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[Herald Interview] Blending old and new: SMMT on what makes timeless music

DJ-turned-producer aims to leave a trace on music’s history with first album

SMMT (H1ghr Music)
SMMT (H1ghr Music)

Comfortable in a pair of sneakers and a T-shirt, SMMT has been soaking up the spotlight as a globe-trotting DJ. Not much is known about him, but concertgoers will see him mixing live sessions for local rappers pH-1 and Sik-K and taking over the deck at parties. He’s also a member of Yelows Mob, a music crew helmed by Sik-K.

Born Jung Sung-min, SMMT is one of the faces under H1ghr Music with a unique background. He kicked into gear as a DJ at 20. In 2020, he earned his first credit as a producer through the hip-hop label’s compilation albums, taking the lead on “Blue Tape” and “Red Tape.”

But the pandemic paused live music, which was a bitter pill to swallow for the musician. And as he looked back on his decadelong career, nothing but party posters greeted him. Unlike his alias, which refers to the word "summit," he realized he hadn’t reached the apogee of music with his artistic statement.

“When I took the time to walk down memory lane to recall what I’ve done, there was nothing, so I wanted to leave a trace of mine in music’s history with my album,” he said, beaming as he walked The Korea Herald through his first musical project, “Mr. Hollywood,” which was released Wednesday.

 
Album cover of SMMT’s first EP, “Mr. Hollywood” (H1ghr Music)
Album cover of SMMT’s first EP, “Mr. Hollywood” (H1ghr Music)

The album’s title is synonymous with a person who always wants to be in the “in” crowd, which he described as someone the complete opposite of himself.

“I don’t like being at the center of attention, but I stepped out of my comfort zone and my roots of work for the first time. I’ll continue to make more music, so I thought it would be funny asking myself if I’m trying to be Mr. Hollywood,” he said.

The virtuoso said the feeling of seeing his name and album on music platforms for the first time has yet to sink in. Playing with his hands, he seemed nervous but confident about branching out from a two-hit wonder.

“Mr. Hollywood” is his debut EP, but SMMT deserved the nod. He knew the cheat code to euphonious sounds, had many colors on his palette and studied the greats of music to create a solid record. The musician also swerved away from quirky productions and peppered some fresh grooves with a pinch of a modern twist.

“I don’t want to make music that has an expiration date. I’ve poured so much effort into honing the skills to bring out songs that can stand the test of time. My album is not too old-fashioned, not too trendy, but a mixture of the old and new.”
 
SMMT (H1ghr Music)
SMMT (H1ghr Music)

“I didn’t use gimmicks in music, nor did I only chase after trendy sounds. My No. 1 importance was focusing on music that can be loved for a long time,” SMMT added.

With hopes of designing a golden glow for his career, the artist opened up about why he combined elements from different eras.

“Growing up, I had an eclectic music taste. I learned hip-hop through Leessang, branched out to West Coast G-funk in middle school by listening to T-Pain and Lil Wayne, and Daft Punk in high school. Many years have passed, but I still go back to their music, and I want the same thing to happen when people listen to my songs.”

Following his creed, SMMT came up with tracks using instruments like the keyboard to build the sound of his sonic landscape.



SMMT (H1ghr Music)
SMMT (H1ghr Music)

“Mr. Hollywood is an album brimming with my musical style, but it’s also an album that listeners can enjoy. It has a texture of the ‘80s and ‘90s R&B and soul, disco, house music, funk and UK garage, blended with trendy tunes which people would like. I’ve also melded synthesizer sounds.”

“The melody line is what lingers after listening to a song for me, so that’s why I adhered to making tunes that are easy on the ear. It’s what I find essential in my music,” he added.

The lead track, “Knock Knock,” has a soft and warm melody with brass sounds, and pH-1’s gentle rapping and Moon Su-jin’s vocals played a big part. Other songs on the album -- “RnB 4 Sk8ers,” “Hell of a Night,” “Dream to Dream,” “I’ll Be Fine” and “Block + Problematic” -- also carry pleasant sounds of their own.

The wunderkind also gave credit to artists like Jay B of GOT7, Loco, Ace Hashimoto, Sik-K and Big Naughty for bringing their strong vocal and harmonies to the core, saying he’s pleased with the outcome. And when his tracks were studio ready, the 29-year-old knew he had to put them out.

“I disconnected myself from the frenzy of everyday life and knuckled down on making this album. I repeatedly listened to the songs in my demo file and chose the songs that I found enticing and worth listening to,” the musician said.

“The album is definitely to my taste, but it doesn’t translate into SMMT’s musical color. It’s only my first album, so I’m venturing on what I like as a producer and what would make my musical personality,” he added.

Although SMMT has a long way to go, he is excited about starting a new journey as a producer.

“If my previous works concentrated on how to make a good harmony with the artists, now I want to make timeless music. I want my music to be like an antique that never goes out of style,” he said.

By Park Jun-hee (junheee@heraldcorp.com)
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