Behind The Music Ft. Superknova

Behind The Music Ft. Superknova

We had the honor of having Superknova be the featured artist for our Fully Human Giveback Program in 2022. As our fundraising period came to a close, we interviewed her about the inspiration for her music & journey to be the artist she is today.

Please share your name, pronouns, and a bit about yourself (where you’re from/where you live, what you’re passionate about, and identities you claim that will help the audience get to know you).

My name is Ellie and I make queer pop music as SuperKnova! I’m a genderfluid, transgirl and my pronouns are she/her/hers. I’m Korean American and currently based in NYC.

What are you doing in your free/leisure time?

When I’m not doing music, I like to be pretty active. I run or go for walks outside and like to play sports. Basketball is my favorite and I play in a few casual leagues in NYC (including an all queer league!).

What are a few of your favorite shows and movies from 2022?

As for movies and TV, my favorite last year was Maya and the Wave. It’s about Brazilian surfer Maya Gabeira who overcame massive public doubt and (multiple injuries) to surf one of the tallest waves ever by a surfer of any gender. It’s also about her fight for women’s equality in professional sports in general. For TV, I just finished Reservation Dogs. It’s my favorite show lately. It reminds me a lot of Pose, where the writing is so heartfelt but also so funny. I laughed and cried in every episode.

How did the name Superknova come to be?

When I was a kid, I was really into space and cosmology. A “supernova” is the final, most spectacular explosion before the death of a star. I saw this as an analogy of how I wanted to live my life: following my passions and giving it my all while finding beauty in the chaos.

Take us on a journey to how you got to where you are today, a full-time musician? Did you play music as a child?

I started playing guitar really young around age ten. I played in punk bands throughout Junior High and high school and when I got to college I studied Jazz guitar. I was obsessed. I think for 12 years straight I played it every single day. I always dreamed of being a pop or rock musician, but I never thought it was something I’d be able to do. There were so few visible Asian American pop musicians when I was growing up and even fewer queer or transgender artists. Strong discouragement from my immigrant parents didn’t help. All that together made me internalize the idea that people like me didn’t get to be pop musicians. However, when I came out as transgender, I had to unlearn a lot of negative beliefs about myself. I came to embrace all parts of who I am. Once I stopped trying to be who other people said I should be, I was able to be confident in who I actually was. I started writing more songs regularly and eventually posted a few of them to Bandcamp. They did surprisingly well and it gave me more confidence. I was in Chicago at the time and they have an amazing indie music scene. I started playing basement and house shows. Eventually I started playing venues and released more music. I kept doing it and it grew over the course of 5 years. Finally just last year I was able to take the leap, quit my day job and do music full time.
What's your process for writing and recording songs?
I’m a very instruments focused person. Some of my favorite songs I couldn’t tell you half the lyrics because I’m so enamored with the instrumental music and the groove rather than words. Therefore, I always start with music first and then add lyrics after. I’ll usually start with finding a sound or instrument I like. Then I’ll play a simple chord progression. Once I have that I’ll write a basic melody and add some words. With lyrics, I write very subconsciously. I rarely write about a specific topic. Instead, I hum out random words and see what associations or topics they trigger. The more weird or unexpected the better. I then write from there. You’d be surprised how many great ideas are hiding in your subconscious. I produce, record and mix my own music and I generally do them all at the same time. I find it’s both faster and easier because my production choices often influence my songwriting and vice versa. Same for recording and mixing. Mastering is the one thing I generally do at the very end. The whole process can take anywhere from a few days to a few years.
Can you tell us about the inspiration for/meaning of/story behind Splendor Dysphoria?
Splendor Dysphoria is, of course, a play on the term “gender dysphoria.” It’s about experiencing joy in your identity and finding yourself. It’s the result of a long journey of self exploration and discovery. I studied music in college but after I graduated, I took a hard detour and actually went to medical school. This was prompted by a lot of insecurities I had at the time: the lack of Asian American representation in music, pressure from my parents to get a “real job” and insecurity around my identity and abilities in general. Once I got there though, I realized how much I missed music. I still played all the time and started to wonder how I could get back. It was here I also started to explore my gender and sexuality more. I eventually took two years off from school to come out and transition. During that time, I started writing songs. I initially wrote them as therapy for myself to process my emotions around coming out and didn’t really plan on releasing them. However, a friend heard them and told me I should put them on Bandcamp. I was really hesitant. I thought they weren’t very good and that no one would want to hear them. However, they kept saying “No, no these are really good you should post these.” I ended up posting six songs to bandcamp and they became Splendor Dysphoria. To my surprise, the album did really well. I eventually gained a following on Bandcamp and discovered many awesome queer and trans artists there as well. I kept doing it and it grew from there.
Anything you want to share about what being an artist means to you and why the arts are so important, particularly for queer and trans folks?
Often the first places that queer and trans people are allowed to be themselves are in art and performance spaces. That’s because art is all about creativity and discovering new things! Artists push boundaries and create new worlds and experiences that were previously hard to imagine. In that way, art can be a blueprint for change. For me personally, queer and indie music made me feel less alone and more proud to be who I was. It gave me a community. It gave me freedom to be myself without judgment. Without music, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be here today.