When I was in Korea this summer I had really great chance to talk to Sangkyu Jeon and all members of rock band Ynot in their Music Academy, school for those who want to learn how to play real music. It’s been already 15 years since Ynot? have been presenting light and at once thoughtful funky rock to the audience. Also if you ever have been in Hongdae area to take your chance to listen to indie/rock musicians I bet you’ve been to Club TA, where you can see bands of all genres, all styles, rookies and pro. So if you have ever been there know that it’s owner is Sangkyu, who together with his members put a lot of efforts to help other musicians.
Meanwhile band Ynot? is scheduled to release new EP ‘Low’ next month. Releasing showcase will take place on 7th of December at club Veloso. Among special guests: Gate Flowers, Jeon Ji Hun of Peterpan Complex, Joo Seung Yeop of Achtung and Kim Shin Mi of Monni. Tickets are available at Yes24.com.
So my interview is divided into two parts – one informal talk with leader of the band Sangkyu and official interview with all members. They are really great guys. So please, read this and you’ll have chance to know more about Korean indie scene and Ynot? in particular.
(we talked on the way to Music Academy which is situated not far from TA also in Hongdae region and I wondered why Sangkyu talks English freely. He confessed he was teaching English years ago)
So, you were teaching English. But what is your major?
My major is history. I received it at university. And after I moved to US.
After the graduation. I wanted to study anthropology there but it turned out I’m not good really at studying cause I loved music and I loved people in the streets better. A lot better. Study is not really my thing. That’s what I realized. So I quit studying there and I transferred to music engineering and started learning there. It was back in 1998.
How long have you been living in US?
Two years. It’s not long time but it was great time. The bad thing is that back then it was big economic crisis in Korea. The economy was like hell. It was so bad, everybody lost their job. So I had to do something to eat. So I started teaching English and a lot of other things. But I always wanted to maintain the band to keep the band alive. And that lasts already for fifteen years. Meanwhile like seven years ago I mad Club TA with my guitarist.
How did you meet your band members?
Originally band members were two guys from my college. We knew each other before we made band. We were studying together. And it was like: he knows how to play drums a little, she knows how to play bass a little and I sing. And we needed one more guy as a guitarist. There are small clubs here and there in Seoul. So we posted a memo. “We need a guitarist liking a funky rock style. If you like RHCP (Red Hot Chili Peppers) or Rage Against the Machine, if you’ve got the spirit, if you like that, please call me”. And so on. Some guys called me and I met that guy (Kim Daewoo).
So it was a sort of auditioning?
Yes, kind of auditioning. Well, I didn’t even see him playing. We just talked. And we said: “Ok, let’s do it”. That is how actually Ynot? started.
Is it like being soul mates?
Yes, and it already lasts for 15 years, long time. So that’s the beginning of Ynot. So far we did more than thousands concerts, shows, big and small shows. We released 7 CDs, 3 full CDs and 4 small ones.
How do you feel like now? With all that albums and experience? Is there anything you want to do now?
This year we released double live CD. It was my dream. Rock band playing something on stage, recording it and releasing without revising, without doing anything. Just live music. Yes, it was good. We know we have some energy on stage but when we do recording in studio we can do it very accurate, very speedy. Meanwhile we are losing energy of stage. That’s why it is very hard to have balance between that. So we thought, maybe just to forget everything in studio and just releasing energy not music but energy? That is how our double CD came alive.
Can you describe one day of Ynot?
Ok. Maybe we should split weekday and weekend day? So weekday. We are giving some lessons here.
What are you teaching?
I’m teaching acoustic guitar. My drummer – drums, guitarist – electric guitar, keyboardist – piano. So we are spending couple of hours teaching while drummer sometimes even 5 hours. When we have concert that weekend we practice. As for tonight after our interview we are having practice. And after that we are going to Club TA to have some bear or just going home.
And weekend day?
When we have shows we get together.
At what time? Early?
If we are going to other towns maybe we get together at 1 in the morning which means we don’t sleep. We go there, having rehearsal, eat something and if we are not in Seoul we go to hotel rooms, have some drinks. If in Seoul then almost the same. It is now like just routine, normal life. When we are doing recording we have to make sound, arrange sounds, writing lyrics, schedule the studio and record.
And how was your live album made? How many days did it take to record it?
Just one night from the beginning to the end.
And how many hours?
A bit more than 2 hours. It’s not like this song from that show, this song from another show. Just one night. And it was totally recorded.
And you said that you started Club TA about 7 years ago. How did you come to the idea of doing this?
I don’t think there are a lot of live clubs in Seoul. Just think about it, that besides Hongdae there are no live clubs! All clubs are basically here. Ok, there are several clubs here and there but most of them focus on old pop songs, folk and so on. In Busan there are only 2 live clubs for the whole Busan! Daegu – one club, Daejeon – one club. Not many and they can’t do enough good money. Doing live club shows is not good idea for everybody. It’s not good money maker. So the bands like us are not treated good. We don’t get paid well. At least we need good equipment to do good shows. The live clubs they don’t get paid a lot and they can’t invest money into good equipment, it’s hard for them too. And we thought if we could do better version of live club. So we tried to do it.
How do you choose musicians for your shows?
There is one manager beside us. The main plan is made by me and him. And sometimes when a good band asks us they just rent the club and pay money for one whole night where they do their own show.
How did you come to the idea of music academy?
Thought maybe we could get some extra money from this. And basically I like to teach. I love to teach people what I like: music, acoustic guitar. It gives me good pleasure, delight to teach them and see them doing this.
Is it hard to run a club?
Of course, it is so expensive. Extremely expensive. It wasn’t like that 10 years ago but these days it is. You know, people understand it is hard place. Lots of people with lots of money come to Hongdae and invest a lot into fancy dance club or fancy restaurant. The whole area became expensive.
So it is under the threat each time?
Just think about Soho in New York, artists made up that are, but nobody is there now. It is just fancy expensive area now. The same thing.
And what about music industry? What’s the difference between then and now?
Well there were a lot of bands too. This days they are young guys, who have a lot better instruments and they got some education. Back then there weren’t many music major colleges like it is now. Bad thing is they are playing good but not impressive. They are well trained but their music is not that unique. We need bands playing ballads but not all of them. We need variety for arts, any kind of art, for painting, for architecture, music, whatever. We need the style, not same thing. It is factory, not an art.
(So here ended my talk with Sangkyu and all members finally gathered in rehearsal room to talk)
Jeon Sangkyu (전상규), vocals, leader
Kim Daewoo (김대우), guitar
Son Marley (손말리), drums
Hyunwoo (황현우), bassist
How can you name yourself as a band?
(everybody) Funky Rock Band. Old band. Burning.
Sangkyu explains: Usually Hyunwoo is very exhausted after our song Why Not, that’s why burning. So yes. Old Burning Funky Rock Band.
How can you describe relations between members of the band now?
Sangkyu: Hyunwoo joined the band 6 years ago, Marley joined the band 8 years ago. So we’ve been together like 6 years already and we spend a lot of time together. But we don’t feel like the brotherhood. Daewoo: No brotherhood.
Sangkyu: They are selfish. So selfish!
So only business?
Sangkyu: No, it’s fun! Hanging together and doing music together is fun. That is actually what the band is all about. We don’t need to be brothers.
When you’re coming on the stage for whom do you play? For yourself or audience?
There’s no difference, it’s the same thing. To do a good show we need to trust each other. Not only in playing but something in your heart, something in your mind. You have to trust each other. Without that trust we can’t play even a few seconds on stage. So we have to trust, to build up that trust we have to practice and know each other. So sometimes we are playing poker game together. That’s fun too. But with that game we get to know each other better. And when we are on stage doing shows if we’re pleased, we are happy on stage, they are happy. If we are not happy they know that. So they are ready to be happy. That’s so simple and so truthfully. One truth about the stage. If you are not happy and you pretend to be they (audience) know about immediately and that means they are not happy. So we are playing for ourselves which means we are playing for them. The same thing. Simple and complicated at once.
Could you tell me how do you create the songs? Is there part of each of you in melodies?
Well. It depends. For some songs we just jam with one subject, with one thing, maybe with rhythm trying to complete sound from there. Sometimes Hyunwoo brings complete song.
And the lyrics?
Except lyrics. He brings the sound to the band and we arrange the sound. Maybe two ways. The lyrics is something that singer should write. And when he sings he should write it. But as I sing for Ynot? I usually write the song.
Your main job, your side job everything is dedicated to music. Is there anything else you are doing?
Sangkyu: As I told you I run live Club TA with my guitarist Daewoo and I run my music academy with my drummer Marley. All of us including bassist Hyunwoo are taeaching here. And also bassist is producing his girlfriend – female singer Choi Gonne (최고은). So basically we do a lot of things. But we do a lot of things to do music well.
So is everything really around music?
If I really wanted to make money then doing music, doing live club is not a good idea. And doing band as a hobby is also not a good idea. No. Of course, we can make money somewhere else and doing music once a week like a hobby or twice a week maybe writing some songs, making CDs. It’s easy, so easy now.
Yes, with money. But we are not like that. We do a lot of things to do music band.
You have already live albums, many CDs, tons of shows. What else do you want to do?
Daewoo: I want to release at least three more albums and have thousands more shows.
Son Marley: I want just to keep going.
Hyunwoo: I want to become legend. Music monster. Musically completed musician.
Sangkyu: I want to show music not in Korea but somewhere else, maybe in Asian countries Japan, China or Thailand. Also in US or maybe even Russia.
Are there any exact plans on touring?
Sangkyu: Japan maybe. We currently are planning to sign contract with some management company and they will try to do something in Japan. I don’t know. The same happened ten years ago. They told me: we gonna do something in Japan. I said: ok, do. And nothing happened. WE did some shows in Japan and that was it.
How did you decide to join Top Band contest?
I was his idea (Sangkyu points at Marley, drummer). He is married for only few months. The only one actually who is married of us. And maybe he needs extra money. Well, Top Band was a big issue among this neighborhood. Besides us a lot of bands who are here more than ten years decided to join the contest. And we were like: “Really? Interesting”. But we were not into that. But then he came with this idea to band “We got to do this!” Well, I wasn’t quite positive about it but wasn’t negative. Daewoo was negative and Hyunwoo was positive. Now we think it was good choice to join the contest because everybody was doing that and we had nothing we could do. Everybody was there and we were. That contest was not that well managed. Meanwhile we got hurt, we were damaged.
In which terms?
We made to final sixteen. I think we deserved more than what they did to us. And it’s not about what we have done before the show, during the contest. I think we did much better than they think we did. Ok, we made to 16 but it’s contest, tournament, we can lose, we understand that. But the way they showed us on air, the producers, writers, the way they are showing us wasn’t right.
Hyunwoo: I think Top Band has no fun, no meaning, not great.
Sangkyu: It gave us only troubles and they made us angry.
Angry with what?
With everything. With the way they showed us. They don’t know how to make program interesting and catchy. We were disappointed. The producers know nothing about rock bands. They don’t know how to create rock bands well.
Were there any positive moments in the show? Maybe the work with coaches?
Sangkyu: Kim Do Kyun is the man. The mentor. Real mentor. Great guy. We got really impressed. He got here in the one in the morning without any camera, without anybody. Nobody from the show crew was here, only him and us. And he tried to teach us how to do music till 6 in the morning. I mean we didn’t pay him. Broadcasting company and program producers didn’t pay him. Just he really tried to teach us. He’s got the passion and affection to us. He was the man and we were really impressed. After the last episode with us was put on air on Saturday night after the show he texted to me “I saw the show and still you were really good. Nice guys, nice play. So don’t be disappointed with the results”. And it was so touching! He is the only man, or the only thing we’ve got from the Top Band.
Do you keep in contact with him?
Yes, when we were going to have concert with TA Copy I called Kim Do Kyun and invited him to the show asking if he can play maybe one guitar solo with us.
Are there any more positive outcomes? Maybe more recognition? Increased audience?
A little, a little. But we got our relationship more tied cause we spent more time together as we wanted to arrange sound, work on that tasks and we got to know what each of us is thinking.
Hyunwoo: We had more poker games.
(Here comes another member of the band and Sangkyu introduces us)
It is our keyboardist Yoo Ji Hoon (유지훈) He’s been playing keyboard with us for 6 years. Long time. He’s doing many sessions for example for No Brain, Rose Motel and many others.
Why he is not your regular member?
Cause he is doing his solo project, he is singer-songwriter. He is not rocker, he is ballad singer.
Anyway, returning to the questions. Is there anything you’d like to say, but nobody asked that?
Interview is a good way to deliver what we thing and how do we live, how we do music. But it’s not the main thing. The main thing is our stage and our CDs. So before you judge or before you think something of us try to listen to the CD or come to the show. After that you can judge. Like listening 20 seconds of track through the Internet and judging the band is so stupid and silly idea. Just think about it. You’re buying expensive equipment to play music. And you buy CD or maybe download songs. But you do that only cause you’re not into live music. Pay a little money and come to the show and try to experience live music. And then judge. You can’t say you know anything about indie bands if you haven’t listened to them live. I know. Come to the show and try to feel it. That’s how Beatles were born.
But for foreigners it’s not so easy.
I know. That’s why invite us!
Ok. If a person want to know about Ynot and can’t come to the concert, which album can you advice to listen to?
Of course live CD. Cause we recorded the show from the very first to the last song. There are 25 songs on the CD. If you will listen it from the beginning to the end you can experience being at our show.
Which song is your favorite one?
Hyunwoo: Why Not? (the song he’s got exhausted with each time)
Son Marley: 선인장
Daewoo: I can’t chose only one song, I like them all. But if you ask… Why Not, Livin’ in Today
Hyunwoo: Let’s Rock Now
Sangkyu: Day by Day. Tonight my favorite song is Day by Day, yesterday it was Blue Bird (파랑새), the day before Why Not. It really depends. I think all the bands have the same way of choosing favorite songs. If you ask James Hetfield of Metallica the same question he would answer the same style. (imitates James) tonight I like Devil Dance and yesterday I felt I like Enter Sandman.
Ji Hoon: 세 발짝쯤 (Three steps away)
Sangkyu: Of course, it is ballad!
(If you are unfamiliar with none of this songs, here is good shot of Livin’ in Today for Live Planet S2 project).
Which bands on Korean indie scene can you also recommend?
Hyunwoo: Choi Gonne. She has lyrics in English, she is pretty and she has good voice.
Son Marley: Crying Nut
Daewoo: TA Copy
Ji Hoon: wHOOL (훌), band mixing Korean traditional song with modern sounds.
Sangkyu: Kang San Eh band. The whole band is great.
What is your wish for your band and band members?
Hyunwoo: I want other members to find fiancées and to get married.
(that created a little mess among band members with some swear words)
Daewoo: More shows, more albums. I want to play our music in other countries.
Ji Hoon: To spend most time on music, to be concentrated on music.
Son Marley: To stay oppa still after 10 years.
(everybody laughed remembering Oppa Gangnam Style and finished with ‘Hongdae Oppa’)
Sangkyu: It doesn’t mean only girls! That means that we will not lose the trend, we are not old fashioned, we will be still working on new things.
Ji Hoon: Maybe we still need young girlfriends.
Sangkyu: As for me, than bigger shows, more CDs, more countries. And more people loving Ynot?
Final words for ‘Korean Rock is Real’?
Fighting! And we hope you’ll still be rocking after 10 years with us!