Posted on May 17, 2014

Interview

Creativity is a tough business. Because aesthetics are so painfully subjective, we are forced to create creative measurements to judge creativity. But what do these mechanisms value? Does technical proficiency have any bearing on how creative a piece is? The clarity of tone? The complexity of phrase or expression? The meaning behind the work? Or maybe how we judge creativity is merely based on its originality.

There are examples of creativity in each of these categories that seem to defy the idea that great creativity requires approval from every angle of judgment. You may hate speed metal with a passion, but watching a master like Yngwie Malmsteen shred with such precision is otherworldly. Not an opera fan? That’s fine, but one cannot deny the quality of Joan Sutherland’s gorgeous tone. Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit is one of the most complicated pieces ever written, but the constant trill of arpeggios might give a more sensitive listener a headache.

Pussy Riot is not exactly known for their stellar music performances (I’m not sure they have even finished one), but their message of anti-capitalism, anti-fascism, and anarchic feminism makes their work vital and important. And Morton Subotnick’s glitchy beeps might not want to make you get up and dance, but on 1967’s Silver Apples of the Moon they seemed revolutionary. Each of these works can be praised through one filter of judgment and maligned through another.

So not only are we stuck with the aesthetic preferences of the listener, we are also saddled with the chosen critical lens through which those who judge the merits of art analyze and argue their points. Approaching a new band with this is mind is sometimes an exhausting endeavor. Which lens do you choose and should you take your own preferences into account when you make your judgment?

It’s a tough decision, but as a casual music lover, I find when you are analyzing every aspect of a band, it is often best to try to find the strengths of the music rather than probe for weaknesses. In this way you are able to more thoroughly enjoy a band, leaving the pretense of aesthetic authority to professional critics.

When listening to the traditional-Korean folk influenced post-rock of Jambinai, the proper lens, or the area of their greatest strength, seems clear. There is certainly great musicianship going on, some interesting structure, but most importantly there is nothing out there that sounds quite like it.

Originality is a tough feature to find in modern music (Steve Reich was recording his loops almost 50 years ago! Where else can we go from It’s Gonna Rain level experimentation?), but by infusing the classic sound and structure of Godspeed! style post-rock with the thick, masculine aggression of metal and delicate whine and buzz of traditional Korean Folk instruments, Jambinai has brilliantly carved out a unique sound for themselves in an overcrowded musical landscape. The blending of such diffuse structures, feelings, and genres is not easy. Jambinai were kind enough to answer a few questions for us on the struggles they face working together, their upcoming tours, and where they see themselves in the music scene.

Thanks for letting us ask you a few questions about your extremely interesting music. I understand you all came from pretty diverse backgrounds. Ilwoo has spent a lot of time in the hardcore/punk scene and Bomi and Eunyong both play the more traditional side of the house. When you were discussing the inception of Jambinai, what type of balance between what we would consider straight rock and the infusion of traditional Korean instruments were you trying to strike?

Ilwoo : Actually, we seriously didn’t worry about it at all. Because I’ve been performing a fusion of traditional Metal & traditional Korean music since I was young so I think we take the best bits of metal and the best bits of traditional Korean music and put them together. We try to use the Geomungo’s (a 6 stringed traditional Korean instrument) distinct features but play riffs on it like a guitar. We get our unique sound by trying to make sure that the sounds from the electric guitar complement the traditional instruments and do not interfere with each other.
Bomi : Ilwoo tends to make the framework of the music for Jambinai. Within that framework I try my best to create the right melody for the song using the 해금. I have played traditional instruments using traditional techniques for a long time now, so it’s quite easy for me to find the right playing style for each song.
Eunyong : From the start, we did not really have a fixed genre in mind. Our members had all separately been doing their own thing. I think it is the mix of these individual influences that helps create Jambinai’s sound.

Did it feel like there were different sides when you were writing the music? As in, did one of you want to sound a little more traditional folk on this song but someone else wanted to be a bit more “normal” post-rock?

Bomi : Luckily for us we have not really encountered that problem. We all seem to want to push the songs in a similar direction.
Eunyong : Ilwoo, who spent a long time in the punk scene makes the majority of our songs’ themes. Then, we get together and separately add our own parts & ideas to the song. I think you have to have a good interpretation and understanding of the music to express traditional folk, experimental music, post rock etc correctly.

You have an exciting tour coming up to the US for SXSW. Have any of you been there before? Do you think playing abroad will feel different from playing in Korean venues?

Ilwoo : When I was younger I went to Disney World, Seaworld and Universal Studios. I think the audience abroad are a bit more active and direct than our Korean fans.
Bomi : I’ve played traditional instrument shows in both New York and LA before. Because the audience are different people from different cultures, I’m always really curious to see how they will react to us and our music. I’m looking forward to our tour.
Eunyong : This will be my first visit to America so I’ve really no idea what to expect. I guess it will be different, I’m looking forward to experiencing it.

There is an off tendency in the West to see other cultures as “exotic” or strange and different. When people do that, they sometimes trivialize the culture of the “other” by breaking it down to its most stereotypical parts. Like for Korea if you mention traditional culture they would expect to see Hanbok’s and Hanok’s with Jeongak music going on in the background. They think this is the “pure” or right sort of Korea and have a tendency to fetishize. Because your music does have that infusion of traditional-Korean music, have you thought about western audiences fetishizing or placing your music in a box a little too easily?

Bomi : In actual fact I think that is why a lot of people are interested in our music. Actually Korean people have the same prejudices about traditional culture as those people from the west. Before listening they have already made up their mind about what our music will be like. As soon as we start our Geomungo riffs their pre-conceptions are broken.
Eunyong : Well, it might be the case. I don’t think it is wrong for people to have those pre-conceptions. I just want them to accept our music for what it is when they listen to us. Of course, because we have studied Korean traditional music we are naturally influenced by it. However it is just our instruments that are traditional. We play our music sincerely.

Because Jambinai is such a unique sound, it seems you could be comfortable rocking out with punks in Skunk Hell or putting on a performance for wealthy people in tuxedos and cocktail dresses at the LG Arts Center. Is there a place you feel most comfortable performing?

Ilwoo : Both have an appeal, for sure. More than a place with ‘a good atmosphere’, I prefer a place with a good sound.
Bomi : Before joining Jambanai Eunyong and I were used to playing in formal dress theaters. With Jambanai though, we tend to play mainly in clubs. Both kind of venues hold a certain charm & appeal to me. In the clubs we are much closer to the audience so I can feel their heat and excitement more. When we play in the theaters, because the show is more serious we are a lot more delicate and devoted with our performance. I like playing in both kinds of venue.
Eunyong : I think our music suits any kind of venue. I guess, for the people who like to dress up in tuxedos or dresses LG’s Art Hall or Seoul Arts Center’s stages would be interesting and fun places to play. I hope we get the opportunity to play there someday.

Do you ever feel like your style sets limits on who you can appeal to or the types of shows you can play? Is lugging around the geomungo and haegum to some ratty Hongdae club a little strange or stressful for you?

Ilwoo : We do have some limits. Within those limits we try to achieve as much as we can. Even when we visit the ratty Hongdae clubs we play really hard to thank our fans for coming out to support us.
Bomi : We don’t get stressed about playing in those kind of places. If we had felt like that from the beginning we couldn't have got to where we are now. It is clear that Jambinai is not the kind of music all the public are satisfied with or try to search out. Not enough clubs actually invite us to come and play hehe.

Final question, Have you ever played your music for purely traditional Korean musicians? If so, what was their reaction? If not, how do you think they would react?

Ilwoo : Some time ago there was a gukak (Korean traditional music) creation competition called ‘The 21st Century Korean Music Project’. I was eliminated in the first round! And I was scolded by the judges in the ‘Bukchon Changwoo Festival’. Last year I got a ‘no result’ in the ‘Jeonju Sori Festival’ because my music is not appealing to the general public.
Bomi : Young traditional musicians are always worrying about their identities as traditional music players. We also used to worry about such thingsand so we made Jambinai. So we always get a good response from the young traditional musicians.
Eunyong : We have not played too many concerts like that, but the response we get when we do, is similar to that of non-musicians.

Thank you very much for taking your time to speak with us.

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By Alex Ameter
Translated by Patrick Connor / Doyeon Lim

As well as playing at this years SXSW festival, Jambinai will be playing a few other dates in the US. Be sure to check them out if you are in the area. The dates are as follows:

March 11th – Austin, TX @ (7:30 pm) Elysium (official SXSW showcase)
March 12th – Austin, TX @ (3 pm) International Day Stage Austin Convention Center (official SXSW showcase)
March 13th – Austin, TX @ (1:30 pm) Hotel Vegas (Levitation Austin)
March 13th – Austin, TX @ (12:00 am) Flamingo Cantina (official SXSW showcase)
March 14th – Austin, TX @ (3:15 pm) Spider House (The Texas Rock N Roll Massacre 2)
March 16th – San Antonio, TX @ Limelight
March 17th – Dallas, TX (Radio Appearance)

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For more information on the band, check them out here:

Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/jambinaiofficial
Twitter : https://twitter.com/Jambinai
Blog : http://jambinai.egloos.com/
Cafe : http://cafe.daum.net/jambinai
DoIndie : http://www.doindie.co.kr/en/bands/jambinai/

 

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