Alice Kim, who goes by the stage name Hunjiya, loves to create her own artwork to correspond with her music. Hunjiya blends alternative R&B, pop and folk in her music. (Photo courtesy of Valerie Chaparro)
San Marino High School

Q&A: Artist Hunjiya reflects on love, loneliness in indie-pop album ‘Look After August’

With music industry preparatory majors, universities have become places for artists to discover themselves and to become discovered.

Band members of electronic pop group MUNA attended the University of Southern California. Multi-genre singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers began her musical career at New York University. 

Recently, Alice Kim started her musical career as Hunjiya while attending the University of Miami. Hunjiya’s music is a mixture of pop, alternative R&B, and folk.

As a junior enrolled in the school’s Musicianship, Aristiry, Development and Entrepreneurship program, Hunjiya released “Lineage,” a four-track record that delves into Kim’s Korean heritage. 

Now, three years later, her creative output hasn’t been hindered by time or quarantine. She’s lent her vocals to “Audrey” by the quintet SHENZI, and under the project name KiM.Ko, her newest song “Everybody’s Losing Their Mind” is slated for release Wednesday.

Until then though, Kim took the time to reflect on her debut album “Look After August” to answer some questions over email. Read about her love for citrus fruit, 4 a.m. writing sessions, hard-drive crashes, and more below.

What artists did you grow up listening to, and who was your first CD? Did your parents play a lot of music from Korea, if at all?

My first CD that I ever purchased on my own was Sara Bareilles’ “Little Voice.” It was for a 4th grade music project and I would play it on my CD player all the time. Growing up, I really just listened to whatever was popular.

I don’t think I actively started searching/finding artists and developing my musical taste until I was in middle school. My parents only showed me what they used to listen to, and it was my cousin who showed me a lot of K-pop growing up because he would burn CDs of playlists he made and give them to me.

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Hunjiya’s debut album “Look After August” covers themes of self-realization, love and loneliness. (Hunjiya / hyunji)

How would you describe your songwriting process? In an Instagram Q&A you said the usual order is beats, chords, melodies, then lyrics. But are there any other specifics you could share?

My songwriting process is always very spontaneous, to be honest. I’ve learned that my favorite songs are the ones that come when I least expect them.

As much as I’d love to be a writer/producer who can create everyday, I don’t know if I will ever be able to without experiencing life first.

And when I have a burst of creativity, I’ll need to go with the wave intensely in order to get all of my ideas out. If I stop for a moment, it can take me awhile to get back into it. 

In your music, the songs almost never stand still. They always seem to expand, and one verse never quite sounds like the last. It’s almost signature Hunjiya for a track to just evolve on its own. What was the process like of creating these tessellations in the studio?

My “studio” is essentially my bedroom, and I make everything in isolation most of the time. I think personally, I always like change and trying new things not only in music, but in my life. I love songs that have a different melody in the second verse than the first, or songs that evolve into something completely different from what they started.

I would also say that I am a fidgety person, and one of my flaws/strengths I would say is that I can’t really sit still and do nothing. I think songs show a lot of people’s personalities, and I guess this is how my personality comes through. 

I’ve read from prior interviews that you draw inspiration from the visual arts while creating music and vice versa. Is there a specific visual (like a sculpture, painting, or movie) that you comes to mind that you think embodies “Look After August” as a whole, or a specific track on the record (besides the album artwork, of course)?

When I was making the first single (“said”), I just could only see the color orange. I don’t know why, but I love the color orange and I love citrus fruit.

There’s not really a specific artwork that really comes to mind when I think about this album, but there’s little vignettes from memories I have with the song. I also felt like there were colors assigned to each song so I kept going with that idea and branching off from there!

On that note, how did you decide “said” was going to be your first official single for your debut?

When I created “said,” I knew it was gonna be the single, because it was finally showing my more “pop” side that I wanted to show people after my first EP “Lineage.” I love catchy, groovy, pop music, and this was that for me. Feels narcissistic saying this, but the hook would always get stuck in my head, so I knew it could be a strong introduction to my project.

How many songs did you write for “Look After August” and how did you choose which songs to release? What was the thought process behind sequencing them?

Initially, I didn’t even think I was even going to make a whole album. I had a few songs lying around for years, and then during my winter break of my last year in college, I fell in the deep end of writing and producing almost everyday. My creativity always sparks when I feel my emotions intensely and at the time, I was going through a breakup. Eventually, I sequenced them to how a relationship starts and ends. 

One theme that shines throughout “Look After August” is this idea of self-realization, taking time for yourself for once and letting go of the things that can hurt you.

“Give it/ what i get” — with that whispering chant during the verses — “give it / a rest / give it a rest / give it, give it,” and “take care” (that scream after the chorus is cathartic) especially resonate with this message.

Compared to your more narrative songs like “Friend’s House,” they’re more empowering and sharp. Was the songwriting process any different for these tracks, and did you find it more difficult to write them?

It’s interesting you say that because I wrote “Friend’s House” literally sobbing at 4 a.m. lol. Like ugly crying. Alone. At night.

You can actually hear some sniffles and whatnot in my vocals in that track because I kept the take of me losing it because I liked how messy it was. It was a song that I wrote while going through a breakup. I was over being upset at the person, and felt grateful for everything that happened.

It was one of those songs that just poured out of me because I wrote, produced, and recorded the whole thing in one night. “Give it/what i get” and “take care” took much longer, but they were equally as cathartic to write — both for very different reasons.

“go to bed” is the only track on the album where you splice together Korean and English lyricism, and the only song that includes a feature. How did it feel to have your track in the hands of another person, and what special place does the song hold in your heart that made you want to include it on the album (say, in comparison to “Lineage” when you had no other featured artists)?

So this song actually started out as a jam with my friends Ben Hon and Connor Golden. We all went to music school together, and one night, we were just fooling around with beats and melodies and came up with the hook.

I produced a little demo of it, and it sat on my computer for so long. Then, finally, when I was putting the album together, I found the demo and thought it was still really strong, but needed to be developed more. So I produced out the rest of the tune, brought in my friend/collaborator Daniel Loumpouridis to flesh out some bridge ideas, and after a few months, we finally finished it. It took maybe 3 different versions until I got one that I was happy with.

I think what I really love about this song is that it came from an organic way of just friends hanging out and making music for fun. It’s always a good time hanging out with those guys because they’re all so free spirited and making music with them feels the same way.

“28B (The Window Seat)” is the feature-length song on “Look After August,” and it feels

unnamed Q&A: Artist Hunjiya reflects on love, loneliness in indie pop album Look After August
(Photo courtesy of Haejin Han)

just as cinematic. From the softened guitar strums to the heaven-opening aahs, I can almost imagine being in the aisle seat right next to you, seeing the clouds open up to let the sunlight shine through.

And then you bring it all down to a gentle whisper that grows, slowly spreading its wings before flying across the sky. How long did it take to create the track, and what did you do to create that real-life atmosphere?

The song was a work in progress for about two years until I actually finished it. I wrote the lyrics on my flight to Korea (the year I wrote “Lineage”), but had no melody to it.

I wrote it more as a poem and the lyrics were quite literal. I was in the seat of 28B, a window seat, looking at clouds, and wishing that I could be with someone who I only met for a few days before leaving.

I was falling for this person and, I knew I wasn’t going to see them for months. When we started dating, he taught me this slightly flat open D tuning on the guitar that wasn’t exactly D or Db but fell right in-between. One day, I found the poem in my notes and started writing the song with that tuning for my album. 

What piece of advice do you think you would have given yourself before making the album?

TO MAKE A BACKUP!!! WITH EVERYTHING!!! My hard drive crashed while I had all of my final mixes to send to mastering and let me tell you, I was livid. I wasn’t gonna try to recreate all of my files, so I had to spend a lot of money fixing it. Back up your files. All of you. Now. 

What do you hope listeners take away from “Look After August,” and what did you gain out of the album-making process that you weren’t expecting?

As cheesy and simple as it is, I ultimately hope that my listeners find that they can relate in some way listening to this album either through the music, lyrics, or both.

Loneliness and love are two experiences that’s shared amongst everyone, and I think music and art in general is a beautiful way of expressing so much pain into something that feels, looks, or sounds comforting. From making this album, I realized that my range of emotions all lay themselves out in different sounds and textures, and that’s perfectly OK.

As artists, I feel like we have ingrained a standard to hold ourselves to what people expect from us, but sometimes we just wanna create something for the hell of it. I learned to say f— it and also be okay to sit with whatever emotion I was feeling and not suppress it.

unnamed 1 Q&A: Artist Hunjiya reflects on love, loneliness in indie pop album Look After August
(Photo courtesy of Valerie Chaparro)

You can pre-save “Everybody’s Losing Their Mind” by KiM.Ko here and stream it on Spotify and other streaming platforms Wednesday.