Interview: Ohio’s Serin Oh Believes in Uplifting Asian Americans on “mm+i”

Music has been a reflective experience for Ohio’s Serin Oh. Born to Korean parents, she’s a second generation Asian American who’s had a rather tumultuous journey while finding her path in life.

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Struggling with the insecurities she had for the colour of her own skin, Serin projected those fears outwards – onto the people she hated alongside those she hadn’t even met yet. It wasn’t till a faithful encounter with Sophia Chang, the once-manager of the iconic Wu-Tang Clan, that she realised how much of an impact Asian Americans can hold over an industry that’s notorious for its lack of representation of said race.

“mm+i” (pronounced ‘me, myself and I’) is a “journey of deconstructing those lies” about self-victimisation that has plagued Serin all these years. It’s a song that’s as powerful as it is vulnerable, all while armed with a message that’s meant to inspire those around her and people across the world as well.

Read on to find out more on what ‘representation’ means to Serin and listen to “mm+i” here.

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Turntable Thoughts:

Why don’t you tell me about yourself?

Serin:

Well, I am a singer-songwriter and currently in Ohio. I love music and cheese and potatoes – those my trio. [laughs] I started music because I fell in love with Ella Fitzgerald. 

But…I actually stopped singing when I went to music college. I felt like I’d been stripped away from my identity as a musician since I was besides a bunch of other way more established musicians. It exposed me to a lot of people with an absurd amount of talent. I ended up going through this journey of self-doubt, thinking “Who the hell do I think I am?” to be calling myself a singer.

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For 2 years I didn’t sing at all. Instead, I dove into Music Business. As deeper as I got into it, I realised I went into business because there weren’t people who looked liked me that were artists. Specifically, people who are third-culture or second-generation kids. Usually, its people who are Black or White or Latina who end up being stars in America but not Asians.

I made this realisation when I met Sophia Chang, who was the manager of the Wu-Tang Clan. She came to the Berklee College of Music and it was my first time seeing someone who looked like me, spoke fluent English and was a guest speaker at my school. It sparked my passion for the representation of second-generation Asians.

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Turntable Thoughts:

So how did that turn out for you?

Serin:

Well, it led me to create the Asian American and Entertainment club at Berklee, which is still running today. Along that timeframe in 2018 was also when I started singing again. As I was finding my voice as a human being, I also found my ‘voice’ voice.

Then in the spring of 2019, I came back to Ohio and had another identity crisis. [laughs] I was back home with my parents and I wondered what the hell I needed to be doing with my life. 

I started songwriting and felt like I was just a fetus compared to people I’ve met. It was then I began to feel the importance of production. That’s when I went out to Berklee Valencia to do my Masters Degree in Music Production: Technology and Innovation (yeah, super long name). When I was out there, I full-on explored what it means and looks like to be an artist and a songwriter.

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Turntable Thoughts:

What was the conclusion you came to?

Serin:

For me, collaborating is a huge part of who I am as a person AND an artist, specifically with people who don’t look like me. As a second-generation Asian myself, I believe that’s how our culture can be lifted. Integrating ourselves with other cultures.

We always hang out with people of our own race so there’s this ‘other-ism’ which I’d like to go past while slowly integrating ourselves into mainstream culture. 

So I started a band there – Serin and the Groubies! [laughs] I started writing a lot with the band’s keyboardist, Luke. My strength lies in melody and lyric-writing while his lies in the funky theory stuff. It was like peanut butter and jelly. That led to him becoming my main producer, even though he’s back in London now. So we do long-distance writing at the moment and also a long-distance relationship.

…so that’s who I am! Hi, Jensen~


Turntable Thoughts:

With everything you mentioned about representing second-generation Asians – reflecting on victimisation and self-isolation, would those be the driving factors behind why you wrote “mm+i”?

Serin:

The song is like this defence mechanism for the ‘other-ism’ I mentioned. I grew up in the suburbs of Ohio and, in retrospect, I tried to make myself the stereotypical midwestern White girl. Still, I knew deep down that isn’t who I am. 

In the end, I started judging people because I judge myself. In the lyrics of the pre-chorus, “people wanna see me cry/people wanna waste my time/people always wanna lie/people judge me with their lies”, those were all safety blankets that I created for myself.

I’d think that people would see me as “Oh, they don’t like me cause I’m Asian” when in reality that wasn’t the case. Now it’s a journey of deconstructing those lies that I’ve put into my brain.

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Turntable Thoughts:

Was there a particular moment that inspired you to write “mm+i”?

Serin:

Okay, exposure time. [laughs] While I was living in Spain, I felt very lonely as I didn’t really feel connected to the people there. I was only limited to the people in the university cause I didn’t speak a lick of Spanish. It was when the pandemic hit as well. 

I didn’t have a community and was literally isolated. The thoughts I had from high school then started flooding back into me even though I thought I had gotten over them. There was a specific person, whenever I saw them made me go, “They don’t wanna see me succeed”.

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It became this narrative that pounded in my mind over and over again.

“Wow, they don’t care!” I told myself, eventually. It was all in my head. Everything changed when I started going back into my faith and asked myself what my purpose was on this Earth. Could I contribute to this world and make it a better place?

The desperation of not wanting to feel that way and rooting myself deeper in my faith, simultaneously, was what led me to “mm+i”.

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Turntable Thoughts:

There is more of a purpose to “mm+i” whereas your previous songs were self-reflective. What do you think are the main differences between them?

Serin:

My other songs were more of a diary. I’m still at the beginning of my songwriting career but I believe that “mm+i” is about why the story is being written, while the previous ones are just releases. Kinda like emotional vomit. [laughs]

I wanted “mm+i” to also be a mantra for other people going through the same problems. It was more intentional. Even the production, instrumentation and everything, they were all placed in to fit the intention of the message.


Turntable Thoughts:

Would you say that ‘representation’ would be a core theme in your music moving forward?

Serin:

I hope naturally it can be. I want it to speak through the work rather than tell people what I’m about. This is a global issue that I think a lot of people can relate to. 

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Turntable Thoughts:

What plans do you have for the future?

Serin:

Well, I’m going to be releasing an upbeat song cause the current ones are pretty chill and dark. [laughs] Also, we have a project we’ve been working on for a year that we’re really excited to drop in 2021! That’s all I’ll say about that part.

There’s a lot of music coming and I’ll be documenting it all on my vlog channel!

Posted by

Based in Melbourne and Malaysia. Jensen is a part-time journalist and full-time music fan.

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