Interview: Jun Bum Sun and the Yangbans

Twitter is a platform where I search for emerging artists. Whenever any Twitter users I follow tweets about someone’s songs, I listen to them. One day, my timeline was seriously dominated by tweets about a band called Jun Bum Sun and the Yangbans (전범선과 양반들). At first, I was hooked by the name itself. As “Yangban” refers to the upper social class of the Joseon dynasty in Korea, I was very curious about the kind of music this band promotes. Additionally, my twitter friends began sharing photos of them performing in Hanbok. A band capturing some of the characteristics of Korean history couldn’t be boring, could it?

I searched them on Melon immediately afterwards. As I expected, the songs are catchy but unique. To be honest, the lyrics of “Why Are You? (이리오너라)” sounds like sijo (a traditional three-line Korean poetic form) to me. Their songs are now on my favorites list. You should definitely take a listen to their songs, too. This interview may encourage you to search them on Google. I hope you enjoy.

Image courtesy of Jun Bum Sun and the Yangbans From the left to the right: JSN (Jang Ssangnom: Bass), KBJ (Kim Bo Jong: Drummer), CHK (Choi Hyun Kyu: Electric guitar), JBS (Jun Bum Sun: Songwriter, Singer, Guitarist)
Image courtesy of Jun Bum Sun and the Yangbans
From the left to the right: JSN (Jang Ssangnom: Bass), KBJ (Kim Bo Jong: Drummer), CHK (Choi Hyun Kyu: Electric guitar), JBS (Jun Bum Sun: Songwriter, Singer, Guitarist)

Editor’s note: this interview is slightly more explicit but still PG and definitely funny. Keep reading as long as you’re over the age of 13. ^^

The Interview

Firstly, could you introduce another member of the band to our readers?

CHK: Bojong is our new drummer. He lays down some mean beats and makes our sound tighter and more powerful. As to Ssangnom, his penis is slightly less than 30cm.

JBS: Ssangnom tweets more than he talks.

JSN: I will take Hyun Kyu. His brain consists of guitar, soccer, sex. That’s all.

KBJ: Bum Sun’s lyrics might seem rough at first, but they are quite poetic. Romantic too. He has a good artistic sense, and it is a great pleasure to be in a band with him

You have an interesting name for the band, Jun Bum Sun and the Yangbans. There must be a story behind it. Could you share it with our readers?

JBS: Well, I was given the name “Jun Bum Sun” from my parents, so I didn’t really have a choice for the first half. Some people assume that Jun Bum Sun is a stage name, but that’s not true. As to the second half, I chose “yangban” because I wanted to relive the leisurely lifestyle of the yangbans. In case you aren’t familiar with the term, “yangban” refers to the scholar-gentry class of the Joseon dynasty in Korea. The yangbans would read Confucius during the day, and party at night (preferably with live music and ladies around). I am in fact a historian of political philosophy. And I make a living by teaching history. So I felt that the double-life I am living right now (reading history and making rock music) was perhaps the 21st-century version of the yangban lifestyle.

How and when did you start playing music? And please share the moment you determined to be a musician.

JBS: I used to play baroque recorder when I was little. I almost considered becoming a professional recorder player. But then I had my Metallica experience during middle school. Soon came Oasis and Radiohead. So I made my first band when I was 14. It was a Green Day cover band. As soon as I graduated from high school, I came to Hongdae to dive into the indie scene there. That was back in 2010.

KBJ: I got into Japanese music in middle school. I would listen to Zard, X-Japan, larc~en~ciel. I was watching X-Japan’s last live show, and I saw Yoshiki playing the drums with a neck brace on. I went straight to learn the drums. I really like Zard and Cho Yongpil.

CHK: I played violin for five years before I picked up my first electric guitar. I was ten at the time, and I saw Eric Clapton performing at Madison Square Garden. He played a black Fender Stratocaster, and I thought to myself, “If that guitar can make such an old man look cool, imagine how it would look on me!” With all respect to Mr. Clapton of course, I begged my dad for the same guitar and haven’t looked back since.

JSN: I started to play guitar when I was middle school student. It wasn’t my interest but my mama wanted me to learn any instrument because I was tone-deaf. However, I always skipped my lesson and went PC-cafe instead. One day, I borrowed my friend’s MP3 player and I heard “Master of Puppets” and “Crazy Train”. After that day I played guitar by myself. And when I was 20 after my KSAT, I went to Japan to see Aerosmith. Then I heard “Sweet Emotion” live. That moment, I decided to play bass.

Image courtesy of Jun Bum Sun and the Yangbans
Image courtesy of Jun Bum Sun and the Yangbans

How and when did you get together as a band?

JBS: Hyunkyu and I went to the same high school. He was a grade above me, and he had moved to New Jersey by the time I matriculated, so I never saw him in school. But I heard from the upperclassmen that there used to be a legendary guitarist in school. I first met him when I was 20, I think, and I played him couple of demos I had. He seemed to like it, so the two of us began to write some tunes together.

JBS: I met Ssangnom through my old drummer who is a university friend of Ssangnom. I first met Bo Jong when he was working as a sound engineer at one of the venues that we used to perform. He helped us record our first studio album Love Songs (사랑가), and when my old drummer left the band, I asked Bo Jong to join in his stead.

KBJ: I will have to start from our first meeting. JBS once performed at Club Freebird when I was working there as a sound engineer. They had a weird band name and were quite sloppy. I talked to the club manager about this too, but they were damn sloppy. But the music was good. And one day, the singer came to me and asked whether I could record their album. As with all customers, I treated them nicely and recorded their album. I made some money out of it. What began as a professional relationship turned more casual and the day before the singer left the country to study abroad, I met up with him and had a tea in front of my place and said goodbye. But before he left, he told me he was going to reunite the band once he returns, and asked me whether I was interested in playing drums for him. So I said “We’ll talk once you come back.” I said “We’ll talk” but it later turned out that I had already signed up for it. I just went with it.

CHK: Way back in the summer of 2010, I frequently visited Bum Sun’s place to jam and hopefully come up with some songs. Bum Sun had a track titled, “Circle (동그라미).” I liked what I heard so I added some guitar parts of my own. We performed as a duet very briefly and then went about our own ways, with plans to make a band someday. That day came rather quickly, with the four members, Bum Sun, me, Ssangnom, and Sangyong gathering for dinner sometime during the winter of 2013.

JSN: Late 2013, one of my university friend shared YouTube video on his Facebook. That was the demo of “Circle”. After listening, I told my friend ‘Wow, what a voice! Lyrics are cool too.’ Then, he said ‘Wait a second…’. And wow, I was invited to chat with Bum Sun. Bo Jong joined a year later.

Where do you find inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

JBS: From my personal relationships. Lyrically, however, I borrow much from the books that I read. The second album, which we are hoping to release early next year, is entitled Revolution Songs (혁명가). Not because they are politically motivated, but because I spent my last year reading for a master’s degree in history, and my dissertation was on the American and French Revolutions. I had so much fun using political, revolutionary vocabulary to talk about love, sex, music, and life in general.

What is your songwriting process as a band?

JBS: I wrote almost everything for Love Songs. But for Revolution Songs, I tried to democratize the process a little bit. I still write the words and melodies and the basic structure of the song, but the Yangbans now contribute greatly to their own parts. So I would come to the rehearsals one day and play the very rough demo, and for several hours we would be jamming and brainstorming to make the song better. It’s less pressure for me and more fun for everyone.

CHK: I like to think of my role in the band as a painter; I usually listen to the lyrics and the tone of Bum Sun’s voice and try to find the appropriate color palette that I can use to accompany or define the color of a song. If Bum Sun’s lyrics are more mellow and reserved, I tend to arrange guitar parts that reflect that nature and create a lush guitar tone that accompanies his voice. Likewise, if his vocals are loud and unrestrained, I will approach the guitar the same way. Sometimes I also like to come up with impromptu riffs and try to incorporate them where I can.

When you are not making music or performing, what do you do for fun?

JBS: I read or travel. Reading while traveling is the best. Although I don’t like reading about traveling.

CHK: I play guitar, work out at the gym, and teach. I am pretty fortunate to have three time consuming activities that keep me busy and honest.

KBJ: I make a living by producing and recording albums as a sound engineer. It’s my main occupation and I feel the happiest when doing it, so I will try my best to be an even better engineer.

JSN: I love beer so much. Almost every day I drink. I also brew beer. And I enjoy going to live gigs of other bands.

Is there any song that holds a special meaning for you among the songs in the first full length album?

JBS: I didn’t realize this until recently, but “Circle” apparently was the song that brought both Hyunkyu and Ssangnom to join the Yangbans. One of our fans even made a music video for it, and if you haven’t watched it, you should. It is the most adorable music video ever featuring a class of elementary school kids.

CHK: For the first album, I think “Circle” is the most personal in that it brought me to make music with Bum Sun. As for a favorite song, it’s difficult to choose, but any one of “Last Love (끝사랑)”, “Circle”, “Magpie (까치)”, and “The Seven-Year Itch (설레임)” ought to do it. I especially like the loud guitar sounds on “Magpie.”

JSN: Like bros, “Circle”. It is the start of band.

If anyone is not familiar with your music, what song would you recommend they start with?

JBS: “Moondance (강강술래)” was released most recently. It’s the fifth track of Club Bbang compilation album. You can think of it as a little taster for our upcoming album.

KBJ: “Moondance”.

CHK: It’s not yet released, but the live version of “Revolution from Below (아래로부터의혁명)” released by EBS on YouTube is worth a listen. We played it at the Hello Rookie finals and we were pleased with the reception. Like “Moondance,” it’s a little preview of our second album.

JSN: I think “The Seven-Year Itch” would be good for starting with. It has well-done pop sound, and also has nice lyrics that many people relate to.

I think you had a lot of experience playing at clubs in Hongdae this year. What was the most memorable performance for you and why?

JBS: I forget when, but there was this one time when we were playing a gig at Club Bbang and there was only one girl in the audience. And she clearly wasn’t there for us.

KBJ: I performed at a hall where I had worked as a sound engineer for nearly a year. It was a mind-blowing experience. I remembered and thanked the people who had drummed in that hall. It was a horrible place to play drums at.

CHK: Back when Bum Sun returned from England, we had our comeback concert in August at Club Bbang. We were rusty and I experienced some stage fright, but I realized how much I missed playing as a band.

JSN: To me, gig at Soundmind was the most memorable. Because I planned the whole show and it was right after the Hello Rookie audition. It was the only day that we had two gigs on one day. And the most of the audience had known our songs so they sang along with our songs. It was the most tired and the happiest performance of our club gigs.

Are there any bands in your mind you would like to perform together someday?

JBS: Noel Gallagher. Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Yangbans.

KBJ: To be more realistic than JBS, there is a singer named LeeSa. Won’t there be an opportunity someday? I also like IU. She is beautiful.

CHK: I am definitely out of my mind, but I wish to play “Dream On” with Aerosmith before they retire or I give up playing.

JSN: Like Hyunkyu, with Aerosmith. I want to play “Sweet Emotion” with Tom Hamilton.

What are your plans for 2016?

JBS: Release Revolution Songs and then go on a tour to spread the revolution.

KBJ: Playing at any of the festivals would be a success.

CHK: For 2016, I wish to sell off all our remaining copies of Love Songs, promote our second album all over the country, and write a f*cking chorus.

JSN: Get Korean Music Awards.

Just the facts: social media version

Huge thanks to Jun Bum Sun and The Yangbans for taking the time to answer our questions. Don’t forget to check out their album, Love Songs (which is available on iTunes).

Editor’s note: the interview was slightly edited for clarity.

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