Celebration is in order for hip-hop trio Epik High, with its ninth studio album having stormed major music charts in South Korea after being released Monday.
But the atmosphere surrounding the trio -- Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz -- carried a tone of relief as opposed to being more celebratory, with the group, now in its 14th year, stressing how each time they enter the recording studio they think "this can always be our last album."
"I tend to work on projects thinking each time that this may be my final work (in music). You never know what may happen tomorrow," Tukutz, whose real name is Kim Jung-sik, said Tuesday during a group media interview at a cafe in western Seoul.
He added, "In the greater scheme of life, this may be a small moment. But still I wouldn't be able to tolerate it if my final work didn't satisfy my own standard. I've seen comments that say the album does convey that kind of impression. We did our best indeed."
Mithra Jin said he tried to manage his expectations in fear of being hurt from lower-than-expected results. "We're grateful for the better-than-expected results," he added.
The album's title, "We've Done Something Wonderful," perhaps speaks to the group's uncompromising vision when it comes to its music. Epik High's first project in three years includes its two lead tracks "Love Story" and "Home is Far Away," both sentimental tracks that feature vocals by IU and Oh Hyuk of Hyukoh, respectively.
"The back and forth process or potential collaboration is joyful. Oh Hyuk is a person that's very hard to contact. He's known to respond to text messages after a week. But we got a reply right away and recorded that day. We were truly grateful," Tukutz said.
Tonally, "Wonderful" leans more towards being contemplative and serious both in sound and lyrics, drawing from themes of regret, fear, pain and alienation. Besides IU and Oh, Mino of WINNER, rapper The Quiett, along with rising R&B singers Lee Hi and Lee Su-hyun of Akdong Musician are also featured throughout the album.
"It's a bit serious. In a way, it can be considered a suave album. The songs aren't exactly extravagant, with most of them being more calm," said leader Tablo, attributing their age to the overall sound. "We're in our late 30s. We're actually calm in person."
However, "No Thank You," arguably the album's most hard-hitting rap number, was caught up in controversy after some listeners thought Mino's rap lyrics sounded misogynistic due to profanity. The group has deemed the song inappropriate for listening by those under 19.
"Honestly we had no such intention. The message of 'No Thank You' is about judging others by subjective standards. Its about the social conditions where people engage in the reckless judgment of others," Tablo said.
The three hip-hop artists said they have matured not just musically but as ordinary people, with Tablo and Tukutz, both parents, having fully embraced a work-life balance. They said they have mastered the art of spatially and cognitively separating and compartmentalizing work from family.
"Balancing child care and music, I truly love it…She's a child but I try to consider her as an equal person. I'm so glad that I have a place to go back to after working on my music," Tablo said.
Tablo says new album could be Epik High's last recording
Korean alternative hip-hop group Epik High released their ninth album Monday, sweeping online music charts with their singles "Love Story" and "Home is Far Away."
It took three years for the group to release the album "We've Done Something Wonderful" since they last revealed "Shoebox" in 2014. In Korea's fast-moving music industry, K-pop bands release new material every three to six months. Fans of the trio had to wait quite a while to listen to new music from their favorite group.
However, Epik High member Tablo said they made the album thinking this could be their last.
"We've actually talked about retiring or disbanding the group a few times, half on our will and half against our will," Tablo said during an interview at a studio in Mapo-gu, Seoul, Tuesday. "We are always thinking we can break up and we don't know when the time will come. It could be all of a sudden.
"After we released our music yesterday, many of our fans said they felt our new album is like the last one as if we intended to make a farewell piece. I agree with that and we produced the music thinking this could be our swansong. You never know when you can't make music because it has been so long since we started it."
The rapper talks about John Lennon in his first track featured on the album, how the legendary singer came to produce his masterpiece "Imagine."
"He would have not known his next album after he produced Imagine would be the last. But he committed his body and soul to making the song and presented it to the world," he said.
"There is our album called 99 and it is one of our most controversial pieces that fans strongly like or dislike. We pursue dark music but it was the happiest music we sang and we did not want it to be the last album."
The album "We've Done Something Wonderful" conveys the message that failing in love and life are also big achievements. It consists of 11 tracks featured by nine of the hottest musicians in the current K-pop scene.
Singer-songwriter IU participated in the first track "Love Story" singing consolation to heartbroken listeners.
"First of all, we chose IU because we are big fans of her. Her voice could be warm when she is singing warm songs but there are also cold feelings to it. We thought her voice is attractive in that it owns both warmth and coldness in it. And this song sings about the warmest topic of love but delivers a very cold story and IU's voice suited it best," Tablo said.
Popular indie musician Oh Hyuk of the band Hyukoh features on the second track "Home is Far Away," which comforts people chasing hard after their dream. The lyrics sing the moment about a taxi just not arriving when a person has a long way to travel.
"Oh Hyuk is just one of the musicians who is really hard to contact. We will leave a phone message and he replies after a week. But after our offer, he replied in five minutes. We got into recording right away," Tukutz said.
Epik High will hold concerts Nov. 3 and 4 at the Blue Square in Hannam-dong, Seoul.
"She's a child but I try to consider her as an equal person." Raise her well, Tablo.
sources: Yonhap News & The Korea Times