Posted on May 10, 2014
1. How did you guys (and girl) meet?
When I returned from France I wanted to form a band to play sophisticated rock music in Hongdae. So I spent a lot of time asking around trying to find other members to form a band. Some friends of mine who already played music introduced me to our drummer Kim Ji-Eun and bass player Lee Dong-Hoon. We were finding it hard to get a lead guitarist so I put up an advert on a Korean music site. It was my birthday the day Hwang Jin-Min replied to that advert, I remember it well. I was really excited, I said ‘This is fate. Fate has given me a birthday present!’.
2. You grew up in France. What effect do you think that had on your musical taste? How do you think it sets you apart from the other Korean musicians from your generation?
The music I like to make is Rock Music, but actually, the rock scene in France is not as big as in England or America. The youngsters in France tend to prefer hip-hop & electronic music more than rock. However, at least the people there have a good understanding of classic rock and the basic music market itself has a lot more variety [compared with Korea]. Sometimes, when I see young Korean people listening to so called ‘Hongdae indie music’, I think they are ignorant about rock masterpieces. People who say they ‘like’ rock music or ‘play rock music’ but they don’t even know bands like ‘King Crimson’ or ‘Bloc Party’. Well, that just doesn’t make any sense to me. Even if I am one of those people as well, at least I have a basic knowledge of rock music.
3. It still baffling to me that you're studying to be an architect. It's such an analytical profession and doesn't seem very congruent with the type of guy that fronts a punk rock band. Is there any connection between your music and architecture?
It’s difficult for me to say there is definitely a connection between the two. I guess I still don’t know enough to have discovered the artistic or philosophical links yet, but to me music and architecture are basically ways to express my thoughts. Music, especially rock, allows us to be deeply immersed in the moment and is emotionally inspiring. However it can be easily forgotten in the long term. Architecture, on the other hand, is a bit less stimulating but it has a more direct influence on our daily lives because it affects our living space. To me, both music and architecture are a way of expressing my desire to make the world ‘a slightly better place’.
4. How has Les Sales changed since you started? What will this spring's full-length album sound like?
At first when this band started I arranged all the songs by myself. Despite my lack of skill, I made the words and composed / arranged each of the songs, even the guitar solos. At that time I had an exact idea of the music that I wanted to make. Of course it didn’t work out quite how I had intended. But then everyone began to get involved in the practice room and we started to make the music together, as a band. It’s an ideal way for a rock band to make music!
On the split album (Doo Nyeon) that we made with Table People, there is a track called ‘I’m Listening’. This song was the first time we had really made a song completely from scratch together, so we are all quite attached to this song. The 4 of us have quite different musical tastes so its always amazing to us that our differing styles fit so well in the music we make!
Our first full album will be a well made mix-and-match of both recent material and earlier tracks from when we started out. Maybe it is like a kind of report on our journey so far?
5. Tell me something surprising about someone in Les Sales. And I already know that your drummer Jieun is a kickboxer/bank teller and your bass player Donghoon is getting a Phd in Engineering, so you can't use those.
When we drink and hang out we always have a lot of fun together and it looks like we are really close. But, in actual fact we are not all THAT close! We have become accustomed to just talking about music when we are together so we don’t know all that much about each others’ private lives.
6. Les Sales have been around for about two years and play fairly often. What's the strangest show you ever played?
Recently an acquaintance invited us to play at a festival in Namyangju. It was hosted by that district’s National Assembly members and is a very established cultural festival. It had school dance groups and bands. We were down to play last on the ‘celebration’ stage. However, we are accustomed to playing late at night, in a dark basement with loads of drunk people in front of us. Playing outside, in the middle of the day with loads of sparkly eyed students in front of us was really strange and awkward for us. Thankfully, we were really well received by these kids even though they were not familiar with our music. We ended up having a really good time at that show.
7. Tell us about the recording process for the 4 Les Sales songs on Doo Nyeon. Were you surprised by anything or did you pretty much get what you had expected?
We are not a band with all that much recording experience. So we were really nervous about making this record. At the time of making our first Demo Ep, we realised how unsatisfied we were with our terrible performances. It was physically and psychologically exhausting for us so before recording ‘Doo Nyeon’, we got really stressed out. But thanks to the loving, kind and honorable Brad Wheeler, we got to record ‘Doo Nyeon’ in a positive state of mind. Because we recorded all the parts at once (and not track by track) we could record them just like we play them live. Most of all, thanks to Brad, the atmosphere was very friendly and comfortable for us. So recording the album was just fun, like hanging out with friends. We would like to say thanks to Brad once again!
8. Where did you get that Elmo doll on your guitar strap? Does it ever get dirty? Do you wash it?
It’s still the case now, but we have never been good at speaking while we are on stage. Whatever we say is neither cool or interesting. In the early days of Les Sales it was a really serious problem for us. We used to panic because we never knew what to say between the songs. One day when looking around Myeong Dong with Ji-Eun we discovered the Elmo doll on a market stall. Originally it was our intention to use the doll like a ventriloquist and use it to talk to the audience between songs. What’s worse than that is we actually attempted it once (I said something like ‘Hi, my name is Elmo’). The reaction was so-so and so we’ve never tried again. Also, we have never washed him! Sometimes we like to change his hairstyle as well.
9. Why does Les Sales always sing in English? Why not Korean or French?
I tend to write most of the lyrics in English because most of the music I listen to is from England or America, so when I express myself musically I find it more comfortable to do so in English. Of course I love classic Korean rock bands like 신중현, 데블스, 산울림, 송골매 etc. I also have an attachment to the late 90s Hongdae indie music scene (in my CD rack, I have lots of rare first generation hongdae albums). Even though I have a lot of attachment and respect for the pedigree of Hongdae musicians, I’m not sure that we should have to sing in Korean, just because we are Korean. The majority of bands in Hongdae do indeed sing in Korean, but among those bands I can count on one hand, the number of bands who meet with my criteria for ‘Rock’.
If you stick Korean lyrics to a song it can easily begin to create a ‘ka-yo’ (korean pop) feel to the song. That is one of the main reasons I mostly like to use English. Musicians like Songolmae (송골매) & Jang Kiha (장기하) make songs that fit perfectly with the Korean language, like ‘taryeong’ (a traditional Korean ballad), but sadly I’m lacking that Korean traditionalism. As for French, personally I don’t think French language particularly suits rock music. Additionally all the french bands I liked also sang in English. Lastly, I’d like to add one more thought on this subject, because English is not my mother tongue if I use English lyrics in my songs I tend to misuse the language. Let’s call it a kind of Dadaism wordplay.
It’s fun for me to ignore the grammar rules and pronounce things however I like while I’m writing lyrics. For example in our song ‘Starwars’ I have written the lyrics ‘Jet-set singer sold virginity / No one knew that he was total bi’. To match the rhymes I pronounce ‘bi’ as [bee]. You might not know, but in French the pronunciation of ‘bi’ is also [bee].
10. What does Seoul's music scene have over Paris'? What does Paris' scene have over Seoul's?
Like I said previously, there is a big difference between the size of the scenes. Not just financially but also in terms of the range of listeners and their musical knowledge. Just like the Korean public’s intellectual curiosity is running out, the Korean music listener also is quick to judge and is narrow-minded. It’s probably due to the effects of the social system. I think Korean society keeps talking about wanting more diversity, but in reality they are not ready to accept it.
For a few years Hongdae musicians have been creating music with synthesizers. It seems like everyone is making music with them these days, and as a result everything sounds the same. But, for some reason everyone seems to like it. In that way, the people of Paris have more knowledge of, and are more accepting of a wider variety of music. However, in Seoul the music scene is pretty much, just Hongdae. You could compare this with New York’s Williamsburg or Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa, but in Paris you would not be able to find such a concentrated ‘zone’ of music.
In the small space known as Hongdae there are so many live clubs and instrument carrying musicians. In this small area there are enormous possibilities. What if we, ‘Hongdae people’ were more aware of and took better care of and continued to preserve those possibilities, couldn't we (as a group) make something we too could call a ‘scene’? Of course, this is something that is not so easy to talk about…
Interviewer : Eric Davis (Table People)
Interviewee : Cheong Daein (Les Sales)
Translation By : Patrick Connor / Jeehye Choi
Live Photo by : 장현우 (Hyun-Woo Jang)