HIGHGRND, Interviews

[2015] Tablo’s interview with IZE magazine

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Source: IZE magazine 
Translation by cocoonedsoul @ icaruswalks.com


In SMTM4, Epik High’s Tablo produced and made songs as “Team YG” with Jinusean from the same company. At the same time, Epik High was performing in small theatres and even managed to make time for a overseas tour, so for Tablo, it was a tight time. But no matter how many times they performed, the cheers were just as loud. The song that he produced without much thought in SMTM4, “Oppa’s Car”, gained attention slowly and even topped the music charts. Tablo added, “It was tight but I am happy.” This is a story of someone who has found stability in the midst of a crazy schedule.

Q: You seem really busy lately.  You’re in SMTM4 while doing small theatre concerts and an overseas tour.

Tablo: To be honest I didn’t plan to go for SMTM4 so we decided to do the concerts and the American tour, but my schedule has become busier. There were many times when I had to fly to another place without a moment of rest, so I might as well clear my heart. But as I cleared my heart, my mind went blank as well and I became the comic character on SMTM4. It was a tight schedule, but I was happy.

Q: I’ve never seen anyone refute someone else’s words so positively before. (laughs)

Tablo: I’ve always been close with the SMTM4 producers, so I had a lot of fun because it was such a playful atmosphere. Jinusean hyungs haven’t been regulars on variety shows for a long time and were nervous before filming started. We were worried that SMTM was such a bloody program, so was it okay for people like us who seemed like old ancestors to go on it? Before we begun, I told Jinusean hyungs that we would only focus on what we needed to do and just make good memories.

Q: So that’s how “Oppa’s Car” came to be. The other teams seemed to have the performances in mind and made their songs based on how much reaction they could ignite, but “Oppa’s Car” really felt like you went all out.

Tablo: I don’t even know how to describe “Oppa’s Car.” We didn’t have any thoughts about competing at all. The audiences had been there since the producer concert, so we just thought about giving the audience as much enjoyment as possible.

Q: It looks like everyone had so much fun it topped the charts.

Tablo: To be honest, I’m confused. It was just a song we made without much thought. The “oppa bought a car, I’ll pick you up” melody was also simply hummed out, just like the lyrics. The original lyrics was “I stole dad’s car, I’ll pick you up.” The song only came to be because our team member Super Bee wanted to make a song called “Dad’s car”, but because it was a mission song that Incredible had to perform as well, the lyrics were changed. Super Bee seemed like he could steal his dad’s car for a joyride in the middle of the night, but Incredible didn’t give off that vibe at all. We told a flustered Incredivle, “Dible, how about you try lyrics that suit you, like ‘oppa bought a car, I’ll pick you up’. Write about buying a car if you succeed, about what you would do if you bought what you wanted to buy.” So Incredible wrote about his family. If you watched the stage, you would know, but no one performed this song with a clear idea of what they were doing. (laughs)

Q: How was the situation on stage? (laugh)

Tablo: It came out in the show, it was my birthday that day. Because I was busy lately, Hyejung said that we should at least spend 22 July, my birthday, together as a family. I tried to clear my schedule on that day no matter what but there was an error and the first preliminaries happened to be set on that day. The preparation time was short and I had to write two songs so I pulled all nighters for a week before my birthday. Jinusean hyungs were worried because we didn’t do so well during the producers concert and had to do well then. Our rappers were also nervous because they were up against strong contenders. All of us went on stage in this state of mental breakdown and showed a messy performance. After the stage ended, we were honestly like, “What happened earlier? Did something happen?”

Q: Seems like the song became more fun because not much thought went into it. All the other contestants were serious but only “Oppa’s Car” was fun.

Tablo: We made the song without any goals. We just wanted people to enjoy it. I also wanted to make a song without any curses with our team just once. It doesn’t have to have a deep meaning, but we can rap without curses. And the broadcast can go out without any censorship. I wanted to make music that even children could listen to. Feel good music. I wanted us to make many good memories between us because these were moments that we could never return to.

Q: The lyrics talk about earning money to buy dad a car. It really is filial hip-hop. (laughs) This is another situation where the lyrics of musicians become a hot topic.

Tablo: I’ve written “Airbag” and I’ve written “Oppa’s Car” but the truth is, I can’t drive. (laughs) So I didn’t know what to write. Writing about driving seemed too fictional. I didn’t have any stories to write about, so I thought about how I was happiest when I first bought my dad a car. If I wrote this with other motives in mind, I would be thankful when everyone congratulated us for hitting number one, but we really thought about nothing of that sort, so I thanked them while scratching my head, thinking “what is this?” When “Oppa’s Car”  hit the first place, I was with AOMG’s Simon D and Gray. We were always close and were drinking together to celebrate “Simon Dominic” topping the charts when suddenly, “Oppa’s Car” rose to first place. A couple of us used to live together in a small room because we had no money, and now the ones who went through so much hardship had songs that placed first and second, so I felt happy for some reason. “Simon Dominic” is a song about teaching others about how to spell his own name (laughs) it’s amazing how that song could get so much love.

Q: It’s fascinating that “Oppa’s Car” came from the same producers of a song as sad and deep as “Airbag”.

Tablo: Aside from how cars have airbags, I know it’s complete opposites. (Laughs) But I used to be like that. It’s just that while my life used to be depressing and needlessly dark, my life now is almost completely different. Anyone would feel lonely or desolated like that, but no matter if it’s fun music or not, as long as I feel like I can do it, I think I can do it.

Q: A fan on Twitter asked you why you smiled while performing “Airbag” on SMTM and you answered that it’s because you have longtime fans. It seems like you’ve grown to open your heart about this.

Tablo: I was really happy about it. I feel like a rookie now. Last year, Epik High released an album and received a lot of love. We planned to do a concert once and just one broadcast, but we went all the way to the award shows, and a year passed with us doing oversea tours. I’m still amazed by how people like our music and performances. So if I had performed “Airbag” in the past, I wouldn’t have been able to detract myself from the emotions that come with it, but now just looking at fans in the audience who know me makes me happy.

Q: This is serious, but is that what happiness is?

Tablo: Yes. Honestly, Epik High is now closer than we’ve ever been in the past 12 years. I thought we’re so close to each other that we couldn’t be any more closer, but it’s beyond that. Because the three of us are having so much fun and there are unexpected things that arise every moment. It was our first time to see our songs lining up in the music charts, it’s the first time we’ve done a concert on such a big scale, and so many times. Every moment seems new. I feel thankful to that extent. That’s why I set my phone alarm to alert me of two messages in the morning and in the evening. In the morning, “Be humble and don’t think about the hard times. For me, it may be just a little, but if it means a lot to someone, just do it.” And in the afternoon, just in case I forget, “Just be thankful that you can still make music.” It’s tiring whenever we do concert rehearsals or have to record a radio show, but when the message comes, I remember how big this happiness is and feel okay again.

Q: The Small Theatre concerts this time is really different. Instead of having one flow as before, it’s split into a few chapters where the audience can vote and the concert goes according to the ranking order.

Tablo: Last year during our national tour, our concerts sold out, and we found out that some fans went to almost every concert. They compiled all the ticket stubs and posted the photo on SNS. I felt bad and thankful that they came to the same concert multiple times. The ticket prices are quite high if combined and they bought them with part time jobs. So in the beginning, we decided to change one or two songs off the track list each time. But it seemed like a lot of fans were going to all concerts this time, so we wanted to show them 8 different concerts even if they went for 8 concerts.

Q: Is this consideration for the people who have sent you love?

Tablo: I think that the role of music is to give joy, and if you’re not giving joy then you are offering comfort.  To me, people are happiest when they can be themselves, or when the person they are comforting says, “I like you, I’m like that too”. So I told myself to not be worried or afraid even when I had to make the perfect stage for the SMTM rappers.

Q: I remember that during the preparation for the “Oppa’s Car” stage, you said it didn’t matter if the rappers in your team didn’t make it through.

Tablo: I felt bad that the contestants had to strive for perfection no matter what. They’re all young kids, especially our team’s Super Bee and Incredible, and didn’t have a lot of stage experience. They appeared on SMTM precisely because they are imperfect. I didn’t want to demand them to give something that is clean, perfect and without any mistakes. I just told them that it’s okay, this is how you are. Just like how no matter how much I wish for it, I won’t suddenly grow taller on stage. Because this is me. It hurt to see them struggle and make small mistakes with their lyrics from the tryouts. It’s okay for these audition program contestants in their teens and twenties to be imperfect, they should be imperfect.

Q: While being the producer for SMTM and HIGHGRND, you must have thought a lot about how to raise other musicians. What kind of musicians do you want to bring to HIGHGRND?

Tablo: I have only two conditions. The first is that I must like the music that the musician makes. That’s a given, and if I like their music then I’ll asked to meet and know them over a cup of tea. Then I’ll just look at how they are as people.

Q: Did Hyukoh go through that process too?

Tablo: I’ve been playing Hyukoh’s music on my radio show since last year and I’ve liked them from the beginning. I asked Hyukoh to perform “Airbag” with me on SMTM4 and grew closer to them that way. There wasn’t much persuading needed. Luckily, we liked each other and they spoke well when talking to me since the beginning. (Laughs) Truthfully, who isn’t as quiet as that when they first start going on television shows. They were in front of (Yoo) Jaeseok hyung even. When I first met Jaeseok hyung, I too went, “Wow, it’s Yoo Jaeseok” and sat at the fringe not saying much. But Jaeseok hyung saw that and said, “Tablo seems like my younger brother” and kept trying to talk to me, so I got used to it.

Q: Now you want to be someone like that too. In fact, you’ve been through many indescribable things that would’ve made anyone angry and sad.

Tablo: A song that I like lately of mine is “From the bottom”. The last part says “some day I’ll become the best” and now that I listen to it again, that voice is something that I know very well no matter when I hear it. It’s a voice that makes promises that you know very well might not come true. Even so, it ends with “I’ll try.”  That’s me lately. I want to become the best for the people that I treasure and the people that treasure me. That might not happen but even then I’ll try. That’s what I can do for HIGHGRND, as Epik High, as a child’s father, as a woman’s husband. I’ll continue singing in the future, but if the time ever comes for me to leave, I want to play that song. Then I’ll change it to “I tried.”

Q: You want to work hard and leave something in the world. You linked to Apple’s 1997 commercial “Think different” on Twitter. You want to change the world.

Tablo: I don’t have any cool aspirations about it. It’s just that the word “misfits” is close to my heart. The people who became outsiders because they couldn’t fit into the circle. Whether I’m that kind of person or not, when I leave I want to make music that can comfort them. Myself, Hyukoh, HIGHGRND employees, all of us can do something for those friends, and can share the kind of comfort and joy that they can relate to.

Words: Kang Myungseok

Photographs: Lee Jinhyuk (KoiWorks)

Edited by: Kim Youngjin

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