Rising singer-songwriter msftz: “I hope people will think of me as a storyteller”
The introspective South Korean musician opens up to NME about songwriting, finding inspiration in nature and embracing pain. Words: Gladys Yeo
“I love singing about nature and expressing nature. I think nature is art, and that it presents an absolute form of art and beauty to artists like me,” msftz says at some point during our chat. When it comes to finding beauty in the simplest facets of life, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter seems to have it all down. “One day, I want to create an album that is a collection of songs that are under the same theme,” she tells NME, “themes like sleeping, or loving, or nature.”
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msftz, born Lee Shin-ae, who made her start on SoundCloud four years ago, uses her music as a medium to weave together vulnerable tales about the ebbs and flows of existence. Her debut mini-album ‘Belief’ is filled with sincere, heartfelt lyricism, accompanied by the singer’s tender vocals and the twinkling piano she uses to write music. “The words ‘heart’ and ‘hurt’ sound really similar to me,” she says about the single ‘Heart’, which explores the joy and hurt that comes hand in hand in a one-sided love affair. “I wanted to send a message of just embracing those feelings, even the pain, because pain is not a bad feeling that you always have to avoid.”
“The main theme of ‘Belief’ is for people to embrace all forms of emotions,” she elaborates. The singer is of the belief that everything on the spectrum of emotion must be felt to its absolute fullest, pausing thoughtfully throughout the interview to carefully piece her words together. “As time goes by and you get older, even if you really want to fall in love and feel that pain too, there might come a time where you can’t experience those things anymore. [It’s important to] embrace everything you feel in the present.”
There is a sense of curiosity and wonder when she speaks, and it is clear that msftz is someone who thinks of and questions deeply the world around her. “I never thought that I was going to be a singer,” she confesses, revealing that she had only gotten into songwriting as a way to imagine the joy musicians feel as they create. “I was thinking: ‘If music is such a great thing, then what about its creators, the musicians?’ I really wanted to know their feelings, because [they] must be very happy to make this beautiful music.”
But in exploring the beauty of music, the singer-songwriter unwittingly found success, landing herself a deal with Sony Music Korea and making her debut with the single ‘Eternity’ in early 2020. “I just thought that if they were truly good songs, then people would recognise that and get to know them in time. But I never expected that my songs would be loved by so many people in such a short amount of time,” she says.
“It feels very unreal, but exciting,” msftz adds. “I am so thankful and happy that so many people are listening to my music. And the fact that I’m having this interview with NME today, it’s another chance for people to hear about my stories,” the rising star adds with a shy laugh.
The idea of narrating a tale is one that comes up constantly throughout our conversation, with msftz frequently referring to songs as “stories”. “I hope people will think of me as a storyteller when they hear my name,” she tells us of the legacy she hopes to carve out for herself. “I would be so happy if people could listen to my music as if they were listening to a story.”
Perhaps it is this earnest sincerity that has helped the rookie singer earn so many collaborations with established South Korean musicians like Crucial Star, Hash Swan and Park Won, as well as Singaporean singer-songwriter Sezairi. “They sent me their demos, so I listened to them and I thought ‘This is so right for me’,” says msftz. “Participating in someone else’s track is like being a character in their story, so I wanted to make sure that I could help them to tell their story as well as possible.”
“Our collaboration is proof that music is a universal language,” she remarks, of her collaboration with Sezairi on his soulful lo-fi tune ‘Blue’. “He was the first non-Korean artist that I collaborated with, so it was really new. At the time, I was worried that he would be uncomfortable because I wasn’t fluent in English,” admits the singer. “But I realised it was all in my head, and I didn’t have to worry about it at all.”
Now that msftz has gotten her feet wet with English collaborations, the singer is setting her hopes high, professing her love for The Script, which she has been an avid fan of since her high school days. “I would really like to follow their work process and give them my voice and my abilities. I can’t imagine what kind of song would be produced if we were to collaborate,” she adds. “I’m also really loving Snail Mail these days, so I would like to work with her too.”
Could a heavier, rock-inspired msftz song be on the horizon, given the singer’s clear fondness for the genre? We see hints of this in ‘Blood Sign’, a track she had penned for the original soundtrack of the K-drama One Ordinary Day, which teeters on the edge of soft-rock. “I want to use more guitar sounds. So far, I think I’ve only used piano as the main instrument [in my songs]. I want to fill my music with guitar sounds,” she shares.
Our chat ends with the singer expressing her thanks to NME for hearing her story. “I’m grateful that you are going to allow more people to listen to my story too,” says msftz. Directly addressing her fans, she adds: “I will always try to make more music to give you happiness, and all the other emotions. Thank you for listening to my music.”
msftz’s debut mini-album ‘Belief’ is out now.