Interview: "ALL OUT" - AZRA
Photo Credits: Joesph Cartright
"ALL OUT" is a very empowering song and a rebellious anthem against society's standards. Can you tell us what this song means to you?
AZRA: “ALL OUT” to me means feeling and loving from a place of 100% self-acceptance and living as the whole, authentic version of you. “ALL OUT” brings out the array of feelings I went through when I was at the pinnacle of experiencing self doubt and anger towards everything and then realizing all of those feelings and emotions were just a fear and cautiousness instilled in me by society as I lived through my childhood. I was able to free myself from these feelings once I identified the exact experiences that caused these stringing calamitous feelings. For example when I was 6 years old, I was in art class and instead of sticking to my 1st level assignment, I wanted to draw what the older students were creating. So I stayed after class and proudly worked on it to share with my class and teacher the next day. When I did, my classmates wanted to learn too, however the teacher got angry, ripped up my artwork and told me to stick to my level. I remember being hurt, confused and asking myself ‘why can’t I do what I want? Is my work too different? Is this bad? Wrong? It’s not like I didn’t do what I was supposed to do for my class so what’s the problem.’ Looking back on it now as I'm older may sound minuscule, but I realized these events negatively affected a part of me and I was carrying the burden of these feelings into adulthood without even realizing it. It’s small feelings that when left unresolved grow into bigger issues. Unbeknownst to me, I started sticking up for myself by rebelling and doing things like skipping violin class to work on a dance hip hop routine for a recital I was preparing for. I got in trouble a lot and thus always felt like I was doing things wrong but something deep inside told me to keep doing what I'm doing.
Writing “ALL OUT” was a way for me to recognize the root cause of my angry, frustrated feelings of doubt in order to start my first step in healing. I remember being in the writing session and actually having a dialogue with my younger self as if we are facing a situation again, but handling it differently. Almost as if my co-writer, Esjay Jones, and I tapped into a different dimension of time to experience that moment in art class but rewrote my handling of the situation differently. Instead of subduing the feelings of doubt, confusion and shame, this time, I chose to go ALL OUT and show up for myself. This song promotes rebellion, liberation, and the celebration of ourselves as who we are and dissolves haters and doubts.
At the end of the day, we will experience this repeating situation throughout our lives but in different forms. We just have to be able to recognize that we have a choice to say yes or no to what’s put on us and realize the only right answer for us is to go through all our authentic feelings, positive and negative. So I hope “ALL OUT” reminds people to stay empowered as who they are and when moments of doubt arise, have the courage to dance in their recklessness, turn the table upside down and tell themselves… “hello, not like I’ve never been here before”
You describe your unique sound as "Substance Pop" - a mixture of cathartic power pop, rock, dance, and metal. What was the process like of discovering your sound and how did you know this was the right one for you?
AZRA: I would say the process was very gradual, natural, and subconscious. I knew back when I recovered from having juvenile glaucoma and going from being half blind to seeing again that I wanted to create music and art that has substance and deeper meaning than what meets the eye. However, translating this to sound and making it sound exactly like how I wanted took a series of single releases, experimentation with various types of my musical influences ranging from pop, r&b, Kpop, hiphop, rock/metal, and even classical compositions. Finally, I figured out what sounds and styles I wanted to blend and mix to come up with the sound I’ve always been longing for.
I was born into a musical family with my mom being a singer in her church choir and an avid vinyl collector and listener of pop, Kpop, classical musicians like the Beatles, Micheal Jackson, John Lennon, Patti Page, Smokey Robinson, Lee Moon Sae, Lee Soo Man, Franz Schubert and Beethoven. Listening to her play these types of music while her cooking my family food, drinking coffee and brushing my hair, naturally influenced me in shaping my musical taste. As I grew up I had various phases of my life which shaped my musical taste from playing classical piano and violin, singing and dancing while living in South Korea, learning English through pop music while continuing my Korean language skills through Kpop after immigrating to California, being heavily exposed to punk, classic rock, heavy metal and r&b in high school, then listening and choreograph dancing to hip hop and dance music in College. I was always introduced to new musical realms where I got the opportunity to figure out where my sweet spots were in each vibes of music. Then came time for me to create and share my voice with the world… Since releasing my first EP Freedom back in 2017, releasing 12 singles afterwards, and now, releasing “ALL OUT,” it took a lot of discovery in every aspect of me as an artist, creator, collaborator, and human. Sound to me is emotion, music helps capture and amplify one’s slice/nano second of feeling in their life. Substance Pop depicts just that. Not a single straightforward sound that packages up someone's feeling in one category, but embraces the various feelings one experiences even with a single thought.
You were born in South-Korea and immigrated to California with your family when you were only 9 years old. How do you think this change influenced your music and who you are today?
AZRA: This move from South Korea to San Jose influenced me in every way and definitely in the music I create today. Sonically, my music combines sounds and influences from American Pop, K-pop, Rock, Musical Theater and Hip-Hop, which are the types of music I grew up listening to and singing. On another hand, being thrown into a completely new country as a kid and having to accept that “your past environment was just a memory” was not an easy transition or a reality to accept as a young girl who was so active, involved in her community, and full of spirit. I had to learn, rebuild, recreate, and ultimately find my voice and place in the “new world.” Thankfully, this transition which also included accomplishing various goals along the way, made me positive, strong, resilient, and insightful. I also learned that anything is possible and that we all have the ability to pave our own paths towards our dreams. This DNA flows through my music. Surprisingly to me, I realized in 2014 when I revisited South Korea that my musical journey is more similar to that of an artist growing up in America, not in Korea, and so were my values and mannerisms. I am now proud to be able to have experiences from both countries to express through my music.
You're not only a musician, but a dancer, motivational speaker, model and an accomplished author of your self-help book The Cupcake Theory. What draws you to not only music, but all types of art and expression?
AZRA: I view all of my artistic expressions whether it be through music, writing, speaking, dancing, acting, or modeling all as various manifestations of the same energy in different forms. Art is art and it can come through any form, just depending on where my energy aligns at the time.
Photo Credits: Joesph Cartright
Your "real" name is Clara. How did you come up with the stage name AZRA and what's the meaning behind it?
AZRA: AZRA came to me before I even knew how to speak English. It was a cool sounding word at first, like some sort of a superhero or mystical figure… At first I thought the name would be good for my future daughter if I ever have one. Then, I started getting images of a little girl inside of me who seemed to be my emotional barometer. Whenever I was sad or doing something I didn’t feel 100% about, I would always picture this little girl in a corner upset and unhappy in the dark, and whenever I was happy and excited I would imagine this little girl being ecstatic and elated jumping around laughing hysterically. After I graduated from college and landed a corporate consulting career at one of the big four consulting firms, this image got stronger… Because though I was excelling in the field, transforming fortune 50 companies, rising up the corporate ladder, flying lavishly in first class and checking into the nicest hotel suites all over the country, I didn’t feel completely whole, like I was not addressing something inside of me that wanted to be recognized and come out… and the little girl’s sad images and voices started getting more vivid and loud. When I finally decided to professionally pursue my passion as a singer and leave my consulting career behind to what I called “Obeying my soul,” I remember being in the studio one day writing music for my first EP and trying to figure out what my stage name would be. I remembered AZRA and realized that it was not the name I’m supposed to give to my future daughter, but it was the little girl inside of me who’s been wanting to express herself fully doing what she’s meant to do: sing, perform, express herself to serve and touch others. AZRA has become so intertwined with my identity that I recently added AZRA to my middle name.
Any big plans for this year you'd like to share?
AZRA: My big goals for this year is to release my new singles and EP Project that add more of my rock influences to my prior sound, and to connect with more people through my live shows and events! Be on the lookout for more new music and show dates @theazraofficial and all my socials!
Interviewed By Kaitlyn Nicole