Interview: Marcus McCoan Talks Working With BTS & “Hair Down”
Marcus McCoan has a lot to celebrate right about now. The Cornish artist landed a breakout hit with the release of his debut single “Chemical” in 2016. After that, he took some time off to hone his sound before relaunching earlier this year with “Hair Down.” And it’s another win. The anthemic bop is a sing-along earworm with plenty of replay factor. That alone would be enough to establish the rising star as One To Watch. But it’s just the start of things. He also landed two writing credits on the new BTS album – MAP OF THE SOUL: PERSONA. The songs he worked on – “Jamais Vu” and “Mikrokosmos” – have each been streamed in excess of 14 million times on Spotify alone.
Not only that, but the chart-topping album also features contributions from the likes of Ed Sheeran. Talk about being in excellent company. Recently I had the opportunity to ask Marcus a couple of questions via email about everything he’s accomplished this year. He offered some insight into writing for the Kings of K-Pop and opened up about the inspiration behind both of the songs he worked on. The hitmaker also picked another favorite song off the collection. We talked about the release of “Hair Down,” his sound (“Slightly 80’s synth and guitar inspired”), professional goals and so much more. Press play on “Hair Down” and dive into our exclusive Q&A below.
“Hair Down” is such a bop. Can you talk a bit about how it came together?
Thank you! It came about at a time when I wasn’t fully sure what my sound was, I was aiming to go more retro but keep the production fresh.
When I felt that was finally cracked with Hair Down it made it really easy to write some melodies and lyrics that felt right. The whole thing felt very me, so I thought I’d start as I meant to go on and make it the first release.
Do you have any plans to shoot a video for the song in the future?
I would love to! When that can happen i’m not sure, but I also have some other songs that I’m really excited about, so maybe one of those will be the one that has a full video.
You recorded a stripped-back version of “Hair Down,” which presents the track so differently and showcases your vocals really nicely. Is this something you see yourself doing for future releases?
Ahh thank you, yeah playing the song like this really gave me a different outlook on it! I love performing it like this. I definitely want to put an alternate spin on most or all of the tracks I release, I want people to see that side of me too. I’ve already got ideas on how to strip down some of my other songs, in slightly different ways each time.
You took some time between the release of your debut single “Chemical” and “Hair Down.” What were you up to between the two songs?
As cliché as it is, I was trying to find my sound. I wanted to have a bunch of songs that all felt like me, not just one or two. I have that now so I’ll feel good about the next few releases.
Who would you list as some of your biggest inspirations?
My early vocal inspirations were from bands like Saosin and Taking Back Sunday!
Also, I wanted to ask a couple questions about working with BTS. How did you get involved with the project?
The opportunity came through a producer I work with called James F Reynolds. He’s mixed a lot of BTS tracks since the early days and BigHit asked him if he knew of anyone with some song ideas. He was kind enough to pass the the task on to me and a few others. It took a couple of attempts but eventually we got there!
What was it like writing music for one of the most renowned international musical acts?
It was so nice to be able to write without thinking about if the songs fits for me. At the time it just felt like another day writing in our tiny studio but now seeing how big it’s gone is a great feeling.
How did the songs change from the material you submitted to the final product?
The most obvious change is the lyrics, contrary to popular belief I can’t speak fluent Korean. Maybe one day…
So we supplied the track and the melodies in an English demo form, once they were interested we spent a while working the production up for them whilst they were translating the lyrics. The nice thing is that they used the productions pretty much as we left them, so the songs still sound very familiar to us!
What was your first response when you heard the final material?
My first thought was, I really like their vocals! Then after that mainly excitement, I think that’s when I realised how serious they were about using the songs, I wasn’t fully sure until that point.
“Jamais Vu” is French, right? What was your inspiration behind the song?
Yeah it is, it actually means the opposite of Deja Vu, which is a bit hard to get your head around at first, but I like the meaning.
I’d just started renting my first studio in London and was there working with my friend / collaborator BadMilk. It was an exciting time for us, it was one of the first songs written there.
I think just being in a new place was inspiring. The song was born actually just outside of my studio, on a wobbly chair with my laptop balancing on a guitar amp! Knowing where it came from makes it that much more crazy to watch it grow.
The song was originally written about a situation where “a person can be a remedy to you” so it’s really nice that they kept the word remedy in there.
The other song you worked on is “Mikrokosmos.” What about that one?
There was an awesome energy in the room that day. It was my first session working with Ryan Lawrie and Arcades in their studio. Ryan came to the session already with some melody ideas for the verses which we all thought were great so pursued it and turned into what it is today. This song wasn’t originally written with BTS in mind, but we’re glad they liked it!
Beyond your material, what is your favourite song on MAP OF THE SOUL: PERSONA?
I can’t help but love that hooky sample / vocal line in ’Make it Right’. It was written by Ed Sheeran so it was always going to be good.
What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
I’ve got more singles to release… more stripped back versions in different styles, and maybe some remixes. Once I’ve put out the whole EP I’ll be able to see what my next move should be.
By then I’ll be back to doing shows, that’s the main goal!
Are you writing for anyone else right now?
It’s mainly my own stuff, but I’ve always got a couple of things going on with other artists. I’ve just started doing some work with a singer called Beatrich, her stuff is great and right up my street!
How does writing for another artist differ from working on your own material?
It actually really helps my writing, I think about far less when I’m writing for other people. I let go of what I think I’m about as an artist and concentrate on making a good song. One of the songs I’m releasing soon is actually a result of thinking I was writing it for someone else, but then falling in love with it.
How would you describe your sound?
Slightly 80’s synth and guitar inspired, trying to push the boundaries a little bit and stay fresh!!
What would you say are some of your biggest goals professionally?
Playing live is my favourite part of it all, so big tours / gigs!
Also I just want to write with as many other great artists / writers as possible!