Editor: Seo Ok-Seon
Taeyang has released his second solo album . His first full album came out in 2010. The year has changed four times, and love has passed by once.
How have you been?
Well, since last time? (Laughs)
Ah… I basically just worked on my album for the past four years.
I thought you traveled and stuff?
The purpose of those trips was to make music. I went to meet and work with producers.
As opposed to traveling and then happening to meet them?
I went to meet people and was able to travel while at it. At first, I enjoyed it so much that it made me want to make another album. When I’m in Korea, there’s always something I have to do. But, being away, it was like, “Since I’m free, maybe I’ll make some music?” “I’ll make it however I want without restrictions!” Of course, at the final stages of [making the album], we had to go through the same tedious process you always do. But making music was a lot of fun.
As soon as you finished promotions for your last album, did you feel you should immediately start working on your second album?
No. During Solar it was so difficult. It was so hard for me to make that album. I don’t know why, but that’s how I felt at the time. I couldn’t listen to my album from beginning to end.
Because it would remind me of those times, how hard it was to make it. I couldn’t listen to the music simply as music. Granted, it’s a well-made album. I listened to it all the way through last year, and I did come away with that feeling.
It is, isn’t it?
Since it’s such a good album, I assumed that the person who made it was enjoying it, too. That you would feel proud and satisfied every time you listened to it.
I do feel proud. It’s just that I couldn’t enjoy it the way I could enjoy other people’s music. That’s not the case anymore.
This album wasn’t easy either.
No, it wasn’t.
What is it that has made you so relaxed then?
It’s not so much that I feel relaxed but… Right now, my main thought is that I want to give my all toward what I have to do, what I can do. After I completed activities for my last album, I wondered, “Will I have another chance like this? Will I be able to release another album?” And, really, it was often more difficult making this album than it was making the last one. At the time I went to LA with Teddy hyung, I hadn’t even been thinking about making a second album. We ended up dropping by Chris Brown’s studio, and it really affected me. The way they made music with such a free-spirited passion, unconcerned about making it for an album necessarily. “Ah, That’s what I wanted…” So I thought, let’s not obsess about making an album this time. I should just feel the music. And with that thought, I returned to Korea and dropped by Peejay hyung’s room. That’s when he played the intro for me, and from there, the album’s overall sound took shape. ‘Rise’ (Intro) is the first track, and it was also the album’s starting point.
Our first interview recording with Taeyang ended here. June 12 was the day of Taeyang’s comeback on M.net M!Countdown, and the green room was basically in chaos. Taeyang, who was making a comeback as a nominee for No. 1, had an even busier and more hectic time backstage than others. With so many questions to ask, I was flustered, and Taeyang, who came ready to answer them, was apologetic. After some discussion, I met Taeyang again three hours later at a quiet café in Hongdae. In between, Taeyang had changed clothes and completed another interview. For someone who had been pestered with countless questions all afternoon, he sat down with considerable energy, and I felt we could finally really talk. The interview picked up again with questions about his trip to the U.S.
Tell me about meeting the Underdogs.
At first, I went to work with them very randomly. While trying to figure out how to make this album, I realized that a lot of songs I liked were produced by the Underdogs. I searched their site and found their email address and, without giving it much thought, sent them an email. “I’m such and such artist in Korea, and I like your music.” They responded right away, so I went to meet them. And after that, I met with a number of producers in America and had sessions with them.
Didn’t you record music with the other producers, too? In the end, only ‘Love You to Death’ made it on the album. I’m curious what kind of music the other songs were. Can you at least describe them?
The Underdogs song was truly their classic sound. If there’s a regret, it’s that so much time passed since the sessions and there was a sense that [the song] was now a little late. It would have been nice if it had come out back then.
The song aged on its own. What kind of discussion did you have with the producers there about the direction of the album and such?
At first, I went because I liked their sound. Rather than being the one leading something, I wanted to do the music they were making. My honest feeling in hindsight is that there is both something to be gained and lost when working with foreign producers. I worked with one producer who left me feeling very disappointed because it felt like we were doing business rather than making music. I went in thinking, whether or not this song ends up on the album, I’d like to have more sessions, learn more and develop more musically. But their position was different. It felt like, “Maybe we should work with him since I hear he’s a famous artist in Korea.” Happy Perez was a producer I really liked at the time. I got in touch with him through someone we both know, and I had such a good time. He’s someone who really tries to adapt his unique sound to the singer to create a good song, no matter who the singer is. We spent five days in session together and produced ten songs in a style I really liked at the time. I felt satisfied. It was the sound I wanted, and I thought it could be an album as is. Cocaine80’s and Brit Burton contributed as songwriters, and they gave me so much of their time and effort. In America, you usually have to pay for these sessions, but they didn’t even want to be paid. They said let’s just make music together.
What were their expectations going into it then?
I think they just thought, “There’s an artist named Taeyang. He holds a certain position in the Asian market, and he wants to work with us. I think it’ll be a good opportunity for us to work with him, too.” It’s true that I felt more attached to Happy Perez’s songs because they weren’t made with payment in mind. When I was making the final track selections for the album, the one thing I really wanted to include was a Happy Perez song.
Because there were so many of rumors for so long of you working with foreign producers, I thought a lot of their songs would make it onto the album. But in the end, most of the album seems to have been produced by YG’s in-house producers. What’s the reason for that?
Because of the musical direction. I may make the music, but it’s released through communication with the company, and during that communication, there were a lot of opinions and suggestions exchanged. In the end, I didn’t get too greedy and only included ‘Love You to Death.’ If you were to put all the other songs [that didn’t make the cut] together, it would be enough for another full-length album, but this is how it turned out in the end.
What kind of inspiration or ideas did you get from working with foreign producers?
There were so many. The biggest was realizing that there are so many doors I can open. There’s a lot of regret that I couldn’t put it all on this album. Or rather, that I’m still lacking if I want to do this kind of music. If I bring music for the company to listen to and select from, I need to make it powerful enough to grab their ears regardless of genre or sound, and I wasn’t able to do that. If I have a regret about this album, it’s that I wasn’t able to accomplish more. To tell you the truth, when Choice37 and I returned from working with Happy Perez, we were thrilled. The album hadn’t even come out, but we went around LA listening to the ten songs we’d recorded. (Laughs) We thought, “Wow, not even the artists here are doing this. And we are.” (Laughs) The thought that we were a half step ahead of others made us happy. (Laughs)
What kind of guy is Choice37?
He helped with the ‘Intro’ when I was making Solar. At the time, it hadn’t been long since he’d joined the company, so I didn’t know him that well yet. These days, he’s my greatest musical resource. He had a profound effect on my starting this album. He listens to a lot of music and likes deep music. He suggested music for me to listen to, and I loved what I heard.
Ah… So that’s how the two of you ended up going too far.
Yes, that was part of it. In the beginning, we worked on a lot of music together, but they got a lot of criticism from Hyun-Seok hyung [boss]. He said the music was too dark and cold. We had been listening to PBR&B mixtapes at a time when they weren’t even mainstream in America. We knew right then. This is it. This is the next door. Cool music. That was the feeling four years ago. R&B had been popular for so long, and then these medium tempo [R&B] songs started to feel somehow stale.
True. Listening to Solar now, it feels like it was an album that came out at the peak of R&B, its final moments. By then, R&B musicians had already begun using electronic beats.
Right, and I wasn’t going to cross into hiphop. I wanted to do something others weren’t doing. The mixtapes suggested a path for me. It was an incredible feeling.
The music really did excite you. Even now, you’re getting so worked up talking about it. (Laughs)
Haha. No, really, at that time, I was really like, “I have to do this.” (Laughs) I was completely absorbed with it. But still, I think it was difficult for the company to accept that music. It’s difficult even now, and we were trying to do it four years ago, so imagine how much harder it must have been for them to understand it back then. And if you think about it, this was before that kind of music was mainstream even in America. We really did go too far, the two of us. (Laughs)
A lot has been said about ‘Ringa Linga’ already, so I don’t know if I should ask you about it.
I don’t think we need to talk about it anymore.
I heard so many people say it didn’t seem like Taeyang.
They probably said that even more because Ji-yong made the song.
True. Timing-wise, too, it was released toward the end of GD’s promotions, so there was a sense of your images overlapping. But it was also that, around the time of its release, I felt as if you really started revealing a different side of you. You started showing the rough side, the dark side, the extreme side of your personality more boldly. I admit, I’m curious what kind of change you went through around that time.
When it comes to doing something new, I only do it once I feel really confident. I can’t do anything if I appear uncomfortable to my own eyes. It’s true that, at that time, I felt ready to show that side of me. And there’s no doubt that is a side that exists within me. In a way, while I was happy about the positive acknowledgment I got during the last album, it also occurred to me that I could get trapped within a certain stereotype. I felt strongly that I needed to draw out a new side of me.
Something you’ve always had but didn’t show?
I think it works a lot better within the context of the album than on its own. Did you put a lot of thought into the order of the tracks?
It was one of the biggest difficulties about this album. When making the previous album, my goal was to produce a coherent, well-made album, each song different but unified by an overall concept. But with this album, because it took so long to make, the songs were so different, and no matter how we sequenced it, there was a little bit of awkwardness. The tracklist we selected was the best. That I can say. The first track had to be ‘Rise’ and the last, ‘Love You to Death.’ At the start and the end, I wanted to show me more definitely.
The sequence isn’t bad actually. The ‘Intro’ has somewhat of the old [Taeyang] feel, and then after that, the tracks are a mix of this and that.
We wrote ‘Let Go’ three years ago. I wasn’t actually trying to make a song like it at the time, but I was about to go home after working in the studio, and I heard the instrumental coming from DEE.P hyung’s room. I tried humming a melody to it, and it felt good, so we recorded the demo right then and there. The hyungs said they liked it, too. They said it’s different from what I had done until now and that it had an epic feel about it.
Ah… Sounds like you guys got all excited by yourselves again.
(Laughs) Hahaha. It does have kind of a big scale about it though. Of course I was like, “Ah, it does?” (Laughs) “Then I need Tablo hyung to write the lyrics.” So we finished lyrics quickly, too, but at first, the song wasn’t received very well. Hyun-Seok hyung said it was too dull. On the other hand, Teddy hyung and Ji-Yong said they really liked it. In the end, I was able to include it in the album.
After the last album, there must have been a lot of people who wanted to collaborate with you. And yet, there are really no featurings.
Once we finished recording, we realized there was no featuring. It wasn’t intentional, but it turned out that way. There were concerns that the album wouldn’t have enough issue-making power, so, after a lot of thought, I visited Cho Yong-Pil sunbaenim with ‘Let Go.’ I had listened to a lot of older gayo [Korean songs] like Cho Yong-Pil sunbaenim and Deulgukhwa [band Chrysantheum], and I thought the song’s mood would match him well. But time was too tight, and we weren’t able to make it happen. I had rushed it. In the end, I added the song I worked on with Ji-Yong. It didn’t have to be Ji-Yong, but he was always in the studio and could do it. There’s more difficulty [when arranging a featuring] with someone else completely [outside YG].
I don’t have any particular issue with the songs on the album. But as a listener, I can’t helping thinking it’s a shame that, after working on so many songs, only nine made it onto the album.
I feel that way, too.
But you’ll soon be glad you didn’t include the other songs. It’s harder to empty than to fill. It’s important to edit, and when you can’t do it, others have to do it for you.
It was hard choosing the tracks at the end. I thought, nine songs is a bit too [little]… Maybe I should add two more. But when it came to final decisions, I felt this was right. I thought, “Don’t put in a lot because I prepared for a long time. Edit because I prepared for a long time.”
That said, I’ll thankfully take a repackage album to commemorate.
I’ve been hearing that a lot, too. (Laughs)
To tell you the truth, you were making the album for so long that I thought on one hand, “Maybe he should just release it quickly, even if it ends up not being well received and gets viewed as sophomore jinx. Then he could move on to the third album.”
It crossed my mind, too. It was so hard, and the album wasn’t coming along, so I would wonder, is it really worth it? Like I said earlier, my original goal was to do something that hasn’t been done. To open a new door. But the album couldn’t come out in the situation. In order to release the album, I needed to accept things I hadn’t done until then. And they’re the kind of stuff that are harder the more you do them. No matter how much you try… At that point, I wasn’t certain whether I was making an album worthy of all this hardship. But I decided, let’s first release it. Afterwards, I can accept whatever response it gets. If it’s good, it’s good. And if it’s not, I can accept it and learn from it. Let’s put it out and prepare for the next.
It’s out now. That alone is something. (Laughs)
I also thought maybe you were working as hard as you can and unwilling to release anything until you’ve achieved some goal of yours. Or that maybe you were making music that you don’t intend to release, that you wanted to keep in your heart.
Ah, that wasn’t it. I can say that for sure. In that aspect, I’ve grown. I’m not like that anymore.
Have you read some of the reviews?
With the previous album [Solar], I did what I wanted the way I wanted. And timing was such that the company let me do things my way at the time, so I didn’t seek out reviews. I was happy with the album, so I didn’t worry about people’s opinions. But I think that had an adverse effect when making this album. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees but insisted I was right. I went too far, and that’s why it took so long. In making this album, I had to accept a lot of different opinions, so I feel I should read what listeners have to say, too. The people who loved my previous image were disappointed. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who look at me in a new light. It was as expected, and I think the payoff is big.
In a way, it’s hard to criticize you because we know your ability and potential. Even critics. The album may not have lived up to their expectations, but there’s nothing to pick on really.
I could see that being the case if they really liked my last album. I could understand.
But if you want to reach the next level, you have to leave some things behind.
Awhile back, you said, “I want to sing even if it’s on top of an apple crate.” It seems nothing has changed since four years ago. You told me then that you would sing on the streets with a single mike if you could.
I think my heart always longs for something like that. I may be a well-known mainstream artist, but before I’m a singer that performs on spectacular stages, I’m a person who makes music because he loves it so much. So I want to sing, no matter where that is. There are a lot of things I cannot realistically do because of my position and situation, so I do feel envious when I see people who can do those things without restrictions. I envy that freedom.
Still, I hear you’ll be performing a guerilla concert this time around.
I think those wishes were reflected.
The company probably felt they had to do something for you since you’ve been so consistent about what you want. (Laughs)
Hahaha. I guess so. Seems that way. (Laughs)
A lot of people are awaiting your concert, but only the Japanese tour has been announced so far. Why is that?
The Japanese tour was scheduled because I said I wanted do it. I didn’t think I could do a concert only in Korea, so I said then let’s do the Japanese tour first. Then I could also have a well-produced, well-rehearsed concert in Korea .
With your last album, your performances were so focused that it was sometimes tiring even for the person watching. Back then, you said you were doing it because you can. Now, I don’t see that in you at all. Why the change?
It’s simple. I did what I thought was cool. But, in terms of expressing the music, it seems meaningless to continue doing that. Of course, depending on the song, it can really help understand the song better. But I realized that it wasn’t everything. Making more music and performing more concerts made me realize that. To tell you the truth, I think the reason I insisted on those performances back then was because I performed on TV a lot. Because a well-choreographed stage looks good on TV.
You seemed to approach your comeback performance on Inkigayo like a concert performance. It feels like you’re being kind of careless, but it’s easy to watch. And cool. I can feel the change in you over the course of four years. Has it become a lot more comfortable to sing in front of the camera?
Very much. Since it’s a broadcast, there are a lot of things I have to do, but there’s nothing holding me back now.
What’s something that was there four years ago but isn’t now?
No, really though. Back then, I didn’t know better, so if there was something I wanted to do, I had to get it done no matter what. Now, a lot of that is gone because I know I don’t have to do it like that. I know I’m capable of accomplishing it another way. Of course, I’m not going to forget that sense of boldness, but I try not to drive myself crazy anymore.
It was hard for the people around you, too. We would see you suffering so much, and there was nothing we could do. But you are here now because of who you were then.
Yes. That’s why I try to take care of the people around me. One of my greatest realizations over the last four years is how grateful I am toward them, how precious they are. I used to take it for granted, but, really, without them, there’s no me. I’m a little older now, and I really feel how precious they are.
A lot of people think of Taeyang and GD as having completely different styles, but that’s not true.
How is your relationship, not as friends, but as musicians? I’m curious what you two talk about in the studio.
We always talk a lot. We listen to newly released songs together and say what’s cool, what’s good, and sometimes we critique them. I give Ji-Yong similar feedback when we listen to his songs. We like similar things, but approach them differently. Then again, we seem very different but are similar in many ways.
You should release an album together. Well, I guess an album isn’t really necessary, per se, since you work together a lot already.
We talk about it, too. It would be cool, but if we’re going to [make an album] together, it has to be really good. The desire is there, but there’s so much to do right now. Maybe there will be a good timing for it later.
As Bigbang’s Taeyang, what future do you see for Bigbang? In his interview last year, GD’s honesty about it was surprising. I’m curious what your answer to the same issue would be.
I don’t know what will happen either. Bigbang is in a great place right now, but you never know with these things. We just started working on the group album, and we’re kind of at a loss. People have their expectations, we have our own standards, and it’s not easy to achieve a balance between doing what we want and not disregarding the public. I think we’ll only know how things will turn out after we’ve worked on it. Ji-Yong and I talked about giving it our all over the next two years before military. What comes after, we’ll worry about it then.
You’ve all been active in different areas lately. I worry that the album will become five different pieces all doing your own thing.
Well… Personally, until now, Ji-Yong has guided the musical direction of the group, and, right now, he and I are the most musically active members, so I think our colors may be stronger on the album. And right now, we’re the ones who have begun working on it.
How many points do you think Bigbang should receive as popular mainstream stars?
I see Bigbang as a group that has contributed a lot both musically and in terms of popularity.
What about as Taeyang?
I’m not sure yet. I think it’ll take more time before I know. It’s hard to judge for myself yet.
You don’t feel established yet?
Yes, in my opinion.
What is most “Taeyang”?
I’m not sure how this will sound, but an untainted pureness plus sincerity.
An earnestness, would you say?
That’s a little different from sincerity. For me, it’s more of a frank sincerity.
While discussing the album, we spoke about the changes and experiences he has gone through over the past four years. I debated whether to ask one particular question that I had jotted on my notepad. Should I ask? Should I not? I usually don’t hesitate asking uncomfortable questions, but I was conflicted about asking about his love life. Unlike most men in their twenties, Taeyang was someone so overly serious about love, and he had said ‘Eyes, Nose, Lips’ came from his personal experience. In past interviews, I had promised myself to never ask him about his love life, but this time I really wanted to bring it up. Not because I wanted to know whom he dated or what they did, but because I wanted to know how that love has changed him. When I finally did ask him, I wondered momentarily, “Ah, maybe I shouldn’t have?” because of the emotion that flitted across his face. It was an expression that anyone who has memories of past love can recognize.
So were you in a relationship?
I was. That’s how ‘Eyes, Nose, Lips’ came about.
What changed after those emotions passed?
Um… We broke up, but I think it had a positive influence in many ways. How should I say… You know how I was before. I knew what I wanted to do, so I didn’t even look around. I didn’t need love. I didn’t want to go out. But in the end, I think that was a cancerous element for someone doing music. Music is about expressing emotions, so you need experiences to feel the emotions, but I didn’t know. It felt like my emotions were hardening, so music was not really music, and dance wasn’t dance. I needed to feel and express and become more sensitive, but instead I was becoming more and more technical. It wasn’t having a girlfriend or dating per se that was important, but that I needed to take in every moment and feel those emotions.
You won’t have to deal with as much nagging anymore. Hyungs and noonas used to constantly tell you to go out, to meet some girls. It was like they almost felt a sense of duty about it. (Laughs)
Back then, I couldn’t understand that. “This is what I want to do, and I’m doing well, so why all the fuss?” (Laughs) “I don’t need that stuff!!!” (Laughs) Thinking back, I realize they were saying that so that, what I do, I could do better. I can understand now.
That’s why ‘Eyes, Nose, Lips’ is so sad.
Because it’s my real emotion.
When you were in your early twenties, we said you’ll be thirty in no time. Now, that’s become a very real number.
In my early twenties, I felt it in a very impersonal way. In my mid-twenties, I feared getting older. Now, I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to the new beginning, to whatever is ahead of me.
From my experience, it definitely gets better. You’ve lost the youthful image you had at the time of your last album. In turn, you’ve become more mature, and you’re treated as an adult. You can do even better from here on.
I feel it, too. Just as it takes time for a seed to become a tree and yield fruit, there are things that you learn naturally with time. Things I wanted to learn but couldn’t back then. You mature with the passage of time. Becoming an adult is easier said than done. Like wine, I want to become someone with depth and a rich scent as time passes. I don’t want to become someone who lives in vain.
Is there music that is immortal?
Um… Michael Jackson? I really studied a lot about him and continue to do so. There are still hidden songs that I have not heard. He’s an artist who gives me so many emotions every time I listen to him. I hear the same music anew when I go back to it after time passes, and as someone who also does music, I know how incredible that is.
I was actually wondering how you liked Michael Jackson’s new album.
I reeeally like it. At first, I thought, do they really have to release something like this? As a singer myself, I would resent it if someone were to listen to a song that I hadn’t completed. Even if people want to hear it, and even if they like it, it’s still a sensitive issue. Michael isn’t here anymore. If he were still alive and heard that this music is being released, would he have liked it? Overall, [the album] has very much of a demo feel, so I thought these people were going too far. Is this really necessary? But then once the album actually came out, I listened to the deluxe version and… What can I say? It’s so good. Just hearing his voice was sooo good. Now, I feel thankful toward Michael Jackson and toward the people who released this album.
You won your first No.1 trophy after making your comeback today. It’s a trite question, but how do you feel? (Laughs)
It’s so-so. (Laughs) I don’t particularly feel like I got it because I did well. Then again, I do feel I should have gotten it. I admit there was a part of me that thought this music needs to get a lot of love since it came out after so much time and stress. It should get something.
Ah, you felt that way?
I mean, it wasn’t like, “I have to get it!” More like, “I should get it…”
Aigoo. My. It really was a difficult album.
Of course, because I was really trying something I had never done before. It’s hard to say yet. For me, for the artist Taeyang, you have to take a more long-term view. It’s a bit wait and see. Because, even to my eyes, my direction after this album is undecided.
It doesn’t matter if more time passes, as long as you just keep singing.
I know. (Laughs)
What are your wishes now?
I’ve said it already (again), but I want to sing in front of a huge audience. I felt that way back when I debuted, and I feel that way now. It never changes. I always dream of a stadium concert. And I never want to lose my passion. I want to feel every moment as I’m making music and have a lot of people listen to my music. I’m not doing everything I want to do right now. I’m a little lacking, so I am trying my best right now. Because if I keep it up like this, I can do what I really want. That’s the reason I try to achieve 200 when I can do 100.
Isn’t there anything you want to do besides music?
I want to travel. Very much.
What, so that you could work when you get there again? (Laughs)
No. (Laughs) I want to go to places, so many places, that I haven’t been to. Tibet. India. Brazil. Right now, those are the three countries I want to see the most.
How will you remember today?
You could liken it to crossing a stone bridge. Before, it felt like I was off-balance and crossing it with difficulty. Now, I think I’m moving very slowly but crossing each step with confidence. When time passes, and I look back at today, I hope I’ll look back and think I tread well without falling into the water.
The interview ended. My desire had been to record Taeyang’s process of making his second album from the very beginning. For over an hour, he spoke about many things, and those stories were an important key to understanding the changes in him over the last few years. He really had changed a lot. He’s more frank, and he doesn’t hesitate. As someone who used to be filled with so many thoughts and worries, he seems to understand himself better now. I don’t know if these changes could be attributed to love, or simply to the passing of time.
One thing I want to say is that it is such a joy to be able to witness him develop – this artist who loves music so much, is so stubborn, and always worries about his direction, yet goes forth without hesitation. He has discarded the tightly choreographed performances, and in the music video and on stage, we see him singing comfortably, wearing clothing not unlike what he would wear on a regular day. It’s 2014, and Taeyang has made it to his second album now. It doesn’t matter if it’s ‘already’ the second album or ‘only’ the second album. That’s because Taeyang, now as ever, is an artist who makes us anticipate the future.
Note: Seo Ok-Seon interviewed Taeyang for the 2010 issue and was once the editor of YG Bounce, YG’s in-house magazine, so she’s known Taeyang for a long time.
Translated by Silly for alwaystaeyang.wordpress.com Please credit in full.