Translation by Yvonne @ Icarus Walks (please keep credits when reposting & please comment/like 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
Tablo & Code Kunst of HIGHGRND
Tablo has created HIGHGRND, a label with an exciting name. After the pleasant surprise of hyukoh’s contract as its first artist, HIGHGRND released ‘Hood’ – a single by Joey Bada$$, Tablo and Code Kunst – last September. With its new, experimental sound, it was more than sufficient to further increase expectations for the label.
With a strange sense of expectation for good things to come, Code Kunst joined HIGHGRND as though it were destiny. Immediately after his contract on October 21, ‘Parachute,’ melancholy yet beautiful, topped the weekly charts at #1 as a subtly alluring combination of hot star Oh Hyuk and swag symbol dok2, an addictive sound that swayed audiences and emotions. You need to look no further to see why we chose Code Kunst and Tablo to be our November cover story.
Do What You Like, Be HIGHGRND
We met up with Tablo and Code Kunst right on the eve of deadline. The two were participating in Song Camp, a 5-day project with the musicians of Good Music held at the urban-vibe studio Musistance. After hearing ‘Hood,’ Kanye West had appointed Tablo and Code Kunst to this project, suggesting it as a way to produce songs that would be sent back to the States. After its launch, HIGHGRND seemed to be in the midst of quite a busy 2015, with Hyukoh’s ‘Infinite Challenge’ success, praise following Code Kunst’s ‘Hood’ and ‘Parachute,’ and this unexpected opportunity. In the midst of a studio bustling with HIGHGRND and Good Music artists and staff, including Oh Hyuk, Lee Hi and Tukutz, we sat down the two musicians and shared conversation about the label and their music.
Can you please introduce HIGHGRND first, as well as the significance behind starting the label.
Tablo: I don’t place huge significance on creating a label, starting a company. I’ve always loved diverse music, and the reason I first became a radio DJ was because I so valued such music. When I discover a great artist, simply just listening to that music brings me so much joy. But if I can help a musician do the things that they can’t do on their own, I can share their music with more people. I think that’s HIGHGRND’s main, if not only, goal.
You are the leader of a team, but taking charge of a label isn’t easy. Did you have confidence in the business aspects of the project?
Tablo: Because of the aforementioned reasons, I didn’t really see much need to think about confidence. And music is my favorite thing, so I wasn’t worried. Especially because I started with a good team of people who know how to operate a company. So in terms of the business aspect, I have confidence not so much in myself, but rather the people around me with whom I am working. I believe in them, and I am able to do such joyful work because of them. I wouldn’t be able to do the things that they do, and I don’t think I should either.
Since you do quite a bit of work as a producer in YG, it was pretty unexpected of you to create an entirely new label. How independent is this from YG?
Tablo: This is a separate company both systematically and legally. And aside from what’s on paper, we are functioning as an entirely independent entity. YG has no idea what we will develop with which artists or when it will be released. Nor do they care. Through HIGHGRND I am doing the things that I can’t do through YG. Look at our line-up: our first two artists were hyukoh and Code Kunst, something that would have been impossible within YG. And artists might not want it. HIGHGRND serves as a space for friends like these, and I’m personally very proud. And even more so because I went through periods just like the ones they are going through.
Does HIGHGRND have a specific musical direction?
Code Kunst: I don’t have one. All I know I that I do what I like.
Tablo: If I had to pinpoint one, I’d say it’s music that I enjoy listening to, musicians I like, and musicians I respect. This label is very precious ot Epik high as well. We have much more to learn from juniors than we have to teach them. We are able to give them certain pieces of advice that come from experience, but other than that we’re actually the ones learning. Even before starting HIGHGRND we were the type to interact significantly with our juniors and new musicians, and that was also because there was so much to be learned from them. For instance, I learned a lot watching Code Kunst producing ‘Hood,’ from the artistic aspects to attitude and mentality as well. There aren’t many moments when I see my own past self as a new artist right before my eyes, but I feel that a lot while working with him. So we ended up working together.
How did you two first meet?
Code Kunst: I went to the States and received the ‘Hood’ recording track from Joey Bada$$ and came to think that I would like to work on it with Tablo. I honestly didn’t think Joey Bada$$ would pick that song: I thought he’d go for a very hip-hop style track, but we ended up working with something very earnest. So I thought about working with Tablo on the plane ride back, and I contacted him right away.
Tablo: I first found out through the Internet that he was working with Joey Bada$$. There were pictures and stuff, so every hip-hop musician knew about it. That’s how big of a deal it was, and while I was thinking about how proud I was of him, how great and awesome he was, he contacted me. From my perspective, I was very grateful. Why me?
You must have felt amazing.
Tablo: No. Not amazing, just pretty good. (laughs)
So is that song what started the HIGHGRND recruitment and everything?
Tablo: After finishing ‘Hood,’ we had a short conversation over a cup of coffee on the terrace right before mixing the track. I was telling him how awesome it was that he had come so far without a label or company. Not that you necessarily need a company, but getting so far on his own – from Seoul to Brooklyn, in fact – is amazing. So I was complimenting him on how well he was doing independently, and he started telling me about the difficult aspects of it.
Code Kunst: It’s not so difficult that I would give up, but you know those things that you just can’t do all by yourself from start to finish. I can’t hold a camera and film a music video by myself. Before ‘Hood’ I had only ever made music alone, but working with Tablo made me realize that you can create music of higher quality if you get different thoughts and input. Working together made me think of all the difficulties that I had experienced prior.
Given your unique new music style, there must have been other labels who wanted to work with you.
Code Kunst: Yes, there were proposals while I was working on other tracks. As I’m sure you know, my music is very indie and it’s not the type of music that a ton of people relate to. I don’t think those labels could entirely adapt to those traits. Not in the sense that they would explicitly tell me to change, but I got the feeling that they would try to make me change into a style that’s more them than me. But Tablo hyung truly liked my music for the way it was without such intentions.
Toward the beginning of the year, you said you had a certain label in mind. Was that HIGHGRND by any chance?
Tablo: I believe it was Good Music.
Code Kunst: Cinematic or Good Music.
Tablo: But we ended up working with Good Music as soon as you came into HIGHGRND.
Code Kunst: Yeah. When I said that, I was 30% joking, 70% serious.
Tablo: Kanye West isn’t here, but apparently he told them to do the song camp with us in Korea. Since all the songs we produce here will go over to them, it would be great if this could be a way for Code Kunst to get even a little bit closer to that dream. Because to be honest, we’re able to do this because of him.
Code Kunst: Right, which is why this is good from a results standpoint.
It’s been two days since ‘Parachute’ came out. I heard the cassette tape releases were sold out.
Tablo: You could say that, but we released so few – we produced 100, gave Code Kunst one and sold 99. Code Kunst said that he sold 100 copies when he released his debut album two years ago. Right now it seems like we created such a limited edition product that it shut down servers and sold out instantly, but we honestly didn’t even expect all 100 to be sold. There’s no way to listen to a cassette tape even if you buy one; we didn’t think they’d sell. We weren’t even thinking about making profit, so we sold them at 5,000 won, but who knew….
Code Kunst: I genuinely thought that. Honestly, Epik High hasn’t experienced something like selling only 100 copies of an album. Mine had sold exactly that many, so I didn’t want to overdo it with too many copies.
Tablo: You overlooked the fact that dok2 and Oh Hyuk were featured.
Code Kunst: I forgot that part.
And you didn’t consider printing more?
Tablo: Then that would be unfair to the people who purchased the 99 copies. If we ever do this again, we should sell more. Because Code Kunst is now a world star who’s been #1 on the music charts.
It’s been two years now since Code Kunst released his debut album, but he has two full albums and one EP. It seems like you very faithfully, consistently release material. Are you constantly working?
Code Kunst: Yes, practically. My first album only has 12 tracks, the second has 20. That was a necessary number to fully capture the subject of ‘Crumple.’
I heard that you write songs with certain rappers in mind. Was that the case this time with ‘Parachute’ as well?
Code Kunst: Yes. It’s not like I’m totally set on having to work with one specific person, but I keep it in mind. If I don’t think about it at all, it feels like I’m just doing a hobby alone so I write while considering who I will be collaborating with.
How did Oh Hyuk and dok2 react when you suggested featuring them?
Code Kunst: They were really happy about it.
Tablo: He (Code Kunst) says this now, but to he said said very specifically that it had to be dok2 and Oh Hyuk. (laughs) And I had responded positively about dok2, but suggested picking a vocalist from outside our company. But after thinking about it I realized that dok2 had been the one person who released an album with Map the Soul, the label I used to be a part of, and so it would be meaningful for him to work with Oh Hyuk and Code Kunst who are part of the label I’m doing now. It seemed kind of like fate, too. So I called dok2 at night that we should do all this, and he called me back in the morning saying we should start recording.
When you show them the song, you give them a concept for the lyrics. How specific do you make your requests?
Code Kunst: I don’t tell them exactly what to write, but I do give them a certain feel to go for. For my own albums I do tend to be more specific.
Tablo: When giving us the lyrical concept for this song, Code Kunst sent us something like a long letter. Hyuk received that too, and he asked me to explain it to him because he didn’t understand it. But I didn’t understand it either. From Code Kunst’s point of view it was just explaining “this is kind of theme I want,” but it was like incomprehensible philosophical phrases…. I saw an interview Hyuk did and he said he almost got a disease writing the lyrics. But if you read what Code Kunst originally sent to us, you can see why Hyuk would say that.
Code Kunst: So I did change it a bit to make it easier to understand. I feel like the majority of people can’t understand the things I say. Even my mom says they’re confusing.
Do you provide feedback after they work on the lyrics?
Code Kunst: Not really. If I asked Hyuk to work together, it’s because I trust him. I’m not someone who expresses my thoughts very well, so I actually don’t confirm the lyrics because I don’t want my feedback to cause confusion. If there are parts I can’t relate to or if it’s too profane for the vibe I’m going for, then I might ask them to change it up a bit.
Tablo: But the lyrics Hyuk first sent were just as wild as Code Kunst’s description.
Code Kunst: He’s [Hyuk] somewhat like me in his inability to express things well, so it wasn’t easy.
Tablo: There are times when my lyrics are crazy, but they were seriously so weird. The original version was even worse. Honestly I still don’t know what Hyuk is trying to say, like the only part I understand is “Illionaire~ HIGHGRND~ Let’s Do It.” I think perhaps the reason this became popular in the mainstream is because we at least had dok2.