For the past few months I have been posting a lot about Korean rock music. To some, it might be slightly strange; however to some it might be interesting. Ever since I discovered it a few years ago, I have believed that it deserves wide coverage and recognition. I have conducted countless interviews with various musicians, I even traveled to Korea to witness unforgettable performances and down to earth shows. This year, I was lucky enough to visit Seoul again and meet one of my favourite rock bands, HLin. I was absolutely over the moon when the guys agreed to meet me in their recording studio in the middle of Hongdae, a Seoul district, which is well known for its arts and music scene. Equipped with a voice recorder and Dong-ho, a multitasking interpreter, we headed to the studio to see the artists.
I sat down on the biggest most comfy sofa ever and anxiously waited for the band to arrive. Like a Good Samaritan, Byungyun Lee, HLin’s bassist who was already waiting for me at the studio, entertained me and Dong-ho before the rest of the group showed up. At first I felt a bit awkward, however Byungyun’s big smile and friendly personality made me feel comfortable and relaxed before chatting to the band. After a while, the artists arrived and we were all ready to have a talk about the group, music, and the Korean music scene.
Jun Hyuck Jung (Lead Singer )
This will be the most common question of all but it has to be asked. How did it all start and have you always wanted to be in a band?
Jun Hyuck Jung: Byungyun, our bassist, and I started to play together when we were in a college; it was a small band (laughs). I think that was in 2004. Initially I wanted to play music but Byungyun didn’t intent to be in a band. However, when he went to the army, it all changed. I decided to wait for him, so when he left the military we carried on playing music. That’s how it all started really.
So Jun Hyuck, you are the lead singer of HLin and I have to admit that you have very good control over your voice, and always execute notes well. Did you receive any formal training before becoming a singer or is it just a natural talent?
Jun Hyuck Jung: No, I don’t have any formal training, I am self-taught. I do not really consider myself as a singer, I would rather think about myself as a composer. I came across people who said that my voice is good, however, I concentrate more on writing and composing music rather than being good vocally. It is what it is and I always find pleasure in doing that.
Byungyun Lee (Bassist)
At this point Jun Hyuck became slightly shy which only showed how humble he is. It is always a pleasure to meet musicians who aren’t arrogant narcissists and discuss their music careers in a well behaved yet funny manner.
When you compose a song, where do you get your idea from and how does the song evolve?
Jun Hyuck Jung: When I write songs I do not want to include fake emotions in it or things that I haven’t personally experienced or felt. I use my own experience while writing songs. I am the main composer and writer of HLin’s music, however other band members add their own bits and pieces to the process of writing music. Whenever I use my personal experiences when writing lyrics, I have this habit of taking notes and if a good idea comes along, we all work on it. It usually takes 3 to 6 months to finalise a song. Having said that, there is one song that it took us 3 years to finish (everyone laughs out loud).
It is all about perfectionism if you ask me. Working hard on writing songs and making music means that they do care about the quality of their sound and lyrics.
What does the name of your band mean, and to those who don’t speak Korean, could you tell me what your songs are about?
Byungyun Lee: HLin is the name of the Northern European goddess, which means to comfort and sooth sad people. However, the name has no meaning in Korean so we use a different pronunciation, which in our mother tongue more or less means enchanted by a spirit.
Jun Hyuck Jung: It is quite difficult to generically describe what our music is about because each song is different. We generally write about our own experiences and relationships which occurred in our lives as well as social issues. Our songs are not very optimistic as we do not want to give false hopes to the listeners. We rather want to share our own experiences with them; we want to emphasize with other people rather than give them solutions. It is like sharing the same experiences with each other.
What’s the hardest thing about being in a band? And have you always had the same line up?
Jun Hyuck Jung: Definitely money is the main issue. Byungyun and I have been together for about 9 years. Jung Dwar joined in 2009 and Ji Yun Kim in 2008. We have been together for many years so we can deal with each other (laughs), however, as I said before, the financial side has always been a problem. I am sure it is a common problem among indie bands here in Korea.
Is there a particular music you like which never fails you to make you feel good?
Jung Dwar: We all have a different taste in music. I like Limp Bizkit and Incubus.
Ji Yun Kim: It has to be Pink Floyd.
Byungyun Lee: Well, I like to listen to the old Korean music with beautiful lyrics (laughs).
Jun Hyuck Jung: I listen to different kinds of music, for instance Damien Rice, but I like to listen to classical music too.
Your last full-length album Glint Back Light was released in 2014. Could you tell me more about it?
Jun Hyuck Jung: We have never been asked about that before. The full length album, recorded in 2014, was a concept album. From the first track to the last one, which is the 11th, there is a passage which starts with the universe, comes down to the earth and then finally to a human being.
Most of the Western music goers knows what’s happening when it comes to the Korean music industry, especially with regards to KPOP. Do you feel pressurised by main stream music? Is it hard for you to push through it?
Ji Yun Kim: To be honest with you, it is not really about the KPOP and the pressure from this particular music style. It is more about whether you are within the circle which has got a capital to support you in the music industry. We didn’t want to avoid the main stream music, however, we like to follow our own music style and compose what we like.
What’s your opinion on the current music scene in general? What interests me is why rock music or pop rock music is not able to push forward as much as KPOP; we all know KPOP is all about the looks and dancing skills rather than talent, of course with a few exceptions. Why is that?
Jun Hyuck Jung: It is a very complicated issue. Deep down, I think it is about capitalism. The music scene in Korea, most of the time, follows imported ideas from Japan; however Koreans have managed to move it into another level such as creating KPOP culture. When you want to compare the domestic music industry with the Western one or even Japanese, the Korean home music scene is quite small – that way the capital goes towards a specific type of music which brings money into the industry, hence KPOP. Funnily enough, the rock scene in Korea was more profitable 20 years ago. However due to unexpected incidents on stage, caused by a few rock bands, people’s perception have changed on this particular music genre. Since then, the rock music scene struggles to make money.
What would mean to you if you had a chance to perform in the United Kingdom?
HLin: (everyone at the same time) That would be amazing.
Jun Hyuck Jung: It would mean a lot to us. We do hope we would play in the UK someday.
When you are not working what do you do to relax?
Jun Hyuck Jung: I do love watching films. I like to relax at home and watch various films.
Jung Dwar: Playing games and just relax at home. Probably drinking sometimes (everyone laughs).
Byungyun Lee: I like to travel around when I have time off, I like to spend it away from the guys.
Ji Yun Kim: Spending time with friends, have a drink etc.
Any new projects in the pipeline?
Jun Hyuck Jung: We have released two singles this year and we plan to release another one in November. Initially, it was developed as a mini album with 5 songs, and 3 of the songs were singles. The reason behind that is that in Korea, whenever you released a mini album, people tend to listen to the title songs only. That is why we released 2 singles already and the third is on its way. The two remaining songs will be in the OST for Korean dramas perhaps next year. That is our plan at the moment. Having said that, we also plan on releasing an acoustic full length album either next spring or later on.
It was a great pleasure chatting with the guys. HLin is one of those bands that you cannot stop listening to. Their bubbly personalities, big smiles and seriousness at times, made me fall for the band even more.
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Interpreted by Dong- ho Lee
Pictures © Courtesy of the photographer and HLin