Creating some of the most innovative sounds in East Asia’s underground scene, Jambinai are an award-winning post-rock/world music hybrid act that was formed in Seoul, South Korea in 2009 by guitarist and piri (oboe) player Ilwoo Lee, haegum (a fiddle-like instrument) player Bomi Kim, and geomungo (zither) player Eun Youg Sim.
Lee (who also plays guitar in the Seoul post-rock/screamo band 49 Morphines and the hardcore band Combative Post), Kim, and Sim all first became acquainted while studying at the Korea National University of Arts. Three years after graduating, they ran into each other one night after a mutual friend’s concert. They began chatting about Korean traditional music and how they felt it needed to find a new way to present itself. That chance encounter led to the birth of Jambinai.
Jambinai issued their debut full-length album “Différance” in February 2012 and it brought them an award “Best Crossover Album” and nomination “Best Jazz & Crossover Performance” at 2013 Korean Music Awards. They charmed korean indie/rock fans and continued so with the performances at World Village Festival in Finland, Cena Contemporanea in Brazil, WOMEX in Wales, and the Oslo World Music Festival in Norway.
This year band promises to release their second full-length album (yay!) and will perform at several festivals. First would be SXSW in Texas and then China’s Sound of the Xity (April), Holland’s Cinemasia Film Festival (April), the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival in California (June), Denmark’s Roskilde Festival (July), and Slovakia’s Festival Pohoda (July). Some other performances will be announced soon, so keep following the band.
Before leaving for Texas in order to perform at SXSW Ilwoo Lee agreed to answer our questions.
Before you start reading the interview check this video to feel the mood of the band.
Could you please introduce your band?
Hi, we’re Jambinai. We’re a rock band from Seoul that makes music with Korean traditional instruments. We won “Best Crossover Album” at the 2013 Korean Music Awards and last year were able to share our music overseas with audiences in Finland, Wales, Norway, and Brazil. It’s nice to meet you!
When you were on tour last year you invited Dokyo 13 and Mounghoon Ryu. Will they join you this time as well?
Almost all of our overseas touring is done together with them, and they will be playing with us during SXSW and at the Korean Underground Vol. 1 showcase in San Antonio. As in the past, Dokyo 13 will play bass and Mounghoon will play drums.
Please share with us your experience of touring Europe last year. How were you treated by the people there? What are some of your best memories from the trip? Did you have any funny experiences while you were there?
Our shows in Europe were awesome! We got really good reactions from the crowds we played for. But the best reaction we received from a crowd last year came during our set at Cena Contemporanea in Brazil. People were kissing and crying during our last song. All of us were really surprised.
The most funny experience we had in Europe was teaching Korean swear words to our friend who took us around while we were in Finland.
Why did you choose to go to Europe first? Usually bands tend to visit North America for their first overseas tour.
The World Village Festival in Finland asked us to play. They were the first overseas event to reach out to us. And then we received invitations from Cena Contemporanea, WOMEX in Wales, and the Oslo World Music Festival. It was weird that all of these events in countries that are so far away from Korea contacted us. But we’re extremely grateful that they did!
What do you hope to achieve by playing at SXSW?
SXSW is a massive festival with musicians, music industry people, and music fans from all over the world. We’re hoping we can expose more people to our music at the festival. And we’re hoping that performing at the festival will help us get the chance to play on many more stages around the globe.
You won ‘Best Crossover Album’ at the 2013 Korean Music Awards. How did it feel to win the award?
We were really happy about that, and I still feel proud. We’re playing Korean traditional instruments in Korea, which is dominated by K-pop music. Winning that award gave us more confidence about what we’re doing.
You are currently working on your sophomore album. How has your style changed since the time ‘Différance’ was released? How would you describe your music now?
I think the length of our songs is becoming shorter and the songs are becoming heavier. People will see that Korean traditional music is not boring, weak, old man’s music! It’s exciting and powerful music.
On your new album, will we hear more songs with vocals or will you concentrate on making purely instrumental music? Will you add any new instruments that we haven’t heard before in Jambinai’s sound?
The new album will be similar to ‘Différance.’ The music will be mostly instrumental. But there will be a few more songs with vocals in them.
Indie musicians in Korea know each other well and sometimes perform with each other. Have you thought of collaborating with other bands or singers? If yes – who would you like to work with?
Our new album will actually feature a collaboration with the Korean rapper Ignito. Can you imagine Jambinai plus hip-hop? We’re excited to see what people think of the song.
Do you listen to any post-rock from outside of Korea? Do you think there are any other bands in the world that have the same soul as Jambinai?
I don’t listen to much post-rock nowadays. Instead I listen to a lot of grindcore. I like Pig Destroyer and the Singapore band Wormrot.
You are going to perform at different festivals this year in America and throughout Europe. What kinds of things do you like to do when you visit new places? Some people want to drink the local beer, some go sightseeing, some go clubbing, etc. What do Jambinai’s members like to do when you go to new cities/countries on tour?
I like to drink the local beer! It’s easy to do, and it’s always interesting to try new beers from different parts of the world.
What do you want to people who will come to see your performances during your upcoming tour?
Please come and enjoy one of our shows. If you like what you hear, please buy an album. Thank you so much to everyone for your support.
Here are Jambinai’s March US tour dates:
March 11 Austin, TX @ (7:30 pm) Elysium (official SXSW showcase)
March 12 Austin, TX @ (3 pm) International Day Stage Austin Convention Center (official SXSW showcase)
March 13 Austin, TX @ (1:30 pm) Hotel Vegas (Levitation Austin)
March 13 Austin, TX @ (12:00 am) Flamingo Cantina (official SXSW showcase)
March 14 Austin, TX @ (3:15 pm) Spider House (The Texas Rock N Roll Massacre 2)
March 16 San Antonio, TX @ Limelight (Korean Underground Vol.1 concert)
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