– By Nico H.
On Jan. 25, 2017, Red Velvet teased Rookie, their upcoming release at the time, but this time around, they brought friends. A vaguely humanoid-shaped flower thing, to be exact, and a puppet. The puppet provided the introductions.
“And we’re live. Produced by The Colleagues. Take one.”
In 17 seconds, the K-Pop world was teased with its newest hit, and formally introduced to the masterminds behind the beat. But who exactly are The Colleagues?
Karl ‘KP’ Powell and Harrison Johnson make up the duo, and they’ve produced songs for 2 Chainz, Plies, and Freddie Gibbs, among many others, including other K-Pop acts. That’s right, they also produced the NCT 127 song “Paradise.” “Rookie” isn’t their first time in the the K-Pop spotlight.
But, it is their first title track, and the mark they’ve left extends past that unique producer tag. A poppy yet funky track, with sharp horns and a bassline that’s worthy of Parliament-Funkadelic, The Colleagues provided a solid foundation for Red Velvet to showcase their own musical quirks. Combine all of that together, “Rookie” is a great song. Plain and simple.
And others seem to agree. The “Rookie” music video is up to 18 million views on YouTube, and rising, and Red Velvet has recently won their 9th award at Inkigayo. Safe to say, it’s their most successful comeback yet. That’s why I wanted to talk with The Colleagues themselves, and what it’s like to kick off not only Rookie the song, but Red Velvet’s fourth mini-album of the same name.
Here they are, the men behind the puppet.
Below is a brief Q&A with The Colleagues. Enjoy, everybody.
BD: To start things off, could I have you two briefly introduce yourselves?
KP: I’m KP, I started The Colleagues back in 2009. I currently stay in Daytona Beach Florida.
Harrison: I’m the second member of The Colleagues (joined the team in 2012). I currently reside in Atlanta,GA. The oldest child of three. Although I’ve lived in many different places growing up, I consider Texas to be my true home.
BD: Why ‘The Colleagues?’ What’s the story behind the name?
KP : I wanted the group to have a universal name and can be used with any genre of music.
BD: Who are your biggest influences, musically?
Harrison: Pharrell, Timbaland, and Polow Da Don have influenced me the most, because of their versatility. The past few years, Major Lazer has been really an inspiration to me as well.
KP: Pharrell, Timbaland, No I.D., as far as producers go. Michael Jackson as an artist.
BD: How were you approached to work on a K-Pop song?
KP: Our manager called us one day and told us he had some opportunities for us in K-pop and we agreed to try it out.
BD: As I understand it, you were flown out to Korea to work on music (not necessarily to work on Rookie.) How different is the music industry, from a music production perspective? How do artists work together and collaborate there? What’s the music scene like there?
KP: Yes, we flew out to Korea in 2015. It was amazing. Totally different from the United States. I love it there. The music is just a combination of what we do here. It took a while to catch on but we really have a true appreciation for K-pop now.
BD: And in general, what was your experience like in Korea? Were you at all familiar with K-Pop before going? Were you familiar with Red Velvet?
KP: I loved it, can’t wait to go back. I wasn’t familiar with the music or anything about Korea. It was my first time. I didn’t know who any of the groups were. After we left I started listening to a lot of K-pop music and then I started really loving it.
Harrison: Seoul was incredible. Living in Japan, I visited Korea several times during high school so I was fairly familiar to it all. SM and MARZ Music really took great care of us though. It’s nice to experience lifestyles and cultures outside of our own. Prior to our trip, SNSD were really the only K-pop idols I’d heard of. Oh and of course I knew the legendary PSY as well. I had never heard of Red Velvet at the time.
BD: When making Rookie back in late 2015, were you asked to produce a specific kind of instrumental, or was it born from a more natural, creative process?
Harrison: I remember it like it was yesterday. KP called me and told me he had this new idea. He explained it to me and we just took it from there. Kudos to KP for having a vision and bringing it to life.
KP: It was a very long process. But it was well worth it. When we finished the beat it sounded very American. And the label pulled in Digi and he did an amazing job making it sound K-pop. SM was very particular about this record. I’m so happy it came out great.
BD: Did you have any idea Red Velvet would be using your instrumental when you were making it?
KP: No we didn’t. But I always thought this beat was perfect for them. So I’m glad it worked out.
BD: Now, I have to take a moment to give you props for the Rookie instrumental itself. The drums are crisp, the baseline is spectacular, and the guitar and horns are catchy as all hell. Who played the different parts? Please, identify yourselves.
KP: There were two guitar players. Our bro G.Bliz, and other guitars were played by Russell Steedle. Our saxophone player Caleb killed the sax, Paul played trumpet and Andre played trombone. Johnathan Lewis played bass guitar.
BD: The producer tag that kicks off the song is a rather unique one. How did you manage to slip that in? And who’s the one talking?
KP: I’m the one doing the talking. I didn’t think they would keep it on but they did (lol). Thanks to SM for that.
Harrison: I’m honestly surprised they kept it on the record. It’s seldom you hear a producer tag in pop music, but it worked out perfectly. Every time people listen to the song, the first thing they hear is our name. That’s an amazing feeling.
BD: What were your first impressions when you heard Rookie for the first time?
Harrison: I had been so used to hearing the English demo of Rookie, that it took me a few listens to get the feel of Red Velvet’s version. It’s really impressive how they put their own twist on it. I had no idea what they were saying but it’s so catchy you can’t help but to vibe with it (lol).
KP: I agree with Harrison, it was weird at first. But I love it now.
BD: What are your favorite parts of Rookie, instrumentally and vocally?
Harrison: If I had to pick, I’d say the bridge section. I love how smooth it sounds, and how big it gets building back up into the chorus.
KP: The hook, both instrumentally and vocally.
BD: And of course, Red Velvet dances along to your song as well, Rookie being their ‘most energetic choreography.’ Do you guys have a favorite dance move in the song?
Harrison: Hard to choose. All of Seulgi’s solo parts are my favorites (lol). Naw, but I honestly enjoy the entire dance routine as a whole. It compliments the song very well. The ladies have been doing a great job during their stage performances.
KP: I like the little move they do on the hook (lol). Very catchy.
BD: Have you been following Red Velvet’s promotion of Rookie? It’s their most successful single, already winning 9 awards across different Korean music programs. It must be crazy having a song you’ve produced for a foreign market do so well, not to mentioned ‘Produced by The Colleagues’ being played every time Red Velvet performs the song. Could you have anticipated that kind of success? How surreal must that be for you?
Harrison: I’ve been trying my best to keep up with promotions every step of the way (lol). It’s all been a huge blessing. The fans have been showing us so much love and it’s unbelievable how much support they give RV. This is our first major single so we were somewhat anxious/nervous before the release. I definitely couldn’t have anticipated it doing this well. I’m 100% grateful for everyone who played a part in it.
KP: It’s hard to keep up with everything happening but I do get a lot of Tweets and Instagram messages. I’m very excited that it’s getting a great response so far.
BD: Are there any K-Pop artists you regularly listen to? Are there any who you would want to collaborate with?
Harrison: I regularly tune into of all SM artists. They’re all incredibly talented and unique in their own ways. I’m also a really huge fan of 2NE1. It’s sad to see that they decided to disband. As far as collaborations go, I think it would be really exciting to work with EXO.
KP: I always listen to SHINee. I would love to work with them. And EXO. That would be amazing.
BD: I have to ask, what’s the future of The Colleagues? Are there any projects or collaboration that you’re working on that you would like to talk about?
KP: It’s a secret (lol).
BD: And, do you have any more K-Pop collaboration in the works?
KP: That’s a secret too (lol).
BD: This is my final question. For anyone looking to get into music production or the music business, what’s the one piece of advice you’d want to impart?
Harrison: Networking is major. Building relationships and doing right by others, is really important in this industry. You never know who may come along and help you advance your career.
KP: Believe in yourself first.
After the conclusion of the interview, The Colleagues wanted to shout out their manager Vakseen and their publisher MARZ.
Special thanks again to The Colleagues.