Epik High talks to The Korea Times about starting their new company, their music and their upcoming concert tour in the United States, Japan and Korea, as well as their enduring friendship./Korea Times
By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
“Expect the unexpected.” That’s what Tablo, frontman of popular hip-hop group Epik High, says fans can expect from their upcoming concert tour in the United States, Japan and Korea.
But he might as well have been talking about Epik High’s career. The trio, composed of Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz, burst onto the Korean music scene six years ago, armed with catchy hip-hop tunes with socially relevant lyrics and a positive message.
After five studio albums and numerous hit songs and awards under their belt, Epik High members surprised everyone with their decision to break from a major record label and go independent.
The band met with The Korea Times last week at a studio in Hongdae, where members were in the middle of rehearsals for their upcoming concert tour and candidly talked about the ups and downs of starting their own company.
“When our contract ended, we had a lot of offers. The hardest thing about this project was deciding that money is not important and what was more important for us was music,” Tablo said.
Epik High recently launched its own bilingual Web site (www.mapthesoul.com) where fans can watch their videos and live performances, read members’ blogs and buy their albums and merchandise from an online shop. In fact, the band’s latest album, “Hon: Map the Soul,” can’t be bought in any conventional or online stores in Korea at all. The decision to deviate from established distribution services stemmed from Epik High’s desire to make its music more affordable to fans.
While some called Epik High’s new venture “groundbreaking,” the group didn’t exactly plan on redefining the music industry’s business model. They just simply wanted to “do things that are fun.”
“We realized at some point… the entire money making machine, if we’re part of that, its not going to be fun. … Most of the stuff we do right now, it doesn’t make money. We’re spending money to do things like managing the site, creating it, doing online shows. But if it helps us to feel satisfied to the point that we make better music then it is worth it. It’s a lot more work than before, honestly. We barely get any sleep, but it’s good stress,” Tablo said.
Their album “Hon: Map The Soul” is all about making music the Epik High way, even if it won’t do well commercially.
“We know that and we don’t care. Just because it is not a hit, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a musical success. We prefer the latter,” Mithra said.
However, their lyrics have gotten them in trouble with censors, leading to some songs being banned from the airwaves.
“We’re talking about the value of believing in yourself and the song gets banned. When that happens, its like what are we supposed to talk about? … Our stand is: if you want to ban us, ban us. We don’t care. The people who support us and listen to us will still like us anyway,” Tablo said.
More Foreign Fans
Since the album is only sold through the band’s Web site, sales in Korea have been lower than in previous ventures, but sales to overseas fans have increased ten-fold. The songs are also available for downloading on iTunes online shops worldwide.
“We found out we had more foreign fans than we realized. There are fans in Europe, like Norway, and around Asia. Many of the fans don’t understand Korean, but they love our music,” Tukutz said.
This only served to push Epik High to work harder. Whenever members post videos or write blog entries in Korean, they make efforts to include English translations.
Epik High will be holding concerts in Kobe and Tokyo this week, and San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Los Angeles next month. They hope to hold concerts in other countries in the future.
Mithra says Epik High wants fans to have a “chill time” at their concerts, featuring mostly Korean songs because the band wants to show the beauty of the Korean language to an international crowd.
Throughout the interview, the Epik High members ― who consider themselves dorks ― proved to be as funny as they seem on the videos they posted on YouTube.
While talking about the members’ responsibilities in the new company, it was revealed that Tukutz was in charge of public relations and producing the music, while Mithra was in charge of creating merchandise and writing songs. “And I just hang out with my girlfriend (actress Kang Hye-jung) and take their money,” Tablo joked.
Of course, it’s not true that Tablo, rapper and lyricist, does nothing: He proudly admitted he cooks meals for the band and company employees, which prompted Tukutz to quip that they’re served with just “cup noodles.”
Amid all the joking and teasing, it was almost too hard to figure out whether or not they were serious. But one thing’s for sure: Epik High is nothing but serious when it comes to having fun.
“Even if we fail, it’s going to be fun because we’re with people that we love … We take care of each other. That’s more important than music, money or this entire industry,” Tablo said.
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