Combining post rock and Korean traditional music, Jambinai has been hailed as one of the most unique bands in Korean underground scene by The Jeju Weekly. The group was formed in 2009 after college friends guitarist and piri (oboe) player Ilwoo Lee, haegum (a fiddle-like instrument) player Bomi Kim, and geomungo (zither) player Eun Young Sim met in a mutual friend’s concert. The intention to present Korean traditional music brought them together and thus, the birth of Jambinai. Their debut full-length album Différance was released in 2012 although prior to that they had released an EP. With its interesting blending of folk, metal and electronic music, Différance made them win “Best Crossover Album” at the 2013 Korean Music Award. Jambinai has flown to many countries like Wales and Finland to deliver their music, and this year they’re ready to do the same thing to the audience in America. So how did they feel about that? Let’s find out the answer in RekON’s interview with the trio!
Jambinai began when you started to have a chat about traditional music. But what made you decide that it would be a good idea to combine Korean traditional music with dark post-rock music? We don’t think many people will even ever think to blend traditional instruments with ‘hard’ music like you do so well.
Ilwoo: I grew up listening to loud and strong music like rock, metal, hardcore, and post-rock and I majored in the Korean traditional instrument piri at university. Because of my different musical backgrounds maybe that’s why the idea of blending these different music styles seemed so natural to me. And since I write all of our songs, that’s why I think there are many dark post-rock elements in Jambinai’s music.
For Ilwoo, is it difficult to maintain separate creative processes among your three bands – Jambinai, 49 Morphines, and Combative Post?
Ilwoo: No, it’s not difficult. If I write a song that doesn’t fit 49 Morphines, then I can try and rework if for Jambinai. I can do the same thing with Combative Post music too.
We’re a bit surprised by how dark the song “Grace Kelly” is. We’re sorry but we didn’t expect something bearing the name Grace Kelly to be that dark! The lyrics too came as a surprise to us. How do you see Grace Kelly – does she symbolize ‘죽음의 달콤한 유혹이’ (the sweet temptation of death)?
Ilwoo: After I finished that song, I couldn’t decide what name would be good. At the time, our manager gave me a list of possible titles. I just liked the way the letters were arranged in “Grace Kelly.” The song has no connection with the actress and Princess of Monaco.
Lately, thanks to the Hallyu wave, there is an increased interest in Korean culture in general. Some people have shown interest in learning Korean traditional instruments too. As Korean traditional instrumentalists, is there any Korean instrument that you think would be good for beginners? Do you have any advice for people who have just begun or are thinking of learning to play Korean traditional music?
Ilwoo: I’d recommend janggu, a traditional Korean percussion instrument. Korean percussion rhythms have a very unique style to them.
Bomi: I’d like to recommend gayageum for beginners. Even though I majored in Korean traditional music at university, it is very hard to understand the music. It is not just hard to play, but also hard to understand the different structures. But after gaining an understanding of the music, you will see a totally different, new world.
You’ve performed in several countries outside of South Korea. How did you find the audiences in those countries? Were they different from your audience in South Korea?
Ilwoo: I think Korean audiences are sometimes quieter than crowds in other countries. I think they are being polite when we play because it’s traditional music. But the audiences we’ve played for overseas are much more enthusiastic and show more emotion. When we played at Cena Contemporanea in Brazil last year, people were kissing and crying when we played our song “Connection.” It was amazing to see them have such a strong reaction to our music.
How do you feel about going to SXSW? What are your expectations for your gigs in Texas? Are you preparing anything special for the audiences at SXSW?
Ilwoo: We’re all really excited about playing at SXSW. I’m a bit nervous too. Our music went over really well at the festivals we played in Europe last year. But I’ve heard that the US is very different from Europe. But no matter what, we’re going to play really hard and try and show people something exciting and unique.
Eunyoung: During our sets at SXSW, we’re going to play some new songs that we’ve never performed before. Hopefully people like them!
Jambinai’s US tour dates:
March 13 Austin, TX @ (1:30 pm) Hotel Vegas (Levitation Austin)
March 13 Austin, TX @ (12:00 am) Flamingo Cantina (official SXSW showcase)
March 14 Austin, TX @ (3:15 pm) Spider House (The Texas Rock N Roll Massacre 2)
March 16 San Antonio, TX @ Limelight
We couldn’t do this without you, Shawn! A big thanks.