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[Herald Interview] Saay on making music that brings life

Singer-songwriter gears up for second LP with prerelease single “Summer in Love”

Saay (Universal Music Korea)
Saay (Universal Music Korea)
A seasoned singer-songwriter with a career stretching over a decade, Saay says the past year and eight months was a time to reposition herself for her musical journey.

Although she did not release new songs under her own name during that time, the 30-year-old musician has been busier than ever expanding her horizon as a composer, lyricist and producer for other artists.

“It’s taken me a year and eight months to tear down the whole foundation upon which I had stood and reorganize it completely, restructuring myself from the mindset to the very fundamental values about music,” Saay said during a recent interview with The Korea Herald.

Saay, whose real name is Kwon So-hee, said the upcoming second full-length album will carry her lessons and thoughts from that rebuilding process.

And her latest single, “Summer in Love,” marked the start of the crescendo of sounds and stories to be told through the expansive package. The song, featuring singer-songwriter Colde, was dropped on June 16 as a prerelease.

“As I’m sinking back into people’s ears with this song, it couldn’t be too fancy. I wanted it to be like a friend for worn-out listeners, easy listening and full of a chill mood,” she said.

Saay said her music is like a record of her life -- her albums and diaries. All her music is based on her own experiences, and while she writes music how she thinks and feels, the moment she releases it in the form of a song may come much later, just as with “Summer in Love,” which she had written in her early 20s following a painful breakup.

“I broke up at the height of the summer, but for some reason, the pain felt cold. I composed the song then with ‘Don’t Know,’ and while I could release the emotions embodied in ‘Don’t Know,’ I wasn’t yet ready to let ‘Summer in Love’ go then,” she said. “Summer in Love” picks up from the story told through her 2020 single “Don’t Know,” she said. 

Saay’s single “Summer in Love” (Universal Music Korea)
Saay’s single “Summer in Love” (Universal Music Korea)

Saay said the unveiling of new songs is often a therapeutic process in which she gets to unleash her emotions.

“When I release my songs, my feelings are no longer just mine but everyone’s. I have to open myself up first before disclosing them. When those feelings inside me become unfettered, that’s when I can finally speak about them through the songs.”

Her second LP will embody the various emotions and thoughts that had once stayed inside her, but are now ready to be let free. Saay said the main message of the LP will be centered on the values of a finite life, which she had dwelled on for the past few years as she endured the loss of a close one and looked back on her own life.

“The first track of the album is about space, and I wrote it after my grandmother passed away a few years ago. It was the first death I witnessed. Although I was overwhelmed by sorrow then, with time, I came to realize that death is what makes life beautiful. After life ends, we all return to become a part of nature. The album will be about such cycle of life and the connectedness within,” the self-proclaimed believer of Buddhism said.

The sound will be the real fruit of her painstaking efforts, Saay said. She hoped to stimulate the listeners’ senses beyond the ears through her music, enabling listeners to imagine a live concert just with the sounds.

The two “A”s in her name resemble the shape of the eyes and refers to her vision to make music that could be seen. Originally debuting as Say, the singer-songwriter added an extra “A” to the name in embarking on her solo career to emphasize her aspiration to gift listeners a four-dimensional experience through her music.

Saay (Universal Music Korea)
Saay (Universal Music Korea)

In 2012, when she officially set foot into the music industry as the leader of now-disbanded K-pop group EvoL, Saay also debuted as a composer and lyricist with singer Henry’s second EP “Fantastic.”

Since then, she has pushed the envelope as a producer. With her solo debut in 2017, she continued to contribute to numerous works of other artists, including Crush, Snoop Dogg, Twice, aespa and Viviz. She is currently a part of local production crew SoulTriii, led by renowned producer Deez.

Saay says such creative collaborations kept her going during the past year or so while she was unable to engage with live crowds.

“There’s the give-and-take in energy with music. With my own songs, I used to get the energy from the audience, but that was impossible for a while with the concerts put on hold. So I had to find some other source of inspiration, which was working for other musicians. The instant I hear their singing and feel the passion and energy from that single vocal track, I’m reminded of the flip in heart I had when I first started music.”

While Saay has teamed up with numerous artists of various genres, working with Exo’s Baekhyun stood out. She took part in the overall production of Baekhyun’s third EP “Bambi” that dropped in 2021.

Seeking to consolidate his position as an R&B soloist through the album, Baekhyun and SoulTriii members spent nearly a month on the project, working from scratch to make an album perfect for him.

“Baekhyun is a very detailed person. I learned a lot from working with him. Not only was he an apt vocalist, but he was very aware of how he should be as an artist. There’s much to expect from Baekhyun as a soloist singer,” she said.

Saay will drop her second LP within this year, and she’ll be giving another peek into the album in the coming weeks with another prerelease single.

Saay (Universal Music Korea)
Saay (Universal Music Korea)

Officially embarking on her next musical journey as a singer, Saay said she plans to focus on producing her own music after the LP release. If the situation allows, she hopes to proceed with a concert next year, which has been indefinitely postponed since 2020 due to the pandemic.

The musician hoped her sounds could carry a life of its own, continuing to exist even beyond her time on Earth.

“I believe music has life. It empowers people and enlightens their spirit. Rather than trying to cram too much into the music, I hope to let it flow as it wishes, floating into the lake or out into the ocean. All I can do is just do what I can do right now, and the music will speak for me.”

By Choi Ji-won (
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