It’s been a long time. Three men with hearts that beat to get back onstage, but who have faced problems that couldn’t have been predicted while trying to live, these last three years have clearly been overly harsh to them. So it’s nice to meet you. Epik High, who released their 7th album for their 9-year anniversary, have an electrically charged energy.
Your feelings about having activities again are?
Tukutz: As you know we had a lot of problems, and my spirit wasn’t there. But the album came out and every day there are things to do that are fun. Frankly, previously we didn’t know what it was like to have a lot of schedules. Now, being busy all day is fun. It’s good if we even catch one schedule.
Tablo: Me too.
Mithra: Whenever I think of resting time I wanted to keep my body moving. Because that makes us happy. We wanted to quickly sing new songs and we wanted to immediately put out the things that the three of us made together, so we worked at a really fast speed.
The feeling of being able to stand on stage with three members is?
Tablo: It’s still a little awkward.
Mithra: It was really awkward at the beginning. The feeling of starting anew? Still, the ability to apply our experiences came back quickly. Because it’s been a while it’s more fun.
Tablo: Even though we came together like this again, we only met for five months, and our last stage together was three years ago so we were nervous. But because it’s a song where we can run around and play like a mess, since we’ve already started we’ve forgotten all of those feelings. To the extent of being able to stand on stage, we’re being as wise as possible about this moment. We think about it like a long warm-up. It’s a key-turning situation. We simply have to walk for a long time. If we stay inside the work room for a year there won’t be any sweat. We have to meet with the audience. We want to come out really quickly. On stage while performing new songs and old songs, it seems like the start of meeting the audience is jammed. These activities themselves are one long warm-up.
The meaning of the title ‘99’?
Tablo: It’s really simple so I can tease a little. Ninth anniversary and nine songs. That’s it. Everyone said it was too simple so we tried to squeeze a more thoughtful meaning into it but that’s really the meaning.
Something you can’t forget about your debut 9 years ago?
Tablo: We think we’re veterans, but we’re like amateurs. At that time too, it took us a few years until we could find our own authentic color. The process of finding harmony with each other while the members all did this or that, like it was for the first two or three albums, seems to have come back. It seems like now it has more significance than our previous periods of activities. At this point, we don’t have the compulsion that we have to do it this certain way. Even now we’re like kids who just started a few days ago.
Mithra lost a lot of weight.
Mithra: I lost a lot while we were preparing for this album. After three years it seemed like it would be more fun to change something and come out like that.
If Mithra gets married, it might be the birth of the nation’s only hip-hop group with all married members. (Laugh)
Tablo: Is there really no other?
Mithra: I don’t think so?
Tablo: But it’s Epik High or nothing, I haven’t even really thought of Epik High as being in the hip-hop scene. There are other things that we want to do besides hip-hop, and the members have been doing activities like that as well. We don’t have the right to call ourselves part of the hip-hop scene, nor do we want to. As long as we can rap well in our 50s, it’ll be good. Think about us putting out a rap album when we’re grandpas. It’s pretty funny (laugh).
Tukutz: We’ll look stupid if we don’t.
Tablo: At that time if we do rap with our kids and it feels like it has no difference, that’ll really be funny.
Mithra: Of course I don’t know if I’ll be able to do music this strongly. I’m not sure if my heart will be able to stand it (laugh). At that time we may be able to have some suitably earnest depth.
Tablo: Later our grandkids are going to talk about it. “What did your grandfather do?” “He raps (laugh).” “Does he do it well?” “Pretty well.”
Mithra: “What does your grandpa do?” “He sits at the house and records raps.” “What?”
Tablo: “My grandpa’s punchlines will kill you (laugh).”
What was the process of meeting to work on this album?
Tablo: I had already gone to a studio, so the kids just joined me.
Tukutz: At first we worked on it alone. One day while we were having a cup of coffee we just naturally started talking about how we would make it.
Mithra: By the time I was discharged they had already made a lot of songs.
I heard that you got the motif from Green Day’s “Dookie” album.
Tablo: “Don’t Hate Me” was like that. A lot of people around me asked about it. Why is a hip-hop group doing 90s-style rock now? I just wanted to make one song that was like that. I didn’t have a word I could say except “just because.” I just wanted to go onstage and play with a song like that.
Mithra: We really want to be able to go excitedly. Because we want to have a fun song and we want the audience to enjoy it, we wanted to make a song like that.
Don’t you feel like there’s a difference in physical fitness from 9 years ago?
Tablo: The miraculous thing is that when we were in our 20s at the beginning of our debut, if we just performed for 1 hour it was difficult. If it was that degree of performance then anybody would be tired. Because we were always jumping around. But after releasing this album, at a club performance, our encore stage itself was an hour and a half. Overall it was around the degree of a 2 and a half hour or 3 hour performance.
Tukutz: In those days we felt more urgent. Really, during our resting periods there were a lot of things we were resentful about. We said, “You can’t send us out of the house even a little?” but only our words were like that, we really wanted to do things.
Tablo: Even after finishing we weren’t tired. We thought we could keep going for one or two more hours. It seemed like 10 years would conceivably be just fine.
Tukutz: This is like an athlete’s interview (laughs).
Mithra: The next 10 years won’t be a problem. We’ll be able to jump around even more. We won’t just retire carelessly (laughs).
Tablo: We still feel fine. If you’ve raised a child you know, but you really can’t keep up with the energy of a child. Because of things like that, the stage is no problem (laughs).
When you released “Cold,” that really let people know the overall atmosphere of the album.
Tablo: First of all, “Cold” was the first song that we made. In fact it wasn’t a song that we intended to make darkly or sadly, but somehow it came out a little dreary. If you make depressing music, you get even more depressed. Now I don’t want to make music like that. From that time, the album’s direction became very different.
There are many lively configurations, but they’re not that exciting to listen to.
Mithra: Because of what we’ve been through, we can show that kind of thing. In the condition where those kinds of thoughts are inherent, I think we can show ourselves.
Tablo: In fact there are people who experience not-bright things and seek out the chance to make bright music. To some extent, that viewpoint is correct. It’s true that while making bright music, we became a little more cheerful.
Tukutz: We’re cheerful even onstage. We created an album with those kinds of thoughts and plans in mind.
I’m curious about the feelings of the members who protected Tablo’s private life during that time.
Tukutz: In fact, I thought that we wouldn’t be able to have activities as a team again. He is a person who’s closer to me than anything, but I thought I would go crazy from not being able to help. That reality seemed like a dream.
Didn’t those incidents have some impact on your music?
Tablo: I didn’t want to make gloomy music, and I was determined to go in a direction that I could take while laughing a little? There was nothing besides that.
Haven’t you had any fears about things you might not be able to do musically?
Tablo: Rather than that, we had thoughts about not being able to make music at all. With our reasons for wanting to make music, and because I might end up hurting the people I care about, I was always afraid. At one point I thought about just quitting. But even though I want to take care of those precious people, and pay them back, and protect them, I don’t know any method outside of music.
Overall the proportion of vocals increased. The members’ vocals also increased?
Tablo: In fact we did a grave disservice (laughs). Running back onstage once more was extremely important. But if we did a lot of featuring that would be difficult. Singing by yourself at karaoke is fun, right?
Tukutz: My part is really limited.
Mithra: At first I thought it was something I could try to do, and if it didn’t sound particularly terrible then I would do it again later. But I don’t even have words.
Tablo: I even sang a ballad on my solo album (laughs).
The participation of the producers from YG Entertainment is noticeable.
Tablo: I requested it. It was my first joint work. These days if I make music it unconditionally becomes depressing. I played piano and if you only heard the chords it was clearly bright, but at the completion it became depressing. That was incredibly annoying. I made it brightly but because it became depressing I was stressed out. Even the members felt heavy, and because they said it would be better if it came out brightly than gloomily, I sought reinforcements. They gave the energy that we needed to be bright and enthusiastic.
Tukutz: We needed a new energy. In fact, when we create an album by ourselves it’s extremely serious and depressing.
Tablo: If you come while we’re working the atmosphere always has an extremely bad feeling.
Tukutz: We’re really sensitive and stricken kids, huh. When people come to the studio and make a joke themselves, they’ll immediately be chased out. But this time it was a little more vigorous.
Tablo: Normally when we’re working it’s closed, sharp, and the atmosphere is bad, but this time we did it while playing.
Mithra: Before when we were working, nothing was allowed in and only us three could be in there. This time we said that whoever wanted to come play could come in, and we asked for other people’s opinions, and we worked cheerfully while playing around in the studio.
Tablo: Ordinarily, it was really impossible for us to ask “How is this?” about something we were working on. There were a lot of cases of arguing. But even if the opinion was different we wouldn’t talk about it, just look at each other. Because we’re so sensitive.
There wasn’t anyone who had the role of arbitration?
Tablo: If it was me and Mithra fighting then Tukutz would do it, and if me and Tukutz were fighting then Mithra would do it. Mithra and Tukutz never really fight about music. Any issues that arise because of music are because of me. Honestly, I’m a problem (laughs).
Tukutz: It’s because me and Mithra are in different sectors, but Tablo is in the position of doing everything from writing songs to writing lyrics.
Tablo: I think the members feel pressured. I become a little bit like Don Quixote when I’m making music. If anyone says I’m going down the wrong road, I just go down it until the end. I’m that stubborn, so I push them a lot, and if the results are good then it’s okay but if they’re not good then I feel really sorry, so I get depressed. Whether they’re good or bad, it’s eventually my fault (laughs). So I’m always talking. If it’s Epik High’s album or a song that isn’t good, Tablo gets cursed. Maybe that’s my fault too (laughs).
Tukutz: We know that well by now so don’t bother with it (laughs).
Mithra: We used to argue a lot, but now we’ve grown up a little so we understand each other. These days we can say we’re doing well and give encouragement. Because no matter what comes out we have to go until the end.
Tablo: Even so, this time I’m getting you guys’ opinions a lot (laughs). The first person I ask, I get an opinion from them. Of course I’m still the same person as I was before. In this album those things are the only things I put.
Returning after a long time, do you feel like there are any changes in the music scene?
Mithra: The music sites’ flow seriously changes so fast.
Tukutz: Before, the Hanteo Chart’s CD sales aggregate was important, but now the streaming charts are more important. And the real-time chart.
Tablo: We still haven’t adapted to the real-time charts. Isn’t every chart in the world aggregated one-by-one over a span of at least 1 week? However music comes out, after one hour it’s on the charts, and the fact that those are the important charts is really surprising.
Tukutz: It seems like marathon aggregation.
Tablo: Our album was released after we worked on it for a year. But in this market, you can’t just put out an album.
Tukutz: If only the title song is known, the rest of the songs are easily buried.
Tablo: Think about it, if you make 20 songs like crazy but 19 of those songs just get buried. So it’s the trend to release a lot of digital singles.
Tukutz: That’s how the market is, you’re exactly right.
Tablo: Even saying that, it’s not that we’re unhappy with the situation. Making a living with so-called music by releasing a new song every two or three months is a clever method. But I don’t think we’ll be able to do it like that even in the future. So eventually we’ll just have to stick to our ignorant music-making.
The style of the 90s reflected a lot.
Tablo: The way that we thought of the 90s was very different than the way most people think of the 90s. We thought of Smashing Pumpkins, No Banana, Green day, but there are a lot of people who just visualize the exhibition. In fact, I thought of Clone or Seo Taiji & Boys or songs like “Inauspicious Meeting.”
Tukutz: To some people it could be like H.O.T.
Tablo: Because we wanted to try to listen again, we didn’t want to have people listening to that kind of music. Of course, it’s my fault (laughs).
Epik High’s musical style has always felt very colorful.
Tablo: If we made the first album again I wouldn’t call us a hip-hop group. That felt like a bridle and was really suffocating. Of course when we do hip hop, we confidently do hip hop. If hip hop fans listened to that song, I think they would think we were a hip hop group. Because of 1, they judged 99. The people who liked our emotional songs defined us in their own way. Each conception of Epik High is so different that no matter what, it doesn’t matter to us. But worrying about making music that will be loved by both is really difficult. If I went back to the past I think I would say that we’re a pop group, but that we have confidence in doing rap and hip hop well (laughs). From the beginning it wasn’t something that we said. A lot of qualifiers about us being hip hop warriors stuck (laughs).
Mithra: If us being hip hop stuck, it was a generation where everything was a warrior.
Tablo: They liked hip hop like crazy. But if someone said I was a hip hop musician, I don’t know if that’s an accurate category, or if I was just sandwiched in there. So winning an album award is good, but when we win in the hip hop category I’m really sorry, because there are people who truly live according to the craftsmanship of the two words “hip hop.” So I want to write featurings for a lot of unknown rappers. If there’s anything we can do for hip-hop, something to help those friends be known?
The number of tracks on this album is relatively small in comparison to the number of tracks on previous albums.
Tablo: The market of 5-6 years ago and today’s market are different. My solo album that came out before also had 10 tracks. One of those tracks was a short interlude so functionally it was only 9 tracks. If the songs on the album can be transmitted to people as one then we’ll do it that way, but now announcing the presence of those songs to people who can’t buy the album is difficult. There are limits to what we can show on broadcasts, and we can’t shoot music videos for them all.
Tukutz: The devotion that we gave to each song while making the album was the same. If we needed expensive string arrangements, then we did it. Those songs died out as soon as they were released.
Tablo: Because they only click and listen to the title song.
Tukutz: It isn’t anyone’s fault, it just collapsed. We worked hard to make them, but there’s no way to make people listen.
Tablo: There are some people who seem to get it, and others who just ask what the issue is, but from the position of a creator it’s different. If you listened to part 1 and 2 of the solo album and discussed it all at once, I don’t think you would be able to digest it. I thought by myself and in the reality written in 140 characters (Twitter) I was able to listen to the opinions of others for a long time. At first after listening to the first 5 songs you like them, but feel differently about the next 5 songs. That’s the story that most musicians shared. Some people said it was too commercial, but if you think about changing positions, wanting to make people listen to my music isn’t the mind of a pure musician.
Tukutz: If it was too commercial then I guess digital singles are better than our previous albums.
You had three title songs. Was it because you were greedy for many songs to be heard?
Tablo: Because they were songs we made anyway, we didn’t have any interest in which should be the title song. We wanted to do a different song every time we had a broadcast. For example, by the time this comes out we’ll already have gone on Yoo Hee Yeol’s Sketchbook and performed a title song medley.
Next year it will have been 10 years. Do you have any special plans?
Tablo: Because it’s the vertex of our career, I want to make an album that’s worthy. I think it’s an album that’s just as important as our debut album. I want to stun people as though we have thought of the last 9 years as just practice. We ought to do our best.
Mithra: But of course it’ll be like that.
Tablo: It seems like our activities will be over at the end of November, and we have to start with the thought that we’re going up a mountain. In fact, now our passion is starting to burn again. I don’t know why the hell I’d have a blazing desire to create music again right after releasing an album (laughs). Because we get to meet the audience onstage, the music that I want to make is striking like a wave. From today I’m going to start changing the devices. Maybe these promotions weren’t enough so I’m going a little crazy. There are things rising and things that I want to do, so many that I can’t sleep. Compared to the last albums, Mithra and I rapped a little less than normally so rap is starting to sound a little more fresh.
Are there more things that you want to try?
Tablo: Truthfully we’ve tried all of the things that we want to try. It seems like the time has come when we just have to do well the things that we can do well. And after all, the music that we have to do is the music that we want to do. Because we want to hear that we’ve done well, we have to step up.
—Translated by emily @icarus-walks.net [international forum for epik high] , take out with full credit ——