Interview: Jambinai

Photo by Chester Photography

Hailing from Seoul, South Korea, Jambinai have managed to revive the experimental music scene and grab attention to another side of their country by fusing traditional with modern instruments to come up with a unique and captivating sound.

Having released their sophomore album, A Hermitage, last year, – which was one of the favorite albums of the year of many in the AD crew – the band is currently on the road and touring Europe. We talked to Ilwoo Lee, Jambinai’s Guitarist/Piri to get to know more about A Hermitage, touring, the Korean music scene, and what lies next for the band.

You have been on the road for the last two months, playing throughout Europe and the United States. You have already toured the States and Europe many times before, what was different about this last one and any unique situations that you encountered this time?

More people came to our shows than before even when it was our own show and not a huge festival. I really appreciated it. And we had a short tour in U.S., last May. I thought really few people were going to come to our shows because it’s our first time in the U.S. except SXSW Festival. But more people came to our shows than I thought. It was really nice and I was happy because we are an obscure band from a strange country. Maybe North Korea is more famous than South Korea because of Kim Jong-un 🙂 

Besides playing the shows on the tour, how do you spend your time while on the road? Any specific places you like to visit or activities you like to do?

Take a nap or think about nothing 🙂 We need to recharge the energy for the show almost every day during the tour. As you know, sometimes, it takes a lot of energy on touring. So we just take a break while on the road to try to focus on the show.

Otherwise, I would like to go to some places which have a really nice view or the beach to take some time to recharge.

I was always a bit curious about how Koreans react to your music in live shows in comparison to international audience especially when they can understand the lyrics and connect to some of the events you talk about as the ferry incident.

Of course, they sympathize pain, sadness and anger with us. Mostly Korean people are the ones who have watched in real time that the people were dying and the government did nothing during these days in that tragedy. That tragedy is a big trauma to most people who live in South Korea.

So let’s get back to your last album, A Hermitage. In comparison to the first album, I feel the sounds have gotten more mature and decisive and the harmony between the instruments seems more mastered here…

Well, I think the experience of writing with Korean instruments blending with other instruments makes the sound of A Hermitage. And all the situations that surround me inspired me as well. When I wrote the songs in A Hermitage I think I was full of anger.

In A Hermitage, not only does the overall concept seem darker but the vocal style changed a lot too. Is that because of the politically-inspired themes in A Hermitage? Can you tell us more about the other lyrical themes in it?

I wrote most of the songs, and when I made the songs for A Hermitage I was a company worker but the company really sucked. So I was stressed all day, and that’s why A Hermitage has sounds and lyrics like that. Also, the political issues in South Korea gave me some lyrical inspiration. The accident of Sewol ferry was a tragedy and it is still going on.

Can you share with us the idea behind A Hermitage‘s artwork?

I just entrust our manager, Ssako about the artwork. He discussed it with his friend who is an illustrator and a tattoo artist, then he showed me the illustrations. He told me that they tried to make unknown creatures who live in their own hermitage. The vocalist of Combative Post -my other hardcore band- finished the layout for the album, because he is a professional designer. He also does the artwork for Combative Post’s albums. Anyway, I also like it.

I like how you integrate your traditional instruments with guitars and drums. Can you tell us a bit more on that, and how you decided to integrate instruments like the haegeum or the geomungo? Any plans to use more traditional instruments in the future?

Bomi and I studied Korean traditional music and instruments since we were 13 years old. We graduated National Middle School and High School for Korean Tradition Music. Eunyong started geomungo from her High School, another national arts school for Korean Tradition Music. We also studied all together in Korean National Arts University. I play the Korean traditional bamboo flute similar to oboe whose name is piri, and teapyeongso similar to saxophone.

If we think we really need to add another traditional instrument, maybe we can integrate, but I think what we have now is good. And mostly people think Jambinai has haegeum and geomungo only as traditional instruments, but don’t forget mine! So maybe next album is going to have more piri and taepyeongso 🙂

Not many Korean post-rock bands have been as successful to make it through to the international music scene as you. How do you feel about the response to your music so far?

I think it is still quite far. Because I think we are still an obscure band to the world. So far so good, but we have to go further and further and I want that.

You talked before about how hard it was to get through the Korean scene itself and how controversial your music was received in the beginning and even how it was hard to book live performances there. Now after a couple of years of your career and other experimental bands that started in South Korea as No Respect for Beauty or Dogstar, how do you evaluate the Korean scene now?

Still not that good. In these days many Korean bands try to have shows overseas because Korean scene is still small -or even getting smaller- and most of the Korean people listen to K-pop or K-Hip hop, because most of the media show only that kind of music and people sometimes just rely on recommended music from TV or domestic streaming services. The percentage of people who try to find the music on their own is getting lower and lower. So it is still hard to live and play in Korea unless you are a pop musician. But fortunately, we still can find many good Korean bands who have a special identity, if you try to find.

You will be playing ArcTanGent Festival in the UK soon. What are your preparations for it, and which bands do you plan to check out while you are there?

We are preparing for the drama through the entire setlist. If you happen to see our show, you can feel various kinds of emotions. And it’s too hard to choose some bands. Because most of the bands who play in ArcTanGent are really great and that I’m a big fan of. I want to check out most of the bands as much as I can.

So what do you have next planned for us? Any new projects in the making you care to share with your fans or a new album that we may get to hear about soon?

We are planning another European tour in November. Maybe next year you can check our new EP or single.

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