The Barberettes leader and songwriter Shinae An Wheeler talks to our editor Johnny Au about her involvement in the Lee Hi track “Hold My Hand” which is off her successful Seoulite album. Co-written by her writing collaborator B.A. Wheeler, Shinae talks to us about how she was initially approached by TABLO from Epik High about working with Lee Hi and how the song was developed. We dig deeper into the meaning and themes of “Hold My Hand” and plans for The Barberettes in 2016.

Shinae and B.A. Wheeler congratulations on the Lee Hi track “Hold My Hand” that you both co-wrote for her album Seoulite. Can you tell me how the writing opportunity for Lee Hi came about?

Last year, TABLO of Epik High contacted us about working on Lee Hi’s new album which TABLO and DJ Tukutz were the producers. I was very excited to write for a singer that has a voice that I can relate to instantly. I asked to meet Lee Hi in person before writing the song. We talked for hours and the song came along very naturally.

What about the process of writing “Hold My Hand” itself? I’m always curious when it comes to co-written tracks. Did you both sit down together to write “Hold My Hand” or was it another method?

I wrote the melody and basic lyrics first, then B.A.Wheeler listened to it and shaped the song. My writing partner B.A.Wheeler is a Canadian background South Korea resident who’s a sound engineer and producer. TABLO co-wrote the lyrics afterwards and I really liked it. In the beginning we intended the song to be little more vintage by using more of acoustic instrumentation. During Hold My Hand’s song making process, I would say the sharing of the roles was very well done.

What’s the story and meaning behind “Hold My Hand”?

In the beginning I intended the song to have a sweet/nervous feeling of ‘about-to-start’ a relationship in a retro-mood describing way. When I played the very first demo of the song to Lee Hi, she said she liked how the lyrics were ‘subtle and polite’. In Korean language system we have two different ways to speak by respecting each other’s social status (age, relationship, sex). In the old days many songs were sung in that polite term (존댓말). When I personally think of Lee Hi, I see a 21st century hip-hop version of a very decent young lady. So I used all the words in the terms of respect. When TABLO later co-wrote the lyrics, I was fascinated by his talent in words by completing the subject way more interestingly without harming the vibe.

What was your involvement with Lee Hi and her producers during the recording process?

When TABLO was doing his radio DJ role last year he used to listen to my band The Barberettes. And when he contacted us he wanted the retro vibe for Lee Hi as well. Then when I met up with Lee Hi, we could tell she and I got along very well musically. That was the first time I had met her in person but we were aware of each other’s existence by her sister that I used to vocal-train at a school.

What’s your overall thoughts on Lee Hi’s new record Seoulite? I’m always fascinated when a young artist starts to mature – both musically and personally.

It’s the best K-Pop album I’ve heard in many years. This is not because I’m part of it (which makes me VERY happy). I especially really liked the track “OFFICIAL (feat. Incredivle)”. The whole concept of the album is so charming and chic. And not to mention her vocal style that suits in different genres in her own cool way. I liked how Lee Hi’s voice is full and colorful but yet cool and not exaggerated. As a vocalist it is very hard to do in that young age. I’m very looking forward to listening to the other half of the album concept.

Have you both written songs for other artists?

My very first debut work was in 2010 with Boa‘s album Hurricane Venus. I was the lyricist of a song called “Romance”. I did some writing work for some of my close friends, including an indie singer-songwriter 정재원 Jung Jaywon. The track that I wrote “The Door” is one of my favourites.

What’s the type of topics and/or themes that you like to write about?

I always LOVE to write anything retro. And anything I feel strongly about. I like to write about things that makes me excited. I like to write something that I would like to listen by imagining if I was a listener, not a writer.

Do you have any songs you’re working on at the moment? For yourself or for other artists?

Yes I’m working on the new Barberettes album! It’s been a lot of fun and we’re very excited about making it. Can’t wait for you to hear it!

Let’s talk about The Barberettes. How was your trip to Melbourne last year and what are you up to this year?

In Melbourne we had the best time. We were very busy while we were there. Did played a show for a huge crowd at the Queen Victoria Markets, which we LOVED. And being on national TV and radio shows in Australia were very exciting. We loved the people of Melbourne. It’s a beautiful city.

The Barberettes  has been touring around Korea for a few weeks now, which was our first home tour. The whole group and band has been really enjoying that. And later on we’re playing at a Korean music festival in LA in May (Korea Times Music Festival). After that we are off to the UK to play The Great Escape in Brighton. We’re planning to release new music around that time as well. And of course we are playing small and big gigs here and there in Korea.

Photo by Alecia Janeiro.