Jambinai’s band name might start with “Jam” but this five piece isn’t a jam band by any stretch of the imagination – even if the quintet’s tracks tend to run on the four to seven-plus minute side in length. No, this group, which calls Seoul, South Korea home, writes and plays with a much more focused purpose and mindset fueling the music listeners get to hear.
Bomi Kim(Haegum-Traditional Korean string instrument that resembles a fiddle) Ilwoo Lee (Guitar, Piri-A double-reed Korean instrument made of bamboo) EunYong Sim (Geomungo-A Korean zither) Byeongkoo Yu (Bass) Jae Hyuk Choi (Drums)
A musical endeavor of the post-rock and experimental kind, Jambinai (written as 잠비나이 in hanguk-eo) came together in 2010 when Kim, Lee, and Sim first became acquainted during their shared time studying traditional folk music at Korea’s National University of Arts. In the years that have followed, the trio has come to release two full length albums and expanded to its current iteration as a quintet. Now, this introductory mention of traditional folk music and post-rock alone,might be jarring enough to gain one’s attention but these two background bullet points are merely the tip of the iceberg. Jambinai’s factors of intrigue are many and none are latched onto the group out of desire for pure flash-in-the-pan fame.
Past any default non-Western uniqueness, even with a sincere passion for the elements that makes the band what it is, Jambinai rock the boat hard from all sides: culturally, instrumentally, stylistically, rhythmically, and conceptually. There’s not one aspect of the band’s creative process that simply falls into its designed lane. Traditional Korean instruments? The band doesn’t play a matching traditional style of music. Post-rock genre label? The band doesn’t construct albums that follow typical post-rock production choices. Turning to motivation based in a desire to inspire and encourage listeners? Jambinai’s largely instrumental fare sprints far and away from any conventional happy chord progressions or predictable, earworm-breeding song structures and vies instead, for brooding tones and complex compositional patterns that evoke thoughts of metaphors and implications, over direct and simple imagery. This manner of simultaneous strength and subtlety demands deep attention – like the allegory loaded literary works of authors like Mikhail Bulgakov, C.S. Lewis, or Paolo Coelho.
Prepping for a short but intense bit of touring in the U.S., while Jambinai’s work is not just appearing now (though Différanceonly recently made its U.S. debut back in February), for many of the audiences at these upcoming shows, their exposures will be firsts. Thusly, the potential for mutual discovery is likely higher than the number of miles between New York City and Seoul. Before Jambinai’s tour leads to discovery from the stage, the band was more than willing to share a plethora of perspective on what has steered the band down each facet of the creative paths they’ve walked thus far and how the group sees itself interacting with U.S. crowds during this trip.
(Note: This interview has been edited for clarity)
Kira Grunenberg: Korea is known for its support of creativity and the arts, as it evident by the founding of the Korea National University of Arts, where you all studied. That said, because traditions and structure are also highly regard values within the country, how were your ideas for Jambinai initially received by people you knew (family, friends, professors, etc.), when the three of you decided to start this kind of musical group together? How, if at all, have those reactions changed in the present?
Boom:When we met after graduating, it was very popular to collaborate with other genres like jazz, pop and so on, in Korean traditional music scene (still now). At that time, we often had some part-time job by our major and we always played some music like that. It was just following the western music scale or playing the Beatles’ song[s] or Pachelbel’s Canon by traditional instrument. I thought it’s really stupid and not good. So, we talked about many times and we wanted to make a different music style so we start[ed] JAMBINAI. When JAMBINAI was born in the world, my professor and my parents were worried about that because the band’s life is very hard to sustain in Korea. But nowadays they cheer a lot.
Ilwoo Lee:At the beginning of the band, many Korean traditional musicians–especially old musicians–really hated us. They thought we were breaking the traditional music. And Korean traditional music critics told me ” You guys have to get popularity, you guys are so noisy and messy. Don’t be masturbated.” But now, mostly critics say Jambinai has led the new wave of Korean traditional music. And the critic who told us not to be masturbated, she told me “Actually I knew you are going to be like this great band. I’m so proud of you.” However old generations still don’t like us or have no interest about us.
Kira: You allude to making music that is quite “darker than other traditional Korean bands” and there are many kinds of genres that welcome that type of mood and musical dynamic. What made all of you decide that post-rock was the right choice for Jambinai, as opposed to channeling aspects of another genre to represent your intense messages?
Bomi:First, we prefer dark sound and minor scale more. Second, Ilwoo, our leader, he write almost songs first. so all songs follow Ilwoo’s preference naturally.
Ilwoo Lee:Some post rock bands blend their traditional instruments, like violin, cello and so on. That gave me some ideas for how to blend Korean traditional music with western music. And I like heavy metal and post rock, and I’ve written those songs the most. So, that’s why we have some post rock and dark heavy sound.
Kira: Your newest album, A Hermitage, is a very strong follow-up to Différance, your debut album. It is dynamically very heavy but also includes a range of tonal colors to give each track, and the album as whole, a very vibrant sonic shape. The whole project feels very expansive in nature and yet, the title references a small, remote dwelling. What was the reason for making a small dwelling the central symbol of such a grandiose artistic work?
Bomi:The first album, Différance, it has [a] huge epic [feel] for the whole album. But some songs from the first album, they are little hard to play on some stages or festivals. So we needed simpler songs that we can play anywhere with powerful effect. So we concentrated on each track.
Ilwoo Lee:Actually our band manager named that. A Hermitage, the name of the second album, is from “은서학”. ” 은서학” is studying for animals or something existent in nature but unknown to everybody. He thought Jambinai is something [with an] existence like that.
Kira: Since Jambinai embraces a completely nontraditional fusion of emotional concepts and sounds, what’s the first and most important thing you want new audiences to take away from your performances? Is it merely to embrace and create new hybrids of musical styles? Is it to change perceptions about the expectations and purposes for Korean music? Or is your central motivation constantly changing as you go along?
Bomi:When we started Jambinai, I wanted to change the Korean people’s perceptions but now I know that is grandiose dream. Nowadays, if someone enjoys our music in their life who knows Jambinai, and our message is passed well to them when we’re playing, it’s enough to satisfy.
Ilwoo Lee:All of your questions are the answers. We’d [like to] make people to know Korea has not just K-pop. And we want to create new hybrids of music style. But for me, as a Korean traditional musician, tradition has to recreate for their own age. Stagnant tradition had been disappear[ing] and it is going to disappear further. Nowadays we live in hybrid culture; not only Korean traditional culture. All kinds [of] genres of music are everywhere. And Koreans mostly don’t listen [to] Korean traditional music but listen to regular pop music. That’s why I have blended Korean traditional instrument with other music to make people listen our music.
Kira: Despite the fact that your band breaks away from many conventions – instrumentally, compositionally, and even with regard to typical record production in the post-rock genre (you mention diving right into the music, not waiting for the music to start “warming up,”) – the level of familiarity with the primary instruments in your music is bound vary between your audiences at home and those abroad in the U.S.. For those who will be experiencing Jambinai for the very first time, not necessarily through your recordings but rather through these live shows, how do you plan to engage with them and show them who you are?
Bomi:Actually when we entered in Europe scene few years ago, we had little worries about the audiences who speak a different language and culture before first show. But we could remove those worries [all] at once in our first show because it was really successful. And after that show, they invited us again and again and more until now. So, we can make good memories this time also for audiences in the U.S with us. We’ll just try to play good and powerful.
Ilwoo Lee:Well, I’ll just do my best on the stage, the way I always do.
Kira: What’s one instance that you have seen or experienced since the band started releasing music, that stood out to you and let you know you were truly reaching people’s minds and hearts amidst the currently dejected mentality of Korea’s general population? How did it makes you feel?
Bomi: Actually, Korean people, they don’t like to express or talk about their emotion to other people. So, it [was a] very unfamiliar situation [when] audiences told us their emotion deeply after show. Above all, [Korean people] don’t like to express negative emotion more. But I believe our music helps someone to relieve their own problems. The audiences in Europe, they express their emotion really actively. For examples, they cry a lot or they kiss or dancing passionately. Sometimes I envy [those] situations to express their own internal emotion.
Kira: It’s quite exciting whenever international artists choose to come to New York City during limited visits to the U.S.. Is there a specific place in the city you are hoping to see during your stop before you travel to Chicago? (P.S. If you’re in the mood for some quality kimchi, I know just where you can get some!)
Bomi:I really want to visit the Blue Note again. When I went there, I [made] really good memories. But unfortunately we don’t have much time in NYC. We have just few hours in a night after our show. But I’ll try to eat the Shake Shack burger!
Ilwoo Lee:I just want to visit to punk & hardcore record shop or skate shop in N.Y and want to eat some Chicago pizza. But sadly we don’t have enough time to do that.
Kira: And just one question for fun: Which artist or band would you most like to have Jambinai perform with sometime in the future?
Bomi:Thom Yorke! It [is] just my dream.
Différance and A Hermitage are both available now via Bella Union.
Find both albums now on Bandcamp.
See and hear Jambinai live next week, on 17 May at Le Poisson Rouge. Full details are below.