JiHAE cares more about what's underneath — and it shows on her new record 'Illusion of You'

The World
JiHAE at her studio in New York City.

JiHAE at her studio in New York City.

Marco Werman

You could say the sound of JiHAE's fourth album — "Illusion of You" — is worldly. That might be because she traveled at lot as a kid with her diplomat family.

Or maybe for the Seoul-born artist, that worldliness is just New York City-ness.

"I think my sound has a New York sound because I've been here a long time and I really grew up so much in New York — being broke and finding five different part-time jobs to save up to make a demo — the whole cycle repeats and then you grow," JiHAE told me.

And you can hear the maturity of her sound on the just released "Illusion of You." It gets downright epic.

One song on JiHAE's new record is titled "Brave Ones." It's a song about a veteran who fought in the war in Vietnam.

Except it's not what you think: The man in this song is Korean, who left his large family in Seoul to fight for the Americans. And the man in the song is her father.

JiHAE wrote about the post-traumatic stress disorder that gripped her father's life when he returned home to Seoul after the war.

"Growing up we heard him screaming every day," she says. "At night it was kind of normal for me. On the weekends when he was napping and he would do that, we would giggle about it because he would say stuff in his sleep. He would speak in English and also Korean. Sometimes it was comical for us and we would laugh about it. We were too young to really understand why he was saying things in his sleep and screaming in his sleep. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized what he had been through."

JiHAE says her father would tell her stories about being eaten up by fire ants while he was in Vietnam. But, she says, she shied away from really talking about his experience with him it because it was difficult for her to know that he had been at war and that people were killed by his hands.

Now, years later, JiHAE wanted to write about it because she says, she has a deep affinity toward soldiers all over the world who "really risk their lives for the rest of us ... a lot of them are young kids like my dad was and they suffer for life."

It's not easy to write a song about PTSD. But JiHAE pulls it off. For years, she modeled for such brands as Eileen Fisher. It shows that her previous glamorous life may have been lucrative.

"Spending time in the world of fashion is a very interesting world," she says. "People take it so seriously and it's their world you know? I understand what they're doing, what works and what I need to do. But the skin is a very thin layer. There's a lot more underneath and I care more about what's underneath."

And judging from JiHAE's songwriting, there is a lot to plumb underneath.

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