part 1 of nell’s f.ound interview. part 2 of both nell and eaeon’s interviews to follow soon hopefully, fingers crossed!
Life Goes On
Their Own Island Connected to the World
Nell’s music, which expresses their own language and atmosphere, first connected with the world in 1998, after which they released two indie albums and four major studio albums. In a life where love and farewell repeat, Nell’s music is dark but warm, and it helps us remember warm and beautiful past days. Expressing in detail one-by-one overflowing emotions we have yet to sense, Nell’s music touches people’s hearts.
Also, the blank space of the last four years. On April 14, 2012, I stood again in a concert hall for Nell who had returned with their fifth studio album, <Slip Away>. In the same venue as their last solo concert, “Stay,” held four years ago. At the concert, Kim Jong-wan said this, “Our own island we’ve wanted to return to, we’ve missed you.”
Nell, who took a four-year break because of their mandatory military service, were guests at Pia’s tenth anniversary concert last October. The next year, in January, Nell released a teaser video. This request for an interview made with swollen anticipation fell down the order of events because the album release was postponed. Finally, on April 10, the fifth album, <Slip Away>, was released. A few days after, even after the comeback concert, ‘The Line,’ a request for an interview was declined several times because of scheduling conflicts. However, after I threw away my expectations, like a miracle, I was able to sit down with Nell. They’re keeping the promise they made seven months ago, backstage when they were guests at Pia’s concert, when I handed them F.ound Magazine and said, “When the album comes out, let’s have an interview.”
# A Relationship That Doesn’t Require Many Words
The last piece to complete Nell’s music is the continuing attachment of 13 years they’ve spent sharing the same memories. When examining the record of bands in Korea, it’s easy to see that it’s hard for musicians to stay together for a long time under one band name, silently performing their own roles, without wavering. Before they were friends, as people who had the same tastes in music, they’ve been each other’s support. If someone starts telling a story, the members beside him nod and silently demonstrate their support, and, in these expressions, you can see the consideration these four, who’ve made music together for a long time, have for each other.
I heard you’re a band that started as four friends of the same age.
Lee Jae-kyung (LJK) – We’re all alumni of the same school and neighbourhood friends. It was around when Jong-wan started a band with some older friends, and, at that time, I was playing the guitar, too, so, when we met up, we’d talk a lot about this music and that music. Around then, the members of Jong-wan’s band were all replaced by close friends. That was in September or October of 1998.
Kim Jong-wan (KJW) – All my band members were older than I was, and, after we performed together once, I kept thinking this wasn’t it. After a week, I heard about Jae-kyung, and, after another week, I heard about the others. So that’s how we changed members. The guy who played the bass was scariest, so it took two weeks to change him with Jung-hoon. (laughs) It was probably January 1999 when Jung-hoon came in last.
Where did you perform for the first time?
LJK – A month before our high school graduation, at a venue called “Freebird” in front of Hong-dae.
You auditioned, of course? And your first stage must not have been a weekend live.
KJW – It was a Tuesday. (laughs)
LJK – There usually weren’t performances on Tuesday. The Wednesday band was the first team to perform in the week. I don’t know if it’s that the owner liked is, but we were able to go on stage as the Tuesday band. And there wasn’t a single person there. We drank beer together and performed while feeling good.
How long did it take to go from “Tuesday band” to “weekend band?”
KJW – I think it took about a year.
Did you do a lot of covers during your performance?
KJW – No. Mostly our own songs. That might be why people didn’t like us. Because kids they were seeing for the first time were playing songs they were hearing for the first time. As far as I remember, at that time, bands generally performed cover songs. Because we kept playing our own songs, in the middle, people would tell us to do some covers, but because we aren’t very fun …
Who wrote the songs?
LJK – They were songs Jong-wan wrote.
Did all of you like those songs?
LJK – Of course.
There are situations where the tendencies and tastes of the songwriter and the rest of the members don’t match.
Jung Jae-won (JJW) – Our tastes matched really well from the start.
KJW – Because my tastes were so different from those of the guys from my first band. They would interpret songs in a totally different way from what I thought. As friends, we knew each other since before, and, as we drank and talked a lot, we learned that our tastes were almost the same. So I think work/production has proceeded smoothly without problems.
When you were performing in live clubs, you must not have thought that you would make it here to your 30s with the same members?
LJK – At that age, it was enough to be able to play with friends who had similar tastes in music. And it was fun just to be able to go to Hong-dae and perform in front of people we didn’t know. One by one, things became exciting. Without setting a deadline, we just enjoyed ourselves. And it’s the same now.
KJW – When we make an album or prepare for a performance, we don’t have any references. Because we haven’t been influenced by just one thing. And, since we were young until now, we didn’t just listen to one or two types of music. All those things influence us, and we each internalise them and come up with our own emotions and thoughts and flaws, and that’s how Nell’s music is created. So I don’t think we ever thought, “We should do this,” or “we should do things like this.” We didn’t need many words when it came to writing songs or holding concerts or arranging music. From the beginning and all the way till now.
# The Value of an Album
Nell’s first album, <Reflection of>, which was released in the indie scene in 2001, is now selling on auction sites for 200,000 won. That might be because it would be hard to rerelease the album because of copyright problems, but it’s also because people think that Nell has that musical value. To put it another way, it means that Nell hasn’t disappointed their fans as they went from Seo Taiji’s support to a major debut all the way to the steps they’re taking today. They, as usual, pour affection and selfishness akin to attachment into each individual song. It’s because they understand the value of an album that remains in the world.
After releasing two albums under an indie label, why did you start over again with a first album when you went major?
KJW – That was natural for us. When we look at the international bands we know, they have a lot of indie albums they released before their major debut. Instead of attaching a big meaning to it, we just naturally did as we’d seen and learned. Other people might have felt that was strange, but, in Korea, I think it was because there aren’t many instances like that. And, at that time, there were very few bands that made a major debut from the underground scene.
What changed as you made your major debut?
LJK – Fundamentally, my mindset was the same. But, as our staff expanded, I started to feel the change. Before, when we’d go on stage, we’d suddenly change the setlist or just jam on stage, but, as our staff expanded, things that we needed to maintain started to form. Because we can’t just do as we like. We started to think a lot about those kinds of things.
After you released two albums with Seotaiji Company, as you changed companies, from your third album on, your music started to change noticeably.
LJK – To be honest, there’s no connection between us changing companies and us changing musically. Although there are a lot of people who might think that because there’s a lot of prejudice[in regards to that. All we did was choose where we could make music comfortably.
If I were to note the ways your sound changed, the guitar sound got a lot weaker, and you started to use a lot more electronic sounds. And your lyrics that used to feel straightforward and like they were unearthing something changed to feel more roundabout.
KJW – Personally, I think our first and second albums were more mainstream than our other albums. Same with songs like “Stay” and “Thank You.” When I look at our music as a whole, I think we had a lot of music that was much easier to understand.
LJK – Even if we’d stayed with the same company, our music would probably have changed the same way.
KJW – Our third and fourth albums came out when we were twenty-five, -six, -seven. Honestly, I think that was the most worrisome part of our twenties. When we weren’t kids but we also weren’t adults. It wasn’t an age where I had to take complete responsibility for everything, but it wasn’t an age where I could act like a kid. Because of that, I wonder if that weren’t the time when I thought the most. Even when I look back now, that was a time when we all struggled with our own individual situations. When I look back now at thirty-three, it’s not like things were really that hard, but, at that time, all the little things seemed big, and it was hard even to endure that. I think it was like that. So I think our music changed that way naturally.
Now, can you tell what you’re thinking just by looking at each other’s faces?
KJW – We’re the types who don’t have to adjust the way we express our opinions. People who don’t know us very well might think that we just listen to music and speak very carefully with each other, but we’re very straightforward. And, to be honest, if there are songs we just don’t think are it, we know even without saying it.
Your music feels like you focus on each detail.
KJW – Music has its own story and image, and a song comes from the different feelings a member thinks are important or just things that are personal. “Music is most important” is just an idea, and I don’t think that one element is more important than the other. Even when I’m writing a song for the first time or arranging a song, I think that the song has a meaning it’s supposed to have. I try hard to embody that picture perfectly.
As you’re working, what happens to songs that lose their paths?
KJW – We don’t work on those songs anymore. We give up without question.
LJK – I think how we feel is most important. Because production is also about making the sound feel good. Actually, I think that, if the sound isn’t good but the feeling is much better, we tend to follow the feeling. That is, it’s just an idea that, if the sound isn’t good, you can’t express something well.
You’re the type to work hard one each song, aren’t you?
KJW – I think we start from our own interest. We know that, even if we don’t do this and move on, other people won’t know. When an album is released, we can’t take it back and revise it. I think it’s because we don’t like that. Because, we all have things we think about, so if we overlook it, we’re obviously going to regret it. We don’t like to do that. Because, no matter how hard we work, there’s always some regret.
# The Moment of Supreme Happiness
The past four years are captured in Nell’s recently released fifth album, <Slip Away>. Just as the last four years look far away to us when we look back, over that time, Nell’s thoughts and lifestyles and feelings gradually changed. But, although time passed, the moment that makes their heart beat is the same time, the same place. That moment when they turn off the lights in their studio and smoke and listen to the song they’ve finished and say, “It’s good; let’s put it in the album!” Nell still makes music for that moment and will continue to do so.
I heard that <Slip Away>, your first album in four years, was chosen from over 100 songs.
KJW – I’m not the sort to write songs in a corner when it comes time to make an album. This empty time period was long, so many songs piled up.
As the number of your released songs grows, when you write songs, do you not tend to fall into mannerisms?
KJW – We don’t receive songs from a lot of people, but, as it’s just the four of us, there are definitely many instances when we make similar songs. Even if it’s a good song, if it has a similar feeling to another song on another album, then we remove it.
Aren’t there times your confidence has been shaken or you’ve gone through a slump?
KJW – I’m sure it’s the same not only for people who do music but also anyone in the creative fields, but pretty much every moment is a slump. And there are many times when I hit against the wall of wanting to do better than I did yesterday. But you have to go through that everyday. So I try not to accept it particularly as a slump. Because, if I think of it as a slump myself, then I feel miserable. When I was younger, when we’d work and come out with the same thing, then I would be really worried, but, now, I think I’ve learned how to think “this is one part of making music” about even that. Being worried all the time didn’t bring good results in the end. There isn’t anything else you can do except work harder.
Writing songs, holding concerts, performing, communicating with fans – as musicians, if you had to pick from the many reasons to do music, which would you pick?
KJW – We talk about this often ourselves. A few days ago, Jae-kyung asked if it’s the studio or the stage, if we had to pick just one, which would we pick? If I had to pick just one, it’d be the studio.
LJK – It’s the studio for me, too. A live goes by, but you enter a studio with the intent to release an album. Even if you die, that’s left behind. When we’ve made good music, we feel the most joy. Because we’re capturing thoughts that didn’t exist in the world and making an album and leaving it in reality.
KJW – I still clearly remember going into the studio to record <Reflection of>. Like it was twelve years ago, even now, that’s the moment I like most. That moment after we’ve finished working on our songs and finished mixing, gathering together and turning off the lights and listening to the album while smoking. “It came out well,” “let’s include it,” “this is good,” “you’ve worked hard,” when we exchange these words, I think that’s the happiest moment of making music.
Your fans who’ve followed your music for a long time must always look forward to an album that shows how you’ve expanded and grown.
LJK – We first think of that ourselves. The new album has to be more satisfying than our previous albums. If not, then I think there’s no meaning in releasing an album.
Do you feel like you’ve been improving since your first album?
LJK – I think so. Because of that, we keep releasing albums. I think we have confidence. We toss aside things that don’t satisfy us, and I don’t think we think things like, “If we’re lucky, this will be received well.”
KJW – Music is about personal taste. There isn’t an album that will satisfy everyone to be honest. If there were music like that, then only that one music needs to exist in the world. I’ve honestly never been burned by the things fans or critics say. We think ourselves, “Don’t we have to do more?” It’s that we fight amongst each other with our own selves.
LJK – And, if there are people who later respond to that, then we take interest and feel good.
When you’re working on an album, are there times you get sensitive because you’re stressed out?
LJK – Of course. But, because we know the pleasure that comes from overcoming that.
KJW – Now that it’s been so long, we know each other a little. As we notice, “This isn’t the right atmosphere,” we understand the situation and control it.
Did you keep in mind the narrative flow of the arrangements in your fifth album?
KJW – They’re songs I wrote over a period of four years, but, coincidentally, there were a lot of songs I wrote in a particular period of time. Instead of capturing my own individual story – as time passes, people’s feelings change and situations change, and everything changes. So I wonder if there wasn’t that kind of flow. I captured the course of change. When I listen to this album, too, I think of those times. I was like that then, like that in that time.
I don’t know how you write such lyrics that express such love and farewell.
KJW – I think it’s a difference in personality. When I’m in a relationship, I’m dating because I like that person, but, no matter what happens, I think there’s always an end. It’s not that I start out looking at the end, but, as I progress, I see the ending. It’s my personality, really. Dating someone with that thinking, I think the lyrics just come out that way.
Do you all think that way?
Lee Jung-hoon (LJH) – I think that, in some way or another, there’s always an end.
What does the married one think?
JJW – I’ve already reached the end.
KJW – For Jae-won, that was the end. (laughs)