On September 2, I found myself at the Hollywood Palladium for K-pop sensation Junsu Kim’s concert, invited by music producer Bruce “Automatic” Vanderveer and vocal director Ebony Rae Cunningham. When Kim performed “Uncommitted,” the track the duo produced for Junsu’s English debut single, the two immediately began jamming to the song and singing along.
As the song came to a close, Junsu thanked Automatic for writing and producing the single, and Automatic cheered back from the balcony: “You made it happen, man!”
Automatic is the president and CEO of InRage Entertainment, and Ebony Rae Cunningham is the vice president. She was the vocal stylist for “Uncommitted.”
APA: Moving on to your latest production “Uncommitted,” how did you get in touch with C-JeS and start working with Junsu?
A: There was a C-JeS executive. His name is Niddy, and he knew a friend of mine, who introduced me as a Sony producer. So Niddy contacted me and said, “You know, we at C-JeS are looking for songs for the group JYJ.” I submitted some songs and actually “Uncommitted” was a song that I wasn’t sure I should submit because it was a little bit softer than the other things I submitted. The other things were stronger, more up-tempo, more hard-hitting, whereas “Uncommitted” was mid-tempo and more like a ballad. What’s amazing was they called me back saying they loved “Uncommitted” and wanted it. I thought to myself “Wow, I almost didn’t submit that song.” [laughs] So that was so crazy.
APA: What made you eventually submit “Uncommitted” after being unsure?
A: I thought it had a good enough storyline in the song. I thought, “Maybe they may want it.” Again, it’s about a man who had a past of being a player and then he meets the girl of his dreams. He decides he doesn’t want to be a player anymore, but the girl says, “I already know about you and your past, and I don’t believe you’re built for this kind of relationship, so let’s have fun and call it, just leave it.” The guy winds up having his heart broken for the first time. So I thought maybe this would be a good submission, and maybe they’ll get it.
APA: When you were working this deal out with C-JeS, did you know K-pop or Junsu?
A: Yeah, my daughter is a big fan of JYJ and she also was a big fan of the original group they were a part of. She was also into Big Bang and Super Junior and has been listening to them for many years. So she told me, “You gotta listen to this new K-pop group,” and I thought it was cool but didn’t understand the appeal at the time, because a lot of it just seemed like a lot of pop stuff, like American music to me. But as I started to get into it more, I realized that K-pop artists experiment a lot with different genres, whereas in America, we often stick to what’s happening now. By the time I heard that I was going to work with Junsu, my daughter was so excited: “Dad, do you know who that is??” I was just happy that my daughter was so excited. [laughs]
APA: “Uncommitted” was recorded here in the States, right?
A: Originally, we were supposed to go to Korea and record it there. We were trying to get everything together, coordinating the plane tickets and all of that. Junsu was doing quite a bit of work, touring and recording, so schedules were being switched around often. And at literally the last second, they called us saying, “We’re going to have him fly to America.” So we could go right to work when he arrived.
The greatest thing that happened was when we had a meeting with the C-JeS executives, and they sat us down and said, “Junsu is coming in, and he’s going to record the song. We want to make it a single, and we’re going to do a video for it.” We were so surprised! We just thought it was going to be a single on his record. We quickly got into the studio in a matter of days. And within three days after we finished in the studio, filming for the music video started. Everything moved so quickly. We were still mixing the song the day of the video shoot. [laughs] C-JeS is an incredible record label; they move fast and strong. We have never seen a label work that quickly.
APA: How was recording the track with Junsu?
A: I gotta tell you. Junsu is an amazing artist. I already liked his voice. That was the one thing that sold us. We knew he was going to do a great job. What we didn’t know was how disciplined he was, what kind of work ethic he had, which is ridiculously tremendous. We started early afternoon, and within a couple of hours, he had the song down. I wanted to give him breaks at times, but he didn’t even want them. He just wanted to keep going. He’s such a workaholic, a tremendously talented one at that. And we had a ball. It was fun. We laughed, we joked, we worked hard. It was one of the greatest experiences we had in the studio. The chemistry we had was instant. I can’t explain it. If you saw us, you wouldn’t think we were working. You heard the outcome; it was absolutely amazing. It was one of the easiest and most fun recording experiences that we’ve had.
ERC: When he first came in, I think he was ready to just get in the booth and sing, but we asked him to sit on the couch first, and he kind of looked around like “What’s going on? I’m ready to sing.” So we talked through Jun Dark (a C-JeS executive) to him: “We want to go over the English lyrics with you.” And he made this face like, “Oh no….” He kind of looked at the paper and did that little shy thing he does, where he covers his face and starts laughing. [laughs] He slowly started reading the lyrics line by line and looked up once a while and kept giggling. He was so embarrassed, and we kept telling him, “No you’re doing good!” He already sounded really good, but there are some English vowels and consonants that don’t exist in Korean, so we worked hard to work on those things with instructions like “Put your tongue here when you say this” or “Open your mouth like this to make this sound.”
A: We started working on all kinds of pronunciations and sounds. It was funny just watching him make some of the faces that he made and move his mouth in all kinds of ways to get the right pronunciation. We all just kept laughing about how certain things sounded in English. June Dark had translated the song in Korean for him, so he understood the meaning of the song and the emotional content it would take to sell the story. As we worked more and more in the studio, it seemed as if he got to a place and really got the feeling of the song right. So we got him into the booth, and he basically just closed his eyes and started recording.
ERC: He was practicing before we started recording, and he would sing it right into the mic, but he would keep singing one line, then look at me, sing another, and look at me again. He kept looking at me for reassurance. [laughs] Sometimes when he had a tough time, I’d sing it to him, and he’d sing it back. He just kept looking at me to make sure he got it right, so I’d give him a thumbs up. Even though I didn’t know any Korean, and he knew a little English, we developed a good method of communication through looks and thumbs ups. [laughs]
A: It was so easy for him, and after we ran through the song, it was just fantastic. I walked into the studio with him; we just sang back and forth and experimented a little bit with some of the adlibs you hear in the song. He just closed his eyes and took it to another place. It was incredible; it was like we were doing an American Idolbattle or something. [laughs] Every time I sang a note, he would out-sing what I was doing, and I was amazed, just blown away by the amount of talent he has.
ERC: He actually did this run [laughs] — the run that he does in the second verse on “be.” Automatic gave him the run, and he said okay. He did it, and it was way better than when Automatic did it. [laughs] I was in the booth with him, and I was like “Heyyy!” Automatic told me that everybody in the booth was laughing.
“Uncommitted” is a soulful ballad song, you know? So when Junsu would do these little runs that were just so soulful, Automatic once said, “Man, we’re making you black!” or “You’re turning black!” He understood that and said, “No, I’m not black. I am yellow.” [laughs] We just couldn’t help but crack up.
It was very fun working with him, especially when he did runs and scales that we didn’t expect from him. It was exciting that he could execute the song with so much soul and style. He works really hard and it’s obvious I think ‘cause it pays off.
A: He has a natural gift. I’m looking forward to working with him in the future. I’m looking at the relationship I’m developing with him as a Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson one. I hope this is the kind of relationship we’re going to have, and that we’ll continue working together. I think what we’ve done together is just the beginning, and I think we’re going to do some incredible things, just blow people’s minds!
APA: Did you think the music video represented your song well?
A: It’s the best feeling in the world seeing an artist as great as him singing a song you made from the heart. “Tarantallegra” is a great video for performance, but “Uncommitted” really showcases Junsu as a person, as a singer — and seeing himself evolve into a man. So I think that when people see the video, they’ll see him like they’ve never seen him before. I love the video, and I think it’s a really great platform for the song.
APA: After working with Junsu, how would you compare it to working with American artists?
A: The reason why I compare Junsu to Michael Jackson so often is that he grew up in music. He’s been doing this for a long time, so he has this natural artistry and this professionalism that’s in his soul that you don’t see from artists who’ve been in the industry just for a couple of years. It is a different level of experience. You really are getting to see the best of the best when you are working with Junsu.
When you say the difference between him and American artists: I don’t think there’s a difference in culture, but professionalism. I hope America accepts him; that would be fantastic. I think he is going to be a challenge, and he is going to be an artist that people look at and say he’s the in the highest of echelons.
People are singing our song in Mexico, Chile, Brazil. When he performs it, people are singing “Uncommitted” line by line; it is just amazing. Everyday it just keeps getting better and better!
I just did a backflip and ran up a wall. [laughs] I’m just so happy!
APA: Working with a K-pop artist as an American producer, where do you think K-pop is headed, and do you want to get more involved?
A: Yes. Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Well, first, I think K-pop is gonna be big, because it’s so experimental and fresh. And yes, I would like to work more in K-pop, because a lot of the artists are not afraid to experiment. We are “hybrid writers and producers,” and K-pop right now is such a great platform for writers and producers like Ebony and I. We don’t have to hold back, so we can really do our best and try to create something new and exciting. We really want to continue producing as many K-pop artists as possible and again obviously develop an incredible relationship with Junsu.
ERC: We also want to give a huge shout out to all the fans who have been supportive of Junsu and Automatic, and all the InRagers who we have gotten to know through this experience. You all have been so kind to us, and we hope you continue to support Junsu, JYJ, and InRage.
We’re working on revamping our website with a spot specifically for InRagers, so look out for that! Actually, we also have a surprise treat for our “Uncommitted” supporters coming up soon, so please stay tuned!
[Parts not directly related to Junsu were omitted]