“Music Is Something None of Us Can See, Yet It Is So Powerful.” – In Conversation with Touched, a South Korean Rock Band
One has to understand that Korean music encompasses more than just K-pop with artists paving their own way into the entertainment world by combining various genres. For instance, although the genre of K-rock hasn’t been a part of the country’s culture for as long as it has been in Europe or North America, rock music has been thriving in South Korea for a while.
It’s always amazing to see Korean female artists smashing stereotypes and giving licence to other female musicians to flaunt their talents and beauty, and one of those artists is the vocalist of Touched, Yunmin. She is not only a shining star, but also a woman who is confident in what she does.
Image © Courtesy of Touched (Seungbin Kim)
Touched is Seoul’s hidden gem. Consisting of five members – Yunmin (Vocals), D.on (Guitar), John B. Kim (Bass), Dohyeon Chae (Keyboard) and Seungbin Kim (Drums), the group debuted last year in December with a single, Blue. With beautifully arranged songs and Yunmin’s powerful voice, Touched are changing the face of the Korean music scene. While each member of the group is involved in the process of writing songs and music, it’s Yunmin’s vocal talent that often grabs the audience by the throat. The group’s style ranges from rock, to pop, to message-driven songs, with originality that can be seen as a hallmark of a great and promising band.
Winning the Grand Prize at the Yoo Jaeha Music Concours and placing first in the RISING STAR 4U competition have shown that Touched is a force to be reckoned with. They might have just begun their musical journey as a band, but they are surely making their mark on their domestic market.
But what are their main artistic challenges? And what kind of approach do they use to write their lyrics? Recently, Touched answered these and other questions exclusively for View of the Arts; we also spoke about music in general and their hopes for the future.
Image © Courtesy of Touched (Yunmin)
Yunmin, D.on, John B. Kim, Seungbin and Dohyeon, you all graduated from one of the most prominent educational institutions, Seoul Institute of the Arts, in Practical Music. One can only assume that music is your destiny, having said that, how did your journey of becoming musicians begin?
Seungbin Kim: When I was 10, I was close friends with a guy at church who was a bit older than me, and he was the drummer for our church. I first picked up drums just because I admired him so much. But after learning how to play and practicing for about 6 months, I was completely mesmerised by drums. Since then, I have been absorbed in music – I drummed for my church, my school, and my band. Before I knew it, I had become who I am now.
Yunmin: My father is a HIFI critic, so I was often exposed to music from LPs and CDs from an early age. So, I became a musician under the influence of my father.
Dohyeon Chae: I have listened to a lot of different types of music since I was young under the influence of my parents. Then, while I was in school, I developed a strong desire to use music to deliver messages and create something new, and began to do music.
D.on: By chance, I ended up playing the acoustic guitar at church when I was in middle school. My involvement in music continued as I joined the school band at my middle school and high school. Sometime during all that, I decided that music was my path and prepared myself accordingly for the college entrance exam.
John B. Kim: My mom majored in classical piano, so I was always surrounded by music growing up. The deciding moment was when I was in middle school. I had applied with my friends to sing for the church choir, but one of my friends decided to play drums for the choir instead. I felt awkward about having to sing without a friend by my side, so I decided I should change to an instrument as well. The only vacant position was the bass, which I had never even heard of until that moment, but I took it. That one choice has led me all the way to where I am today.
Image © Courtesy of Touched (John B. Kim)
You debuted last year with a single, Blue, followed by The Dawn Star and Regret. In addition, you recently released Love Is Dangerous. What was the creative process like behind these songs?
Seungbin Kim: My usual song writing process begins with playing a couple of chords on the acoustic guitar while humming along. That’s how I started writing Regret. So, I was humming a melody, but then these overwhelming emotions I can’t even describe in words just overcame me. So, it’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I cried a lot as I wrote that song. I kept repeatedly going back and forth between crying and singing. Then, I thought about my parents as I wrote the lyrics and wrapped up the melody.
Yunmin: Love Is Dangerous is inspired by people who are hurt by love and healed by love. Love is sometimes easy, sometimes difficult. What is love, really? We can never know what love is, and that’s what makes love so dangerous.
Dohyeon Chae: I was just playing the piano by myself at home, but then, the sound source I was using that day sparkled like stars in my ears. I turned on Logic right then and recorded it. Then, my band members and I revised the song again and again during band practice until The Dawn Star became the song you know now.
You chose an interesting name for your band, Touched. What’s the meaning behind it? And who decided on the name?
Yunmin: We actually had a ton of different suggestions for our band name. But one day, my bandmates saw ‘Touched’ written in my notes, and all of their eyes lit up instantly. They all agreed, “that’s our name”!
On which of your songs do you think you delivered your personal best performance so far, from an emotional and technical point of view?
Yunmin: We always feel like something is missing after we perform because we are always thinking about how we can give a better performance. Nevertheless, if I had to pick one stage, I would choose Love Is Dangerous from our first standalone concert – Rock Party. While preparing for our concert, we thought deeply about how to express the word ‘dangerous’ musically. We came up with adding ‘SOS’ in Morse code. So, that live performance has a different intro from the officially released song. I recommend you go check out that performance on YouTube. Enjoy!
Image © Courtesy of Touched (Dohyeon Chae)
What kind of approach do you use to write your lyrics and how much input does each member have when it comes to writing and composing the music?
Seungbin Kim: We tend to figure out the chords and the melody first before we get to the lyrics. Once we get the chords and the melody down, we write the lyrics based on what the chords and the melody make us feel. But in general, in our band, each member brings his or her own song that the member has written, so we don’t really separate roles for one song.
The lyrics of your songs are Korean – would you mind telling our readers which themes your songs represent the most?
Seungbin Kim: As with much of music in general, some of our band’s music is about romantic love. But we also have numerous songs that deal with life. These songs speak on how we should live from now on, how we’ve lived so far, and what kind of life we are pursuing. We want to continue with that and be a band that talks freely about what we want to talk about.
Yunmin: Life and Love.
Dohyeon Chae: I think it can’t be helped that our music contains a lot of our current feelings and experiences. Some topics that have been on our minds recently include the journey and process of finding your path, worries about whether you’re walking down that path correctly, words of comfort, the set of values of honour, etc. We have been dealing with topics that everyone faces in young adulthood.
When you look at your careers as musicians, may it be playing the drums, the bass, the electric guitar, keyboard or singing – what would you say are currently your main artistic challenges?
Seungbin Kim: To express what I want to say through music. Sometimes it’s the easiest thing in the world and yet sometimes it’s the most difficult.
Yunmin: The pressure to do well and the desire to be perfect make it difficult.
Dohyeon Chae: Being ‘original and new’ is the toughest part but also the most fun part of it all. We have to show something that’s unique to us and us alone. The pressure and the genuine desire to create something new both co-exist together.
D.on: For me, to be honest, everything has been fun being a member of Touched. Deciding to join a band was a difficult challenge for me back then. But once I joined, Touched turned that challenge into something so enjoyable for me.
John B. Kim: Everything always feels like a challenge for me because I keep seeing more and more areas that I still need to develop in. But if I may choose just one area I’m working on right now, it’s how to show my set of values, thoughts, experiences, and feelings in a more detailed, nuanced way in both music and lyrics.
Looking at your current life, to what extent do you think your surroundings have shaped you, creatively speaking, and in what way?
Seungbin Kim: Making music is at the centre of my life, so everything that affects me also affects my music. Everything from watching a movie, reading a book, playing a game, talking with someone, listening to someone’s story, to just thinking alone in my head about something affects my music and also serves as its greatest source of nourishment.
Yunmin: I get inspired by even the small, mundane things of everyday life. I’m inspired by every moment.
Dohyeon Chae: Everything, whether it be books, music, or just daily life, hides some inspiration inside. And in the moment of song writing, I believe inspiration becomes more important than my skills because I have had so many moments in which a result beyond my capability just sprang out. I also think who I am in the moment gets captured by whichever song I’m writing. This includes my thoughts, feelings, and what I’m enraptured by at the moment – it could be a musical idea or a certain message.
D.on: Right now, my life is not too special. I am living through the same ordinary situation as other people. But within all that is ordinary, I find so many parts of life to be grateful for because I get to enjoy them every day. I gain musical energy through these parts of life.
John B. Kim: I am influenced by everything – all aspects of life, relationships with other people, social trends, religion, nature, and even very small, insignificant things. And when these stimulate me to think or feel, I respond according to my personal set of values.
Image © Courtesy of Touched (D.on)
The role of an artist is always subject to change. What’s your view on the tasks of artists today, and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
Seungbin Kim: An ‘artist’ is still someone who does art, that hasn’t changed. But technological advancements of our present day have made the ‘artist’ more easily exposed to people and therefore more influential. I believe what this entails is that an artist’s artistic endeavours have a greater responsibility to them than before. In addition, since artists imbue all of their lives – even their personal, everyday selves – into their art, who they are as human beings becomes important. Therefore, I always spend a lot of time on introspection and on contemplating what I should do.
Yunmin: To provide catharsis to the public through music. To give music as a gift to people in this world who may feel the same way as me.
Dohyeon Chae: I think an artist is all about the ‘message’. That message could be on a light-hearted topic or a heavy topic. The message could be saying ‘I love you’, or ‘I’m sorry’. It could even be to fight against someone. Even how I’m answering this interview could be a ‘message’. To conclude, I believe an artist is someone who expresses everything the artist wants to say but through a language of his or her own.
D.on: Music is something none of us can see, yet it is so powerful. I believe an artist’s role is to utilise that power to comfort, encourage, or just let people have fun. If the listeners’ lives can be made a little fuller through it, there is nothing better.
John B. Kim: I believe an artist is someone who integrates his or her experiences and emotions into the artist’s set of values and then expresses these through art. For me, if what I’m expressing is joy, I want many people to share in that joy, gain joy through it. If there’s someone who needs to be comforted, I want my music to comfort them and let them see something they haven’t noticed yet. So, to that end, I am always attentive and interested in people’s emotions. I also pay attention to what expressions people commonly identify with.
Is there music you like, which never fails to make you feel good? Who really inspires you as singers? And who motivates you to work hard and stay on track?
Seungbin Kim: A feel-good song that comes to mind right now would be Stairway to Love by George Benson. Artists who inspire me are Juck Lee, Richie Kotzen, and Stevie Wonder. The band Mr. Big is the artist that drives me. They were my favourite band when I was young, and I still absolutely love that band. Even now, I watch videos of their live performances sometimes to remember the heart I started with when I began music. Watching them also helps me musically a lot.
Yunmin: As an artist who motivates me to work hard, I want to choose our team leader, Seungbin Kim. Watching him motivates me every time and often makes me resolve that I want to become like him. I never get tired of listening to the song Creep. Radiohead and Coldplay inspire me as artists.
Dohyeon Chae: Yesterday by The Beatles. Music by The Beatles always has something new in it. It’s so charming how they never let themselves get stuck in a mould and continuously experimented with their music. Yet, they were also mainstream artists who, through music, spread numerous messages to the general public. There are just so many things to learn from their music.
D.on: My answer to your first question is actually our music, songs by Touched, that I mentioned earlier. I’m a bit embarrassed to say this but because they are what we created, pride and joy just surge through me whenever I listen to our songs. My answer to the next question is also Touched. The more I practice, focus, think hard, and work hard for Touched, the more I can connect better with the masses.
John B. Kim: A song that always gets me in a good mood is Moving On and Getting Over by John Mayer. Artists who have been influencing me the most recently are Coldplay and John Mayer. And the artist who keeps me driven and working hard is Marcus Miller.
Image © Courtesy of Touched
When you are not working, what do you do to get away from it all and relax?
Seungbin Kim: I like games, so I play a lot of games. I bought a Nintendo Switch recently, so I have been having fun playing a lot of different games whenever I get a chance.
Yunmin: I like Escape Rooms, basketball, and gun shooting games. But these days, I mostly just read books because of the pandemic.
Dohyeon Chae: I recharge. I tend to do nothing when I’m physically drained. I eat something good and get enough sleep so I recharge physically. But I also write or play music to recharge in terms of inspiration. I spend a lot of time taking in other artists’ work and really feeling them out. I also recharge in terms of inspiration by spending time with people I love.
D.on: I hit the gym, come home, then order some good delivery food and watch Hospital Playlist on Netflix.
John B. Kim: I take walks, read books, and watch movies.
Looking at the Korean music industry right now, where do you aspire to fit in? Do you want to play strictly rock/pop-rock or would you like to make music of a different genre someday?
Seungbin Kim: I think there’s still a long road ahead of us because we are a new band and we’ve just begun. But we got our start with winning the Grand Prize at the Yoo Jaeha Music Concours and then we also won first place in the RISING STAR 4U competition recently, and I really do think of us as rising stars just like the name of the competition suggests.
We’re doing rock/pop-rock music right now because that’s the music all the members like, so that’s what naturally came out of us. What we make in the future may stay similar to what we’re making now, or it may change according to the kind of music we like then.
The world has been consumed by Covid-19 and made it very hard for musicians, and other creative professionals out there, to organise tours, meet fans, etc. Looking at the current situation, what’s your wider vision? What do you hope to achieve within the next year or so?
Seungbin Kim: Yes, it is a shame we can’t show more of our music to the public due to COVID-19, but going through this brand-new experience actually pushed our thinking into fresh directions and also gave us time to prepare and improve. Like the saying, “the ground hardens more after a rainfall,” after the pandemic, I want us to come out to the world as a better band with a new album in hand. We also want to go meet our overseas fans in-person instead of only meeting them online.
D.on: I want us to go on a world tour as soon as we can.
John B. Kim: Next year, I want to perform at festivals and have a blast with a lot of people. In the future, I want us to tour in the UK and the U.S.
Video © Courtesy of Touched
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Translation by Esther Kim
View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, arts and fashion, worldwide.