Minji Kong is an up-and-coming independent singer-songwriter out of Philadelphia, whose delightful, dreamy pop sound caught my attention while setting up SOMETHINGGOOD’s Soundcloud account. I was impressed by demos of what would become her debut EP I Guess (released in August and available via Bandcamp and Soundcloud) and was blown away by their final forms.
Kong has taken the road less traveled to a young indie pop career: she was born in South Korea, spent grade school in Singapore before coming to the U.S. — where she now attends college — with her family. Kong used music to help cope with what was a difficult transition for her personally. Her weapon of choice: an acoustic guitar, which she wields on the her slow-burning song “59th Street” (which, conveniently, you can listen to below using the embedded player).
“59th Street” is one of five tracks on the EP. “Fade” and “Boulevard” are acoustic ballads as well, while on “Parfait” and “The One,” Kong shows a flare for more upbeat, poppy sounds — no doubt influenced by their use of drum sounds and electric guitar. The ties that bind are her gentle vocals and evocative lyricism.
Kong recently went through another stressful transition — back to school — and plans to continue writing and recording new music between classes and other activities. Despite her busy schedule, Kong was gracious enough to answer our queries in the first edition of GOODQUESTIONS, a regular feature (we hope) spotlighting interesting and talented new artists with a focus on their music and processes.
SOMETHINGGOOD: How long have you been making music? What steered you in that direction?
Minji Kong: This is going to require a bit of a backstory haha. I was born in South Korea, and my family and I migrated to Singapore, where I finished most of my elementary education. We moved here to the U.S. after, and quite honestly, I first had a hard time getting used to the culture and schools here. Moving around a lot then made it hard for me to make friends or even have the courage to do so, especially with my introverted personality at the time. Exploring music was the one thing I could enjoy after a long day at school.
So yeah, long-story short, I’ve been experimenting with songwriting since freshman year of high school; that’s when I began to appreciate music more in a sincere manner, I think. When I first tried writing music then, I actually wrote lyrics in Korean because I’ve been enjoying listening to old acoustic Korean folk songs at the time.
I had to take a break from songwriting for a bit to focus more on schoolwork. Then, during this summer break after my first year of college, I randomly had the strongest desire to get back into making songs. Writing music again almost felt like a healing activity — especially after being stressed out about getting used to life at university. I didn’t know I’d have so much to say through music that I’d end up releasing an EP at the end of the summer! I also tried sharing my work with the public for the first time this year, which was nerve-wracking yet really exciting.
SG: Your music has many of the hallmarks of bedroom pop. How would you classify your style? And who are your influences?
MK: I think I would classify my music as “bedroom pop” plus pretty much every single genre I enjoy listening to when writing my songs haha. My music taste ranges so much that I get influenced by whatever I enjoy listening to at the time. Sometime it becomes an issue, especially when I have yet to solidify my music to a specific genre haha. I think I was more specifically into alternative folk, rock, and pop at the time I was writing songs for I Guess EP.
When I first started out songwriting, I was most influenced by Corinne Bailey Rae and Kim Kwang Seok, who was a Korean folk singer-songwriter. Currently, I think I’m mainly influenced by Lucy Rose, Frankie Cosmos, Bombay Bicycle Club, Billie Marten and Clairo.
SG: How do your songs typically come together?
MK: It usually depends on how I come up with an idea for a song. Sometimes I play around with my guitar, see what chords sound good together, come up with melodies that go with them, and then write lyrics after. There are also occasions when I wish to tell something specific with a song; in those cases, I’d write the lyrics first. I like to use whatever I have on me to make music. I’ve always used acoustic and electric guitars, as well as my MIDI keyboard. I’ve been trying to teach myself drum as well.
SG: You released your I Guess EP earlier this year. What’s next for you?
MK: Currently I’m back in college and pursuing my two majors. I’m also more active as a photographer on campus, so I’ve been spending time on that too. My love for music is stronger than ever, though. I don’t have as much time to make music while I’m here for sure, but I am definitely working on new songs. I play my guitar whenever I have the chance and play around with different tunes. I’ll probably record and master them once I’m done with this semester and I can tell you that I am already so excited to do so.
SG: “The One” is one of the stand-out tracks on your new EP. Does it have any special meaning to you? Can you share what it is about?
MK: “The One” is the first song I tried using my electric guitar in! I had a lot of fun recording it. My family and friends know this, but I have a tendency to be really indecisive at times, and this song addresses it in an interesting perspective. Every time I’m told to make a decision, I feel as though all the possible options are trying to persuade me to choose them while everyone who’s waiting for me to decide are begging me for an answer. Sometimes it puts so much pressure on me that I feel as though an entire town is pushing me to decide. It becomes really frustrating, especially when I have to make a decision that would impact my life significantly, which puts me at a hopeless position. I hope this makes sense haha.
SG: Final question — who are you listening to?
MK: Artists that I can’t help but keep coming back to recently are Lucy Rose, Porches, Hyukoh (a Korean alternative rock band), Mr Jukes, Fleet Foxes, Léon and Billie Marten. I’ve been enjoying listening to their albums as a whole lately. I also like to listen to whatever’s on my Spotify Discover Weekly and make playlists every two weeks or so as a hobby.
A million thanks to Minji Kong for taking part in our first-ever GOODQUESTIONS article. As a reminder, you can find her I Guess EP via Bandcamp and Soundcloud. Keep up with the latest goings-on by following her Twitter and YouTube accounts (where she just posted an acoustic version of “The One”).