Posted on December 16, 2014
2014 marks the 15th anniversary of the debut of Ynot?, one of the most prominent and busiest bands in the Hongdae scene. On December 19th they are holding a concert to celebrate not only this birthday, but also the release of their brand new full studio album, “Swing”. Four of the five members—Jeon Sangkyu (vocals), Kim Daewoo (guitar), Hwang Hyunwoo (bass) and Yoo Jihoon (keyboard)—kindly sat down with me in Club Ta, their home ground (run by Jeon and Kim) and practice venue, to talk about these events and about Korean indie bands in general.
Sangkyu Jeon : I’ve answered this before and I’ll say it again: Our music can’t be defined.
Daewoo Kim : A long time ago, everyone was talking about funky rock. But, these days funky rock bands are harder to find than heavy metal bands. There are many heavy metal bands out there, even now, but no funky rock bands…that’s why it’s hard to define the style of any funky rock band. But basically what I have in mind is…that Ynot? is a team of well-bonded musicians who have been focusing more on rhythm than melody lines.
Hwang Hyunwoo (about Kim Daewoo) : Daewoo is…very funny, really funny. But the thing is he prefers not to be funny.
Daewoo (about Yoo Jihoon) : Jihoon has a very sensitive side, but he also has a very wicked side. On the one hand, he plays and listens to such sensitive styles of music. And as a band member, we talk a lot about such aspects of music. But, behind that, there’s a very different character. Maybe not wicked, but very witty and clever. I think he is very cleverly balanced out somewhere in between.
Yoo Jihoon (about Jeon Sangkyu) : Sangkyu is different from how people see him. He gets sentimental very often. They think he’s rational and well organized. But in contrast, I think he has a very emotional and impulsive character. I like his hot, no, warm temperament.
Sangkyu (about Hwang Hyunwoo) : Hyunwoo is always busy and sick. He is especially busy these days, but he seems to enjoy it. As he’s working on three projects at the same time, he is into producing now. Sometimes his interest in producing turns out very well, musically, but at the same time I feel like it makes him a bit conservative. Sometimes when I see him, it feels like he’s more of an ajosshi than I am. I think this comes from the producer’s mindset.
Daewoo : I think the members’ personal lives have changed a lot. Musical tastes, changes in personality; as time passes, people change. But such things are not directly revealed to the outside world. For the fans, I think, Ynot? hasn’t changed much. There is a certain stability in the Ynot? unit. I have no idea what the other members think, but to me, for 15 years, Ynot? has always been Ynot?. Making this rather unclear genre of music, like I said before, funky rock, we pretty much haven’t changed in the last 15 years.
Jihoon : Well, I don’t know much about the first 7~8 years before I joined the band. To me, it feels like we have changed enough. Probably it’s because of getting old, or the musical attempts that we’ve made. However, to be able to be in a band for such a long time, we needed to maintain our identity as a team. Because over time the music scene has changed. People outside of the band might see us as pretty much the same, but the internal view of the band is…that we keep trying to change, all the time. I think we’ve all started taking it seriously. I don’t know much about how it was at the beginning, but what I see now is that we are all trying quite hard to maintain our identity, and our name, Ynot?.
Daewoo : To me, the musical attempts that we’ve made in the course of 15 years, as I see it now--it feels like those changes are all part of the Ynot? identity.
Sangkyu : There are two sides to change. Everybody needs to change, all the time. As a musician, as a human being. You’ve got to develop yourself all the time. If you always stay the same, you’re old. If you grow up, you’re young. It’s not a matter of your age. On the other hand, there are some things you shouldn’t change. That’s “spirit”. If you decide one day “I’m a musician” and the next day “I’m a painter”—that’s not change, that’s being unstable. As a band, you have to keep developing your music and making the best better. If you don’t do that, you’re not a musician, you’re just a technician. If you don’t have spirit or heart and you change all the time, then you’re not supposed to be a musician. What I have been trying to do for 15 years is to keep changing, keep developing, but also keep something in our hearts as musicians, as a band… Also, you need to have very solid standards. Saying “I like this!” then two hours later, “I like that! Yay!”--that’s not change. That means you don’t have standards, and I don’t trust that. We’re doing ok on both these sides of change. We’re not perfect. But maybe in another 15 years of thinking about it, we get to say “We gotta keep this! And that!”
Sangkyu : Look at Hyunwoo. How old he is! How tired he is! That’s how we feel (laughter).
Daewoo : Many feelings combined: good, sad, regret, happy…
Hyunwoo : A constant mindset, maybe? Trying to keep it normal? What is different from the other cases is that, with Cho Gilsang, Choi Gonne and Ynot?, I had three projects going at the same time. I was mastering here, recording there with different mixing engineers. I’ve learned a lot in the whole process.
Sangkyu : Making a full-length album takes a lot of money, time and energy. This time we spent a lot of all three. “No regrets?” That’s a lie. Even Quincy Jones had regrets after producing “Thriller”. Of course we have some regrets—maybe we could’ve spent more energy on some things. Maybe we failed, maybe we succeeded on some things.
Sangkyu : We were trying to make a series of albums… we decided on 2 EPs and one full album in a year. You can imagine that “Low” is the low side of Ynot?, and “High” is the high side. Ynot? has a pretty wide range of music—soft, smooth and slow songs, and also very powerful and destructive music—the two sides of Ynot?—so, the final album is a mixture of everything. But the original meanings of the titles “Low”, “High” and “Swing” are terms from poker, which we really enjoy. When we tour outside of Seoul, after our shows, we usually play a poker game called “High-Low”. You can win the game with a combination of good and bad cards, and that is called “swing”. But it’s been almost a year since we played that game!
Hyunwoo : To me, I care a lot about the atmosphere in a studio. But what’s outside the studio has nothing to do with me. It felt good when I went out to smoke cigarettes, though. There was really no influence from the environment. There are huge influences from who I work with, but the location is not an issue to me. Well, how we felt there or changed our mindset should be the answer to any difference in our music.
Daewoo : Well, studios are studios. At first, I was like, woah, this is great! And that was over in about 30 seconds. I played guitar in a studio where I could see the rain outside, or sunshine--you see, most studios are in basements. But after the first couple of hours, everything is the same. You are stressed out, there’s not enough fresh air… But I enjoyed the atmosphere. That might have brought about a few slight changes, unexpectedly.
Jihoon : What I loved about being in Chuncheon is that, when in Hongdae, you go to studio, and later you go to teach a lesson, you go to another session of recording, and go back to play on a stage… but in Chuncheon, you’re giving up everything in your daily life for that. I loved it because we had more chances to focus on the recording.
Sangkyu : Firstly, like he just said, that beautiful scenery didn’t really affect the band. We’re not that nature-oriented. Secondly, recording in Chuncheon was different because everyone recorded at the same time, like live music. We were all in the same hall and could all see each other, just like playing in the band. Maybe that’s why the music we recorded is not that precise, but maybe we had more feeling and energy. The third point is, we couldn’t go anywhere. We had to stay there most of the time. We spent full days all together, which means something—that is the most important factor.
Hyunwoo : What’s similar would be…that the same people played on the album. The members are the same, and what they do is their own styles of music. What’s different would be…at first, we wanted to change our approach to music. You know, to create something interesting. I think what is different in the recording would be that we have found the starting point from which each of us could dig something deeper out of each member’s musicianship, of course while keeping our style. This time, we’ve tried to pull off a certain style or feeling, rather than just playing what we can.
Jihoon : Like I said before, we talked to each other a lot. And I think it made us trust each other’s parts more. So, we were able to bring out something more than before from ourselves, because we gave each other more room to move around.
Sangkyu : Well…they are quite similar to each other. I don’t see anything different from previous recordings.
Sangkyu : The album is pretty new, so we haven’t had a chance to play all of them.
Daewoo : All the songs are like my kids, so I can’t choose a favorite.
Jihoon : I love the lyrics of the song, “Vanishing Point”
Sangkyu : My favorite song is “Story Irony”. I play gwengari on it. It’s very different.
Sangkyu : Well, it’s not really about him. That Halloween was just for fun. But the meaning of pirates? Pirates are rockers. They don’t follow the rules. They make their own rules, because there are no rules on the ocean. We are rockers, and this society, the neighborhood we live in, is the ocean. We need to be strong and tough as we go out to sea, the city of Seoul. “The world” means the world we are living in.
Daewoo : Overall, we are good at playing music that’s Low, and we’re also good at music that’s High, so on “Swing”, you have both aspects of Ynot?’s music. For the listeners, I want them to imagine and discover the nature of each song when they listen to it. It will help them to enjoy it better.
Jihoon : I think the album represents our present state. We talked to each other more than ever before. When we were preparing for the recording session, we could understand each other’s musical opinions, I mean, without being hardheaded. We can’t just ignore what happened during that session. It’s us. For example, there are a couple of parts that we could’ve done better, and on the other hand, there are a couple of parts that ended up way better than we expected.
Daewoo : I think it’s a way of getting a different perspective of us after 15 years. It’s not a total arrangement of the 15 years of our career. Funky rock is a very ambiguous style of music and Ynot? was free to move around within this style. If it had been a 15 year anniversary recording by another band, it might have contained some sort of reflection of those 15 years. But in this case, rather than being reflective about the last 15 years, it’s more accurate to say that we have presented something new.
Jihoon : Well, I wonder actually. Does it all sound the same to the fans, or does it sound a bit different?
Hyunwoo : I think what we all agree on is that it’s not right to identify each member’s opinion as being held captive by the identity of the band. It’s not right either to be stuck in one’s own opinion. I think we have changed from setting a musical agenda and letting everybody somehow follow that idea. We are now trying harder to, let’s say, blend with each other. I agree that it’s our present state in such a sense.
Sangkyu : This is our “now”, this is our present. We are developing. The process of communication may not be perfect; everybody’s so stubborn [laughter]! Everybody says “I’m right!” We’re still doing that, and maybe we don’t realize it. What I want to say is, listen to the lyrics. If you need me to, I will translate them into English! They have a lot of meaning.
Hyunwoo : You will be able to take a photo with 10cm!
Sangkyu : That’s his marketing strategy! Please come and take photos with 10cm!
Daewoo : A powerful sound, the musicians’ sweat, a short but strong show ….It’s not really short, is it?
Sangkyu : We have three guest bands, and they’ll play four songs each. So it’s going to be like a festival. In our main concerts, we usually play for two hours on our own, but this time we’re going to play for just over one hour, so it’s a little different. There will be no “first half/second half”. [The lineup is] 10cm, Lowdown 30, 3rd Line Butterfly and Ynot?. 10cm are first because they’re the youngest. For our set list, we tried to pick one or two songs from each album, so you can “taste” everything.
Sangkyu : We don’t know! I have no plan for 2015. Well, Han Kukjin [head of Rudie System label] has a plan for a nationwide tour involving Kingston Rudieska, Ynot? and maybe Street Guns, starting in late January or February. As you know, Kingston Rudieska and Ynot? just released new albums, and Street Guns are almost finished recording their album, so it could be [a chance to say], “Here we are, the three of us all just released new albums, enjoy us all!”. We are all very close and know each other very well, so it will be fun.
Hyunwoo : More poker!
Sangkyu : Just think about it: nineteen men, nineteen rockers, without brains, drunk…it could get very messy!
Sangkyu : There are really good bands out there, all the time. Back in my high school days, my heroes were Deulgukhwa, Sanulim, Spring Summer Autumn Winter…but these days, I like Rock ‘n Roll Radio—they’re great…Billy Carter…Life and Time, they’re good too. My engineer’s favorite band is Loro’s. Choi Gonne.
Hyunwoo : MyMy [Yoo Jihoon’s other band]!
Sangkyu : Tatles [his Beatles tribute band].
Hyunwoo : They’re not young!
Daewoo : I think Kingston Rudieska …Well I try to learn from the younger bands. Jambinai, Love X Stereo and Choi Gonne, they all have what I don’t. In the past, whenever I saw them on stage, I thought I could also pull off such things, but now, I wonder how they can pull off such things! Apart from their sound or the way they perform on stage, the way they create and promote their music is totally different from 10 years ago, when I was playing really hard. It’s not only about the style of music, it’s about their behavior, attitude, and how they manage their band. Everything.
Sangkyu : I think musicians should be interested in different music, different styles. They gotta learn something from others, right? That’s a good way to develop themselves. I’m very interested in different music. Sometimes, I want to try that kind of music; sometimes I think “it’s not my style, but it’s good.”
Daewoo : I don’t know when it started, but somehow it feels like the younger bands are more like my seniors to me. I’m not interested in my actual senior bands anymore. Of course I’m interested in their music from when they were in their prime, or when they started, but I don’t really care about their current recordings. The younger bands stimulate me more musically. In the past, I only cared about the legends of the scene, but these days I love seeing the bands who keep playing on stage, who keep promoting themselves and who are trying to find their original sound.
Sangkyu : When a band is in that stage of just having released their first album, they’re so tight, they’ve got a lot of energy, just like that of teenagers. It’s a specific energy, which, no matter how hard you try, you can’t get after you hit 20. Bands that have that energy… I don’t care how young or old they are; I don’t care how good they are …if they keep that “something” in their hearts then they are always going to be good.
Sangkyu : No. [laughter] That’s just the music part. The business or audience part? I don’t know. I doubt it. And I doubt Hongdae. Hongdae is “망잉”[Sangkyu’s Konglish word to express “failing”].
Daewoo : The audition programs and the money chasing labels are holding the bands back. You see, they all need to make their music the way the labels ask them to make it. The indie scene will be better when there are more bands who try to show their own style. A better indie scene means a better variety of bands and styles of music. It doesn’t mean simple numbers of fans or sponsors. Hello *kie, K *kies and other labels are blocking the bands from trying something new. They just want to adjust the artists to the trends that the fans love. Even inexperienced companies bring in rookies and lock them into such a system. This is what’s holding back the indie scene.
Hyunwoo : In 1995, the indie scene was flourishing and it seems like those days are gone. It feels like there’s a huge gap between the major and underground music scenes. I’m sure there’s a positive aspect to this. In the 90s, people thought the indie scene was where the artists of strong opinion and style gathered. Now, they just think it’s where unsuccessful artists gather. Hongdae is the center of the scene and let’s take a look at how the artists have changed. There are lots of artists who stay in Hongdae because they are just not successful enough to be somewhere else. They say Hongdae is failing, and it’s because the character of the scene has changed. The indie scene appeared at first because there was no one trying to promote the music here. Why not do it ourselves? That’s the way it used to be, but now, the musicians think that they need to be contracted or be in such audition programs to present their music. It seems like they have no guts compared to back then. On the bright side, the public has started to realize that indie music is just a different style of music. They don’t point their fingers at indie music fans anymore.
Sangkyu : Just like Daewoo and Hyunwoo said, I think it is hard to consider the musicians who change their music just to be on audition programs. Indie bands desire to express what they have in mind, at any cost. But when they have a contract, it means they are funded, which means that the voice of the company gets bigger, and the voice of the band becomes weaker.… “We’re making this album and we’re paying for it, so we’re indie”—it’s not like that, it’s not about the money, but do you keep your “color” as a musician? That’s what being indie is all about—being independent from everything—but this very young generation are not. Some young guys might want to express themselves with their music, and yes, that’s the indie mind. But some people think “I want to be famous, I want to be a rock star!” and they need a bridge. A very strong and expensive bridge from here to somewhere over the rainbow. And that may be an audition program or a big company, or “Infinite Challenge/무한도전” [popular TV reality show].
Hyunwoo : Just like Sangkyu said, indie music should come from ideas like “Wow, this is fucking cool, I gotta show it to the people!” How could you call them indie musicians when their music comes from ideas like, “They like it this way, right?”
Daewoo : Well, the question was about the future of the Hongdae indie scene. In a sense of the scene getting bigger, we need Hello *kie and K*kies, for the variety of music they present. But the young bands seem to be only trying to appear on them, and the value of music is being determined by just a couple of judges. It does not help to make the scene musically diverse. That’s why I say the future is not bright.
Hyunwoo : Just gaming. And watching soccer. I’m planning to play baseball with [Hongdae rockers’ baseball team] The Rockers. Analyzing.
Daewoo : Travel. Camping. Cycling. Hiking. All of these are ways to get the hell out of Hongdae.
Jihoon : I didn’t have much free time this year. In the next year, I’d like to travel. What I do when I have time, is mostly reading. I read a lot this year.
Hyunwoo : Sometimes I make songs just by myself. I think that’s my hobby.
Sangkyu : I play baseball with The Rockers, and I watch baseball, I read about baseball and I read comic books. The three biggest things in my life are music, comic books and baseball.
Hyunwoo : The question is faulty. We have no fans. [laughter]
Sangkyu : Our message to the people is: Please! Come to our show and buy our CD and feed us!
Interview : Rock ‘n Rose
Korean Translation : Choi Hyunjoong, Park Ddang and Kim Daehan
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Date : Dec 19th (Fri) 20:00
Venue : KT&G SangSang Madang (Live Hall)
Adv : 30,000won
Door : 35,000won
Adv Tickets : Yes24
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