Sergio Kurhajec

Multimedia artist, producer and director of films and videos, head of her own record label, songwriter, musician and political activist.  Jihae does it all. But it’s music that nurtures her heart and soul.

Jihae is a force of nature. She never stays in one spot for long, artistically or geographically. Since she landed in New York at the dawn of the twenty-first century, she’s made her mark as a multimedia artist, producer, model, and director of films and videos, and musician. She’s written soundtracks for films, produced a rock opera based on her Fire Burning Rain album with writer/director John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck, Joe Versus the Volcano), and written songs with Leonard  Cohen and ex-Eurhythmic Dave Stewart. In 2007, Jihae created Septem, a digital label and creative agency to help showcase the work of other artists outside the mainstream. She recently finished work on her fourth album, Illusion of You, co-produced with Stewart and Jean-Luc Sinclair. She spoke to SOMA while packing for a trip to Europe.

Your father was a South Korean diplomat, and you’ve lived in South Korea, Nigeria, Sweden, England, and the United States. Do you think moving so much affected your artistic outlook?

Living in different cultures gave me a wider perspective on the various ways people approach life, but my artistic persona is a rebellion against the music industry dropping the ball on originality and quality. I understand it’s a business, but if everything is always about sales, quality and originality fall by the wayside. That made me determined to be honest with my expression and unique with my sound.

Do you remember the moment you knew you wanted to be an artist?

When I was 16, I went to Pappa Jazz—a used music store with LPs, cassettes, and CDs—in Columbia, SC. I was in boarding school and going to pick up an album for my sister’s birthday. Nina Simone was one of her favorite artists. When I listened to the album, I thought Nina Simone was an odd name for a man. When I gave the music my full attention, I realized the low growls were coming from a woman. She moved me deeply. I didn’t think of being an artist right then, because I didn’t know it was an option. I thought you had to be like the classical artists that go to certain schools and train for years before even thinking about pursuing a profession as a singer or composer. Nina Simone had a profound depth, personality, and originality in her music—and she was female—so I slowly realized it might be possible for me to be a singer.

How long have you been working on Illusion of You? Why did you choose Illusion of You as the title of the album?

I think illusions stem from a form of denial or a lie to oneself,which subconsciously can manifest a false reality. We find it in so many areas of life—the illusion of love, honor, respect, loyalty, integrity, success, and happiness. The divisions between cultures, religions, classes, and genders are based on illusions. Even in our relationships we can act on our illusions. I’m quite obsessed with how we can bridge the divide between us, which is getting increasingly violent, volatile, and chaotic. The album was recorded with Jean-Luc Sinclair, my co-producer, at his home studio in New York and at Dave Stewart’s studio in LA. Final vocals were recorded with T-Bone Edmonds at Lenny Kravitz’s studio in the Bahamas.


How does this album differ from Fire Burning Rain?

There’s more rock and raw emotion. The energy is higher, but in a sense, it’s also more intimate.

You co-wrote a song with Leonard Cohen and Dave Stewart called “It Just Feels.” How did that happen?

It’s a song Leonard and Dave wrote for Sylvie Marechal, but I’ve never listened to her version. I loved the lyrics, so I wrote some music for it. I didn’t expect to get a songwriting credit. I knew it was released previously, but Dave and Leonard really liked what I did and were gracious and kind to give me a co-writing credit for my version of the song. I met Dave through a mutual friend, in Harbor Island, Bahamas. I emailed him a track, and he said we should write a great song together one day. I was thrilled and made sure we locked down time to write together.

Why did you start Septem? 

I wanted to start a digital platform where talented artists of every medium can be showcased, non-exclusively. Septem is a space for mutual support and collaboration. There are too many talented people who can’t fit through the commercial machine. I wanted to share my audience with artists who inspire me.

You mentioned you’re leaving town. Are you taking a holiday?

I’m going to Finland to shoot the northern lights, the aurora borealis. It’s the last footage I need for the nature-based book/video project I’ve been working on for the last four years. It’s a video composition for Nanamica (part of The North Face in Japan) for a DVD that will be included in the back of a book they’re publishing. I’ll put it together when I get back to New York, but experiencing the aurora borealis live is necessary. Then I’m going to South by Southwest as a panelist, before heading to LA for a showcase performance. I’m also recording a covers album and prepping a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the distribution and tour I’m doing for the Illusion of You album, so, no, it’s not quite a holiday.

Text by J. Poet
Photography by Sergio Kurhajec
Stylist: Don Sumada
Hair & Make-Up by Allie Smith using NARS Cosmetics