As Zandari Festa draws to an end for 2017, we bring you this special interview with the inimitable Wings of the ISANG, a post-rock band who have been regular performers at the festival right from its humble beginnings.
Wings of the ISANG come with critical backing; they won the award for ‘Best Modern Rock Album’ at the Korean Music Awards this year for their album ‘Stream of Consciousness’ which is an amazing achievement. If you are a long-term reader of the IMK blog and magazine, you may remember that we recommended their track ‘Dark Sea’ in our March article titled ‘Why you should listen to K-indie’.
Leader, vocalist and guitarist Jung Min Moon was kind enough to answer our questions in much detail. We thank him for revealing his honest thoughts and feelings about all the topics and answering on behalf of the other members!
We think that it is Jun Min’s thoughtfulness and eye for detail that is a key aspect to what makes Wings of the ISANG a special band. You can see it clearly in this interview (and indeed other interviews he has been involved in) – he always gives his best and speaks so eloquently.
Combined with the hard work of members Tae Bong, Tai Jin and Choong Hoon, together they play music of an epic scale that feels like it transcends time and space. They explore the boundaries between beauty and darkness, themes of memories and emptiness, connection and longing. When you listen to a Wings of the ISANG track, you are transported to a place where you can dance amongst the stars.
Wings of the ISANG bring another dimension to their live performances by matching them with visual art. Explosions of colour, whole galaxies, swirls of cloud, waves of water…all serve to enhance the messages that they are trying to convey through song. We greatly admire the courage of this band to create music that doesn’t follow the conventional rules: sometimes they don’t use lyrics and some tracks are long compositions which take time to build.
When all is said and done, the members of ‘Wings of the ISANG’ simply love to create and perform music, purely for the enjoyment that they get from being involved in it.
When you listen to a Wings of the ISANG track, you are transported to a place where you can dance amongst the stars
We hope that our readers enjoy this interview!
1. Can you describe the members of ‘Wings of the ISANG’ and talk a little about the history of the band? What does the band name represent?
Wings of the ISANG debuted in March of 2011 with the release of the EP [Lost]. Before debuting as Wings of the ISANG, I (Jung Min Moon) was in a duo project team called ‘Detuned Radio’ for 4-5 years together with Tae Bong Kim, who is now our current guitarist. He and I are old friends who have been doing music together since we were 20 years old (although he did take a break for a while in between). Bassist Tai Jin Ha joined us in early 2014 and drummer Choong Hoon Lee joined during the summer of 2015 to form the 4 member band that we are now.
As to what our band name represents, actually the name of our band in Korean is commonly in the minds of the general public because it refers to the short fiction novel ‘Nalgae’ (Wings), which is by a renowned contemporary writer called Yi Sang (he’s also famous for his poems, essays and other fictional works). At first we wanted to call ourselves just ‘Nalgae’ (Wings) to embody the fact that we wanted to create music that floats around broad skies and space, but hearing someone serendipitously say “Wings of Yi Sang”, I thought it had a ring to it so we decided to call ourselves Wings of the ISANG.
Although people hearing the word ‘ISANG’ normally think of the famous Korean writer: had the word only referred to that, we wouldn’t have used it in our name. In Korean the word ‘이상(isang)’ can also mean ‘ideal, weird, above, or over’. That’s why we decided to romanize the word ‘ISANG’, as it is pronounced in Korean, rather than translating it into an English word with a specific meaning.
2. Which ‘Wings of the ISANG’ tracks would you recommend to new listeners?
The other members may vary slightly in their recommendations but I recommend ‘Crimson Sky’. The song is about the boundary between hope and despair and the mixed emotions that come from the passing stream of thoughts entering the mind when you gaze at the sunset. The initial title of the song was ‘Last Flight’. I wanted to portray the feeling of a last flight to the place that the sun sets.
3. You are one of the bands that make music that has a longer running time, with multi-layered and dramatic songs that are more like set-pieces and work well to fill the space of the venue with beautiful sound. Did you always feel that your music was well-received by audiences and listeners, especially in this modern day culture with everything being instant and accessible?
I actually think that our music is written for an immersive experience into thoughts and feelings rather than for enjoying the energy of rock. I would like a lot of our audience to travel deep into their own thoughts while listening to our music, but unfortunately there aren’t that many that do in reality. Music like ours is normally perceived to be a little too long and loose. However, the small number of regular fans that come to see us and hear our music is what keeps me motivated to continue to create music and perform. I would like to play in another country and we are willing to perform anywhere that we get invited to. Music isn’t limited by any language boundaries. We are always ready to impress audiences with our music wherever they are in the world.
4. At what period do you feel ‘Wings of the ISANG’ developed the most in terms of music?
In the fall of 2014, we were nominated at ‘Hello Rookie’ for EBS SPACE, which is a famous TV music program in Korea that selects new and rising bands. We were able to become more solid and whole after that to develop into who we are now. Another golden period was after we released our regular album [Stream of Consciousness] during the fall of 2016. We gained more confidence in ourselves and the momentum to move forward after receiving good feedback about the album.
5. How did the collaboration with DyoN Joo come about? (We really like ‘Shame’ and the mood it creates, the combined sound worked very well!)
Sometime in the winter of 2015, Dyon Joo approached us to ask Wings of the ISANG for a song rearrangement and possible collaboration. We were in the middle of preparing for the regular album, but because we thought it would be a fun experience, we agreed to collaborate. We did a couple of rehearsals and proceeded to record after rearranging the song to fit the style of our band. I’m glad that the song received good feedback. Dyon Joo is a musician full of potential with initiative and drive.
6. What kinds of things have you planned for your Zandari Festa stage? Can you share anything with our readers? What song do you like to open your set with?
Wings of the ISANG has been participating at the Zandari Festa since its inception for six years now. I am honoured and thankful for that. This year, we have included the two songs we are currently recording for the single and a song that we rarely perform called ‘Void Circle’ in the set list. Like every year, we are planning on presenting our performance with fun and excitement. (I’m excited on stage, but I’m not so sure if it will also be the same for the audience.)
7. Do you have any good memories of Zandari Festa that you can describe? How do you feel about the festival as a whole, and about its development over the years?
Although there aren’t many, we were able to meet our precious fans and connect with other musicians and participants while drinking free beer at the after party. These were the good elements about past years. From the perspective of someone who has participated right from the first meeting of the festival, I am glad that Zandari Festa has developed into an international festival over the course of the years. It has become pretty competitive though, so I don’t know if we can continue to participate, but I hope that we will be involved for a very long time.
8. Other than performing, what are you most looking forward to doing during the festival? Can you catch up with old friends there?
Writing. I actually think that I will have to work very hard during the festival outside of the time that we will be performing. I have a recording for the vocal part of the single album planned on Friday and I have to do lessons for students on the Saturday. Sunday will be the only time that I will be able to enjoy the festival before and after our performance. In Korea, the Thanksgiving holiday (Chuseok) lasts more than a week, so I think I will be able to fully enjoy playing comfortably on Sunday.
9. What is your favourite ‘Wings of the ISANG’ song to perform live? Is there a special reason?
‘Dark Sea’ is our favorite song to perform live. It is always the last song on our performance set list because it is good to jump around to, particularly during the second half of the song. There are also good memories around ‘Dark Sea’ because we performed it at our nomination at ‘Hello Rookie’ in 2014. It is always a song we perform with excitement and happiness.
10. What is your opinion about the best place in Korea to do a gig? And in general, which region of Korea do bands like to play in? Gangnam? Itaewon? Hongdae?
Hongdae is undoubtedly the best place for a gig. I personally don’t like crowded places but Hongdae has the largest number of fans and performance spaces. As long as there is a space and an audience, we are ready to perform anywhere. In that sense, if you are a band in Korea, you can’t avoid Hongdae. Also, to be honest, I have never been to Itaewon while living in Seoul. I have only passed by in a bus or metro, but I have never been around the place.
Recently, I have been frequently visiting ‘Platform Changdong 61’, which is located in Changdong in the northeast of Seoul. It is a specially designed art and culture complex which has performance halls as well as recording studios and rehearsal facilities. It is a wonderful place. We did a solo showcase there last August and are also doing our recording for the single album there right now. I recommend Platform Changdong 61. It is very far from Hongdae but if you come here, you can enjoy the feeling of relaxation and the landscape of Seoul that Hongdae doesn’t provide. You can especially feel the wind and the smell of the air in it. These are all things you can’t experience in Hongdae.
11. Many of your tracks seem very intricate! How do you plan and execute those plans for a particular song?
I tend to prepare the chord progressions, song formations and vocal melodies and I share these sketch compositions with the members during the rehearsal. If they are good, we start playing them together and proceed with the rearrangement. The process is not easy but sometimes it progresses quickly to rehearsals and rearrangements and at other times it slows down and sometimes we even abandon the whole thing midway in development. There was a song that we were going to include in our last regular album that we had finished up to the point of recording the drums, but then we stopped working on it and decided to leave it out.
Sometimes the rest of the members have ideas about chords, the theme of songs and lyrics, but generally I am the one to set the structure and build on to it. Because I personally want to create music that gives the listeners something to think about, I often choose those kinds of conceptual ideas as topics.
12. And are you involved with the styling of the MVs? For example, the ‘Crimson’ MV has a sea of colour and the ‘Lost’ MV uses a simpler colour palette and motion graphics. What do you think works well in an MV to pair with the music from ‘Wings of the ISANG’?
I contribute to the ideas and art direction for all the music videos. I think that our music becomes much more effective with enhanced sentiments when matched with media and visual art. When I work on a song, I always try to imagine what it would look like. Fortunately one of the two collaborating artists is my brother, so I was able to receive a lot of his help and could also meet the other artist, who is my brother’s college friend. I have been wanting to create different styles of music videos for each of the songs and so far I think we’ve been doing so.
We are currently working on the music video for our new song ‘No Longer Human’ that will be included in the new single and also one for ‘Wings’, a song that many fans like. Again, they will be new styles of music videos. I hope to continue to create work where music and visuals are in harmony.
13. How do you find your inspiration for lyrics?
Inspiration for the lyrics mostly come from direct and indirect experiences. Other than my own experiences, I take the feelings I get from watching movies or reading books and write the lyrics as if those came from my own experiences. Nowadays, the weight that the lyrics have on our music has decreased a lot, but I personally think that the role of lyrics is crucial to music. We are only trying to move away from the same sort of lyrical style and arrangement. I want to continue to make music freely by putting a lot of lyrics in some tracks, less in some and none in others.
14. How do you feel about being a band currently? Is it a good time for bands at present? What is the most fun part about being in a band?
A band is friendship, brotherhood and family. Like how being a family is not always fun; sometimes members fight but the unbreakable bond allows them to laugh and be joyful again. A band is the same. When I first started being in a band, everything was fun and all the experiences were new and amazing, but as I am getting older and with the building of my career, these kind of early feelings have slowly disappeared.
However, since this is something we have to do and want to do, the members understand and respect each other enough to continue to live life like this. The members are just happy that we are able to have new experiences together, meet new musicians and precious fans. We all have day jobs and cannot put all of our time into music, but the fact that we are able to use our spare time to continue to create music is what is fulfilling and makes me most proud of myself and our members.
15. What other bands and musicians do you feel are doing a lot to push the boundaries of music? And how do you feel about your own progression?
I don’t know how much effort other bands and musicians put into pushing the boundaries, but sometimes when I meet musicians with amazing musical sense, idea and creativity I am jealous of them. I personally believe musical talents are gained by nature rather than nurture. Of course, putting in a lot of effort is important, but no-one can surpass those who are born with talent that also works hard.
It is true that I feel a little disillusioned when I see these talented musicians with good skills, especially if they are also good looking on top of that, but whenever I do, I tell myself to go slow but steady. Even if it might take me 10 years to achieve what they do in a year, the process itself and feeling of accomplishment are the most important to me. I have been keeping this thought in mind whilst doing music and think that if they can do it, so can I.
16. What other activities will you participate in 2017? Will there be any more new music soon?
This year, we are in the midst of working towards the release of our new single album. We are planning to release two songs sometime at the end of October or early November. The titles of these are ‘No Longer Human’ and ‘Incense’. ‘No Longer Human’ is a very powerful song influenced by a famous literary book and ‘Incense’ mourns those who have left us. Although there are only two songs, the running time is about 16 minutes. I never plan on creating lengthy songs, but they happen to be longer for this album. However, I am creating some other short and simple songs that will be released next year.
(Responses have been partially edited for clarity with permission from the band)
We will finish this very insightful interview with a ‘Wings of the ISANG’ track for you to listen to. We have chosen ‘Void Circle’ which we were listening to near the completion of this article. It’s a beautiful track that is perfect for contemplating the world. Until next time!
Featured image and in-article images source: © Wings of the ISANG. 20.09.2017. All images were provided directly from the band for use in this article.
© Interview with Wings of the ISANG (Zandari Festa 2017). 02.10.2017. Inspire Me Korea.