by Alisa Lyakhovaya BTS' latest album, Map of the Soul: Persona arrived last month; garnering pre-release orders of over 2.6 million within the first five days, this was an album that was highly anticipated and it did not disappoint. BTS Radio UK are privileged to have interviewed some of the talented people who collaborated with BTS to bring this album to life. A gifted singer/songwriter in her own right, Julia Ross starts off our exclusive series Map of the Soul: Persona [decoded]. Hello!
First of all thank you so much for taking time out for this interview. I am so glad we could finally get in touch and just chat all things music, producing... and this one rather unknown album called Map of the Soul: Persona!
A huge congratulations on the success of the album! What was your reaction when you first found out? Thank you so much ! It still feels so unreal. 🙂 Krysta and I write together almost everyday on various projects. She was contacted by a rep she knew back in December who had recently moved to BigHit Entertainment and they asked us to write for one of their other acts. We are both really big believers in manifestation and started saying and believing that we were going to crush the song and they were going to ask us to write for BTS. And then they sent us the track that is now HOME. We were out on the town the night we found out that we got the cut. Like I said above about manifesting, we were standing in line in Hollywood, and Krysta looked at me and said “Julia…We got the BTS cut..” And I just thought that we were doing one of our “Speak As-If” exercises and I responded with “ Ya I know! Woo hoo! We’re awesome” and she goes “ no no , Julia we ACTUALLY got the BTS cut!” So happy we were together in that moment and got to celebrate! That is such a beautiful story! And to get to experience it with your close friend is even more magical! Dare I say ‘friendship goals’? My friend and I have recently started doing the positive affirmation exercises as well. We've still got a lot of work to do but making a start was definitely worth it. How did the opportunity for a collaboration present itself? This whole opportunity is from years of cultivating relationships, going down hard roads of perseverance, and the dedication and love for music! I have been writing and touring for over 20 years, and I met Krysta on that continuous journey I’m still on. We have been writing together on and off for about 2 years now, and I wouldn’t have been a part of this project if it wasn’t for her and my paths colliding in the best way. What made you want to collaborate with BTS? I love BTS! It’s always amazing to see a group of performers that each have their own thing, each incredibly talented and are able to work well together as a team. Those boys are like family and that is a beautiful thing. Also their songs are total bops.😉 I keep learning more and more about them through this process of getting to know their story and also their Army. The loyalty and love from their fans is unmatched; I feel like I’m a part of a whole new family and I cant wait to be more involved. I purple you! And we’re so happy to welcome you both to our big, international family! Were you given a theme or any specific guidelines when you started? Anytime we write, we usually research the artist and are sometimes given guidelines in terms of what the label is looking for. But for this certain track we went with what we felt. The track was already amazing and so we went to town with melodies and lyrical rhythms that felt right and real and honest to us. How did you and Krysta familiarise yourselves with BTS’ style and approach? Did you ever have a chance to meet with them in person for sessions? We were already listening to their music before even having the opportunity to write for the new record. So we kind of knew the direction and style to shoot for while still making it different. We haven’t met them...Yet! I cannot wait for the day that we do though. We are going to their show on May 4th here in LA to sing at the top of our lungs along with the BTS Army in America! So excited. I’m so glad you’re going to the concert! Their shows are one of a kind, you just don’t see that sort of grand performance anywhere else!
Now let’s talk a little bit more about the actual working process behind ‘HOME’. What were your musical inspirations? One of my favorite things about BTS is how much involvement they have in the writing process on their albums. RM, J-HOPE and SUGA are all co-writers on HOME. I think it’s important to shed light on the fact that they aren’t just another pop act that doesn’t write their own songs or have a hand in the creative process. They care about their art, the importance of the lyrics and I just really respect artists that pour their heart and soul into all sides of their career. As for our involvement, we approached the song like we approach all of our songs and are obviously familiar with their music and wanted to put an honest twist to it and write from our hearts to match what the guys put into this record. And I’m happy we did because Army really resonated with that. How long did the writing and production take? Were there many drafts before the final version? We actually wrote the topline over Facetime. I was in Nashville visiting my family at the time and Krysta was here, in California. The process was pretty seamless; because we write together so often, it was easy to communicate what both of us were wanting. After we were done we sent it off to Big Hit and the rest is history! I can definitely relate to that! Working with your friends definitely has its advantages because you all speak the same language and it’s way easier to get the message across, even if it doesn’t make in any logical or grammatical sense. You just get each other. 🙂 How much of the original writing was left in the final version? Every writer on that album is amazing. Every lyric, melody, and part of a track wouldn’t exist, or be what they are, without all of the talented minds together. One thing I love is that members RM, J-Hope and SUGA are also writers on HOME. Total respect to artists who write their own art! I 100% agree with that. When artists write their own work it automatically makes it more personal. We, as fans, can definitely feel that when listening to BTS’ music. There’s a popular saying in the fandom that ‘Everyone discovers BTS for themselves, when they need them the most’; and I think, it wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for all the personal stories they tell through their music. There are so many talented women that have contributed to the success of Map Of The Soul: Persona. Do you feel that it’s significant in any way? 100%. Male or female, if you’re good at what you do it doesn’t matter what the gender is to me. What does matter is when women don’t get heard or have the best shot at success because of being female. Every chick on this project is a bad ass and a hustler out here in what I believe is a Man AND Woman’s world. We out here killing it! So honoured to be a part of it. BTS Army are known for being protective of their favourite artist, especially when they collaborate with other singers, writers and producers. How has the response been so far? Honestly I have never experienced anything like it. Krysta mentioned in a tweet after the release that the American music industry could really learn a lesson from the BTS army in terms of supporting songwriters and actually caring and loving everyone behind the scenes. So amazing. The love, the respect, the encouragement, and appreciation has been so inspiring. I have even made some new fans with my own music and that just warms my heart so much I hardly have words. I, myself, have also become a fan of your music too! Definitely wasn’t listening to ‘Bad For Me’ and ‘Medicine Man’ on repeat last night. 😁 It’s amazing to me how you get to learn about so many new inspiring artists through these collaborations. How far do you agree that music is more powerful than any international borders and whether BTS’ global outreach is significant of that? I totally agree that music is the most powerful form of communication and reaches far into the depths of the soul; a universal language that can break through any border. The first time I heard and became a huge fan of Korean artists and K-pop was because of BTS. Now that you mention music being ‘a universal language’, have you noticed a progressive shift of acceptance towards foreign/non-English speaking artists within the music industry? I have! Like I said before about music being a universal language, I have noticed, especially here in America with K-pop on the rise, that it's all about the heart and the quality of the songwriting/track. It’s about the honesty and realness of the artists as well, that makes us fall in love with their art, whether you speak the language or not.
Do you think that because BTS’ lyrics are in a foreign language, international fans feel the need to read up on the meaning behind them, thus becoming more invested in the actual production of the songs? I have actually sung songs that I love in a different language not knowing what I’m saying before, Haha. But I will say that when I take the time to find out what it means, I have more of a connection to that song and artist because of my own personal time invested. When the listener feels one with the artist, that is a huge connection and a lasting relationship. I love that most of their tunes are in their native language, it makes it more special to me and obviously to their international fans as well! So my answer is yes to that question. There has been some discussion among some classically trained musicians about the fact that BTS do not follow the general format when arranging their songs. They constantly surprise us by putting the bridge, chorus, or verse in unexpected positions. As a writer and producer does it inspire you to try different techniques? Absolutely yes. When I first started writing K pop, it was a complete learning curve for me. I had gotten so used to the typical format of a three minute and thirty second song. Verse, pre-chorus, Chorus, 2nd Verse, pre-chrous, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, Outro. I realised after those sessions that so much more can happen in a song than what I have been doing most of my career. Creating memorable parts that I call moments; that “HA! This is my favorite part, no wait, THAT was my favorite part! Start it over!” feeling. What I love about BTS is most of those songs have about 5 moments in them where typical pop music has one to two great moments and they are mostly in the chorus and bridge. I told a friend of mine the other day that writing in this genre is like creating a movie. It’s not just about the chorus, it’s about the journey and the story and creating a world inside those three minutes that you don’t want to end. I’m a big fan and have been implementing these new ways of writing in everything I do. It has made me a better writer and I feel like my creative mind palace just got an addition. Do you feel that viral music/trends (when uploaded to musical platforms) create unnecessary competition for the actual authentic artists? (e.g. diss tracks) I believe that every creative, no matter how big or small the artist or platform, deserves a chance. This industry has changed drastically over the last 10 years, in terms of how accessible everything is, but I have found that the ones that last and matter are the creatives that are real and honest with their work. Sometimes because of the viral craze it takes a bit more time to be seen, but it’s also pretty incredible how much we have at our fingertips to explore and find what we love. It’s actually a double edged sword. The artists that had no way to be discovered back in the day now have the internet and apps and Facebook etc. And the other side of it is the over abundance of everything. The good side though is that flashes in the pan will simply be flashes in the pan. If artists keep it real, make art that speaks to people, continue working on their craft, and find ways to be uniquely relevant, there is no competition. The majority of mainstream music is founded on the repetition of the same melodies, chords and concepts. Sort of like fast disposable music. Do you find that because of this reason the general expectations from popular music have become very low? And in some opinions for e.g. music critics the whole genre isn’t considered to be worthwhile? Nursery rhymes will never die. One thing about pop music, and the reason simplicity will be around forever is because we all were children once. I am not saying that pop music is childish in anyway but there is something magical about it in the sense that repetition and simple melodies get stuck in your head like an ear worm and it makes us feel a certain kind of way. Don’t get me wrong, its actually harder to write simple sometimes than it is to just la la la an entire scale over a track. You have to find the melodies that make you feel something and that will also be remembered. The kind of melodies that make you want to turn up the radio, the melodies that you wait for to happen again in the song. The chorus of HOME actually hits those chords for me, I love it so much and cant wait for it to come back. It feels right, not just thrown in for the sake of being memorable. Do you feel that female talent is downplayed in the music industry? Fortunately in my experience I haven’t had any horror stories with being a female in this music industry. I have noticed that female producers, mixers and engineers and musicians are on the rise and being noticed a lot more for their talent in the past few years and I am a huge supporter of that. Would you have any advice for the young girls starting out in this industry? Any personal experiences that have helped you along the way? Don’t let anybody tell you who you are. The way to be the best you is to do the hard work in knowing yourself, what you love, what you wanna say, where your passion truly lies, and to learn the power of the word ‘NO’. I have gotten caught up over the years listening to someone else’s ideas and them convincing me that they were mine. It's because I was either scared to be vulnerable or I didn’t actually know who I was. Now I write from my heart, I share what is raw and real because at the end of the day, we are all human. Also, get a lawyer! What is next for Julia Ross? Are there any upcoming projects you are especially excited about? I am in a constant state of creating. I released my first single fully on my own last year called You’re Not Mine and it’s still one of my favourite original songs. I am planning on releasing an E.P. this summer so keep your ears and eyes open! I am also writing and vocal producing other artists. If anyone reading this article is in need of songs or collaborations, you can contact me on any of my socials. I love what I do and I also love helping other creatives find their voice. I’ll definitely make a note of that! Thank you so much for this interview, it’s been wonderful being able to have a little peek behind the scenes! I have to admit, I’ve never felt more comfortable when talking to a professional about their work before. It's safe to say that you have become a vital part of the BTS Army family and we couldn’t be happier to have you with us. We hope to see more of you in the future and best of luck with all your upcoming projects. You can follow Julia on:- Instagram: @juliaisofficial Twitter:@JuliaRossMusic Join us next time for the next installment in our [decoded] series. Follow BTS Radio UK on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @BTSRadioUK; and turn on your notifications to keep up to date with our posts. Images courtesy of @juliaisofficial - Instagram