“This EP is an embodiment of my growth as a musician, and the fact that it’s out there is something I’m so proud of.”
Upon first glance and conversation, Hongjoin strikes me as a soft-spoken and shy individual with his gentle tone of voice. It’s expected, given that he’s written songs about heartbreak and longing in beautifully melancholic indie tunes. But the minute we clip a microphone on the coriander-lover, he charms us with his charisma and passion for music. The 21-year-old becomes starry-eyed, eagerly getting into the details of his latest EP with us. As part of our new Honey Unplugged series, where we get intimate with local musicians and discover more about their journey, we sit down with Hongjoin to find out more about his recent EP and his musical journey.
Stumbling into love
Like most musicians, Hongjoin has a lifelong love for music. Before his National Service, he worked on a song with friends that ended up blowing up on YouTube. Cue his journey into learning how to produce music and playing live shows – he even produced two EPs and debuted in 2021.
This adoration for tunes has also seeped into his personal life. Initially, his education took him down the straight and narrow path, with plans to attend a local university. However, being accepted into a US music program that he applied to on a whim took him on a whirlwind of a journey.
Now back in Singapore for his summer break, he’s just launched his second EP, F(OOL). This collection of songs speaks of longing for someone out of reach, playing on nostalgia and growth through its heartwrenching lyrics. Debuting the EP at a live concert for an audience of over 200, his presence on stage is like dynamite. He commands the crowd with his energy, backed by a band consisting of close friends. But as electrifying as the vibe may be, his expressions still convey the sombre nature of his lyrics.
We stan a multi-talented king
Dedicating yourself to an EP production from start to finish is no easy task, especially when you don’t have the necessary expertise. But that hasn’t stopped Hongjoin from achieving this massive feat. Despite having a large repertoire of songs under his belt, the seven-track EP still took a year to complete. But this was a calculated effort, as Hongjoin explains to me that he’s incredibly intentional about the songs he chooses to release.
While music is a means of expressing himself, he takes messaging into consideration. “I feel a sense of responsibility to speak of good things in common experiences. I want to tell people that life is okay, and everything will be fine eventually,” he explains.
Producing his tracks isn’t the only skill he’s picked up on the way. Not wanting to turn to the conventional route of using simulated instruments, he spent time learning how to play the piano and drums. Although Hongjoin’s skills in those instruments are basic (according to him), you can’t deny his dedication to the craft. Out of everything he’s learned so far, he tells us that synths were the most interesting in creating a new sonic environment for his tracks.
When success isn’t a numbers game
I ask him what the success of this second EP looks like for him, and Hongjoin pauses to think. Is there a particular number of listens, streams, or downloads he’s looking for? “Absolutely not,” he responds immediately with conviction.
While quantifiable metrics of success are valuable, that’s not something he chooses to focus on. “The fact that it’s already out there is something I’m already very proud of,” he gushes, showing genuine pride for his hard work. To know that there are lives changed and a positive impact made is the most satisfying thing he can ask for.
It’s no surprise that his combination of cinematic soundscapes and hard-hitting lyrics has resonated with people. He takes the time to dig deep into his experiences and creates authentic, relatable tracks. As for his next steps? He’s taking his music live and looking forward to meeting people who have been influenced by him. The ability to connect with an in-person audience is something Hongjoin cares about deeply. He credits his listeners as his motivation to keep producing music.
From fanboy to opening act
Hongjoin considers being the opening act for fellow indie singer-songwriter Matt Maltese one of the most memorable points of his career. It also happens to also be a sweet full circle moment! Being a huge fan, Hongjoin fondly recalls the experience of being up on stage and meeting the British singer. His joy is evident as he gushes about performing in front of a crowd that was there for both him and Matt. “I couldn’t think straight; I was just happy to play for him and meet his band in person,” he says.
The local singer is also making his own waves in the Singapore music scene, having garnered a substantial fanbase in a short amount of time. Some of his most wholesome experiences with fans include receiving presents from listeners that attend his live shows. “It’s so sweet knowing that they’re thinking of me and my music when they give me something,” he says, showing me bracelets and necklaces he’s received.
What’s to come
The release of F(OOL) marks a stepping stone in the direction that Hongjoin wants for his music. He’s written a number of songs but doesn’t plan on releasing them till the time is right. Until then, he plans to stay focused on university and aims to have music be his full-time career. “I don’t know if my career will take off, but I’ll be doing it no matter where I am,” he declares determinedly.
He tells me of his ambitions to play at the Head in the Clouds Festival and hopes that his music will take him across different continents. His listeners are scattered all over the world, and as someone who values meeting the people who’ve shown him so much support, he plans to meet them beyond Singapore’s borders.
In the meantime, he has plenty of collaborations in the works, including a set of songs that are “really danceable”. We got teasers on upcoming songs co-created with local talents like Marian Carmel and Rene – and possible collabs with Joey Tan and Lew Low – and we can’t wait to see where his music takes him.
It’s evident that Hongjoin has no intentions of slowing down. He’s eager to make his mark in the world of music while staying true to his songs and the messages he wants to send. For now, we’ll be listening to F(OOL) as we await his next release.
Want us to spotlight a local artist for the next edition of Honey Unplugged? Drop us a DM @honeycombers.