call from OHHYUK asking if I could sing the chorus for a song on [The Way You Keep Friendship - SSaW Tribute Vol.1]. I could really only understand about 60 to 70 percent of what he said, because I had trouble understanding Korean over the phone, but I agreed. I actually hadn't known much about Korean music before I had come to Korea, but a friend sang "Ohio" at noraebang [karaoke], and I liked the song so much I looked it up when I got home. So [OHHYUK’s band] HYUKOH was the first Korean band that I knew of and liked. At first, I thought they asked me [to sing the chorus] because the song was going to be in English, so I was surprised when they sent me a Korean song. I thought, "I'm sure they know plenty of other singers who can sing this, so why would they contact me? Maybe they're in a bind or something…" Everyone was chill and nice. In the interview and photoshoot, though, I wanted to sink into the sofa and disappear forever. I was so uncomfortable. It's been five years since then, [and] I'd like to think I'd handle [nerves] a bit better now.
Do you have any advice or recommendations for people traveling to South Korea for the first time?
Don't use Google Maps! It won't work well here; you will get lost. Download KakaoMap. You can use it in English, and it will actually detect real roads!
If someone on the street compliments your aura and invites you to learn about Korean culture and have a tea ceremony, tell them "No thank you."
If you learn how to say even basic phrases like "thank you" and "please" in Korean, most people will be pleased with you, and it will greatly improve your experience.
Can you tease any updates on The Damage I Can Take’s release date or give any other hints about it?!
I've learned my lesson about teasing release dates, because I am always wrong, but I can say that there is another music video coming that's been shot for some time now. Also, I’m experimenting with more genres on this EP than I have before, so I'm excited to put out something a bit different.
Lastly, is there anything else you want to say about yourself or your music?
I've been so lucky [with] the people I've met, the opportunities I've gotten, and the support I've received. I appreciate every single comment, like, download, playlist, share, tweet... seriously. Every single one. It means so much to me. Even everyone who got through this whole interview, I appreciate you. Please keep an eye out for my first solo EP, The Damage I Can Take. I put my whole heart in it.
Answers have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. Photos courtesy of Jay Marie.