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Tablo & Code Kunst | Being Independent Part 2 [HIGHGRND INTERVIEW]

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Translation by Yvonne @ Icarus Walks  (please keep credits when reposting & please comment/like/rt/share if you read)
Source: F.ound Magazine

F.OUND ISSUE #63 November, 2015 by F.OUND / 2015.11.16

Editor > Okseon Seo

Photo > Hyeun Kim

Stylist > Yumi Choi

Make up > Eun Heo (Senior VP)

Hair > Yuri Choi

Interview Part 1 here

Being Independent

As Code Kunst says himself, his music is quite indie. Its sounds are so uniquely textured sound that listening to it almost lets you see a hazy vision of the musical world only he dreams of. Though many may dream of and admire this musical form, it’s so difficult to actually turn it into a reality that I became curious what kind of music influences him. When I asked what music has made him the Code Kunst he is today, his short answer was “Fever’s End.” This is a huge and heavy piece of the past, Tablo’s 2011 solo album that served almost as a diary for Tablo during difficult times. As Code Kunst related the story of him being so immersed in the album that he listened to it on the bus for two entire round trips between Incheon and Gangnam, Tablo stared absently at the floor.

Code Kunst, who loved “Fever’s End” so much that he couldn’t even get off at the stop he needed to, alongside Tablo, hearing for the first time that he loved his only solo album so dearly. It may be cheesy, but you can’t describe their meeting without the words ‘destiny’ and ‘fate.’ Despite how different they may appear on the outside, it is likely these intertwined paths that ultimately make them seem surprisingly similar. And it’s not hard to predict that the force of their musical and emotional intersection will be huge in guiding HIGHGRND’s exclusive path.

What kind of color and strength do you want HIGHGRND to have amongst the very vast array of existing music labels?

Tablo: Individuality isn’t that important for the label itself. I just want Hyukoh to do what only Hyukoh can do, I want Code Kunst to have his own individual color. If you see how they recruit artists, hip-hop labels develop their crew’s style based on genre. And that’s how that crew’s name becomes important, but HIGHGRND isn’t that kind of concept. Even the musicians we haven’t revealed yet are quite unique, independent artists so I’m going to maintain and assist that. I would like each artist to be their own color, not HIGHGRND’s.

I like that the currently revealed artists – Hyukoh, Code Kunst – have nothing in common because it shows that HIGHGRND can expand very broadly.

Tablo: The ones to be revealed in the future are even more unrelated. If you had to pinpoint a common factor, it would be that these are people who would likely be good artists to collaborate with in an Epik High album. If you listen to Epik High’s music, we’ve featured many artists who seem to have nothing in common. From BIGBANG’s Taeyang to Lee Sora, Naul, Nell’s Kim Jongwan, etc. That’s about as related they can get.

Code Kunst, even before your single’s release, it’s been getting a lot of PR. This is something you’ve never experienced before. Does it feel strange or burdensome to have people, a company, so actively letting the world know about you and your music?

 Code Kunst: It’s not burdensome. I’m grateful and in awe. If this were burdensome, I’d seem like too much of a coward.

In contrast to gratitude, it seems like you’d also feel a greater sense of responsibility. Since there are people working alongside and supporting you.

 Code Kunst: That’s true. Most of my experiences in HIGHGRND are very new to me, and it’s fun to learn from things that are different from the indie hip-hop scene. And it does make me feel more responsible, like you said. As they do this much for me, I have to make even better music.

Tablo: I’d actually say that promotion and other related things are rather more burdensome for me because I’m worried that the artist will feel uncomfortable with it. Even more so because I’ve experienced it myself. When a well-loved indie musician starts to experience mainstream success or receive more attention, arrows start to come as well. So from the company’s perspective, we may be doing our best but this could cause harm to the musician, which is why we need to strike a good balance. In reality Hyukoh and Code Kunst are just doing what they’ve always done. Hyukoh isn’t doing anything differently after “Infinite Challenge”; in fact, they’re only working harder and so is Code Kunst. So I think publicity questions are things that the company really needs to be concerned about. We should probably not do PR next time. (laughs)

But I think Code Kunst would find his own ways to promote himself. (laughs)

Code Kunst: Shoot my own banners and stuff. (laughs)

Even though HIGHGRND is independent, it’s not like there is absolutely no connection – do you have any thoughts about working with original YG artists?

Code Kunst: I do. Taeyang, CL.

Those seem like they would be a good match.

Code Kunst: Not just those two, I want to work with all of them. I like to try everything.

Tablo: Hayi (Lee Hi) is working with him right now. They’re a good fit, too.

 

Speaking of Lee Hi, what are your plans? As much as you’re able to reveal.

Tablo: Yang Hyunsuk asked us to take on her next album. I said yes because I worked with her on her first album as well, and I really like her. I think people expect an album to be released right away because the news broke out not long after that, but it hadn’t been much completed at that point. I like Hi’s last album, but I think that this one has to be very different. A lot of things piled up for Hi during the time that she wasn’t releasing music: she writes songs and good lyrics, too. Though she’s not signed to HIGHGRND, I’ve taken on the production.

Tukutz and I are getting a lot of producers to participate who we think are good fits for Hi. I think she’s an artist who needs to release an amazing album with lots of hard work put into it, so there’s no other way other than to take a lot of time. The complaints of ‘why isn’t Lee Hi’s album coming out’ are now directed to me instead of Yang Hyunsuk, but we are working hard. Hi is still young, so that takes time as well.

It’s even more exciting because she is young.

Tablo: That’s true. It’s crazy what she’s piled up. I think the difficult experiences and pain she’s felt during the past few years without releasing an album are really manifesting in her voice. And that’s the right thing to happen, for a singer. If that was YG’s intent, this time has been huge for her.

You participated on two seasons of the popular <Show Me The Money>? How was that?

Tablo: As you know if you watched it, it was just like a variety show for me. To be honest, Jinusean were pretty anxious about being on the show and whether it was okay for them to be on it. I told them that we should just go out and enjoy ourselves, and it was so much fun. There were so many scandals, but we were just having fun on set so we didn’t even know. We would find out about things only after finishing filming and seeing the news.

It was very comfortable to watch with you just talking like your normal self and Jinusean acting as they usually do. There was no acting or exaggerating. It was funny, and I was also thankful for it.

Tablo: Though I didn’t feel this way on set, while watching the show there were many both good and bad parts. At times I would feel guilty or responsible because I was a part of the scandals, regardless of what my intent was. When I felt like I had to take some action, I didn’t necessarily publicly say my opinion, but rather gave suggestions to the producers and tried to find ways to improve things. People say that hip-hop has been changed and influenced in a certain way because of <Show Me the Money>, and maybe it’s my own foolish opinion but I don’t think you should be blaming the program if it has influenced hip-hop negatively.

Because the problem is that hip-hop musicians need to be doing a better job. The moment we recognize that <Show Me the Money> does have a huge effect, we have already acted on that knowledge. In doing so, you’re really making your own influence smaller. I think that we as individual musicians play a much bigger role than programs like that, and we have to do better.

You were also a guest on MC Meta’s <Everyone’s Mic>.

Tablo: It was fun. Epik High started a long time ago in SSamzie Space. There was a program similar to <Everyone’s Mic> where lots of rappers would come on and perform two songs each, and it kind of felt like that. Despite it being in a small club, I thought it was more fun than having a ton of people come out and go crazy. And I was also grateful to be invited as a guest and asked to judge other people.

How can people apply to join and do music in HIGHGRND?

Tablo: Social media is a way to do so. There are also people who come find us themselves, but e-mailing is the better method.

Code Kunst: I think even that process comes very naturally.

Tablo: If you are putting your best effort into and truly enjoying your music, won’t we eventually hear it? I played hyukoh on the radio a lot even before many people knew about them, and I liked Code Kunst beforehand as well. I think if you’re making good music, I’ll find out about it.

Code Kunst: You can’t make music seeking to get into HIGHGRND.

Tablo: It’ll probably be harder to get into ILLIONAIRE.

Ah, I feel like that was a loaded statement. (laughs)

Well, if you want to join HIGHGRND, you just need to be making good music and I’ll discover you. But as for ILLIONAIRE, you need that special swag. (laughs) And if you want that level of swag, you have to make a lot of money. (laughs)

Do you think leading HIGHGRND will influence Epik High’s path as well?

Tablo: It already is. First off, the fact that we haven’t released an album this year. Frankly, that makes me mad. (laughs) But I think any influence will be positive. We’re working on our next album, and when it comes out it will be very clear. It’s definitely a good influence.

It’s only been a year since <Shoebox> came out, I don’t think you have to be in such a rush. And all the new stuff you’re working on is great, too. Your last album really made me feel that even after over 10 years, Epik High can continue going strong in a new direction.

Tablo: Tukutz is a very hard worker, but he works hard when things aren’t going very well and then gets kind of lazy once that pays off. After working super intensely on <Shoebox>, ‘Born Hater’ became his life song. A few months after ‘Born Hater’ came out, he bought a house and not surprisingly he wasn’t working after that. The computer is collecting dust. But what Code Kunst and Hyukoh have in common is that they work like crazy – Epik High was the same at that age. I don’t know if it’s because Tukutz has become conscious of that, but now he’s working very hard.

The music released so far feels very experimental. Do you pursue anything else above music as a label?

Tablo: It’s hard to tell now because we’re still in the beginning stages, but there’s that special kind of genuineness that really doesn’t care about people’s recognition. Thankfully, the musicians in our label have that genuineness. Whether it’s visible or not, whether people acknowledge it or deny it, I believe that that’s real. There’s a purity that I can feel from them as people – it’s the same as people who have love. I think HIGHGRND’s color will develop naturally. Actually, I love that there’s just so many factors that I don’t think I can even use the word ‘color.’

I do think there will be a certain kind of mood. Since this is my first time meeting Code Kunst, I was worried that his personality might be too difficult, that it might be hard to conduct a sympathetic interview. But I think you two have a lot in common. Tablo, Code Kunst, Oh Hyuk – the three of you all look different and speak differently but are similar. It’s really a good thing that you guys came together.

Tablo: Hm, in that case Hyuk and Code Kunst will really suffer in 5-6 years. But, you can get through it.

Code Kunst, do you think you and HIGHGRND can go far?

Code Kunst: Yes. Because they don’t force anything out of me. Because they respect me.

Tablo: There’s a stereotype that comes with the words agency, company. Though my business card happens to read CEO, I can’t order my artists around. All I can do is allow them to do what they want, and I’m not going to decide for them what to and what not to do. That’s important.

Even if you allow them to do what they want, what’s important is that you get along well and trust one another.

Tablo: Of course if I think a situation may be potentially dangerous or harmful, I will give my advice. But since I think those experiences are important at times too, I’m not going to get involved like most agencies do. Fans, please don’t say things to be over social media. I can do whatever I want with Epik High, but these artists are independent people and all we do is help them. They’re not people who will just do whatever I tell them. I mean, look at them, do they look like kids who’ll do what others ask them to?

HIGHGRND Music With No-Boundary

The hour-long interview came to an end. It was my first time formally with Tablo since his 2011 cover story. He and Epik High have changed very much in the past four years, and needlessly to say, in an extremely positive way. After our conversation four years ago about what a relief it was to be able to do music after such difficult times, it is amazing to talk to him about HIGHGRND and his realities that only seem like a dream. And expectations are high for Code Kunst as well, who possesses great talent and potential, walking these beginning steps right along with him. With the respect and trust the CEO and artist have for one another, HIGHGRND will undoubtedly produce amazing work. Finally, we have a music label as independent in its genre and work as HIGHGRND.

F.ound interview 2011 part 1,2

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