(JiHAE, by Paola Kudacki)
The Vietnam War inspired some of the most powerful songs of its era, but it’s rare to hear it discussed by younger artists in the 21st century. This generation’s got its own political battles to fight, but from where New York rocker and multimedia artist JiHAE stands, our present is more connected to our wartime past than we want to acknowledge. It’s why she wrote “Brave Ones,” off her forthcoming album Illusion of You, after watching her father struggle with PTSD in the decades following his service in Vietnam.
“I don’t think the world has stopped being at war, and history has not stopped repeating itself,” JiHAE tells Flavorwire. “The majority of soldiers at the forefront of combat are young adults who may have no clue which wars they’re fighting in are for defense, and which wars are direct offensives to invade a nation for economic gain. What we do know is that the soldiers that survive combat suffer deeply from PTSD and most of them are neglected to fend for themselves, as recently revealed in detail by Vice News and John Oliver [on Last Week Tonight]. Killing for any reason clearly seems to have devastating side effects on those that carry them out. I think there’s something to be learned from this.”
Flavorwire is pleased to premiere the delicate yet glowering piano ballad below. Read on for a brief Q&A with JiHAE, who discusses the importance of political music, why New York can be hell, and what the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart brought to her music, which channels New York’s classic downtown rock scene by way of Patti Smith.
Flavorwire: Your new album is wonderfully eclectic in both lyrical themes and sounds. Some songs, like “Braves Ones” and “Sixteen Guns,” are more political in nature. You have a track record of activism as well, like the work you did with 2012’s Hours Against Hate. How do politics factor into your artistic and personal philosophies?
JiHAE: People can choose sides and finger point, and devote their entire careers to block any kind of social or environmental progress for the sake of misplaced loyalty to ideological illusions. But when there’s so much poverty, racism, hate, and violence in a world also of surplus, love, intelligence, and peace, we all have the responsibility do something. Or we can just stand by and watch the world spin out of control into oblivion because we’re too busy taking selfies.
Another new song, “Leaving NYC,” is a strong statement for a New York-based artist to make, but it’s also something New Yorkers seem to grapple with constantly. What’s one thing that makes you want to stay, and one thing that makes you want to go?
There’s no [other] place in the world where people of every race, gender, and all walks of life mingle together in one small concrete jungle of an island. I have friends in NY who are writers, architects, fine artists, scientists, shamans, poets, professors, directors, actors, and musicians. Not sure this would happen anywhere else in the world.
The one thing about NYC that makes me grind my teeth is the constant inescapable construction noise. Aural invasion is generally not considered an offense. I beg to differ and would love some moments of silence around here.
Eurythmics members and prolific producer Dave Stewart helped produce this new album and appears on your adaptation of his lesser-known Leonard Cohen collaboration, “It Just Feels.” What drew you to Dave?
Dave’s music already had quite an impact on me before I met him. It wasn’t until I met him [that] I realized what a mad scientist of a creative he is. Dave’s a serial collaborator. He’s been in the studio with some of the greatest artists, from Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Brian Eno, Ringo Starr to name a few. He’s always on the lookout for what’s new and keeps fresh that way. He’s also super charming, down to earth, and has a great sense of humor.
Dave sent me an email one day saying, “Here’s poem I wrote with Leonard Cohen, I think you can do this justice.” As an independent artist, it’s been a struggle to get each album made with no budget for marketing or promotion, much less a chance to be recognized for many years of hard work. Getting a co-writing credit from these grand masters of songwriting is such an incredible honor and the best award I could ask for as a songwriter.
I spent two weeks with Dave in the studio and he had very interesting and quirky way of arranging few of my songs. “Only You” intro was a bridge section initially. “All the Same” bridge he suggested I turn into a chorus.”Brave Ones” was a ballad in its original form. It was Dave’s idea and his multi layered guitar playing that creates the musical explosion in the outro. There were some secret whispers and some breathing additions per Dave’s suggestions that I won’t give details to, as I’d prefer the listeners discover these nuances themselves.
JiHAE’s Illusion of You is out June 5.