Lee Gheun Hyung, a legendary Korean guitar player who has spent over four decades in the entertainment industry has worked with some of the biggest names in Korean music, after all these years, he has finally released his debut solo album, “Alone…Not Alone.” Lee Gheun Hyung’s exceptional skills and distinctive sound have earned him a dedicated following, and his long-awaited album is sure to captivate fans old and new. In this interview, we’ll discuss his debut album, his approach when it comes to music, and what the future holds for this accomplished musician.
In the first few years of learning the instrument, which guitarist(s) were you influenced by the most and why?
Lee Gheun Hyung: Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page have been the source of my greatest inspiration.
You have been in the business for around 40 years, and you played alongside many bands, that said, you’ve only now decided to record your own solo album, “Alone…Not Alone”, for the first time. Why did you wait so long to do so?
Lee Gheun Hyung: As a rock artist, with three to four highly acclaimed albums under my belt, I felt it was time to showcase my versatility and musical range. Despite my passion for rock, I decided to embark on a solo project that would showcase my ability to seamlessly blend multiple genres together. It was important for me to demonstrate my musicianship while I still had the chance, and I’m excited to share this new endeavor with the world.
Could you take us through your debut release, “Alone…Not Alone”, and talk about the creative process behind the release itself?
Lee Gheun Hyung: My musical roots run deep in the legendary rock bands and musicians who have heavily influenced me since childhood. Through their music, I have gained a wealth of knowledge, allowing me to cultivate my own unique playing style. To this day, I find myself drawn to classic rock, blues, jazz, and old pop music. As I began to contemplate how such familiar sounds, at least to me, could be received as fresh and distinctive in South Korea’s K-pop-dominated industry, I felt compelled to gather the tracks I had worked on over the years, along with some new compositions. Despite little consideration for commercial success, I poured my heart into this project, buoyed by the support of many who have encouraged me along the way. I named the album in honor of that gratitude.
When you started your career, social media and streaming platforms, including Spotify and Apple Music, didn’t really exist. Now, they’re both an inevitable part of our lives. When they came along did you welcome or resist them?
Lee Gheun Hyung: While it is undoubtedly convenient to have easy access to one’s favorite tunes, the overwhelming abundance of musical data has led to a subtle depreciation of music’s intrinsic value. In the past, listening to music required a certain degree of engagement and focus, akin to attending a live concert. LPs and CD players necessitated careful listening, allowing the listener to fully appreciate the nuances of each track. However, with the advent of digital music platforms boasting millions of songs, the act of selecting and streaming music can feel more like channel surfing with a television remote than attending a live performance. Despite this, I must confess that I personally do not harbor any major grievances towards these platforms, as I find them to be useful and enjoyable tools for studying and exploring the latest musical trends.
What was the first guitar you got your hands on?
Lee Gheun Hyung: Although I had a toy-like acoustic guitar and a cheap guitar manufactured in South Korea lying around the house, I wouldn’t consider them my first official guitars. My true first guitar was a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe. I can’t exactly recall its production year, but it had the same Oxblood color as Jeff Beck’s renowned model.
After finishing your debut album, “Alone… Not Alone”, and releasing it into the world, was there a sense of emptiness? And if there was one, how did you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Lee Gheun Hyung: Instead of feeling empty, I am now driven by a deep desire to create songs for my second album that will complement and build upon the first. I’m already working hard on it. Since the release of my first album, I’ve been humbled by the overwhelmingly positive feedback and reviews from fellow musicians on social media. Their support means the world to me, and I feel a strong sense of responsibility to deliver another exceptional album.
How did you decide on the titles of the songs for “Alone…Not Alone”?
Lee Gheun Hyung: The album is an instrumental collage that weaves together a diverse range of genres, making it impossible to pinpoint a single title track. However, as a tribute to the exceptional talent of K-pop idol rapper Kim Jong Hyeon, who features on the album, we introduced “Panic Disorder” with special emphasis and gratitude.
Are there any particular songs on the album that hold a special meaning to you, or that you are particularly proud of?
Lee Gheun Hyung: On the album, there’s a special song called “Fireman” that I wrote as a tribute to the heroic firefighters who selflessly serve in times of crisis. As a music producer, there are certain tracks that hold a special place in my heart, regardless of their commercial success. “Fireman” is undoubtedly one of those tracks.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music?
Lee Gheun Hyung: I have a habit of recording every idea that pops into my mind. My typical approach involves recording the guitar first and then exploring the idea further by introducing new elements and experimenting with different techniques on a separate day. I draw inspiration from diverse sources such as movies, music, and other creative works. On certain occasions, I deliberately challenge myself to push beyond the realm of emotions by incorporating an academic approach, often incorporating elements from Jazz or Classical music.
What do you hope that people will take away while listening to “Alone…Not Alone”?
Lee Gheun Hyung: I aim to convey that instrumental music is far from being a mere backdrop to our daily activities. It has the potential to evoke an array of emotions and leave a lasting impression on listeners. I’m eager to share this extraordinary experience with the audience. Additionally, while the Korean music industry has made significant strides over the past years, there is still room for growth in terms of musical diversity. I hope that this album can serve as a catalyst for change, igniting interest and paving the way for the development of instrumental music in South Korea.
Improvisation is a large part of the creative process for many artists. How strictly do you separate improvising and composing in your work?
Lee Gheun Hyung: I am used to improvisations, it’s especially evident in my live guitar performances where I often create entirely impromptu solos. However, when it comes to recording an album, I recognise the importance of conveying a concise message that pairs harmoniously with carefully crafted melody lines written to captivate listeners. In such a studio setting, I look up to legendary musicians such as The Beatles.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians who are looking to release their own solo material?
Lee Gheun Hyung: The upcoming wave of musicians should channel their individual musicality and craft a sound that is truly their own, rather than replicating the work of others. While many young musicians today possess remarkable technical abilities, I find that their music often lacks diversity. In contrast, the classic rock bands that shaped my youth were exceptionally unique, making it nearly impossible to find comparable acts. Take Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, for instance, these two legendary bands exhibit entirely distinct sounds and styles.
How does your solo work fit into your overall artistic vision and career trajectory as a musician?
Lee Gheun Hyung: As previously noted, this album serves as an overture, and I am committed to furthering my musical vision in the future. Despite my rock background, I am eager to explore diverse genres and break boundaries. Through my music, I aim to set a positive example for fellow musicians who may feel constrained by a singular genre. Diversity can lead to originality, and I am determined to showcase this truth. In this context, I must pay tribute to the late Jeff Beck, whose legacy inspired me greatly.
What’s next for you after releasing your first solo album?
Lee Gheun Hyung: I aspire to connect with my fans and showcase my music by hosting lively concerts. It would be a delight to express my emotions about my solo album in various venues, including clubs, whenever the chance arises.
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Featured image © Evermore Music
View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, and art, 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 / K-music, and Asian music in general, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, music, and arts, worldwide.