Hyun Min Park: "You, Me, and Everyone"

Interview by Joseph Kim, 8/7/2010

While Hyun Min Park might dispute that his former band "Oorineun Sokotdo Saenggyutgo Yujado Neurutdanae" (a.k.a. "Sokot band") had any definite leadership, it can't be denied that he was its founding member. The absurdity and humor of their long name, which roughly translates to "We have underwear and lots of girls," belies the somber gravity underlying much of their work. At the same time, Sokot band were renowned for partying hard, and especially Hyun Min enjoyed a reputation as a (post-)rock 'n' roll wildman! (Although all the times I've met him recently, he has always seemed a perfect gentleman.) A mere 3 years after its dissolution, Sokot band's music appears to be enjoying well-deserved recognition amongst Korean artists and listeners as an extremely influential band, with the release of a tribute cd and zine as well as a tribute concert at Badabie last month (in July 2010). While others are celebrating Sokot's past achievements, Hyun Min is forging forward with his new project ninaian, which according to him means "you, me, and everyone." ninaian's debut album "For A Little Cruise" was released earlier this month (August 2010) by Pastel Music. As a longtime fan of Sokot band, it has been fascinating for me to listen to the solo albums of both ninaian and other Sokot band alum Jowall, which reveal how their respective styles at one time complemented and now diverge from one another.

Let's start from the beginning. How did you get started with music? How did you learn to play?

I think it was the summer vacation of my first year in middle school… I was lying on the floor of the living room and listening to the radio. It was some kind of countdown of foreign music for the first half of the year… I'm not sure exactly what number they were up to, but I think it was the top 10. Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was flowing out of the speakers. Right from the guitar intro, I stood up as though crazed and I decided right then that I had to play the guitar. I came to own a guitar after entering high school. At first I attended a guitar school nearby for a couple months. After that I mostly taught myself by playing chords and melodies along with the music I was listening to.

Jowall mentioned you and Seung-Ho Jung had a band together called Darakbang ("Attic") before Sokot formed. What kind of music did Darakbang make? Did you guys ever record any stuff? Also, were there any other bands/projects before Sokot?

In middle and high school, Seung-Ho Jung and I were the kind of friends who would snoop around record shops together, listen to music and talk about this and that, and we even went to learn our instruments together. Darakbang, formed during the first year of college, was our first band. I think Darakbang with its bleakness and stillness had a similar atmosphere to Sokot band. As for differences, since we had a female vocalist, we arranged our guitars around her voice being in the center. Of course, Darakbang was a much simpler sound than Sokot. Rather than sound effects, Darakbang tried to emphasize vocal and guitar melodies. Darakbang's vocalist also had a very attractive and strange voice. She sounded like no one else, and even thinking about it now there's no one that I can compare it to. It's hard to explain with words… We recorded a few songs for a Club Bbang compliation… but that album was never released. (I no longer remember the reason why. ) Darakbang was my sole band before Sokot and I gave it my all.

Do you have any plans to make the Darakbang recordings available in the future? Also, what happened to the vocalist? Did she go on to work in any other musical projects?

Unfortunately, that probably will not happen… I don't currently have the recordings, and even if I did I'd have to discuss it with those members… It'd be a little bit of a bother. [smiles] My vocalist friend was going to medical school… Recently, I heard from someone that she was working at a pediatric hospital, and got married as well… As far as I know, she is not doing music right now. After Darakbang broke-up, she went on to play in a band called "Daloomoolsok Nabiya" ("Butterfly in the Well") for a little while. It's been a while since I've been in touch with her… If the opportunity arises, I'd like to ask her to guest on a few ninaian tracks. But first, I guess I have to find her again. [smiles]

I'd like to hear your take on how Sokot Band formed. How did you meet the other members? How did the band get started and what kind of concept or sound did you have in mind?

While we were in Darakbang, Seung-Ho and I often talked about wanting to try something different. But we had no definite idea about what that "something" was. At a certain point, maintaining Darakbang started to feel unnatural, so we decided to tie that up and start something new. We asked Jowall who we knew since high school to join us and he readily agreed. We quickly put together a terrible lineup and started to look for a drummer, so we asked Jung Jiwan who was performing at Bbang. I still remember Jiwan's shocked expression when we first told him what the band name would be. When we started working on our songs, nothing was ever fixed in stone. Our motto was "to each play whatever we want". Whether someone brought in a song or we were jamming, we could each change the music according to our preference with no possessiveness over the ideas, and in this way we would come up with melodies and write the songs. In the beginning there was no greed, no expectations, and we truly enjoyed making the songs and performing.

Did something about the song-writing process change later on with Sokot band? Was there any particular reason why you guys chose to call it a day?

I don't recall that anything in particular changed about the way we worked. Although our songwriting became slower and slower. [smiles]

More than anything else, before we went in to record our second album, I had already decided to study abroad… Jowall was also preparing to study abroad. In similar fashion, Yoon-young, our bass player, also decided to study abroad. And finally, Seung-ho also went to study abroad… [smiles] As we were recording the second album, or even before… We were each thinking deeply about our respective paths… I think it was a period when what we each wanted meant taking different paths.

So the band naturally broke up in this manner.

After Sokot Band disbanded, I heard you went to Canada to study audio engineering. Did you make any music while you were in Canada? Were you involved in the local scene in any way? How would you compare the scene where you were in Canada to the music scene in Korea?

Most of the songs contained on this album "For A Little Cruise" were written while I was in Canada, although I did change around some parts upon returning to Korea and even re-recorded a considerable portion. In any case, a lot of the songs were sketched out in Canada.

There were a few friends there that I jammed with frequently, but I never formally made a band or performed there. I would record as conditions permitted and built-up many sounds- I used a bit of them on this album and plan to use more going forward. More than anything, the sound effects provided by my friend Adam Rinaldi absolutely had a huge impact on the album. I invited him over my house one day, and without any prior discussion he was able to build noises that fit the atmosphere of the songs. Generally all the noises and sound effects on this album were made by this friend.

Sokot band seems to have had a lasting impact on the scene in Korea- as evidenced by the recent tribute show at Badabie and a fanzine/tribute cd that came out recently. What's your take on this? When you came back to Korea, did you recognize the influence of your band in any of the current bands? How did you feel about the tribute cd?

Actually, I went to that tribute concert. I was curious about how the concert would progress, what the ambience would be like, what kind of sounds would be on the tribute album. But more than anything else, I wanted to be there to greet and thank the organizer of this project and the artists who participated in it.

Listening to the tribute cd, I appreciate the strong individuality of each respective artist. (Although I already felt this while watching their performances.) Nanaguitar who plays acoustic guitar in an extremely radical way, noise artist Dydsu, Min-Hwi who did two versions of the Sokot song "Pogoo" one on piano and one more beat-based, and also Yamagata Tweakster who sings a song, the lyrics of which are "Oorineun Sokotdo Saenggyutgo Yujado Neurutdanae". [smiles]

I noticed that you've been performing with folk artist Beetlejuice. How did you get involved with this artist? What is your approach to music when you play with Beetlejuice?

I knew her from a long time ago… When I returned to Korea, she had adopted the name Beetle Juice and was earnestly writing songs and preparing to perform… At first I only participated as a session guitarist… Then things got bigger and I got involved in the recording of Beetle Juice's first album. That I play guitar is a given, but I also arrange, compose parts for instruments as well as record, and I've even added mixing to my responsibilities. There's no particular concept for the album… We're still in the early stages of recording so we're still trying out different things. We're thinking of going for a psychedelic kind of atmosphere, either through basic techniques like hard-panning a la the Beatles, or humorous combinations of instrument or performances. (Rather difficult, no?) But that's just what I'm currently thinking about.

How long have you been working on your ninaian project? I see on the album credits that you played just about everything on the record. What was it like recording the album? Also, what is the process of composition like for you in ninaian?

The plan to release my first album under the name ninaian was conceived about a year and half ago. I had more or less finished sketching out all of the songs in Canada, but due to a number of circumstances, there were several parts which I couldn't properly record while there. Full-blown recording and mixing started after I returned to Korea. So actually, I guess it took 6 months for the album to come out. From start to finish, the dominant thought behind this album was that it should accompany video (whether a movie, a TV commercial, etc.). However, I didn't go so far as to affix a particular meaning to the music… I provide suggestions in the form of the music and song title, but I leave the synopsis to be determined by the listener. There was no concrete message or anything else that I wanted to say. Just allowing one to fall into the music itself was appealing to me. Of course that's the main appeal of instrumental music without lyrics. Following the listener's imagination, personal condition, feelings, an unlimited number of stories can come out. That each listener could experience the music according to his/her respective color was the motto of this album, and also the motto of the ninaian project.

Since it appears that the idea of moving images is important to the concept of ninaian's music, have you ever considered actually making video to accompany the music?

Yes, of course.

I thought it would be great to have a video to go with the entire album. Earlier this year, I came upon the music of Gonjasufi... Surfing the web, I also watched his videos. The images were not story-oriented and they were monochromatic… The hazy images and noisiness appealed to me. Somehow, I thought that sort of feeling would go well with this album "For A Little Cruise".

The problem is I haven't found the right person to do the videos yet. Someone who's too accomplished might be a problem for the budget as well… It's not easy to find the type of director I'm looking for. It's hard to find someone creative who can maintain his own color while being flexible. Could it be because my personal connections are lousy? [smiles]

I'm currently working on music for a full-length independent film… After that movie is done, I'm thinking about working with that director to do something for my album. Actually, we're talking about concepts and things like that already… After work on the movie is done, we have plans to discuss things more concretely.

Even if it takes some time, I really want to do it right!

What's next for ninaian? You mentioned you were putting together a band in order to perform the music. Any word on when we can expect to see you start performing?

Actually, while I was preparing this album, I never seriously thought about performing. I approached this album solely through the concept of creating soundtracks and similar atmospheres, and that was the only compulsion. The members that I've put together so far will be working with me on the next album and if all the conditions are good, we hope to start performing by this winter. Of course we'll be performing new songs by then.

Thank you, Hyun Min!

Hyun Min Park

Sokot band performing

Hyun Min recording with Adam Rinaldi

VIDEO: Beetle Juice "Po-Ong" ("Embrace") 2010.06.03

Hyun Min recording with Adam Rinaldi 2

K.O.A. Zine