Posted on May 17, 2016
Tree: Hello! I am Kwon Tree. Is that a bit insufficient for an introduction? Haha. Nice to meet you all.
Tree: Well, I don’t get called by my real name much anymore. Probably because my name is hard to say… even my friends don’t call me by my real name very often. Because there are so many people that address me as Kwon Tree, I’m more used to that these days.
Tree: I wanted to make a stage name for the first time I played a show. I didn’t think that I would keep playing shows, as the first one just came about by chance really. I was on my way up to Seoul to play the show, so to amuse myself during the trip I decided to make a stage name. Right at that time I was listening to as song called <Tree> on Youtube by Kim Kwang Seok and No Young Shim. I really liked the lyrics and I was completely hooked by the song, so I decided to go with Kwon Tree as my stage name. I only planned to use it for that one day, however it stuck and I have been using it ever since.
Pictures : Jin Kim
Tree: Tree? Uh …I guess it’s just a ‘house’ I ended up occupying by chance. Because I never imagined I would become known as Tree. The name just kind of crept up on me and now I live by that name... it’s a pretty unique story isn’t it.
Tree: I was stunned. Honestly … hmmm, I don’t know. Sometimes I feel popular, sometimes I don’t. Because, in reality most of the people that listen to my music are from Seoul. The people in my social circle don’t really listen to my music much. The prize I won at the Korean Music Awards is a massive prize to me personally, but ultimately most people don’t really know what it is… for example my aunt said ‘Hey, I hear you won some big prize”, but she has no idea what it was. If I’d told her I’d appeared on KBS TV’s Open Concert program or something, she would have been super impressed. However, personally it’s hard to put into words just how big the effect has been on me. I got that prize for my first album, which enabled me to make my second album. Then I got another prize, which has enabled me to carry on making music. It has enormous meaning to me.
Tree: It’s a special song to me. I had some strong emotions at the time of the accident, but I couldn’t put them into words. The ferry went down on April 16th, but I didn’t make the song until October or November. That’s because until that time I felt really numb, I couldn’t really do anything. I didn’t write the song to make any provocative statements or to lay the blame at anyone’s feet, it is just a reflection of my feelings from that day. Honestly, I can’t really grasp exactly how so many people got to know about the song. I think a few people listened to it after I put it on Soundcloud, and then somehow it became the talk of the town. I got contacted by someone who was putting together a Sewol Ferry compilation album, I found it amazing that they contacted me. It isn’t a song that I made with the intention of ever playing in front of anyone... but somehow the song became well known, ended up on a compilation album and won a prize at the Korean Music Awards. It all still amazes me...I never had any real aims in mind when I made that song. It’s a bit like a diary entry of my thoughts and feelings from that day. But it’s a diary entry that everyone has read.
Tree: There’s a huge difference, as when I play on my own I’m free to do whatever I want. If there’s a part where I want to take a rest, then I can. If there’s a part I want to give more energy to, then I can just do that. If I want to drop the beat for a bit, I can… I can’t do that when I play with session musicians because we all have to be on the same page and in time with each other. However, they tend to adjust to whatever I’m doing anyway. Lots of my songs don’t really have a set tempo so it’s hard work for the session musicians. They’re always cursing me and telling me to play it properly. Haha
Tree: No, nothing. The recorder?!? (haha). I can play a little piano, but I really don’t play it well. There’s nothing I’m particularly talented at.
Tree: That was a place where I could sing songs and was pretty much my whole life at university. My aim at university was to become a teacher and to play a great live show, even if it was just once. When I played in that band there were lots of criteria I had to fulfill, things like I had to sing in a certain style and play music like certain bands. Like all school bands, that band finished when we graduated, though actually we stopped playing together in grade four of university. I missed being in a band and so I started to learn how to play the guitar during my second semester of my senior year. I was driven because of a desire to play the kind of music that was right for me. I could play my kind of music by myself, and so I kept playing alone, and along the way I ended up writing my own songs as well. once I had a bunch of songs finished I ended up recording them… and that’s what I’ve been doing up until now.
Tree: I got so much influence from that music. At the moment, I can’t listen to much new music, because I’ve already decided what I like. When I was at university I listened to music as if I was studying it. I didn’t know anything about music at that time, so much so that it was impossible for me to talk with people who were into music. I didn’t even know who bands like Led Zeppelin were. That caused problems when I wanted to join a band. So I kept listening to music over and over again as if I was studying it. I was about at Maroon 5 when I graduated from University. When I started playing the acoustic guitar, I started to listen to different kinds of music. I started listening to really good folk music... In the past I wasn’t really interested in Korean indie music, but since I became a musician I have also got more interested in it and listen to much more of it. There are loads of CDs in my car that I got by exchanging CDs with other artists, and I listen to them a lot. I used to listen to music when I was at university, usually when I want to relieve some stress.
Tree: I talked about something similar in another interview, I think they have a massive influence on me. Kids never lie. Even when they do, it’s easy to tell they’re lying. Children are just children. They don’t hide things like adults do and they give really direct responses to things. That kind of immediate reaction keeps me feeling healthy and alive. If I do something wrong I get an immediate response from them, which means I have to acknowledge my mistakes right away, which in turn makes it possible to fix them there and then. Teaching is a job that suits my personality I think. I can see my mistakes as soon as I make them, and I cannot escape them. Working with kids keeps my mind free from impurities in a way. It is hard to work with kids if your mind is polluted in any way. It is also very comfortable to make music with a pure mind as well. If I put in just a third of the effort needed for children into dealing with adults then there are never any problems. I think I learned a lot of things needed for my social life in the classroom.
Tree: I was with a label when I made my first album. The second album I did on my own, so I think it’s a bit closer to the real me. All the songs on the first album were written when I was around 23 / 24 years old, so when I sing them I feel a kind of distance from them now. So, these days rather than singing the songs with emotion, I find that I perform them fairly sullenly and blandly because I’ve been performing them like that for a while. The second album is much bolder and more aggressive. I tried hard to capture the live feeling and texture of my music, so as a result the album is much more ‘me’ than the last one. The first album is a somewhat contemplative album, whereas the second album is, if anything, the exact opposite. It’s full of songs that directly reflect my feelings from certain times. So, I think you could say the second album is a bit heavier. There are lots of songs like that on the album so I’m not sure what those people who liked the first album will think of it. They might think it’s more difficult to listen to, or something like that. But I think it’ll be okay.
Tree: No, there’s no reason for that. They just turn out like that while I’m making them. If the song naturally comes out as a long one, I don’t ever try to shorten it down. That’s probably why my songs are all so long. Because of that, I doubt many of the songs from my second album will get played on the radio. Most of them are between 5 - 10 minutes long. I’m not usually aware of how long the songs are really as I don’t ever think things like ‘this is really long, will people like it?’ That’s not really an important part of it for me. When I want to make long songs, I do! That’s why.
Tree: There’s an endless amount of music that provides me with comfort; all the music I like provides some kind of comfort to me. Travis, Nirvana … all the music I listen to gives me a kind of meaning. The musicians in the scene around me as well, like Kim Tae Chun. I came across his music by chance, whenever I hear it it shocks me how good it is. Anyways, any song that moves me, even for just one moment means a lot to me.
Tree: Most of those songs ended up on the first album. The ones that didn’t make the cut for the first album are songs I thought I might want to put on future releases as well. I still want to play them live, but there are a few reasons as to why I don’t. When people with the EPs ask me why I don’t play them live, I try my best to give them a good answer … but I usually conclude by just saying ‘I will play them later, when I want to’. In reality, that’s how I honestly feel. Simply put, it’s not about whether I think a song is good or not, the most important thing is if I want to talk about certain topics or not at that moment. Also, the songs that contain emotions I now feel distant from are hard for me to sing it, as are the songs that are a toe curling embarrassment to me. I cannot get immersed in them and they’re not fun for me to play. If I have to play a song that’s not fun for me, then the energy I’ve acquired over the two hours of being immersed in the music just disappears all of a sudden, and I feel like it was a mistake to have played the song. So, if someone asks me ‘Why don’t you play this song’, the only answer I can really give is to say ‘I’m sorry … it looks like I still only play the songs I want to play’.
Tree: I’d rather not, but if I must analyse it I would say that it’s because the lyrics on the first album seem to appeal to adults a fair bit. There’s nothing too risky in there? (haha). For example, the avocado is everyone’s idea of a perfect food, everyone says that it’s good for your body, but in reality it’s not a fruit that we are particularly familiar with in Korea. We would only eat it on a special occasion. Homemade food is at the centre of our lives. I think my music is a little bit similar to home food, though I don’t know exactly why that is. The reaction to my album far exceeds my expectations, so I have to acknowledge that there is at least something unique about me work, but I have no idea what exactly it is that made it so popular. Perhaps it’s just because it’s music that’s easy to listen too. The kids in my class listen to it. Adults listen to it too, and say it’s really good. The fans in Hongdae like it as well. I don’t know what the reaction to the second album will be I make folk music, so there’s not too much to it. I have to accept that there is a possibility that some people might think the music is dull or boring but, to put a positive spin on it, boring music is easy to listen too I guess!
Tree: I often have mixed feelings about it, and I don’t feel comfortable saying I am a representative of non-Seoul musicians or anything like that. Your can always hear good music wherever you go, but I think all the talented musicians want to come and play up in Seoul. However, the bands who have spent 5 or 10 years playing out in other cities without coming to play in Seoul all have their reasons. That place is their base afterall. Whenever I play shows outside of Seoul I prepare way more for that show. Firstly, there are loads of concerts in Seoul. There is a wide variety of music, it’s almost too saturated in a way... to me, although the scene is smaller outside Seoul it feels a bit deeper and more robust. I’m not talking about the level of musicianship, I’m talking about the vibe. I have a good time when I play in Seoul for sure, but I am more serious about the shows I play out in other cities, I really want to do well in those shows.
Tree: There are so many things about me that I would like to change. When there is a girl you like, you want to be proactive about it, right. But what one considers proactive differs for each individual person doesn’t it? Some people might look at me and think my efforts are sufficient, but I always think that there are several things I could have done better. For example, when I meet a person who is right for me I always wish I had been more affectionate with them. Or when I meet a girl who I’m interested in I always wish I’d been braver and spoken my mind more. I’d love it if I was a bit more broad minded. I’m the kind of person who loves what he loves, but is perhaps a little intolerant of things that I don’t like. Everyone is different, so I wish I could be a little more lenient myself, that way I would be able to understand other people more. Also I wish I could concentrate on the things I need to do more. If you get stressed out by things outside of your control then there will be many times that you miss out on things that are important to you. I would like to be more resolute with things like that for a start. Those are the things that I would like to change the most about myself.
Tree: I hope that my second album does well. If it flops, then you might see a different side of me. I might be a bit more of a realist in the next interview and say something like ‘I was really naive’. Anyway, firstly I hope that I can at least say that “I did everything I wanted to” about the second. I will leave the design and the mixing stuff up to the people I trust…The whole process of making my second album was done together with my small circle of personal connections, so if there are any negative reactions to the album then the album will lose some meaning to me. We made it together, so I hope that we can all be proud of it together as well. More than labeling the album a success or a failure, the most important thing to me is that that everyone who was involved is satisfied with the results. Also, I hope that people who listen to it like it.
Tree: My dream is to raise a good family. I want to live happily alongside the people I love. It’s not that I’m not saying I must get married, but I would just like to live together with someone I love. More than meeting someone to purely satisfy my own needs it is my dream to live a reciprocal life where I can also satisfy the needs of that other person as well. That’s not the reason I am playing music of course, but through the process of making music I want to remedy all my deficiencies, and whether I’m writing a book or doing something else … I always want to do it to satisfy myself.
Interview : A-Lim Lee / Jin Kim / Eunji Kim
English Translation : Patrick Connor / Doyeon Lim
Edited by : Alex Ameter