Korean-born songwriter and composer, Jihae, takes a rather avant-garde approach to making music. She layers traditional rock elements with electronic beats and synth and the even more unexpected addition of natural sound elements like thunder, birds and water, creating not just music but a piece of art.

Jihae often collaborates with artists working in other mediums to delve deeper into the concept of how individual perspectives contribute to social and cultural divides which she often explores in her music. These themes are further fueled by her philanthropy and involvement in causes such as Simon Says Sing For Peace.

Jihae’s latest album, Illusion of You, was released earlier this year. She tells Imagista what the process of making this record was like and how her love of music originally sprang about.


Imagista: How did you first get into making music and singing?

Jihae: I grew up in a musical family and sang in church a lot growing up. I was in a few choirs in school but never thought of pursuing music as a profession until I moved to NY.

When I was 16 I went into a music store called Papa Jazz to find a CD for my sister’s birthday.  I knew she was into Nina Simone so I picked up her blues album and listened to it before sending. Listening to Nina Simone for the first time was an intense and deep experience. It wasn’t her singing I loved, but her delivery and her soul that cut right through me and ignited a spark in me.

Imagista: Do you write your own materials or do you write with other musicians? 

Jihae: I write my own material. Illusion of You has 2 co-written tracks: one with Dave Stewart and Leonard Cohen on “It Just Feels” and the other is “All The Same”, which I co-wrote the music with Jean-Luc Sinclair.

Imagista: How would you describe your writing process?

Jihae: I typically write with my acoustic guitar and sometimes on the piano. I wrote “Leaving NYC” on the bass. I sometimes have a melody in my head and I find words or a riff to build from or the other way around. There are times when a full phrase comes to mind with words & music, and very rarely are times where an entire song channels through in no time. “Lullaby for the Lonely People” was one of those gems on this album.

I also really enjoy collaborating and jamming with my musician friends. Many side projects are brewing from my music community in NY.

Imagista: Who, either living or dead, are your favorite all time performers or musicians and why?

Jihae: I love Janis Joplin, Nina Simone, Jim Morrison and The Doors, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Eurythmics, Radiohead, Bjork, Tom Waits, Velvet Underground; I could go on and on…

Everyone mentioned above has a very distinct and original sound identity and deep conviction in their words and meaning behind the songs.  You can feel their souls and get taken on journeys through their music.

Imagista: Who, or what, has been your greatest source of inspiration or support in your music career?

Jihae: Being rejected by a major label because of my race at the start of my career was probably the best form of anger turned inspiration for me. The experience opened my eyes to stiff realities of racism and a very unfair world we live in. It lit a fire in me to keep pushing through the glass ceiling not just for myself but for many Asian artists and rockstars for generations to come.

I have so many amazing supporters of my music… my mentors and advisers, all my Kickstarter backers, and so many brilliant musicians who have played with me for less than their desired fee because they believed in my work.

What really brought tears of joy to my eyes after a long struggle to keep afloat was getting a nod from Dave Stewart and Leonard Cohen, the grandmasters of songwriting, who offered me co-writing credit on “It Just Feels” on my album.

Imagista: Your new album just came out, how long were you working on it for? Can you tell us a little bit about how it all came together?

Jihae: I’m really excited about my new album Illusion of You. I started the writing and recording process at the end of 2011 and I was done in early 2014. There was more drama and obstacles in making this album than all my other four previous releases combined.

You can’t make diamonds without pressure as they say. I don’t regret a thing and I’m really thrilled and relieved to finally let this collection of work take on a life of its own.

Imagista: If you weren’t a singer/musician what do you think you might be doing with your life right now?

Jihae: Maybe I’d be a film director, human rights activist, or perhaps a monk, meditating daily for world peace on a mountain top.


Hat, Vintage; T-shirt, Vintage; Jeans, Blk Dnm; Shoes,Topshop

Hat, Vintage; Shawl, Topshop

Hat, Vintage; T-shirt, Vintage; Necklace, Lorae Russo

Top, Femme D’Armes; Bra, Jihae’s own; Jeans, Current Elliot

Fringed Coat, Manfredonia; Jewelry, Jihae’s own; T-shirt, Vintage

Hat, Hamlet’s Vintage; Top, Femme D’Armes; Necklace, Jihae’s own


Photographer: Tina Turnbow

Musician: Jihae

Writer: Andrea Raymer

Styling: Wendy McNett

Make-up: Tina Turnbow

Hair: Marc Mena

Retouching: Becky Siegel