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Catching Up With sundial: A Conversation With The Rising Pop Duo

As I stood on my tiptoes amidst the crowded audience, my 5 foot 2 self could barely see past the shoulder in front of me. Despite this, I could easily make out two figures walking onto the stage. Perhaps it was the pep in their step or their bubbly aura as they set up their instruments, but their smiles were visible even from where I was standing.

Luckily for me, the next time I saw them, I was in the comfort of my own dorm. A ZOOM meeting sat in front of me, and the duo’s smiles were very clear.

“I’m Dorothy, ummm…what am I supposed to say?” one of them responded when I asked them to introduce themselves. “Like, should I stick with the concert intro?”

“I’m Jisu, and we’re sundial!” the other echoed. 

After watching Dorothy and Jisu perform as sundial in their opening set for NIKI at Webster Hall, I was drawn not only to their music, but to their energy. As they continue to grow in their popularity and success, I had the honor of sitting down with them (virtually) and learning about their musical journey. 

We can start with some basic introductions. Who is sundial?

DOROTHY: I’m Dorothy! I grew up in Hong Kong and moved to Boston for college, and that’s where I met Jisu. We’ve been making music as sundial ever since. I grew up playing classical piano and just writing songs here and there.

JISU: I’m Jisu Kim. I was born in Korea, but I was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. I did cello my entire life, like the whole shebang, and then went to Berklee for cello. I started producing in high school. [Dorothy and I] met in our freshman year of college, and we’ve been doing sundial since 2016. Though, we didn’t really take it seriously until around 2 years ago.

Is there a special meaning behind the name sundial?

JISU: We thought it was cute [laughs].

DOROTHY: Well, not really. We were just eating takeout one day, and we just thought “huh, we should have a name.” We wanted something to do with time and nature.

JISU: You know, freshman year in college and doing music, we were just like “wow, this is so deep and connecting with the universe.” Yeah, it was something like that.

DOROTHY: Jisu was the one who came up with sundial!

JISU: It was more of an aesthetic thing, but now it’s us! We’re sundial! 

Did you two ever think that you would be where you are today? Or did you two have a hunch?

DOROTHY: I don’t know if we ever thought that we would “make it big,” per se–we just wanted to make music and make whatever we wanted. Even when we were working full time at a social media company, we persisted with music. It is surreal, but it is also very reassuring to know that the work we put in reaps its benefits. 

JISU: I don’t know if it was a hunch, but I knew from making our first EP that we had something special here. I actually enjoy the music we’re making, and I wanted to make more of it. It’s hard to be a fan of your own work sometimes. 

DOROTHY:  I think [Jisu’s] production and the way that I song-write made something I’ve never heard before. That’s not to boast, but it was cool and unique!

JISU: There is definitely a surreal part to all of this, too.

Four years ago, you had an interview with Generasian and it was posted on our YouTube channel. What would be one thing you would say to yourself from four years ago?

JISU: We actually ask each other this. One thing that I would tell myself is to stop and smell the flowers, but I feel like we’ve already done that.

DOROTHY: I would tell myself to trust my gut. In the industry, it’s really hard to listen to yourself sometimes because there are a lot of opinions. But your gut is never wrong. Often times, if you feel really strongly about something, you’re going to manifest it and execute it so there is no point in not trusting your gut. 

JISU: I would tell myself to negotiate more. There are definitely times when you can negotiate, even with yourself. What is the time I can spend on sundial? What is the time I can spend on myself? We often push ourselves a lot, but I feel like there is always a way to make things work while making things manageable.

Four years ago, you said your early inspiration was artists such as Tennyson and Soda Island. Do you have any new muses lately?

DOROTHY: I still love them, for sure. Nowadays, I feel like it’s definitely more pop music. Taylor Swift–

JISU: I mean, you were always a Swiftie.

DOROTHY: That’s true! Also Julia Michaels, and I’ve been listening to a lot of Sabrina Carpenter recently. 

JISU: I would still say Soundcloud stuff. The good stuff is still on YouTube, Soundcloud, and even TikTok. Love Jon Bellion. Also Tyler, the Creator. 

In your previous interview with us, you mentioned how your sound is always changing. Would you say that it is still changing? Or have you found something you want to stick to?

JISU: I think we have found something we want to stick to.

DOROTHY: I was going to say it will continue to change, but I feel like now we’re a little more concrete with what our sound is.

JISU: Because we love performing and want to make sure that the shows are fun, I think that also helped us find our sound. 

DOROTHY: We really do like the more upbeat vibe, and it represents who we are as artists on stage.

Jisu (left) and Dorothy (right) pose for their Spotify artist picture

You both just recently finished your first tour! Congratulations! Is there anything you wanted to share about the experience?

JISU: Meeting fans and talking with people who we’ve impacted was very special. For me, the digital realm will never replace the actual, tangible experience of meeting someone. When artists go “we do it for the fans,” I get it now. Do you remember the dad?

DOROTHY: I think it was the last show of our tour, there was a dad that came up to us and said “I really liked ‘dear parents,’ it really struck a chord with me. I personally related to it a lot.” We’ve never had a father comment on that song. 

JISU: I almost cried.

DOROTHY: That was really cool to see, and it was really emotional. I also think that performing in general is just really life-changing. I was super scared of doing live shows before the tour, and just doing this was really cool because I realized I could conquer my fears and step out of my comfort zone.

Are there any other accomplishments within the past few years that you’re very proud of?

DOROTHY: We went to LA for a writing trip where we just wrote with new songwriters everyday for three weeks straight. It was a really eye-opening experience. It was really cool to be in that collaborative space. I was so afraid of working with other people, so stepping out of my comfort zone is a big accomplishment for me in that sense. 

JISU: Yeah that’s a huge accomplishment! For me, trying new foods. In general, just trying new, different things. I still love Chipotle, though. 

Hmmm, I never got the hype about Chipotle, but that’s just me.

DOROTHY: You need to be careful with what you say, because he is the biggest Chipotle fan!

JISU: I think you just need to find a different bowl, like another recipe. That’s what I always say. There are some days where I just crave straight carbs and salt, and it checks it all off. 

Do you think your approach with how you songwrite and produce has changed over the years?

DOROTHY: It has definitely changed. I think four years ago when we did the interview with you guys, we started with production first and we took it very seriously. Now, I feel like it’s more like “alright, let’s try to hash out a melody or lyric” and then it kind of comes together. But I feel like it also differs with every song.

JISU: In the past, we definitely took it very seriously in terms of like, oh, the chords! The notes! Now, it’s more about what’s happening in our lives. If I want to make a song about how I hecking love Chipotle, then that’s what I’m doing for that day! 

Four years ago, you also said that you didn’t view being Asian American in the music industry as a disadvantage. As more and more Asian artists are beginning to make a name for themselves, do you think the industry is moving in the right direction?

JISU: I would say it is an advantage in certain situations and a disadvantage in others. I feel like we’re very upfront about our experiences. We tell our stories, and we happen to be Asian. There is a universal experience with a lot of Asian Americans, and they can resonate with our story. 

DOROTHY: Adding onto that, I do think the industry is moving in the right direction. It may be hard to see it in mainstream pop, but it can be seen especially in films and castings. It’s not just about dragons and kung fu anymore. I think there’s a long way to go in terms of telling an authentic story of being Asian as opposed to the commercialized Asian identity that is in the media right now.

JISU: When we talk about the industry, new technologies and social media [have also] helped level the playing field a lot. 

Do you have a general message that you want to portray through your music?

JISU: Definitely vibes and good times. I don’t think we necessarily have a mission statement. Honestly for us, it is just to continue to tell our stories–tell our lives.

DOROTHY: I think it’s just focusing on telling the most authentic story in the most raw, honest way that we can. Authenticity always prevails. 

What’s your dream stage or collaboration?

JISU: Madison Square Garden!

DOROTHY: I would love to work with Julia Michaels.

Any goals you have for the future?

DOROTHY: I really want to put out an album!

JISU: I want to put out something cohesive. Having a cohesive story and putting together a body of work would be really fun and challenging. 

Is there anything new coming up soon that you can talk about?

JISU: We are working on a lot of music, and we have a lot of inspiration especially after coming off from the tour. We’re excited for that!

DOROTHY: [nods enthusiastically]

Jisu and Dorothy smile with their merch at Webster Hall

And another super quick and random question that my friend wanted me to ask you, who asked who out first?

JISU: I did! I asked [Dorothy] out first!

Follow them on Instagram, and check out their website!

Listen to their latest single rollercoaster.

Cover Image, Spotify Picture, Merch Booth Picture

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