photo by @fakepatois on instagram
Each track on Yaeji’s debut EP offers us a little peak into her world. Kathy Lee, who goes by her Korean name Yaeji when performing, places haunting vocal tracks in both English and Korean overtop enticing beats and atmospheric synth sounds.
Kathy was born in Queens, but has spent her life between two places - America and East Asia.
“Both experiences were very tough for me,” she said in an email interview with Shut Up and Listen. "It forced me to see myself as an individual, as Yaeji, and no one else.”
Kathy began her musical career on a college radio station while attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Learning to use Traktor and DJing a dance party turned a casual endeavor into a passion. After two years of DJing, Kathy started using Ableton and making her own music.
“I remember skipping a lot of class just to produce music,” she said about her time in college. Kathy explained that before she knew much about music production, she would just use her voice to form a foundation for a track, then build from that.
“I’m not really a good singer,” she said. “But singing really helped me come up with new melodies and ideas.” Now that she’s more comfortable with songwriting, Kathy said that she will usually start with a drum loop or chords.
Kathy returned to New York City after college, interested in recounting her childhood and learning about the underground music and art scene. She now regularly DJs in the city. Kathy said she usually will DJ with MP3s and a CDJ, but is currently learning to spin records with the help of her friends, like Discwoman co-founder UMFANG. Kathy said learning to DJ with records has been a whole other experience.
The first Yaeji EP was recently released on NYC-based label Godmode.
Kathy said she has a love-hate relationship with the way music for her always has to involve other people.
“Nothing compares to the joy of playing my unreleased in a room of close friends or DJing at a packed venue where people are dancing hard to the music,” she said. “But on the other side, I’m inevitably affected by how the crowd reacts or what other people think of the music.”
Kathy said that in her work she has tried not to box herself into any categories.
“I wanted to do my own thing, create my own work,” she said. She did acknowledge though that the state of the U.S. right now does force her identity to affect her in one way or another.
Kathy works as both a visual and musical artist.
“I’m constantly trying to find ways to bridge my visual art and other interests with music,” she said. She is currently working on paintings, music, videos, a website, and various collaborations.