Profile/Giveaway #2: YI SUNG YOL
First, I’d like to say that I know having lots of ads can be distracting on blogs. I’ve deliberated a lot on which ad blocks to use or not, and I’m never perfectly satisfied. But the ads are also why I’m able to give away free stuff like this, so there’s that silver lining.
Since the last free CD giveaway (and artist profile) went over pretty well — hey, what free stuff doesn’t, right? — I thought I’d continue with another great but overlooked artist, singer-songwriter Yi Sung Yol. (Also spelled Lee Seung Yeol/이승열.)
The Rules: Like last time, leave a comment with your email address so I can contact winners. I’ll give away FOUR CDs — winner gets his/her choice of CD, either Yi’s first album “이날, 이때, 이즈음에…” or his second, “In Exchange.”
Giveaway closes: A week from today, noon PST on Friday, June
20 27. I’ll close entries then and post winners later that day.
SONG OF THE DAY
Yi Sung Yol – “우리는” (Us) from the soundtrack of Que Sera Sera (reposted from an earlier post).
[ Download ]
THE MUSIC & DISCOGRAPHY
Yi Sung Yol is a singer and songwriter currently enjoying a successful career as a solo artist as well as being a frequent contributor to drama and film soundtracks; his (mainstream) profile took off in earnest after he collaborated with groove-electronic group Clazziquai in singing the theme song “Be My Love” (posted below) for 2005’s My Name Is Kim Samsoon.
His modern rock sound has drawn comparisons to U2, although I think that’s perhaps more because of the timbre of his voice (comparing it to Bono) than the music itself. Although his solo career got its start in 2003 with his first album, Yi’s roots in the Korean modern rock scene go back much farther — he debuted in 1994 as half of rock duo U&ME BLUE with his college buddy Bang Joon-seok. At the time, Seo Taiji & the Boys was enjoying popularity in the kpop mainstream for introducing a new dance-pop-rap sound, while the Western world was in the throes of the alt-rock and grunge movements — Brit-rock had Oasis, Blur and Pulp; the States had Pearl Jam and Nirvana.
U&ME BLUE’s style differed from existing kpop genres, neither a part of Seo Taiji’s dance-pop (which itself changed significantly in subsequent years) nor the underground club scene. The duo was part of a “new Korean rock” sound, and put out two albums, disbanding in 1997. The two friends went their separate ways professionally (they remain good friends personally), and Bang Joon-seok went on to a successful film soundtrack career.
U&ME BLUE Vol. 1 “Nothing’s Good Enough” (1994)
U&ME BLUE Vol. 2 “Cry Our Wannabe Nation” (1996)
Yi Sung Yol Vol. 1: “이날, 이때, 이즈음에…” (This day, this time, this moment…) (2003)
Yi Sung Yol Vol. 2: “In Exchange” (2007)
Wonderful Days (2003)
My Name Is Kim Samsoon (2005)
One Fine Day (2006)
Que Sera Sera (2007)
Official website: http://www.syblue.co.kr/
Yi Sung Yol & Clazziquai – “Be My Love” from the OST of My Name Is Kim Samsoon [ Download ]
Yi Sung Yol – “비상” (emergency) from the OST of Wonderful Days. [ Download ]
THE EARLY YEARS: U&ME BLUE
Born in 1970, Yi Sung Yol spent much of his life abroad in the U.S., attending New York’s Binghamton University, which is where he met Bang Joon-seok in their freshman year. The two were roommates and got along well; both enjoyed music and played guitar, which made dreams of forming a band a natural progression.
One of their early musical moments was an event sponsored an Asian organization at which both performed — Yi Sung Yol sang an Lee Seung Chul song, while Bang Joon-seok, who spent his adolescence in Chile, sang a Chilean song. They began writing together, accumulating a catalog of songs over the next several years, recording their songs as four-track analog recordings.
After graduating, Yi returned to Korea, and Bang to China. Both wanted to continue with music (despite parental opposition), so Bang traveled to Korea under the excuse of going on vacation, but in reality to reunite with Yi and pursue music. They knew a writer at a broadcast station and sent their demo tapes everywhere. Eventually, two places contacted them.
One of those was Song Studios, a sort of hub for musicians and songwriters in the ’90s, run by Song Hong-sub, whom the artists called Captain Song. He had two categories for music: interesting or not. He found U&ME Blue’s tape interesting. They liked Song Studios. It was 1993.
TAKING A BREAK
U&ME BLUE put out two albums and remained relatively underground in the rock scene — in fact, most of their popularity came belatedly after both partners went on to more (commercially) successful solo careers. (These days, their out-of-print albums sell for upwards of $100 each.) Perhaps they were just before their time. At that point, however, Yi began doubting whether he could make a career of music. It seems that during this period, Yi had not only a professional slump but a musical one as well — after U&ME broke up in 1997, Yi returned to ordinary life, dissatisfied with his odd jobs but needing to make a living. He used his English skills to take a job as a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam instructor, and interviewed with an insurance company. At one point, he even re-enrolled in school to study mass communication.
In 1999, Yi started working with friend and began writing songs again, doing his own programming and guitar-playing. After working on his music for a year, he was struck with a growing desire to put together an album, but had nowhere to release it. Without any traditional outlets for distribution, he even considered uploading a “single album” online to an mp3 site.
It’s at that point that he happened to run into Song Hong-sub (of Song Studios) while living back in the States. Song told Yi that if he was really interested in putting out a solo album, he wanted to work together. Soon after, Yi received a call from Song, telling him, “The situation looks good now, so let’s draw up a contract.” This was 2000.
By the time Yi returned to Korea, his former partner Bang had established himself as a successful film composer, serving as music director for hits like Park Chan-wook‘s Joint Security Area. Yi continued working on his demos until, in 2002, the main engineer working at Song Studios, Kim Byung-chan, moved to the label Fluxus Music.
Yi Sung Yol – “푸른 너를 본다” (Looking at a blue you). [ Download ]
Yi Sung Yol – “다행-믿어지니” (Do you believe it?). [ Download ]
Yi released his solo debut album in 2003 with Fluxus, “이날, 이때, 이즈음에…” (This day, this time, this moment…), with the track “Secret” as the album’s single. His music had evolved from his earlier days into a more grown-up sound — more contemplative and abstract. But he kept traces of his musical roots; U&ME BLUE incorporated elements of blues and jazz into their rock, which can be heard in Yi’s first solo album as well. The songs were more lyrical, and Yi explains that he now enjoys writing lyrics much more than he had back in his U&ME days; he’s more attentive to nuance these days. In answer to the question of why he uses English lyrics in many of his songs, he answers that he often writes them in English first, although there are also songs that he likes to keep entirely Korean-language as well.
It was four years before he released his (fantastic) follow-up album, “In Exchange,” but Yi explains that the process of composing and songwriting was ongoing in the interim. About a year after completing the first album, he started the second, which he worked on for the following two years. He recorded demos of the songs on his own, at home, then reworked them in the studio.
This album showed a more focused musical point of view, and more personal lyrics. Yi explains that it was the things in his life from which he drew inspiration — his parents, his wife, even the sight of wrinkles on the elderly. He’d also settled into the stability of a seven-year-long marriage. The result is an album with simple yet contemplative lyrics and a mature musical aesthetic.
THE CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS…
Yi acknowledges that the personal stability in his life has changed his sound. He recalls first arriving in Korea after living abroad for ten years, and being shocked at the amount of change that had occurred. In experienced a similar feeling despite a shorter time away when he returned to Korea in 2000, startled to find that Korea had changed yet again in a few short years. Now, his personal and professional life has found a level of stability, a sense that works its way into his songs.
His music isn’t just a tune or a song, Yi explains, but has a narrative and a story, a dramatic element: “I think of music as something within me.” He’s a musician who doesn’t like hearing or seeing himself on television — it makes him feel embarrassed, awkward. That’s a part of show biz, but he doesn’t consider himself a part of the entertainment machine that churns out singers based on hit singles and image. That’s not an aspect of his job that he’s comfortable with.
Asked if he’d ever reteam with U&ME partner Bang Joon-seok, Yi answers that Bang is someone he respects, whom he considers a friend more than a colleague. He’d like to work with him again, although for the time being both find it difficult to manage in light of their busy careers.
Yi Sung Yol – “새벽, 아침의 문” (Dawn, the door to morning) (repost) [ Download ]
Yi Sung Yol – “스물 그리고 서른” (20 versus 30) (repost). This is a song I was particularly struck with when I first heard the lyrics. It’s characteristic of him — simple, thoughtful. The sentiment is not particularly profound, but rather intimate and insightful. I’m drawn to the way Yi strings his lyrics along, not necessarily ending a sentence at the end of a line, but connecting line to line. Read below. [ Download ]
|Twenty years old, all aflutter, the world was beautiful.
As though love were easy, and promises too.
Like coffee and cigarettes, strong and bitter
Even when facing the world, feeling stripped naked,
Thirty years old, I await another start.
I face the world once again,
|스무 살 땐 설레임, 세상이 예뻤다.
사랑이 쉬웠듯이 약속도 그랬다.
커피와 담배처럼 진하고 또, 독한
벌거벗은 채로 세상을 맞서도
서른 살 은 기다림 또 다른 시작을.
다시 한 번 여기 세상을 맞서는