With a folky pop sound, Clara can play guitar, piano, and a slew of other instruments, including the curious melodica. She sings her songs with a confidence and enjoyment that clearly reflect in her voice; airy, but far from vapid, it grabs a hold of the words and makes them dance playfully to the song's melody. Sometimes you catch glimpses of Clara's fascination at the miracle of music even in the same moment as she creates it, rediscovering its joy each time anew. Some people wear their heart on their sleeves, Clara displays hers in her voice.
Clara's YouTube videos prove that her creativity extends beyond just her musical gift, as she crafts story lines for her video covers using paper cutouts and everyday items. For example, the video of her recent cover for Coldplay's "Clocks" shows Clara literally as a clock, with the numbers written on her face and paper hands for the hours and minutes stuck on her nose.
Clara Chung has made big strides as an artist since she first began posting videos on YouTube a little over a year ago. So far, she has won Far*East Movement's ISA 2009 competition and Kollaboration 10 at the Shrine Auditorium, as well as being invited to perform at the White House Department of Education. She's performed with 2PM and The Wonder Girls, and collaborated with Dumbfoundead and Jay Park. Now, with her debut album coming out in September, Clara's definitely off to a strong start in her music career.
Tracks known so far to be on her upcoming album include: "Fool's Gold," "Hum," "Heartstrings," "Dreaming in Neverland," "Off-Beat," "Camel Song," and "Keep Holding On." Stay up to date with Clara on her YouTube page and official Facebook group.
On June 19th, Clara Chung invited APA out to Paramount Studios in Hollywood to witness a recording session for her debut album. Used by famous artists like Jay-Z, The Goo Goo Dolls, and (one of Clara's favorites) John Mayer, Paramount Studios had a very cozy feel to it with stone walls and dim, coffee-shop-like lighting. Clara was clearly in her element, a natural despite this being her first time in a major studio.
Clara's energetic and open personality is evident immediately when you meet her -- while she waited for us to set up our equipment for the interview, she started humming and singing the Smurfs theme song to herself, saying she just saw the trailer for the upcoming movie.
Even her guitar case held little clues to her personality -- it was plastered with stickers of groups she liked (there was one of Dumbfoundead), In-n-Out and Ben's Chili Bowl stickers, as well as self-made labels that read "Pho" and "Bee bee cueeee," which was part of an arrangement of the words "Armenian," "Korean," and "Brazilian" spiraled around a space shuttle stamp. Apparently she's a big fan of food. The obvious Dionysian clues aside, along one edge of the case was a small label that revealed Clara's Apollonian side: "Give time and thought to all you do."
Interview with Clara Chung
June 19, 2010
Interviewed by Jordan Close
Camera by Craig Stubing
Video edit by Ariel Adler
Photos by Jordan Close and Craig Stubing
APA: Starting from the beginning, how did you get into music?
Clara Chung: I've been into music since I was a child. I did the piano lesson thing, and then quit a bajillion times, came back a bajillion times. Then I was in church and I started picking up the guitar, and since you're with a band you just end up dabbling in everything else, so I also dabbled with the drums.
APA: So you mostly learned at church trying different instruments?
CC: Yeah, and then also venturing out on my own; that's how I found the melodica and glockenspiel and things like that.
APA: When did you start thinking that you could perform in front of people and start putting up YouTube videos? What got you thinking that you could be more than just an amateur player?
CC: It's support; it's my friends who were pushing me to go do something like put myself up on YouTube. It's a bold step; you're allowing yourself to be in the public's eye and possibly be criticized and hated on. But thankfully all my feedback was very, very positive and I'm very grateful for that.
APA: Did you just graduate from UC Irvine?
CC: I did, last Friday, June 11th. I felt such a release when I pulled my tassel to the left.
APA: Did you study music there?
CC: No, I studied Psychology as a major and Education as a minor. So I was on my way to becoming a teacher, but the music's kind of blowing up right now, so gotta ride it out and see what happens.
APA: So you're pursuing music full-time right now?
CC: Yes, and part-time I'm working with and teaching autistic children.
APA: You've done a PSA with the Department of Education, and as a rising star, you're gaining more and more exposure to the public. So what kind of image or message do you want to present?
CC: Hopefully to be myself and just be the things that I'm always striving to be. I'm a big fan of honesty and being real, being transparent, so hopefully all those things are shown through everything I do and everything I touch.
APA: You've collaborated with J-Park and Dumbfoundead and performed with The Wonder Girls and 2PM. How did those experiences feel? Did you listen to their music or know of it beforehand?
CC: Yeah, of course, they're famous so I know. And Dumbfoundead is someone I really respected before, and now he's really rising to fame. It was great working with all of them because it's always so awesome to see famous people who are down to earth, who can just kick back and watch a movie or just sit in the car and talk to you about whatever, just talk about life. It was good working with all of them.
APA: The Wonder Girls and 2PM are artists from Korea; do you listen to Korean music at all?
CC: I do, but it's not my main source of music. My music is very much American and European, but I do know [Korean music] because all my friends listen to it and my parents are watching things.
APA: Would you ever want to perform in Korea?
CC: Of course! Yeah, because I haven't been there since I was an infant, and I hear such great things about the food, the culture, the city life. I'm a city girl, so I would love to go.
APA: Once your album is released, you're going to go on tour. What are your thoughts on that?
CC: I love traveling so the tour should be really fun. And it would be really nice because YouTube is a world-wide thing and it's got its pros and cons because all your fans are scattered everywhere all over the world. So a tour would be great to get to meet all of them that way.
APA: Is there a surprising place where you've had fans contact you from?
CC: Yeah, like Thailand, The Netherlands, and Hawaii, which is great. All over.
APA: Which place would you most like to tour at?
CC: Hawaii would be awesome because of the culture there -- you just set foot there and you feel relaxed. I haven't been to Asia, so Asia would be cool. I also have a lot of fans in Brazil, so Brazil would be great too.
APA: In just a few words, how would you describe your sound and style?
CC: It's gonna be "pop, folk and quirky." [laughs]
APA: You've said that some of your influences are Sara Bareilles and John Mayer. Out of those influences, who would you most like to collaborate with in the future?
CC: Oh my goodness! I think I would pass out cold if John Mayer walked in the room and said I could collaborate with him. John Mayer!
APA: When you're writing your songs, what inspires you to write?
CC: It can be anything from just a passing thought I had that day, to something I've been battling with; a conversation with a friend, to just nature – because there's a lot of beauty in the smallest things, like a blade of grass.
APA: What inspired your single "Off-Beat" in particular?
CC: That's just a song about my love for music and how every intricate part of it makes me fall in love with it. So that's why I break it down into harmony, three-four, off-beat, down beat.
APA: In your YouTube videos, it's usually just you and your guitar. Would you ever want to be in a full band or do you like the rawer style?
CC: No, I love having a band. I actually feel really naked if it's just me and a guitar going, so I have my loop pedal with me when I go on shows and things like that. I would love a band; on the tour there will be a band.
APA: Is this your first time recording in a major studio?
CC: Yeah, this makes it my fourth session, and it's awesome!
APA: What's it feel like recording here where so many artists have been before?
CC: You feel honored and really lucky first of all to be in a place where the greats have stepped foot. But I mean, above all that, it's a class A recording studio and we're gonna hope to make class A music.
APA: In your YouTube videos, I saw a lot of movie posters on your wall, like Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Are you a big movie watcher?
APA: Which movie do you think would your music fit best to as a soundtrack?
CC: Definitely things like Garden State and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I don't think Dark Knight or Iron Man would use my stuff (laughs). I can't picture Batman flying in with my guitar picking and violin.
APA: How did your manager [Jonathan Chang] and producer [Daniel Chae] first contact you?
CC: Most of them were just acquaintances before they became Team Clara. Daniel and Stephen [Lee, the recording engineer], we all went to high school together, and then Jonathan and I met through the [ISA 2009] event that I had been contacted to perform at. I don't know, we just worked really well and had good chemistry together. Wil [Pong, the mixing engineer] just hopped on board and he's hilarious. I don't know; it was just a really talented, well-oiled bunch.
APA: What kind of theme or specific sound do you want on your album?
CC: Just really raw and real, but just really well-produced.
APA: Any last words?
CC: Yeah I'm just really excited that you guys came out, and I hope that you'll stay tuned for the album because we're all working really hard on it!
APA also talked to Clara's manager, Jonathan Chang, about Clara and her upcoming album.
APA: How would you describe your relationship with Clara?
Jonathan Chang: I'm Clara's manager. It was a very slow beginning, I guess you could say. We didn't jump into each other's arms really quickly as business partners; it was a very slow, gradual build-up, and I think that was very good for us because we got to feel each other out as far as how it was working with each other. I've been her manager for a couple of months now and it's been going great; we work very well together.
APA: When did you first hear about her or see her perform?
JC: I had some friends in Wong Fu Productions and Far East Movement who were throwing together a concert called ISA in 2009 where they were looking for the next big star. Clara happened to win that concert, where we were sponsors. After that, we booked her for a couple of events at some of the plazas we own and got great feedback at those events. Then we sponsored Kollaboration 2010 at the Shrine Auditorium, and she won that. At that point, we realized this girl has something, you know, and I think it's a responsibility for anyone, when you see greatness in someone, you have to take it and help them.
APA: Were there others who offered to manage her before you?
JC: I know Clara has received other offers before in the past for management. But like I said, it was a very gradual buildup. It wasn't like a shotgun wedding or anything like that. It was a very mutual thing where she wanted me to manage her, and we wanted to manage her as well. We are grateful that she took us on, but I'm sure she's also grateful that we've been able to provide her with some of the stuff she has now.
APA: Do you work with other artists at all?
JC: I don't manage other artists right now. We are looking for a couple of other artists to help, but our philosophy has always been to keep the numbers small. Because we want to do the best job, to create the best artist that we can rather than spread out too quickly and create bad products out there. So our philosophy has always been to keep it small, keep it manageable. We have a great team, and with that team, between two to three artists, we can handle and do great things with them.
APA: So Clara's your first project?
JC: Yeah, Clara's our first project at all. I actually don't run in the entertainment industry all that much. I actually work for a company that manages private equity.
APA: How are you guys going to be releasing the album? You're recording here at Paramount. Is there a label you're releasing under?
JC: We don't have a label that we're releasing it under, but we are in talks with different licensing companies right now as far as seeing how we can get things done, get it out online. I mean of course you have to release it on iTunes, Amazon and the mainstream ways, but there are some creative ways we're looking at marketing this one right now. I'm pretty hopeful for some of the creative things that we're going to be able to do with this.
APA: Are you able to share any of those ways?
JC: I can't right now, but it'll be different, I can guarantee you that. If you've met Clara and you know Clara, you know she thinks outside the box. We like that feeling.
APA: She's a very creative spirit. How is your relationship working with her - do you try to fit her into a certain image or sound or do you give her free reign?
JC: Creatively, we give her free reign for what she wants to do. We do consult with her and make sure things are going smoothly. But for the most part, creatively she is on her own with her team. I think a lot of things that labels do as far as stripping a person of their identity and creating a new one, it's something that we don't want to be a part of. I think a person is a person, and you have to respect that. Clara is probably one of the most creative people we know. If you've seen her YouTube stuff, it's just…I don't even know what people think of that, to be quite honest [laughs]. But it's a good complement because she's so creative, and our side is so business-minded that we complement each other well. She has faults and I have faults, you know, but when we work together, it does create something really different.
APA: Do you guys help her produce her YouTube videos?
JC: Most of the YouTube videos she does by herself. We do provide some of the equipment as far as recording goes, but as far as the ideas, that's all Clara. We can't take credit for that; that's just a genius at work there.