Entertainment News

INTERVIEW Fusion jazz band Winterplay

Date: 2010.10.05

INTERVIEW Fusion jazz band Winterplay
From left, Winterplay members Lee Juhan, So Eunkyu, Choi Woojoon and Haewon. [Chae Ki-won/10Asia]

Winterplay, composed of members So Eunkyu (bass), Lee Juhan (trumpet ), Choi Woojoon (guitar) and Haewon (vocals), is a group which does music that cannot be defined by a single word. The four members are jazz musicians but their music can be associated with various genres such as jazz, pop, Latin and lounge. And their latest second full-length album "Songs of Colored Love" which appeals to the public while containing the characteristics of jazz music, borderlines between jazz, Latin and pop music. So it may be because they do such music but their songs have been acknowledged by fans in Japan first, particularly by those who enjoy various types of jazz. London's media outlet The Sunday Times gave the "Songs of Colored Love" four stars out of five, saying "It breaks down the walls between jazz pop and lounge music." 10Asia sat down for an interview with this fusion jazz band.

10: I heard you received favorable reviews from the The Sunday Times in London.
Lee Juhan: This was our first showcase in London so I got scared when I found out they were writing a review about us as well. I'm thankful that we got a good review. They compared our vocalist's singing style to pink martini and said our music like lounge music as well. I think they also gave us good marks for holding back and keeping our music simple instead of ad-libbing a lot which is what happens a lot for jazz music.
Choi Woojoon: We got similar reviews in Japan as well. The audience seems to be interested in the lounge style of music that we create with the few instruments that we have. And we're supposed to lift up the atmosphere for our concerts but the Japanese audience seem to prefer more composed and mellow performances.
Lee: You can see a lot of jazz mixed with hip-hop, pop jazz remixes and other various music on Japan's iTunes jazz chart. We believe that our music is neither pop nor jazz but rather a different sound and I think that suits the taste of our Japanese listeners.

10: That seems to be more apparent in this album. It's a mix of more mellow music, Latin, jazz and pop.
Lee: We included the jazz remake of "Billie Jean" in our last album "Hot Summer Play" because we wanted to show that we can play fun music. However, for this full-length album we wanted to continue on with our musical characteristic from our first album.

10: It's important that your music mixes pop melody with jazz accompaniment but isn't it difficult to create such songs?
Lee: That is why we had a harder time than we thought. We wanted to make a song which has an easier melody to understand in the chorus but it didn't pan out as I wanted it to since I'm not a music composer. That is why we decided to create music which allows the vocals to stand out more while hoping to produce a track that maintains the harmony of the whole group.
Choi: We had to harmonize with each other by having each person create their own melody since we didn't have a drum to follow through for the rhythm. That is when we realized what sounds a guitar can make.
Lee: Our group is more like an orchestra in the sense that we don't have drums. We take charge of a part and work out the melodies instead of following a strong rhythm. That is why we have to stay alert because if we don't, the sounds will get tangled amongst each other.
So Eunkyu: We don't have drums or other string instruments other than the guitar so the bass doesn't play a rhythm but rather has to play in harmony with other melodies. That is why we tried out the song with the melody and without it. It wasn't easy.

10: It somehow seems that you feel regret over the recording process. (laugh) Why did we go forth without drums?
Lee JH: At first the four of us wanted to release a Christmas album. We have performed with one another while playing in different clubs but to be honest I didn't have a job then. (laugh) The original team that I was in only came together during sessions and we broke up during the holidays to work with different singers. That is why during that time we [the members of Winterplay] thought of releasing a Christmas album and held a concert in December and then come together in June for a summer record. So the first day we met, we each ate a bowl of jajangmyeon [black-bean-sauce noodles] and decided to bring one song the next day. (laugh)

10: (laugh) Is that possible?
Lee: No, it wasn't. (laugh) The sound that was created when we came together was good so instead of a Christmas album, we decided to do it right and worked until the end of the year. We spent Christmas Day in the recording studio (laugh) and we released the album. Then Fluxus [record company] heard it and said they want to sign with us. That is why we are here today. Also, we left out the drums because it didn't fit our budget.

10: Is that how you came to produce the kind of music you do today? From beginning to end, you all collaborate with each other without having any solo parts.
Choi: It was hard at first and outside of the studio, we were told to take out parts that seem to long. To tell you the truth, it wasn't that fun. (laugh) I was able to understand what Lee, who was the producer of the album, was aiming for after listening to the finished album. I think I've come to realize what our group's music is about while working with them for three years. And the way I play the guitar has changed as well.
Lee: I don't think of myself as playing my trumpet solo in my group but that I rather adhere strictly to the melody line of the song. It goes the same for the rest of the members.

10: Haewon, I don't think you would have sung much to this style of music either.
Haewon: It definitely is different. The song is composed rather than fluctuating much in terms of the vibe it gives off so I need to be more delicate when interpreting a song. And the more I sing a song, the more space there is created for me to express the more subtle parts. Another thing is that I actually had a hard time singing in Korean at first. Almost all jazz songs are in English so it's hard to sing jazz in Korean while making it sound jazzy. But I think I may be improving because people point it out less. (laugh)
Lee Juhan: For "Gypsy Girl," the lyrics are in Korean then they change to English, and I don't know if this actually exists but if someone asked me to play in French style then change to British, I would have a hard time. In that sense, Haewon is doing difficult work.
Haewon: That's a nice way to wrap it up. (laugh) But we're not a group who got together to do a certain style of music. I think we make music that's natural because we just went with the flow in deciding what sort of music to do after we got together. That's why when I sing, I just sing whichever way I feel rather than thinking about how I should sing it. The thing is, even for the same song, I've realized that I sing it differently now from when I was 20 years old. I think I know more now because I'm older. (laugh)
Choi Woojoon: You finally know? (laugh)

10: But your music stands on the boundary between jazz and pop. And that's why this may be difficult for your music to work in our country. They have very distinct taste when it comes to fans of genre music and pop music.
Lee: Our music isn't jazz. I think it should be regarded as music based on jazz. So it'll be more jazzy but I want listeners to hear the melody first and then enjoy the rhythm it's based on. All we need is for you to like listening to our music.
So Eunkyu: The reason we formed a group was because we wanted to make music that is easy for listeners to listen to, but do it based on jazz instead of pop accompaniment. And I think we came to realize how to go about this while doing such music for three years. I think countries overseas think that's what is unique about our music as well.
Lee: Marketing is an important aspect as well but I think it's dangerous to become too dependent on it. For us, it's important that we produce refreshing music and we're hoping it will move the hearts of certain people. We don't market our music to a target audience although our company might. (laugh)

10: But why don't more people listen to jazz? The environment is so different as well compared to the United States or Japan.
Choi: Jazz is completely underground music in Korea. You can't make money just off of doing jazz music. So some sing as the chorus for pop music or become music instructors. But I do think that for the number of Koreans who are truly interested in music, there are a good number of people who listen to jazz. (laugh)
Lee: In the U.S., even high schools have jazz bands. That's how much people are used to the word jazz. And you can major in jazz in college. But in Korea, you can't use the word jazz even if you teach it. It's called 'applied music.' Like there are departments for classical music, there should be department for jazz music as well to show how influential it is but that's just impossible to do.

10: Then how did you decide to start doing such jazz music?
Lee: I was lonely. I lived in Surinam when I was 12 because my father was a diplomat while my mother was in New York because of educational reasons for my siblings. So only me and my dad lived together in Surinam and he introduced me to a trumpet player saying I should learn to play it. And there were some guys I knew in my neighborhood who were in a jazz band so I did music with them. We played on the streets because houses are far apart from each other in Surinam so it was okay to be loud. And that's how I came to love jazz and I was in the jazz band in high school in the U.S. as well but my dad said he wouldn't pay for my tuition when I told him I wanted to major in jazz in college. (laugh)
Choi: I used to do rock music. But there was a jazz boom in the 90s, killing the rock industry, so I did music at jazz bars to make money. I didn't know jazz back then so I performed by just memorizing a few repertoires but I started to like it when I started to study it. Jazz musicians had said that once you do jazz, you perform with a jazz-like mind even if you do other genres, which I think is very true. It's as if you're looking down from the top of a mountain. I can't have everything that's below the mountain but you get a larger picture of everything. And it's fun how the songs change depending on who you're playing with. But of course, the blood of a rocker still runs within me so I let it loose at concerts sometimes. (laugh)
So: I grew up listening to a lot of music. And then I decided that I really wanted to do music so I went to the music of department for college but my school didn't have a major for applied music so I played the contrabass while learning classical music. Then I got to know about jazz so I crossed over to the genre.

10: Haewon, I heard you had been preparing to become an idol group singer when you were younger.
Haewon: My mom trained me a lot since I was young. (laugh) And I tried to become an idol singer in middle and high school but that didn't work out. (laugh) I had kept singing even in college though which is when I started thinking about what kind of music it is that I want to sing. That's when I learned jazz in college and I was lucky enough to get to sing at a jazz bar from when I was 21 years old.

10: So that's how Winterplay formed. Then what do you want to do in this team in the future?
Lee: I'd just like to grow taller. (laugh)
Choi: Please don't forget to write about this in the article. (laugh)
Lee: I actually don't know. I don't have a particular plan in mind. I just want us to do fun music and keep doing better, no matter what we're doing. Getting to hear that every album is fun and different will be enough for me. And I think we'll be able to make new music by meeting people overseas and getting their response. I think I'll be happy then.

Senior Reporter : Kang Myoung-Seok two@
Photographer : Chae ki-won ten@
Editor : Jessica Kim jesskim@, Lee Ji-Hye seven@
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Source 10.asiae.co.kr

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