Kisnue on Believing in Himself and Holding onto “Wonder”
An in-depth look at how passion and determination led to Kisnue’s REINCARNATION.
For those who have never heard your music before, how would you describe it to them? How would you finish the sentence “Kisnue is ___” or “Kisnue’s music is ___”?
[Kisnue’s music is] “a soundtrack for the darkest and brightest moments of youth.” On a similar note, “Kisnue is real.”
You’ve described your stage name as representing “the interconnectedness between one’s artistic self and one’s regular self.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
I’ve always lived a life quite far from that of a musician. Shy and timid, with everyone telling me that music is for those who are especially talented and not for me. So for a long period of time, I never imagined that I was even allowed to be a professional musician. But I started making music just because it was fun, and talent [or] lack thereof didn’t really matter to me, so I kept at it. When I first chose my musician name, I had hundreds of candidates of cool-looking names, until I decided to spell my name backwards – the name I was born with, the name I’ve seen thousands of times on notebooks and test papers in the mundanity of my life – and that was “KUSNUE” (I changed one letter from that later on). I thought it was more than a series of fancy-looking words that meant nothing. Much like the musicality in me that was always there, a cool band name existed in my most tedious name all along. That’s what I mean by the interconnectedness between two selves! Special talents exist in every one of us, and believing in [that] and hard work can make anything come true.
You’ve drawn lots of inspiration from eighties music! Who are some of your favorite artists from the eighties, and what else about that time period inspires you?
For my favorite artists, I can’t really pick one! Michael Jackson, of course, The Cure, Tears For Fears, 10cc, The Smiths, [David] Bowie, Simple Minds, and so on. What got me fascinated about the era would have to be the synthesizers. [The eighties] was the golden era for analog synths, and I was drawn by the sounds they made when I started making music [as] Kisnue. As you can hear from my latest work, I’m slowly moving away from synth sounds and into more acoustic-driven sounds, but the fascination with synths will always be there. Eighties fashion, movies, and all sorts of media from that era [are] interesting to me as well.
What three words best describe your new EP, REINCARNATION?
“Hurting,” “healing,” and “anime.” The “hurting” and “healing” have to do with the narrative the songs tell, from the recollection of happy, guilt-free times to a realization of the sadness in life, ultimately leading to heavy self-doubt that puts you on the edge, but later healing and moving on, or “reincarnating.” As for “anime,” I was watching a lot of anime while I was making the album and wanted the tracks to sound like theme songs for an anime!
Is the REINCARNATION tracklist order intentional? The songs seem to tell a certain story if listened to in numerical order!
I’m so happy you noticed! Yes, the songs are in chronological order. It’s the process of me [going from] being blissfully unaware to hitting rock bottom and wanting to get back on my feet. The events that motivated the songs are chronological too, but no one would know that except for me!
I would love to learn about the making of your “REINCARNATION” music videos! What was it like filming a video for every single song on the EP, and was that the plan from the start? And how did you come up with the ideas for the videos? Did the video concepts get created before or after the songs were finished?
Like I mentioned, I wanted the songs to sound like a soundtrack from an anime, or even a movie. I wanted a simple video for every track on the album, just procuring that Japanese anime and movie vibe on a smaller scale.
The songs were still in progress [as we filmed], with the exception of a couple tracks like “Days of Dreaming” and “Starlight Love.” I wanted to do a small version of [the concept] “school boy meets school girl” that’s cliché in a lot of anime. When I pitched it to my label, the creative director for our team, who is really experienced and talented, helped me put that idea into reality. I owe it to him for [turning] my small idea into a complete, concrete project.
The exception would be the final track, “Reincarnate.” I was struggling with the lyrics and the melody for that song when we shot the video. We had [so much] faith in the actress that we decided to let her go ahead and do anything she felt like in a single take. After watching her amazing performance, I wrote my lyrics loosely based on the series of actions during the one take that we shot. It was the first time I was so directly motivated by another form of art performance. For a different kind of feeling, I asked the guitar player for my band, June, who is also a very talented musician, to write the chorus part of the melody. That was another first for me, writing the melody with someone else. With so many firsts, that song has a special place in my heart.
Do you intentionally try to make solo projects sound different from the projects released by Kisnue as a band? What about your music has changed as a soloist?
The funny thing is, I never intentionally tried to make them sound different. When Kisnue was a band, I would finish the tracks just like I do now and send [them] over to my bandmates. Then they would see room for improvement or the need to add their personal touches in terms of arrangements, so I let that process flow without fixating on my initial production. Now, I just stick with my initial production and do whatever I want to it. The volatility is fun and exciting when you’re working with others, because it lands in places you never thought of, but in terms of self-fulfillment, I’m pretty content with what I do now, because I literally do whatever the heck I want.
Did REINCARNATION make you want to make more EPs in the future, or do you plan to go back to releasing full-length albums?
Excellent question! One that I am constantly asking myself these days. I know that I should be releasing singles in this time and age, but I just keep forming a narrative with my songs that needs to be a full-length [album], or at least an EP. We’ll have to see. I already have a couple songs up my sleeve, and they have already started to form a story, so my resolution to stick to singles already seems to have flown out the window.
Please share some information about each song on REINCARNATION: a fun fact, a description, whatever you want to say about each!
“Days of Dreaming”: “Days of Dreaming” had a different working title for so long. It was called “Samseong,” because the song is about a fond memory that I have of my early twenties, [that] took place near Samseong Station in Seoul.
“Starlight Love”: I did not try to sound different or a certain way at all, and I just focused on doing what I do best. The outcome was the warm and vibe-y synth-pop that we hear now!
“Dive”: “Dive” was the biggest challenge I took on writing this record. I wanted it to sound distinctively like a J-rock anime opening, so I worked long hours on getting the tone of the guitars and the composition of the song right. I’m pretty happy with what I ended up with!
“Life After”: “Life After” was written back in 2020, when I was writing the tracks for the EP [LIFE AFTER]. I liked the title so much that I chose it to be the title for the 2020 EP, but I couldn’t get the right melody for the song, [so] I had to put it on hiatus for three whole years. I really wanted to finish the track for this album, which fit nicely with the whole concept, so I wrote many different versions of it until I landed on the right one.
“Reincarnate”: This song was inspired by a Japanese rock song that I was crazy about when I was fourteen.
What are your goals both for REINCARNATION and for your longer-term music career?
I don’t have a specific goal when I release new music. The stories and the emotions I need to vent build up in me until I write them into a song. My only wish [is] that people enjoy the stories as much as I enjoy telling [them]. As for my career, I want to keep making music with wonder. Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in my comfort zone, writing music that I’m already familiar with, and it becomes a tedious job for me. I hate that. I started doing music because it was fun, and I never want to lose that wonder when I’m writing and making music. If I can keep doing that, I’m sure my career [will] work itself out.
Lastly, is there anything else you want to say about yourself or your music?
First of all, I want to say thank you to the people who listen to my music. Sometimes I have trouble talking about how or what I feel, because it’s hard to put it into words or it’s too personal. That’s when I write. I put the emotion into a box that is my song and hide the personal bits within euphemisms. My songs are my most personal stories, so it means the world to me that you like [them] and sympathize. Thank you! I hope I can keep [making] even better music!
Answers have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. Photos courtesy of Kisnue.