Korean Singer, Annalé Tells How R&B/Soul Music Chose Her
You’ve probably heard her sultry voice, and there’s a big chance that you have grooved to her soulful sound. But, you couldn’t quite put a face to the voice, or even the name, and that’s just how Annalé likes it.
The Korean-American singer was born into music, her father an active orchestral conductor/composer, and her mother an organist in South Korea. Annalé began playing the piano at the age of 4, and her vocal talent was realized during middle school. She was raised in South Korea and New Jersey, but it wasn’t until she was accepted into the prestigious Berklee College of Music that she discovered and was inspired by artists such as Lalah Hathaway, Mint Condition, Adele, Erykah Badu, Musiq Soulchild, and Lauryn Hill. Her cultural experiences growing up, along with her musical training in classical and contemporary music, gave her a very unique integrated sound. “I love music that I can feel and I am pretty eclectic when it comes to the types of music that I’m into,” shares the 23 year old singer.
Her hit single, “Roses” displays her eclectic sound on full display. The song has been climbing the Billboard’s R&B chart, reaching #19, and sending a major buzz to a numerous amount of music blogs, magazines, and websites. As she croons over this love ballad, with it’s Neo-soul groove, funky bass line, and jazzy sensibilities, Annalé has positioned herself to musically and culturally reach a global audience. But it doesn’t dismiss the shock and reaction that many have after hearing her music, “I thought she was a sister.” Does it offend Annalé? Not at all.
“I love not sounding like I’m Korean. Because I have such respect for the R&B artists, and they’re mostly Black, when people tell me my voice sounds like them, I actually love it. That’s what I love. That’s what I get my inspiration from. I love getting that, I’m never ever offended.”
Taking a break from working on her upcoming self titled album, Annalé, due to be released in early 2017, I was able to catch up with the soulful siren. We talk about her love for R&B soul, her single “Roses”, how she continues to stay true to her Korean roots, but more than anything her desire for all to forget about the face, who she is, or where she’s from –just sit back and enjoy the music. Afterwards… the name, Annalé, you’ll never forget.
Parlé Mag: Your name is so unique, I’ve never seen it before. Does it mean anything?
Annalé: I’m not really named after anybody, actually my real name is Anna Lee. When I was trying to think of a stage name, I really liked my real name. But, it’s a pretty common name amongst the Koreans. So then I was actually talking it over with my manager, and my stylist, and my stylist was like I really like Anna Lee, but what about Annalé. And I was like ohhh, and even with the accent, I just liked how it looked as well. If it wasn’t going to be Anna Lee, I really didn’t want anything that sounded like an Asian name. I also didn’t want people to think by already looking at my name; like oh, that’s an Asian artist. I didn’t want people to have that mindset or that notion, hearing my music with someone in their head. I wanted it to be really unique, where they really couldn’t think of the person’s face. My song “Roses”, the art work for it, doesn’t have my face on it, it’s just the picture of a rose. So people can’t imagine who’s singing it, they can just literally listen to the music only, and I like that. They hear the music first, and they enjoy it, and then afterwards it’s like okay, she’s the one singing it. I don’t want people to have that impression first, before listening to the music.
Parlé Mag: Speaking of impressions… your father was an orchestral conductor and composer, and your mother a piano organist. What type of impact did your parents have on your music career?
Annalé: Yeah, I definitely grew up with music, just because my parents were both musicians. I grew up listening to my mom give piano lessons, students were coming in and out, I was hearing music all the time. And then going to my dad’s concerts, watching him conduct an orchestra. I grew up listening to classical music, and I also started with classical music. I actually started playing the piano at the age of 4, I started classically. I didn’t really get into singing modern, or contemporary music, until high school. I was mostly learning more about classical music. Honestly, music just kind of came naturally for me, because I grew up with it and I grew up listening. In terms of going into contemporary music and R&B, it was more like a hobby at first. I just found it really, really fun. I started singing with my friend, who was also really interested in singing. We started singing along to karaoke, and just like having fun with it. That’s how I got into it, it was just for fun, at first, and then it just became a little more serious towards the end.
Parlé Mag: So if singing R&B and contemporary music was just for fun at first, when was that moment that made you say I’m going to take this more serious?
Annalé: What’s interesting about me going into R&B soul is I was never exposed to the genre until I left for Berklee College of Music. I had no way of being exposed to that genre, especially like in the 90’s, like Erykah Badu or Jill Scott. I never even knew about them until I got to Berklee, cause I had no way of finding out about them. I grew up in New Jersey, this little suburban neighborhood, all I was exposed to was pop rock, and early 2000’s pop. So not the old school. So I grew up listening to that, and I really thought that I really liked pop rock, which was interesting. Then when I found out about Berklee College of Music, I really considered going there, and applying for the school. That’s when I was like oh, I really want to take this seriously, like take music seriously. But I still didn’t know about that whole R&B soul genre. When I finally got to school that’s when I was introduced to all these great, amazing artists from back in the day. I was learning about them, their songs, and learning to sing their style. That’s where everything started, during school.
Parlé Mag: R&B soul was very new to you when you got to Berklee, was it difficult for you to transition, coming from a classical background?
Annalé: I would say it wasn’t really difficult because, it’s not that I really enjoyed classical music even though I started with it. It wasn’t like oh yeah, I definitely wanted classical music for my career. My parents did it, so they taught me more about it. Me being introduced to all these R&B artists, pop world, modern music… it was really fun for me. It wasn’t difficult at all.
Parlé Mag: I gotta’ ask, I know K-pop is super popular in Korea and it’s popularity is growing here in the states. You’re so talented, did anyone approach you to go in that direction?
Annalé: [Laughs] For some reason it’s weird, I was definitely exposed to K-pop cause I’m Korean, and I knew a lot of Koreans. I would say I was exposed to K-pop before I was introduced to R&B soul. But for some reason K-pop never really rang a bell for me, I never resonated with K-pop, even though I really appreciate their music. I really like some of them. But it was never like, I would love to sing that, I would love to make music that sounds like that. When I found out about R&B artists at Berklee, I was like, this is it. This is what I resonate with.
Parlé Mag: Let’s talk about your single “Roses”, I love it! I think a lot of people are going to hear this song, and some person is going to pop in their mind, like why didn’t it work out. This song sounds so personal, is there any story behind it?
Annalé: So “Roses”, is basically a sad song. Although, it has a catchy melody, it’s very groovy, and you can dance to it– it’s still pretty sad. I didn’t want to make it so sad, even though it’s an emotional song about this love story, about this romance that you had, but it’s gone now, and you have to move on from it. In the end it’s really positive, because it’s better that it happened, rather than not. It’s better that it happened, and you experienced it, and in the end you learned from it. It’s still very motivating and inspiring, even though it talks about how sad you are, because this love story is over. I still wanted the message at the end to be encouraging. I wanted it to be happy still.
Listen to Roses From Annalé:
Parlé Mag: Back to your name… we see your name, but we don’t see your face. Have you had anyone actually being surprised, to hear this sultry soulful voice and then find out that you’re Korean?
Annalé: It’s really funny, almost every single comment that people write on my YouTube video, people are like, wait a minute, I thought she was a sister – she’s Asian. Everyone is like that. I have a funny story about that. I was taking Lyft, and the driver and I were having this conversation. We happened to talk about music, and apparently he liked R&B and Hip-Hop. I was like actually I’m an R&B singer, and then I showed him my single “Roses”. He was like, what this is you?? And he started freaking out! I was wearing my glasses and I probably looked like an Asian nerd a little bit. He didn’t believe me. So I started singing along to it, and he was like, wait this is you!! Omg… I thought it was a sister. But yeah, that was really fun.
Parlé Mag: Do you bring some of your Korean culture into your music?
Annalé: I definitely think so. I’m planning on having two of the songs in Korean. I still respect my ethnicity, and I also want to reach out to my Korean community. I recently just had a performance for a Korean festival as well, and I got to meet so many amazing Koreans. I speak fluent Korean, so I definitely want to reach out to all my Korean and Asian fans. I’m going to have some Korean songs on my album.
Parlé Mag: Do you ever get any kind of negative feedback from the Black culture or even the Korean culture, like a cultural identity battle? She’s trying to be Black, or she’s not Korean enough.
Annalé: Oh yeah, people love to talk. I love seeing people’s reactions, both good and bad. It’s actually really fun. Some people were commenting, I love her voice, she sounds Black. Then some people commented, she’s trying too hard, she’s trying to copy this person. And someone was like she’ll never ever be Chrisette Michele, and I agree. I’m like I’m not trying to be her. I have such high respect for all these artists. It’s great. I love all this feedback, I can see how the listeners are thinking. I can see their perspective, and I learn from it.
Parlé Mag: You did a collaboration with the legendary Stokely Williams, how did that come about? I love me some Mint Condition!
Annalé: Oh my God, first of all it was such an honor to work with Stokely Williams, (Mint Condition) they’re so legendary. Stokely is such a legend in that genre. It was such a good, honoring, learning experience. He produced the track, so I had one track with him, where he’s also singing in it. Even though we didn’t physically record the song together, we still had a Facetime session. He got to hear how I sounded in it, and he gave me feedback. He produced me vocally, and he gave me comments. That whole experience was so good. Also, he actually flew over to that Korean festival that I performed at, and performed the song with me. It was really fun. It was the L.A. Korean Festival, I had a set, and he came to sing that song with me.
Parlé Mag: You’ve got your self titled album, Annalé, that’s going to be dropping soon. Tell us more about that?
Annalé: So it’s going to probably have about 10 tracks. I would say that every song is pretty different from one another, and it’s such a great collection as a whole. As a message I would say it’s pretty similar. It’s about love. It’s about life. It’s about what you go through. It’s about what you learn. It’s meant to encourage you, and motivate you. As far as musical style, every song is different, some have more pop elements, some have more ballad elements. One of the songs is acoustic, with just a guitar. Where as another song is just a full out band. Even though it’s different, together as a whole, it’s such a good blend of styles. It makes sense. I feel when people listen to it from beginning to end, they’ll enjoy it.
Parlé Mag: When is it dropping?
Annalé: I would say next year. We’re still working on it. Most of it is done, but we still have stuff that we have to record and produce. It’s going to be really good. I’m probably going to release maybe one or two more songs as a single, before the album actually drops. I’ll have more material out for people to hear.
Parlé Mag: Have you worked with anyone on this album that you were super excited about?
Annalé: So far the only person that I’m featuring is Stokely. This album is all me singing, but I worked with such an amazing group of people. I have a team that is always working with me, on the musical side and everything else. It was such a good experience to work with all these different people. Amazing writers, amazing producers, amazing managers… everything!
Parlé Mag: Is there anyone you would really love to work with?
Annalé: Oh man, there are so many. I have so many artists that I love. If I had to pinpoint, maybe Musiq Soulchild, Lalah Hathaway. John Legend is also amazing. Adele, I think she’s great. There’s so many, Erykah Badu. Omg, it would be an honor to work with anyone that I draw inspiration from.
Parlé Mag: Yeah, they’ll want to work with you, what you’ve got going is so unique. What other projects are you working on?
Annalé: I just had a meeting with my team, and we’re already talking about my next album. That’s how ahead that I am. We still need to finish my first album, but we already have an idea of where we want to go for the second album. We’re working all the time.
Parlé Mag: Any tours or concerts coming up?
Annalé: I have a few intimate and small performances coming up. But, I will say next year I will be on the road, hopefully around February or March.
Parlé Mag: That’s awesome! “Roses” is steady climbing up the Billboard chart, and you’re making waves. Can’t wait to hear more from you.
Annalé: I’m so excited! This has been so much fun.
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