Gaho’s evocative voice found home in several soundtracks for South Korean television series, such as The Last Empress, My Secret Terrius, Start-Up and, most notably, the early-pandemic Netflix hit, Itaewon Class. ‘Start Over’, the show’s wistful theme, topped South Korea’s Gaon Digital Chart and earned Best OST at the 2020 Mnet Asian Music Awards, catapulting his career from a niche basement to a panoramic penthouse.
However, the 24-year-old singer says that he isn’t “a K-drama person”, and that he only watches the shows his songs appear in. Neither is he a fan of OSTs in general. “No, no, no,” he laughs through the Zoom call screen with NME. “Only my songs!” Although Gaho enjoys recording soundtracks, he also produces his own work as a solo artist and as a member of PLT, a project group under Planetarium Records. As of late, all his efforts have been on producing his first full-length album, ‘Fireworks’, out now.
Co-written and composed by himself, ‘Fireworks’ is a collection of twelve tracks where each “relate to a single emotion that you feel when you are in your youth”, he explains. There’s anticipation in the bleeps and kicks of ‘OOO’, fear in the cutting strings of ‘Afraid’, the exhilarating daze of love in ‘Part Time Lover’, a sweet melancholy in ‘Like The Moon’. Underpinned by his emotionally-charged delivery and impressive range, Gaho crafted a fireworks show of his own – one that makes us look up to the sky, reminisce and sigh.
He tells us more about his creative process, challenges he faced and plans to release more music in the near future
Congrats on your first full album! What is the story behind ‘Fireworks’?
“The album is basically about myself and the feelings I experienced in my youth. Each of the twelve songs relate to a single emotion that you feel when you are in your youth. And the reason why I chose the word ‘fireworks’ was because, if you think about them, they shoot up in the sky and then they burst, and they’re really pretty just for that second. Youth is fleeting, so that’s why I associated both.”
Why did you choose to portray your youth specifically? Do you feel like it’s already over?
“Rather than saying that youth is some specific age, I feel like if you’re doing something that you love, something that gets your heart racing, you are in your youth. Someone in their 80s could be in their youth and spending their time in a youthful fashion. I still feel like I’m in my youth, and I hope to continue like that, to keep making music with this same mindset and heart.”
How long has this album been in the works?
“It’s been about a year since I set it up and focused, like, ‘I’m making my first album’. There are some songs I wrote around two years ago, but the actual time for it was about one year.”
The album cover design is so unique, and it perfectly captures that burst of emotions you mentioned. Was that your idea too?
“It was basically my idea, yes. I’m very ‘all over the place’, especially when I was a child, so I put a lot of that in there. When you look at it, it feels like my personality and my flair.”
Why did you choose ‘Right Now’ as the title track?
“I felt like ‘Right Now’ was the right song. When you listen to it and read the lyrics, you can see that it’s a song that gives hope and reassurance, not only to me, but to everyone listening. It gives a feeling of ‘let’s get through this, you can do it’, especially with what’s happening right now in the world, where everyone is having a difficult time.”
What was the main lesson you learned while preparing for this album?
“When making music, there’s no end to it. During it, I thought, ‘Ah, there’s really nothing I can do by myself’, and by that I mean without the help of the staff, producers and everyone around me. It takes so many people to make a great album and that’s something I realized. Although I’m the main artist, I still feel like it’s not only me, it’s a group effort.”
What was the most challenging part about it?
“There wasn’t anything I didn’t like, but the hardest part was probably recording. As you know, there are twelve songs in the album and each of them represents a specific emotion, so while recording I had to express each [of them]. When you’re writing you have that mindset, but when you’re recording you have to get that same mindset again, and it’s difficult. I ran into a lot of walls while recording, but it worked out.”
Do you have any favorite tracks or lyrics?
“Rather than specific lyrics, there’s a song called ‘High’, and to tell you truthfully, it’s kind of a ‘psycho’ song, kind of crazy. The company said they didn’t want to release it, but I pushed through and said, ‘No, this is my song, I really want to release it, and it expresses [myself]’. I’d say if you look at the lyrics and you listen to it, you’ll feel like it is definitely me.”
Why did you want it to be in this album so much?
“It’s a song I probably couldn’t release as a single itself, and since it’s my first full album and I really wanted to release it, I had to at least put it in there.”
I was looking at your Instagram, and I saw that you marked yourself as a movie character in your profile category. Why?
“[Laughs]. Are you familiar with the movie The Truman Show, with Jim Carrey? When I watched it, I was like, ‘Oh wow, what if I was a movie character and everybody else around me was just acting?’ I thought it would be kind of fun.”
It is. On Instagram you’re being viewed by people, so it’s like they are indeed watching your life like a movie. It makes sense.
You recorded a lot of OSTs for K-dramas. How was that different from recording your own songs?
“When making an OST, I flat out can’t do what I want. You have to match the feeling of the drama, what the writers want, how they want this song to sound. But with my own music, I can make whatever I want, and it’s all up to me. When thinking about drama OSTs, I have very little creative power, but in my own songs, I have so much creative power that they are both pretty difficult. You know, when you have too much or too little of something. But rather than saying that one is harder than the other, they are just a different kind of fun.”
How have you evolved since your debut? What have been your main lessons?
“When you think of my music style, it’s hard to describe because I’ve tried a lot of things and I enjoy trying different genres and styles in general. But when I first debuted, I made a plan for two or three years in the future. After trying to follow that, I realized how difficult it was and how much I needed to do. Even right now, being on this road, it’s a hike.”
Are you the kind of person who has a lot of goals in your life?
“Rather than goals, I have plans that I want to do. One of the things that I really wanted was to release a full album, and a year from now I’d like to release another mini-album. I plan things a year in advance, in that sense.”
You are also part of Planetarium Record’s project group PLT. How is it working with other people in a team as opposed to solo?
“When I was working with PLT and going on tour, it was like when you transfer schools, but you transfer with your friends. You still have that [familiarity], you’re not alone. But when I’m doing solo work, I have to think of everything by myself, a lot more falls on my shoulders. I’m slightly envious of people who are in a group because they have a support system, a group of people that will handle everything.”
What are some musical styles that you didn’t try in this album and that you want to try for the next releases?
“There’s not many ballads in this album, it’s more songs that you’ll hear at a concert, that are upbeat and exciting. I think that, for the next album, I’d put in more ‘listening’ songs, songs that you listen to on a rainy day or when you’re at home with your earbuds on.”
What do you hope that people feel while listening to your album?
“I wish that people get a sense of energy and hope. You know when someone’s deciding to do something really big in their life, or when they need a helping hand? That’s what I’d like people to think of when they listen to my music.”
Gaho’s new album ‘Fireworks’ is out now. Special thanks to MJTONZ Entertainment.