People always say write what you know and that’s why I typically like to stick to covering artists I know in some regard. With that in mind, I found myself on a Zoom call a couple of months ago late at night with a singer from Seoul. Over a brief conversation, I was introduced to burgeoning K-Pop star MRSHLL and been paying attention since. The multifaceted singer/songwriter has garnered a massive following in South Korea where his unique blend of soul-influenced pop has found a welcome audience. With a new full-length on the horizon, he released Archives 1 last week, a collection of previously recorded singles, bundled together for the first time.
MRSHLL first hit the scene about five years ago. Alongside being known for his music, he also carried the torch for the LGBTQ community within his particular genre, emerging as the first openly-gay K-Pop artist at that time to date. Coming from a conservative background, operating in the sometimes tightly-wound world of South Korea as a native Californian, it was and is a big deal, but not anything that defines the 31-year-old singer. More importantly, the openness has allowed a freedom in his work that is evident throughout his catalog and opened a door in his part of the world that will hopefully allow for plenty more to express themselves the way they see fit.
Having found success in pockets around the world, MRSHLL is excited to breakthrough in the American market and is currently in the process of creating new music. Moving back and forth from the countryside while working on his upcoming project, MRSHLL sat down to answer some questions for us around the release of Archives. Get into that below and keep an eye out for plenty more coming soon from MRSHLL.
What was the motivation behind this collection?
I wanted to give the fans something to hold them over before the full album drop in September. These songs were written between the past couple of years but were in the vault for some reason or other – hence the name of the EP, ARCHIVES 1. Last time I checked, I probably had about 60ish songs currently sitting there in various stages of completion haha.
How would you go about describing the sound of your music and how has it evolved while approaching an album?
I’m very much a chameleon in terms of genre-blurring but the easiest way to describe me is that I’m a pop music baby. I think my underlying foundation will always be some iteration of pop – no matter how much I seem to stray from it. But I would say til now, I’ve mostly lived within the neighborhood confines of R&B and house music; but you can definitely hear elements of disco, trap, lo-fi, chillhop, rock – I pull from so many places haha.
At first, my album was going to be similar to the layout of my 2018 solo debut EP, breathe, splitting between upbeat dance tracks and chill R&B. But now I think I want it to be even more cohesive with the mood and vibe of the whole record to be able to flow from one song to the other without breaking stride. It’s insane because I’ve contemplated on what my first full-length album should look like — in terms of genre — for ages; and I think the pressure of wanting this album to be lauded by critics or financially successful… it fucks with you. I think I always wrestle with being put in a box – especially after being put in one for most of my life.
Who or what is your main source of inspiration at the moment, how have you been preparing for the debut?
I think I’m definitely looking to the music that I grew up in and pulling elements from all my influences throughout my life: 70s soft rock (Bee Gees, Carpenters, Fleetwood Mac), soul greats (Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin), 90s R&B slow jams, Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” singer-songwriters (Carole King, Crosby Stills & Nash), today’s bedroom pop, and a lot of Aaliyah. Honestly there’s too many artists I look up to and gain inspiration from that I think I’m just a huge music nerd. I was one of those kids that would scour bargain bins at old record stores or public libraries for albums that looked remotely interesting or that I’ve heard about from somewhere. I’d go home, rip the CDs into my laptop, then study the accompanying album booklet and not only did I look at the lyrics, but more importantly, look at who wrote and produced the records. I think that’s how I was able to discover new music and genres – something that I do to this day – but online haha.
Of course, music is relative, art is relative… but at its core, I think music is the same – there are certain tried-and-true melodies and chords that hit the collective g-spot, helping people achieve musical orgasms. So music will “change” in a sense that it gets “dressed” in the latest trends and fashions but music – especially pop music – is cyclical. I love that artists are being creative in the midst of a pandemic and using whatever DIY resources to get their music out – me being one of them. These days, I’ve been watching a ton of anime, Marvel, and Korean dramas while simultaneously reading Ocean Vuong’s “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” before bed for that inspo. Artists-wise I’ve been obsessed with Victoria Monet, Gabriel Garzón-Montano, H.E.R., Giveon, and Bieber’s “Peaches” haha. I also get a lot from nature walks around my house being that there’s a mountain in my backyard.
What’s it like operating in South Korea with your unique perspective?
It’s been a helluva ride with high highs and low lows. Being California born-and-raised, I spent all my time as a kid trying to assimilate and be as “American” as I could be – needless to say, that shit didn’t work haha. But being in Korea for the past near decade, I’ve learned SO much about my identity, where I come from, and it’s been a constant struggle to merge my two cultures together. My conversational Korean has grown in leaps and bounds, so I’ve been attempting to write more in Korean. Bringing my unique American sensibilities and applying that to the neo-Kpop music that I do, my songwriting has evolved into reflecting a fusion of my Korean and American upbringing.
What should American listeners who may be hearing you for the first time know about MRSHLL?
Haha I dunno man – I want to help expand the borders of pop music and K-pop, push the envelope in terms of performance art, weaving fashion and music together to help stimulate your senses… but then there are times I just wanna strip off the sequins, tulle and fur and get down to jeans, cowboy boots, and a t-shirt and sing a ballad. To be honest, I think I’m still figuring it out – but I make some damn good music and am a sick ass performer and here to make you feel SOMETHING.