The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] As a soloist and a band, Ha Hyunsang calibrates music through self-made stories

New album talks about struggles people face when they feel lost in life

By Park Jun-hee

Published : Jan. 13, 2022 - 14:57

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Singer-songwriter Ha Hyunsang (Wakeone) Singer-songwriter Ha Hyunsang (Wakeone)
Music is a universal language, and a powerful instrumental tool that can be a great healer. At a time when many are dogged by the coronavirus blues, people turn to songs for comfort.

And for Ha Hyunsang, it was time to reset.

Talking about his 3rd EP, “Calibrate,” released Dec. 21, the singer said he went back to basics to express his thoughts.

“The name of my album means the reset button on the instrument. It’s like a button configuring an instrument’s original set value that resets the value to its default value. And I wanted to make music with the mindset I started with,” he said, reminiscing about how he first floated the idea.

The singer went on to say that he wanted emotional struggles that people muddle through to take center stage to delve into the difficulties people face when they feel lost at some point in life.

“It’s hard to clarify what is good or bad, and the language of what is right and wrong. I think people my age, or just people in general, would question whether they’re walking toward the right path, and I wanted to talk about how I untangled my thoughts,” the 23-year-old said.

Of course, Ha’s “worry” was music, saying that he started working on his 3rd EP with a blank canvas.

“I had to come up with six new tracks in four months since I ran out of songs,” he said.

So he took his guitar and headed to Jeju Island to write. It was a productive trip: He penned the first two tracks on his album – “Highway” and titular “Lighthouse.”

Ha said he got his inspiration for another track, “Blue Alley,” while walking in an alley.

And, as the title suggests, “Dead Bird” was written after he saw a dead bird on his studio’s rooftop.

But while working on the album, the artist said he wasn’t satisfied with the overall rearrangement of the songs.

“I wanted to make music of my taste because the songs talk about my stories, but I wasn’t able to explore more tunes. Hopefully, I could release an album with fewer slip-ups next time.”

Exploring music through ‘Hoppipolla’

While most know Ha Hyunsang as a musician with an illustrious solo career, he had success with band Hoppipolla. The band won JTBC’s audition program “Super Band,” which aired in 2019.

The quartet is made up of Ha Hyunsang, the vocalist and guitarist; Hong Jinho, who plays the cello; Kim Youngso, the guitarist; and I’ll, who is the leader, vocalist and keyboardist. They threw their hats into the ring in 2019 with their debut single, “About Time.”

Speaking about being a bandmate of Hoppipolla, the singer said he grew up listening to English rock band Oasis and South Korean rock group Delispice.

He said being part of a band let him branch out to other genres and explore different sides of himself as a singer.

“Before I was on the show and embarked on a musical journey as Hoppipolla, I was a little narrow-minded in my musical taste,” the musician said. He added that he was just a singer who enjoyed the “do-it-myself” attitude with music.

“The biggest charm of being a soloist is that I can do whatever I want to do with music, from coming up with the tunes, melody, words and the demo of a song,” the singer said.

But when it comes to band music, Ha Hyunsang said it’s an “outcome made by four members.” He went on to say that since all the bandmates are a virtuoso in their own right, he could bring out fresh tunes that are somewhat offbeat in the music scene.

The singer also said many of the ideas are things that he can’t think of or ideas that can’t solely come out of his mind. “Every time we gather to make a song, we share our opinions about how we should rearrange a piece, what to add or pull,” he said. The singer also said he gets joy from knowing how many different options are out there in music.

“Being able to make music with such talented people makes my musical journey more enjoyable,” he added. 

A picture of Ha Hyunsang’s 3rd EP “Calibrate.” (Wakeone) A picture of Ha Hyunsang’s 3rd EP “Calibrate.” (Wakeone)
Melding stories in songs

Rising from the underground to fame is not an easy task, but he attracted attention when a TV soundtrack used one of his songs. The musician’s “Becoming the Wind,” the seventh song on the soundtrack for tvN’s “Mr. Sunshine” in 2018, became a mega-hit among drama fans and listeners.

“I used to upload cover songs on social media, and the director contacted me after seeing clips of me singing, so the offer was flabbergasting,” he said.

The singer said it was an honor for him to convey the characters’ emotions through his voice, adding that hearing his voice while watching the drama was a joy.

The musician also shared that he was never told to compose the soundtracks he had sung but was asked to write it for other singers.

“I know my voice the best in terms of my vocal range and the words I can pronounce well, but I can’t fully understand the song if I get it from other composers,” he said.

“Fly” is the first song he wrote for a soundtrack, and was featured in “Misaeng: Incomplete Life.” The singer is also famous for composing “Take,” which was for the drama “He is Psychometric.”

“Now that I think of it, I’m thankful how these people are willing to blend in my voice with their dramas,” the artist added.

Ha Hyunsang went on to say that some could think that writing songs and coming up with the lyrics was a privilege as a singer, but he said it made the process of making music more taxing, because it means creating music out of nothing.

“I’m a bit selfish when it comes to music, which is why I pen all my songs,” he said. “In the end, what I truly want to say is the stories I’ve experienced. Hopefully, my music and thoughts will land well with listeners.”