NoSo is the stage name of Korean-American singer-songwriter Baek Hwong. The non-binary artist’s debut album Stay Proud of Me explores themes surrounding queerness, gender and identity, through its use of confessional and delicate lyricism paired with guitars and the occasional 80s synth. Whilst original in their own right, NoSo’s sound can be compared to other alternative artists such as Lucy Dacus, who they previously opened for on tour.
Even NoSo’s name nods to the complicated nature of their heritage and questions of identity. Short for North and South, the moniker refers to the all-too-common experience of being asked ‘which Korea are you from?’
This is your debut album, and you’ve described it as a three-year labour of love. How did you find the process of making a full body of work compared to smaller releases? Was it exciting, gruelling, cathartic?
It was all of the above! I got signed with two songs for the record (Sorry I Laughed and Suburbia) and prior to that I only released singles sporadically. Making a record for the first time was a challenge that allowed me to grow immensely as a musician and person.
Were there any songs, artists or playlists you found yourself repeatedly listening to whilst creating Stay Proud of Me? How does the music you listen to impact your own work? Do you find inspiration through other creative sources? (films, books etc.)
I really dove into Kate Bush’s discography in 2020 and felt like I finally found music I was waiting for. I vaguely knew of her prior, but something about the heightened emotions (and honestly, personal trauma) of the pandemic made her music hit deeper for me.
Besides that, I’m mostly inspired by TV shows (like melodramatic korean dramas or light-hearted comedy shows) and drawing.
Your influences seem expansive. Was playing with genres a conscious decision on your behalf, or is it a more organic process?
It was more of an organic process! I’ve always loved records with an eclectic range of genres, and I’m striving to be the kind of artist that can make an electronic orchestra on one track and a completely acoustic ballad on the next without batting an eye. I think whatever excites me and gives me child-like fun has become the goal.
What’s the most challenging part of the process for you? Is there one part that comes more naturally? Perhaps the initial writing, or the recording process?
I think navigating imposter syndrome while making the record was the most debilitating part of the process. I’m extremely critical of my music, which can be positive at times because it’d be a disservice always to believe what you make is brilliant but can also be a hindrance and exhausting. Writing and recording come pretty naturally when I’m alone and feel comfortable, but if I’m in a sterile or negative environment, I shut down.
It’s really refreshing to see the rise in queer voices and perspectives being heard in music - from the likes of people like yourself, Lava La Rue, Rina Sawayama and Claud. Your lyrics tell intimate and personal stories about love and identity, particularly the tracks Man Who Loves You and Everything I’ve Got. Is creating music a way to navigate your own experiences?
Definitely - I think I’m most brave and blunt when using music as a vessel of storytelling. Otherwise, I keep most things to myself in everyday conversation.
Did you ever feel exposed or vulnerable at the prospect of sharing your work when it’s closely tied to who you are?
It comes in waves! Sometimes I stare at the wall for hours because singing about trauma and being applauded for that is inherently bizarre, especially when that becomes competitive. But other times, when I receive messages from trans people of color who relate to my music and feel seen by it, I’m reminded there’s a larger purpose for this career I’m pursuing.
Finally, how are finding touring the album?
It's been great! The first time I played in London was a surreal and very special experience. I’m excited to continue playing these songs live and seeing reactions in real time.
Find NoSo on tour and listen to their music here.