KATIE isn't here to play. Still in the earliest days of her music career, the Korean born, Jersey bred R&B singer is focused and goal-oriented. Having snagged a Ty Dolla $ign feature for her debut EP, LOG, there's only signs of bigger and better things to come.

I linked up with KATIE for a conversation regarding her recent successes, future plans, working towards pop success in a musical world seriously lacking Asian-American representation, her earliest music memories, and much more. Check out our chat below.


So, I know you were born in Korea but primarily raised in Jersey (is NJ a common place for Korean families to move? I wanna say Jessi is from there, too), do you have early memories of living in Korea, or how young did you move?

Yeah, I find it interesting because New Jersey is such a small state, but I see a lot of artists - in the US and in Korea - who are from there. Back then, the Korean community wasn’t as big as it is now. I was ten years old when our family first moved to the US and I remember we had to leave our dog behind in Korea, and I cried so much. I would spend time alone in the attic of our new home, looking at pictures of my old dog after and balling. I’m still kind of sad about it.

[Still], I’m actually very thankful that we immigrated before I hit my puberty and teenage years. I think it would have been more difficult for me to settle and accept a whole new culture, after so much of my identity had already been formed. Although I was young enough to learn about this whole new world, it did take me quite a while because the language barrier just kept me timid. I was too shy to even raise my hand in class to ask to go to the bathroom, let alone try to make new friends. But, thankfully, it all somehow worked out (although slowly).

If you had to describe growing up in Jersey in a short-ish dialogue, what would you say about it? I imagine it wasn’t Jersey Shore vibes for you.

[Laughs] definitely nothing like the stereotypical Jersey Shore vibe where I grew up. I grew up in the northern part of the state, really close to NYC. But unlike the city, it was a very quiet suburban neighborhood with a lot of green.. Jersey is after all called the garden state, so lots of trees and mountains.

What’s your earliest memory of connecting with music?

Although my family wasn’t all that musical, we did listen to music quite a bit. I remember when I was about 5 or 6 years old, my mom would put on classical music every morning - like Haydn or Mozart - and it would help us start the day off feeling great.

At what age did you know you wanted to be a singer? Did you ever pursue other options, or was music always the be all end all goal for you?

When I look back at my elementary school year book, I put ‘singer’ as my dream next to my name. I’m sure I wasn’t serious at that time, but I did always have this curiosity of expressing myself through music. So I kept up with singing in school, county, and state choirs, but I don’t think I was serious about music until I was in high school. Even in high school, I wanted to become a veterinarian for a while, but realized that I couldn’t bear to witness animals crossing the rainbow bridge, right before my eyes. That’s when I came back to music, I realized that singing is what my true dream was.

Have you often returned to Korea to visit? How do you feel about your homeland vs. here?

Now that I have relocated myself to LA, I go to Korea whenever I need to for business matters (it’s only been a few months since I made the move). I love my homeland because that’s where my granny is and I just love her so much. I reminisce my childhood back in Korea and really miss those days because I enjoyed them so much. But for me, I feel that America feels more like home to me now, because this is where my family is and where I grew up for most of my years.

Are there things you prefer in one culture to the other? (Having lived in Busan for 5 years, I def prefer Korean food)

Whoa, Busan for 5 years! Must have been great to be by the sea. Having experienced both cultures, I did really appreciate both in different ways. One small thing I miss is the public transportation system in Korea. It’s so well set up and easy to get around, and no one really needs a car (which would help air pollution a bit!)

What’s something in American culture that’s completely normal to you that you think would confuse friends in Korea? And vice versa?

I’d say that in America, generally, if you pass by someone and make eye contact, you’d say hello. But in Korea, I think it could give the wrong impression if you say hello to a stranger on the street. (Although I gain enough confidence to reach out to someone with a dog in order to say hi to the doggy heheh) On the other hand, in Korea, bowing to elders is considered polite and comes naturally, which I appreciate; I think it’s nice to be polite to elders. Whereas in America, I feel like people are more casual with others in their normal lives, regardless of age, which I also appreciate!

Do you find that people unfamiliar with your story/music try to peg you a certain way? Whether as a Korean or American artist, and so on. For example, on this site for fans of Korean music, your music was named a favorite of the month, and there was this whole debate as to whether it could be considered Korean music enough for the site, I found it pretty amusing, but it did make me think about what kind of bias you might encounter as an artist.

I think this is kind of inevitable in my case, to have to explain myself because of how I look and where I come from. Although my heritage is really important to me and is what makes me who I am, I think having labels strictly related to my ethnicity only hinder the expression of myself as a whole.

On a much lighter note, are there any particular K-pop artists you’d like to collaborate with? (I would stan KATIE x IU)

hmmm.. I would love to work with some of the R&B artists in Korea. I feel that the level of understanding R&B music and expression within the genre has developed a lot over the past few years in Korea, and I really enjoy and appreciate K-R&B, if you will, so any R&B artist, I’d be honored to collab with.

How about Western artists? Who’s the dream feature?

I always say this artist’s name, hoping it can come true one day. [Laughs] I’d love to work with Frank Ocean. I’ve learned so much from listening to his music and I’m sure that meeting and making music with him would open my eyes in so many different new ways. I also recently listened to this podcast I love, Dissect, where they go deep on explaining about an artist and their music, and Tyler the Creator was the topic for one of the series. I’ve always thought that Tyler the Creator was a great artist with great fashion and music, but dissecting into his music and his lyrics, I felt like I re-discovered him as an artist and fell in love. I think he is another musical genius like Frank Ocean. So he’s also been added to my dream collab list!

Speaking of which, how did the Ty Dolla collaboration come to be?

One of my team managers, Jay, used to manage Ty a long time ago before Ty was famous. I was super grateful and honored that Jay showed Ty my song, and to find that Ty loved the track — it felt unreal.

I often talk with friends about how there’s really not a single (correct me if you feel I’m wrong) huge Asian artist for Asian-Americans to look up to. I think of CL’s quote when she tried to make it over here about wanting to be a role model for Asian kids in America as they don’t really have one in music. Sadly we all know her push here didn’t really pan out...how do you feel about all that? Any thoughts on why we really don’t have an Asian Britney Spears/Beyoncé/you name it?

Yeah I feel you. And I’ve seen where CL mentioned that. I feel that although she and I started off with way different paths (with her being a huge superstar in Korea, then moving onto the US industry, whereas I’m starting off as a nobody in either country [Laughs]) I think it would be a great responsibility for anyone to take on for the future Asian artists to cross-over or start anew in the US music industry. I wouldn’t really know the exact reason why we haven’t had any huge Asian artists like those you’ve mentioned, but I think the culture is slowly shifting and people are becoming more open to other cultures and representation, which is really great!

Naturally, some of that is changing with K-pop groups making it big over here, while I’m more referring to an Asian-American artist speaking to their audience from a native perspective, it’s still exciting, how do you feel about the big K-pop explosion, and (I think about this a lot) why do you think it’s happening now in this particular moment?

Like I mentioned, I think the American culture is becoming more open and more accepting of minorities, and a small part of that is this whole new sensation of Kpop. I am happy about that, and I’d be happy to see these Kpop groups succeed (as I would with any great artist’s success). It’s great that people in America are able to see Asian faces in the mainstream media as it’s helping pave the path for others (selfishly, even including myself). I am just so glad to see minority groups, like us Asians, are finally getting representation in American culture.

On that note, what do you hope to do with your own music as an Asian artist? Or do you just find people wanting to peg you by racial things tiring? I totally understand if it gets exhausting talking about your identity. Personally I’m really excited that you’re making waves! America needs it, but hopefully that doesn’t feel reductive.

I don’t mind people knowing me as an Asian artist, but I would like them to know my music before they encounter my heritage or my race. I am proud to be a Korean-American, but I feel that artists don’t necessarily have to state their race or heritage to showcase their identity as an artist. I just feel that if it helps and it empowers other Asians to start a career in music, then of course I’d be honored. But in terms of my own music career, I’d be grateful if people would just view me as a girl who sings.

Are there any particular stories behind the making of LOG? What inspired the concept / general vibe / etc?

The making of the records were actually all done in LA during song camps. Those sessions found me during some of my darker times. In the process of making the music, I remember feeling really joyful and happy. I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoy the songs on this EP so much (I don’t mean that to sound conceited or anything, but they’re very personal to me and I really love these songs!) I think the whole concept just includes my state of finding joy in music and happiness in doing something with good people and passion.

Who are your greatest musical influences?

My earliest influence has to be Ella Fitzgerald, because I love my Ella and she’s actually the reason I decided to do music for life. Also, after I found this wonderful world of R&B, Lalah Hathaway was the one I really fell in love with. I love how she delivers her message through her voice.

So, what’s next for you?

Making more music, singing that music, and sharing feelings with an audience. My hope for myself in music is to be happy - to find joy in it. My hope is that my heart and mind would be cured and freed through music and so that I could share my story with those like me.

Is a proper debut album in the near future, or is it too soon to hope for that?

We’re hoping for sometime early next year, but we’ll see!

What’s the last album you heard by another artist that you loved? Why?

This album just came out, but Daniel Caesar’s Case Study 01. I had been waiting on his new music, and he did not disappoint! Delivered 100% for me!!

What’s the last great book you read? Why did it connect with you?

I really enjoy reading novels. Currently I am reading Hermann Hesse’s "Beneath the Wheel," which I am enjoying like all his other works. But I really liked reading Han Kang’s "The Vegetarian" and Osamu Dazai’s "No Longer Human.” I find so much comfort in reading these books because I feel that I am not alone in feeling a certain way. And also, reading is sort of an escape from reality, because it takes you away from thinking about anything else.