US Hit Producer: Kim Junsu reminds me of Michael Jackson
As K-pop continues to stretch ever forward into the world’s music market, the genre has been blessed with contributions from major movers and shakers from the US market on numerous occasions. From JYJ‘s early collaboration with Kanye West and the Wonder Girls release of Like Money featuring Akon, to the anticipated collaborations between PSY and Scooter Braun and 2NE1‘s work with will.I.AM, more and more international music producers and artists are getting bit by the K-pop bug.
Recently we sat down with producer and songwriter Bruce “Automatic” Vanderveer who made his K-pop debut with his collaboration with JYJ’s soulful vocalist Kim Junsu on the English single Uncommitted that was released in August 2012. We set out to not only get to know Mr. Vanderveer better, but grab some insights on how his collaboration with Junsu came to be – what was is like meeting and working with him, and how the fan’s reaction to the collaboration has changed his view on not only K-pop and its scores of fans but also the limitless talent and global potential of JYJ and its members.
Automatic, as he is called by his friends and family, was born in Brooklyn, New York and currently works as producer and song writer for Sony Music. He has worked with great artists like Pink, The Pussy Cat Dolls, and Snoop Dog along with iconic artists like Cher, James Brown and Michael Jackson over his twenty year career. Although well known in the music scene in the states, little is known about him globally. As we sat down with him, we started off with getting a little back story on how he originally got into the business and he regaled us with the story of how he got his nickname.
How did you get the nickname “Automatic”?
Automatic (laughing) : ”I can start out by telling you my story about playing guitar. I beat up a kid in Brooklyn, NY because he didn’t want to let me play his guitar. So, I kicked his (butt) very quickly and then grabbed the guitar and tried to play it as fast as I could because I knew his parents were going to come out and get me arrested or something. But, I quickly wrote a song in fifteen minutes and my mom came out and instead of her, you know trippin’ because I beat the kid up, she was just like “How did you do that so quickly?”. She’s the one who gave me the nickname “Automatic”. She was like “You automatically played that.” So she got on the phone and started telling her friends “My son automatically played the guitar.” “Little Automatic” and I [began] to use that as a dancing name.
Could you tell us a little about how you got into the music business?
Automatic: “I started a band in New York and we played everywhere, the Cat Club, and the Palladium, and we had an incredible following. I auditioned for a lot of record companies and finally Morgan Creek Polygram Records signed me. That’s how I got into the industry.”
After Mr. Vanderveer gave us a glimpse into his history in the music business, we turned to the subject of his collaboration with Kim Junsu and discussed how the collaboration came to be, the story behind the track itself, his first impressions of Junsu, and what it was like working in the studio with him.
While you have been in the music business for quite some time, your notoriety in the K-pop world didn’t make its debut till the release of “Uncommitted”. Could you tell a little about how that collaboration came to be? Who contacted you initially?
Automatic: “The craziest thing about this whole thing was that I didn’t even know who Junsu or JYJ was. I didn’t know what Kpop was until August. My daughter would constantly tell me about groups that she listened to from Korea and Japan (for the last couple of years). She would say “Daddy I just heard this great Korean group.” It was wild.”
Automatic: “The executive from CJeS, Niddy (Tyrone “Niddy” Buckner), called me and he asked me if I was “Automatic” from Sony Music, because I had a hit record a few years ago with Bettina Bush from American Idol. He said “I’m working for a group called JYJ. Do you have any songs to submit?” I was like “What kind of music do they do?” and he said “Oh, well they are from Korea but they do Pop and R&B. So, if you have any male oriented songs, we’re really interested in what you have.” So I submitted some stuff. Uncommitted was a song I wrote four years ago, so I wasn’t even going to submit that song, but at the last minute I just threw it in there anyway.”
Automatic: “I got a phone call a couple weeks later from Niddy saying that CJeS loved the song and that Junsu wanted to do it. At that point my daughter freaked out and said “Junsu! Junsu! Daddy do you know who that is?” I was just like “No” and she ran me through all of his stuff. She sat me down and gave me a JYJ and Junsu lesson. I was just blown away because these guys were not only awesome but they work so hard to perfect their craft. It was something you didn’t see that much anymore in America.”
Is there any story behind “Uncommitted”? Is it based on an event in your life?
Automatic: “It wasn’t from my life, but, a friend’s. He was a serious player. I would always tell him he needed to stop that lifestyle because everyone knew he had this reputation. It was going to be hard when he got serious. But he kept saying “I’m never going to get serious.” until he literally found a woman that was just perfect. She was just awesome. He said “This is the woman I want to settle down with.” And I was so happy for him. So he told her how he felt and she stopped him mid sentence. She said “I know you’re not going to ask me to go steady or get married.” He was stunned as she told him “You’re good for these kinds of dates but I know all about your reputation. I know who you are. I’m not going to be bringing you home to meet my parents. He was so brokenhearted.”
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What was your initial impression when you met Kim Junsu for the very first time?
Automatic: “I was expecting him to be a lot more reserved but the greatest thing was that when we met it was instantly like were two old friends. He cracked a joke and then I cracked a joke. It was like we (already) knew each other. It was just not what I thought it was going to be like. I thought he was going to be reserved, quiet, and shy, and he was not at all. Junsu was hilarious, funny, vibrant, and just ready to work. We had a ball. We were laughing together like two old fools. It was crazy.”
Are there any interesting stories that you would care to share about your experiences while working with Kim Junsu in the studio?
Automatic: “We hit it off so well. When Ebony Cunningham (the VP of InRage Entertainment and my fiance) was vocally guiding Junsu on the second verse and the bridge sections of the song, he got it really well. He went into the booth and every time he did it so beautifully that I got excited and said to him “Man you sound black. You’re just a brother.” to which he replied “I’m not black, I’m yellow.” and it was hilarious. Everybody in the studio started cracking up. He was so funny. This was one of the best sessions I ever had.”
After experiencing Kim Junsu’s vocals in person, what did you think?
Automatic: “My daughter had already ran me through JYJ’s repertoire. I just didn’t know that he was so soulful. One of the things I realized is that with a lot of his songs, he records really well but you still have not heard the best of Junsu yet. That boy can blow. Every time I sang a note he would sing that note and out-sing it. He would sing it better. He’s got so much soul. I don’t know where it comes from but I’m just blown away by it. He has talents and the gifts that people haven’t even heard yet. He has got the skills and I want to capture that onto records, on tracks. He reminds me of Michael Jackson. He’s the Michael Jackson of Asia to me.”
We then started to discuss a key point that InRage Entertainment and Automatic are great proponents of when it comes to the music industry – artist freedom. While it’s highly accepted by JYJ fans worldwide that their entertainment company CJeS has been very adamant about allowing JYJ all the artist freedom they desire, Automatic gave us an even deeper glimpse into the truth behind that understanding.
Automatic: “They have artist freedom and that’s what I love about CJeS. They are giving them the chance to explore other genres and languages. CJeS is just great for supporting JYJ artistically. When we were in the studio the CEO of CJeS was there. He was there for the entire session. How many CEO are there for their artists like that? You don’t see CEO’s and Presidents do that. It’s a rare thing. To see the CEO actually there making sure that Junsu had everything he needed, making sure that he was comfortable. It was amazing.”
After the entire experience, how did you feel about the time spend working with him? Did you know that the song was going to be a hit or were you a little apprehensive?
Automatic: “The greatest part about the whole session was that it was so fast. Junsu was dope. We did it quickly. We even took a break. He free style, we played guitar, he sang, and I played some other songs. Then he went back in and polished off the rest of the song. We did it in a couple of hours and usually my sessions last a day or two. Junsu is awesome – a complete professional.
I knew it was going to be a hit. I knew it when we were in the studio and he was singing the song. We were so excited, jumping for joy and clapping. We just knew it.”
We concluded our interview with a discussion on how the whole experience has not only affected his outlook on K-pop and JYJ but also how the treatment h’es received from the groups fans has affected him personally. It was quite heartwarming to hear an artist from the US, not normally associated with the K-pop industry, talk so appreciatively and respectfully about how passionate and loving Kpop fans truly are.
As most people are well aware, K-pop fans are one of the most passionate group of fans in the world. When the news was released that you collaborated on this track, the eyes of the fan base was quickly fixed on you. How does it feel to be receiving so much fan love?
Automatic: “It’s the greatest reward, really. The fans are so loving and caring. Fans hit me up and ask me things like “Are you eating?”, “How are you doing?”, and “How’s your daughter.” That’s so bizarre to me. Fans in America don’t have that kind of appreciation.They are so caring that I’m hoping that we in America can learn a lot from how these fans treat the people they respect. The fan love is incredible. They are so dedicated to making sure that JYJ progresses and their YouTube views are up. It’s such a caring movement. I love it.
I’m so glad that I got a chance to do this, and witness the kind of love that they show. I’m so happy, and so appreciative, of all the fans that I get to talk to. I enjoy talking to the fans. They (JYJ) have the greatest fans in the world. JYJ are so lucky to have fans like that. I wish a lot of artist in America had that kind of fandom. I’m hoping we can learn from these fan groups and eventually adopt some of that love and respect. It’s so rare and it’s beautiful. “
Do you have anything you would like to say to our readers before we let you go?
Automatic: “I want to thank the fans from all around the world and let them know that their love has empowered me to be a better producer and writer. I believe that we are not only fans but friends. I call a lot of my friends “InRagers” because we stand for music equality; we stand for racial equality, and artistic freedom. These are all the things that JYJ has had to overcome. All these boundaries that have been put in their way, they have overcome them. That is what my company is all about. So,all the fans out there are InRagers to me. “
Mr. Vanderveer is currently working on numerous projects in and out of the Kpop world. His band, Asphalt Messiah, recently released a new track called Lets Get Dirty 2Nite which is currently available on ITUNES and Amazon. The rock anthem melds heavy guitar and driving beat with lyrics that incorporate web terminology to get your heart racing and your feet moving. While Mr. Vanderveer was unable to give us any specifics on his upcoming projects from the K-pop side of his endeavors he made it quite clear to fully expect some amazing things in that area, real soon.
We at hellokpop would like to thank Bruce “Automatic” Vanderveer for spending time with us and allowing us to give our readers a deeper look into Kim Junsu’s personality and his work ethic along with sharing with us humorous stories about his experiences working with him. We are looking forward to everything he has in store for the all the K-pop fans and wish him all the best in his endeavors.
Sources: Video: CJESJYJ, Photos: (Main) JYJ Official, Bruce Vanderveer.