During my visit in Seoul, I was given the chance to interview Horan, vocalist of Clazziquai Project and Ibadi. It was a surprising proposal and I was debating whether or not it would result in a good interview; not from Horan, but from my nervousness about talking to someone who has been in the spotlight beyond music.
I met her in Gangnam at a coffee shop where we had a very interesting conversation about music, culture, and indie music. While I had my normal set of questions, Horan was also interested in hearing about people internationally listening to Korean music. She answered my questions with an openness and honesty that I didn’t expect.
While it started as a normal interview, we ended up having more of a conversation.
And she speaks excellent English.
Can you introduce yourself?
I’m a singer in Korea. I sang in 2 bands, one of them is Clazziquai, one of them is Ibadi. Clazziquai is more like electronica and pop. Ibadi is more like band music – soul and acoustic.
Clazziquai transitioned from being an indie band to being a popular band; how was that transition?
I think the biggest trigger was the OST song, “She is.” But actually that song wasn’t a Clazziquai song. It was composed by Kang Hyeon-Min (강현민), he used to be a member of the band Loveholic, and Alex and I sang for it.
We don’t call it a Clazziquai song because Clazziquai songs have to be composed by DJ Clazzi. People confused Clazziquai with “Alex and Horan” so it made us popular, then ordinary fans came to like Clazziquai music.
So was it more of a spark? Or knowing it was the duo singing than to Clazziquai?
At first we were a little bit confused and uncomfortable, actually, because when Clazziquai has shows or events, people keep asking for “She is” but we can’t use that song at our concerts. So we felt uncomfortable, but now it’s just one of the aspects.
Are songs on Clazziquai Project’s album always in both Korean and English?
We don’t have all the songs in Korean or English. Some songs are written in English or Korean and some songs are mixed up. Some songs have 2 versions.
Is that to have a different style?
It depends on a case-by-case basis because when we release an album in Japan; we’re not that good at Japanese so we just release it in English. And some of the lyrics are very hard to translate into Korean because usually at first we write the lyrics in English because DJ Clazzi grew up in Canada, and he feels more comfortable to write in English. When it feels awkward translated in Korean, we leave it in English.
Clazziquai’s last album was in 2009, is there anything new from the band?
A new album is coming up in January 2013. The first single will be released next week or the week after. We’re working on it.
DJ Clazzi had his solo album in January 2012, was that because he had a lot of music he was making?
That’s part of it. The other part is like I said before, many people confuse Alex and I with Clazziquai. Alex released 2 solo albums and I was singing in Ibadi, so we both have individual work and DJ Clazzi felt he could do it too. And we didn’t sing for that album, it had other vocalists so the fans could see what the difference was.
What influence do you have in your music?
Personally? Influences? People?
Is it like, life in Korea or experiences you had in the past?
I think life in Korea is very dull, except for the nightlife, there aren’t many interesting things around. I like drinking, that’s not enough? (laughs) I get influenced from animation, fantasy novels, and movies, just like everyone else.
Do you have any favorite bands? International or Korean?
Recently, I bought Gretchen Parlato’s album, she’s a Jazz singer. So recently I’m into that album. Yellow Monsters is also one of my favorite bands.
I decided to start music when I heard one of Suzanne Vega’s albums. 99.9F° was the first album that I heard. And there are a lot of other bands.
Would those be your top 3? Gretchen Parlato, Suzanne Vega, and Yellow Monsters?
When I just started music and interviewing, I told them Suzanne Vega, Fiona Apple, and Ani DiFranco were my role models. But now I think the word “role model” is a bit childish. I don’t know, there are a lot of bands, but I still like acoustic music the most.
What do you think of the Korean indie music scene? I don’t know how much you know about it, but in the scene and the community, everyone seems to know each other.
Everybody’s either friends or enemies. What do you mean?
What do you think about the people or the scene? Either, I don’t know if you started in the indies specifically.
I didn’t start in the indies, but I have a lot of friends in the indies more than show business. I like hanging with them because they have very strong bonds and they’re very frank.
They don’t have anything to hide and they don’t like hiding. Now when I feel disguised or like acting out, I go to them. And drink a lot.
It seems everyone I meet, especially the biggest bands known internationally like Crying Nut or Galaxy Express or Yellow Monsters, then I meet them in person –
They’re all very crazy.
Well, they’re crazy when they drink, but before they drink they’re all really pleasant and polite people. Bands in the US sometimes feel like they have to keep a persona up.
I think that’s a cultural difference. In Korea, they teach you not to show off, they teach you not to be snobbish, they teach you to be modest so we all grow up like that and when we drink, it all disappears.
Well, Kpop music is very big. But I don’t know, if I get to release more music, I want it to be in the indie scene. I don’t know if they will accept me, but in Korea the music industry relies so much on TV shows and you have to be a celebrity if you want to be a musician.
And if you don’t become a star, they don’t treat you as anything. You’re not a singer, you have to do something that people want or people like. If you do something people don’t like, it’s not good music, it’s nothing you do. “You’re not paying attention, you’re not dedicated” – that’s what we hear when we’re in the music business, in the “overground” music business.
But the indie scene, I think they’re the real people who have concrete fans. Their fans don’t go here-to-there following the charts. I think that’s the only way a musician can do what they’re thinking. So if I start my own music, I wish it can be like that.
What do you think about international fans becoming interested in Korean music? Not just indie, but other genres?
Talking about Kpop, I don’t feel like it’s my own. It’s just there for big companies. They’re caught up in selling, but it’s not about me. I don’t think Kpop fans listen to Clazziquai’s or Ibadi’s kind of songs. So maybe it’s good. But looking at idols, it makes the business style look right. Everyone’s talking, “look at them, they’re selling, and every one in the whole world likes them, so everyone has to do that. That’s right.”
And Psy, the biggest hit recently, people are talking that he’s a real musician because he does what he’s always done and now people are loving it. People are talking that Psy’s a real musician, the only musician, and the biggest, best, and most talented musician.
Everyone is talking like that because non-musician people are not very interested in music, they only want to see the results. So that kind of syndrome frightens me. There are a lot of different kinds of musicians and we should have a right to choose what we want to do and what we want to listen to, but Korea is so small and everyone is following what everyone else says.
There is a good influence, but for me the good part doesn’t affect me and the bad part affects me.
Because of the expectation of doing what’s popular?
But there is a growing community online who are interested in Korean indie music.
Is it related to Kpop?
A lot of people start with Kpop. I started with Kpop.
That’s interesting. What makes Kpop listeners listen to Korean indie music? Because pop fans are very different from indie fans.
I think a lot of people are curious about what else there is. That’s how I was. South Korea can’t be just a Kpop generator because I can’t imagine every Korean person loving Kpop. It’s doesn’t make sense.
Most of them do.
Parts of the US are starting to grow, but it’s still really small.
I didn’t expect that. I don’t know anything about what US people think. So Kpop…can be good. Just staying in Korea is hard to bear.
Do you have anything to say to people who are you fans? From Ibadi or your singing in Clazziquai Project? To say to people who know who you actually are?
I hope there are none. (laugh) I don’t know. Keep on listening to Korean music. Thank you for listening to Korean music.
Follow Horan on Twitter.