Artist J.CHON talks about family, music, creativity, feelings, and his latest EP in this Q&A.
Interviewed by: Alyssa Yeh
First, tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m Jason Chon, I’m from Westchester, New York, and I’m currently in my last year at Berklee College of Music studying Electronic Production Design. I would say my music is Electronic R&B for now and some of the instrument I use to create music are guitar, bass, piano, hand percussion, turntables, Logic Pro, and currently trying to learn Ableton
What got you into music?
I like to say that my music skill comes from my mom, and my music taste comes from my dad. My grandpa on my mom’s side was an army conductor for the Korean army when they were stationed in Vietnam. So he knew how to play the accordion, banjo, flamenco-style guitar, all these different instruments. And my mom grew up playing piano and organ for church, and she also sang, so I always grew up listening to her.
And with my dad. My dad just has good taste in music. He had this slick Mercedes, and a white iPod that never left the car, and whenever he’d drive me to soccer or baseball games, he’d start blasting AC/DC or Queen or something like that, just to hype me up. Fond memories.
How'd you know that music was what you wanted to do?
In eighth grade, my school had an arts gala where every student had to showcase some type of art. I chose music, and I was assigned a random band. At that point, not many people were invested in music, and most of them had just a rudimentary knowledge of how to play an instrument. I knew how to play all of the instruments, so I just divided everyone up and was like, “Alright, you do this, you do this.”
We did the show, and it came out really well. There were a couple parents in the crowd who were actual musicians, and they came up and told me, “That was actually really good.” So I was like “Okay, yeah. That's kinda cool.”
What is your creative process as an artist like?
It could start from something as complex as the way a snare sounds, and then go into anything, like a whole drum groove or chord progression. I drag this into Logic, which is the software I use.
These days, a lot of my inspiration comes from the visual first. Like, let's say I'm trying to write a song about a rough day I had. Before I even tackle the music side, I would picture, like, if I made a music video for this song, what would the music video look like, and then I make the music accordingly.
I wanted to ask about your EP, INDESCRIBABLE. How did you come up with the title?
The title refers to feelings you hold inside of you that are simply indescribable, and you can’t explain it to other people by using just words. I’ve always had trouble with expressing myself emotionally, so one of the things I learned how to do was do it through music instead. I learned how to do it through guitar first. I would just sit during recess in high school, and noodle on the guitar just trying to figure out how to play.
I’m also interested in your song titles, particularly, the choice to use words from different languages. What was the process behind this choice?
I’m Korean American, and I’ve spent some time in Korea. I’m not fluent in Korean but I can speak a relative amount of it. I knew there were words in Korean that my family--all really smart people--could not even translate into English. As I was doing more research for the EP, I came across more words from different languages that touched on the emotional side, and I came across these words that I was like, I've definitely felt like that, but there's no word for it in English. It really intrigued me how different languages have words for very specific scenarios that everyday people go through, and I was really drawn to that.
What emotions do you want to evoke through your music?
Let’s take the first song, for example. The word “goya” comes from Urdu, and it means, “when a fantasy seems so realistic that it temporarily becomes reality.” Everyone has those days where they wake up from a really good dream, and then they have to tackle the rest of the day. And just like the juxtaposition of: “really good dream” and then: “really shitty day.” Rather than describing the dream, I describe the feeling of what happens after the dream, so that means the dream could be anything for anyone. And I think that’s something I could get people to relate to. With my music, of course I can make you feel a certain way, but I want you to be able to do it in a way that’s personal to you.
Describe your goals as an artist.
One thing my mom said about me, she listened to me play guitar once, and she said that it’s really healing. And that’s something I really want to imbue with my music. It’s kind of like when your grandma cooks for you. If she’s cooked for you long enough, she can figure out what your palate is like, so she’ll adjust the recipe according to your taste buds. I really want to make music that people can really vibe with and it conforms to what they’re feeling in the moment; they don’t necessarily have to be in a specific mood to listen to my music.
Favorite artist at the moment?
My go-to artist right now is Mansur Brown. He’s also a guitarist, and the first time I listened to his music, I was like, why doesn't my guitar sound like that? He’s the reason why I started getting into guitar pedals. I was using my friend’s pedalboard up until recently, and you have your basic reverb delay, overdrive compressor, and it gets the job done. But I really want to sound unique, and when I heard Mansur, I was like, woah. He has his sound figured out. And I thought maybe I can get a pedal that could emulate that sound.
If you had any advice for other artists, what would you say?
Your ambition has to come from you. There are people who can inspire you, but at the end of the day, picking up the guitar, or sitting at the piano, or opening up your laptop to a new session has to all come from you.
What’s next for J.CHON?
In the long run, I have two albums that I want to release. Both are about the different ways I’ve grown, through family and through love. But my focus right now is going to be a two or three song release inspired by some photos I took recently.
Anything else you want to say?
Check out my music please! I really appreciate you reading all this mumbo jumbo. And if you guys need some words of encouragement, or just like anything I guess, don’t be afraid to hit me up.