A song is the language through which a singer expresses his emotions. Or at least 20 years ago, this was such a natural thing that it was embarrassing to say so. But these days, this is embarrassing in a different sense. Nobody is sincere when it comes to singing these days. When a certain tone of vocals becomes popular, that immediately becomes the trend, and numerous business-related issues will be linked to a single song. Even when the press spoke of ‘four-second singer’ or ‘removing the MR,’ the focus of the debate was on how well the singer sings, not what those songs are trying to deliver.
In the midst of that, Taeyang says his songs are his way of speaking his heart. This singer, currently one of the most successful idol singers, convinced the interviewee that singing is the way he delivers his emotions rather than it being his job or something that he likes to do. And it did not come from the fact that he was an idol who wanted to be acknowledged as a musician or an artist. Rather than considering music a noble ideal or something difficult, he regarded it as his way of communicating with the world. So how did he come to accept music as his language? 10Asia spoke to Taeyang who said he found his confidence through his first full-length studio release “Solar.”
10: You’re still busy these days, right? (laugh) Having to promote “I’ll Be There” while preparing for your concert as well.
Taeyang: Yes. Things are hectic these days. (laugh) I’m going to try to promote “I’ll Be There” up till the concert takes place.
10: You said on SBS variety show “Steel Heart” that the LED that Girls’ Generation used for their concert stood out the most for you. (laugh) Will you be using it for your concert?
Taeyang: Oh, I’m not sure yet. (laugh)
10: Is there anything you tend to pay more attention to when it comes to concerts?
Taeyang: I’m paying attention to everything. (laugh) But most of the songs from my latest album are ones that I haven’t shown to the public before so I’m paying a lot of attention to those. There’s a flow to the songs in this album so I’m trying to figure out how I can show that flow in the concert.
10: Like you said, it seems like there is a flow to your album this time. But I think that flow splits at track number eight “After You Sleep.” The flow up till track seven and after “After You Sleep” are very different. I heard you re-did the album so did the songs up till track seven come after that?
Taeyang: The songs up till track seven were actually the songs that came out after I decided to re-do the album. Last year was a very tough time for me. In terms of both my emotions and the situation. But the conclusion I came to was that if I don’t open myself up, it would be difficult to deliver my emotions through music. I would sort of be closed off from the world? So the output I got thereafter, from the first to seventh track, came after I started doing music after opening myself up completely.
10: You’ve said several times that 2009 was a hard time for you. Was there a particular reason for this?
Taeyang: How should I put this… While being a singer for three years, I was going on stage all the time, keep preparing new albums, and not have enough time but make this [album]. And after repeating this life, I felt that I was doing this without feeling much about it rather than doing it because I wanted it. That was 2009.
10: Such a situation is unavoidable for popular musicians but I’m guessing you felt more pressure over music itself compared to other people.
Taeyang: That’s why I had a hard time last year. Being too serious about such issues made me shut myself from others. As time passed, I was doing music for consumption while not being happy about it, and I had a very hard time because of that. Then at a certain point, I realized I can’t be like that. And then I opened myself up which is when I started to see things outside what I had been seeing, and that’s how I was able to make this album. I wouldn’t have released an album if I hadn’t been able to do that.
10: Have you become able to do music for yourself rather than music for music?
Taeyang: That’s the answer I found. I did music because I needed to become happy. But it turned out I myself wasn’t happy anymore because I kept worrying over such issues and I was becoming someone who relies solely on music without having any other life.
10: Why is music so important to you?
Taeyang: This was how it was from the very beginning but to me, doing music in itself is very important. There’s a part of me that is extremely shy when it comes to expressing something or showing my emotions to people. Since I was young, if I feel something I would keep it inside me and think about it deeply. And music was important in that it helped me feel those emotions. There were many times when I was moved and felt emotions through music rather than by meeting people. Because I could feel or express many emotions without having to experience them directly. That’s why I do music, I can express my emotions the most when I’m on stage, and show myself as I am to the fullest.
10: Is that why tracks one to seven changed? Because what you express through your music changes when your emotional state changes?
Taeyang: Yes, my mentality had changed. It had been difficult to do that before but I gained the confidence that I can make whatever kind of song my own so I think that enabled me to do music that is different from before. What helped a lot while preparing this album was that I think I found where my heart lies while going through hard times. That’s why I re-did the album. I kept thinking I couldn’t produce something good like this. And I think such thinking resulted in the creation of the album you see today.
10: And I think you’ve become able to express your detailed emotions through music. In previous albums it felt like you were good at pulling off the songs but this time, it seems that you are creating the emotions. Even with just “I Need a Girl,” the vocals is so important that the song could change entirely depending on for how long or short you hold your note or how high or low you sing it.
Taeyang: This could sound abstract but I think a large change is that I’ve come to be able to sing and feel the more detailed parts to a song. And I’ve become more certain that when I sing a certain song, I need to sing it so that it goes with my style. that’s why the vocals have larger weight this time and I paid more attention to the singing. I have to control everything with my voice. I used to pay a lot of attention to rhythm or sound before but now I concentrate more on the feeling that my voice gives off.
10: In that sense, I don’t think you would have needed a guide vocal for this album since the melody changes depending on how you sing the songs.
Taeyang: “I Need a Girl” was by a songwriter not from our company so there was a guide. But with the other songs, I worked directly with the producers, sung them however I felt about them, and recorded them straight away. I sang most of the songs without guides. Even when there were [guides], the producers pretty much left it up to me to do the expressions or set the overall vibe of the song.
10: I think “You’re My” must have been like that in particular. You fill up the song, created only by the sounds of the piano, with just your voice, so the song can change entirely depending on how you sing the lyrics and whether you do ad-libs or not. In a way it’s as if you’re writing the song while singing it. (laugh) I think it might have ended up becoming an entirely different song from what the songwriter intended it to be.
Taeyang: It took some time for me to find my style for “You’re My” because it had a guide and when I sang it similar to that, everyone had said it sounded okay. But I didn’t like it. I was under the determination that I can only produce a completed album when it contains my style. So I changed the original sound while doing many recordings. There was a voice I wanted to use for it, and to express that properly, I needed to understand the song thoroughly, record it in my style, and then tell people that I want to use this sort of sound for this song. It was the same with other songs as well.
10: I think how you sustain your unique vibe in “You’re My” must’ve been important because it has to be sung in one go.
Taeyang: Yes. It actually took a very long time to record. (laugh) Till the very last moment I had been trying to figure out how I should sing the song but I just decided to erase all the thoughts in my head and just sing it depending entirely on how I felt about it and that worked. (laugh)
10: Hasn’t the way people treat you changed after you became more expressive of your opinions? Your new album does not follow the trend of the Korean music industry these days and you unfold your not-so-fast songs with the changes in your voice. You must’ve needed to persuade a lot of people to make such an album.
Taeyang: I think what I learned the most while working on this album was people relationships. We’d compromise before I set forth my opinions and then I needed to go through the process of pulling out what I want by talking with them a lot.
10: Did you have a hard time saying such things before?
Taeyang: Yes. I didn’t know how to have such conversations and when things go in a direction different from what I want, I actually… used to just turn around and say “I’m not going to do it.”
10: You said that new friends are what you surely want in the year 2010. Do you now have interest in forming new relationships?
Taeyang: Yes. Before, I wasn’t open to meeting new people or forming new relationships. And I wouldn’t say that I’m still that active about it but I think it’s good that I even have these feelings. — that I’m becoming more interested in new relationships and that I think more deeply about them as well.
10: I think such a change in heart has influenced your way of singing as well. With “Take it Slow” in particular, you very strongly seemed to give off the vibe that ‘I’m the one who’s leading this song.’ You also gave a lot of delicate changes to your voice as well.
Taeyang: I think that aspect to it stood out more because I made the melody but now, I just want to be able to express the things I have the way they are when I’m singing. Before, I used to devise up a lot of imaginary settings before singing a song because it’s not based on my experience so I would just come up with a set-up based on the lyrics. But that ended up in me expressing the song a bit differently from how it was really supposed to be. I now start with songs I’m sure of. By singing with more sincerity, I think I’ve started to realize a bit on how to express a song more delicately.
10: Songs are usually constructed by the songwriting or arrangement but you did that with your voice which was absurd in a good sense. (laugh) What were you most concerned about when making your own songs for the album?
Taeyang: I’m embarrassed to say I wrote the songs but when producer Teddy made it, he would make songs with melodies that he gets good feelings about immediately after listening to them. So it’s important to find the melody that suits my voice and tone. And I take overall flow into much consideration as well. I think making the melody that I can express is most important.
10: Teddy has worked with you several times now so he probably gets what you need immediately but how was it working with new producers like choice37?
Taeyang: Communication was very important because in the case of choice37, he’s an old friend of Teddy’s from the United States who has been working in Korea starting with G-Dragon’s album. More than anything, I thought that I should express what I want very clearly. I made sure of telling him I’m making this sort of album so I would like us to use these sort of things. So I told him a lot that I want this album to have a lot of analog elements to it rather than digital sounds. I wanted the album to give off the vibe of soul.
10: This album definitely seems to stray away from the trend of Korean music these days. But aren’t you worried? You said you wanted to do music where you can sing delicately within a fixed rhythm and gradually create an elegant bounce but that’s not the popular style in Korea.
Taeyang: I do think that the music I seek to do is actually quite far from what’s popular right now. And in a review, I read I was similar to some musician overseas, so that was frustrating as well because this is an album I made not thinking of any of that. I just went with how I feel. My goal is to do music which I am best at doing and that which sounds the best when done by me. Looking down the road, I also want to show not just Korea but the world that there is a singer who can do such music and sing such songs. I still decided to go with “I Need a Girl” for the title track though because it could reach out to the more common public.
10: You must’ve worried about saying your music is first than the public being one of the most popular idol stars.
Taeyang: I would’ve seen success if I was looking at the immediate future and released an album which suits the tastes of the Korean public. But I don’t know if I would’ve been satisfied by that. People may speak of me nicely based on the results they see but I don’t think that is what’s important.
10: You used to say that acknowledging yourself is important but now it seems that having confidence in yourself has become more important.
Taeyang: Yes. I have to know myself better and become confident.
10: Is there anything you have found out about yourself while working on this album?
Taeyang: It’s not that I didn’t know myself before. But I think I’ve found out about myself in more detail this time. For example, if I have any bad habits, I’ve confirmed it and there are things I have accepted when it comes to things I can’t do anything about. Thoughts like, I’m me. In a way, I’ve found an answer to myself. A realization about what sort of music I should do in the future.
10: And what sort of music is that?
Taeyang: I don’t know how this may sound but uh… It’s what I have been dreaming since I was young and I think I finally got it this time. Music that sounds very hopeful in the morning on your way to work but consoling when you hear on your way home at the end of the day. It’s music that’ll sometimes sound more exciting, rather than put you in a good mood, and sound sad if you hear it when you’re in another mood.
10: I think you’ve gained a confidence about the stage as well while setting the direction of your music. It seemed like for both “I Need a Girl” and “I’ll Be There,” you think of yourself as part of a big picture or a musical actor. Didn’t you want to show some fancy techniques like you did with “Where U At” or “Wedding Dress”?
Taeyang: I actually thought long and hard before doing “I’ll Be There.” I wondered whether it’s better to come up with a choreography and do a group dance with the rest of the dancers. I wouldn’t have worried about it if I was just thinking of the dancing though. Because the song I was singing needed some sort of picture, I came up with a performance structured like a musical. And repeating what I’ve already shown people didn’t have much meaning to me. I wanted to create a storyline where the singing and dancing become one and delivers emotions to the audience. I could always show my technique another time.
10: But don’t such performances become comprehendable only when one understands the feeling that the song and sound create together? It’s effective when you listen to the album and appreciate the song but you’re not in the environment to do so in Korea. It’s not as if the speakers on your TV at home have good sound.
Taeyang: I would like to think that a lot of people appreciate the music but regardless, those who will watch will watch and those who listen will listen. I’m not too worried about it because I think that those who regard my music as cool will watch my performances. I wouldn’t have done this type of music if I was concerned about that.
10: But aren’t you worried that the more you express your world in detail, you could become a person who is hard for the public to approach? You’re one of the most popular idols but it seems like you sort of have the image of being a very serious singer and hard to approach.
Taeyang: I’m actually worried about that. But I wouldn’t have been able to do this if I was worried about that a lot. I think I find consolation from the fact that the satisfaction I feel from a product made in the way I want it to be overrides the concerns.
10: And in the process, your music and the music that Big Bang does becomes more different. Have your thoughts changed regarding the role you have in Big Bang?
Taeyang: By doing what I can do as a solo and doing various music through Big Bang, I think I’ve been given more chances to challenge myself to do music that I hadn’t been able to do. And within that, if I work hard at what I’m good at, I think it’ll be a lot of help for the team and I think that’s how people will see it as well. That’s why I think I feel the same way about my activities as both a solo and group.
10: What direction will Big Bang’s new album take on?
Taeyang: Before, we reflected a lot of what goes with the times into our music and we were under the pressure to become popular, not just in terms of music. But I think we’ve come to consider the most basic things important now. Everyone agrees on the fact that we want to do music that stays loyal to the basics. That’s why although we’re still in the process of preparing the album, there’ll be a lot of songs that are quite different from our songs from before.
10: But while the music you do as a solo and as a member of Big Bang are different, the response inside and outside Korea are also different. Doesn’t the response of fans overseas regarding your solo album help? Korea has yet to become used to the style of music where the singer controls the flow or bounce of the song with his voice rather than the rhythm of the sound.
Taeyang: The guys overseas seem to like it a lot. (laugh) I think the response of fans overseas give me confidence and trust. I think I would have been worried if there was no response to the album. But despite not having promoted the album overseas, it spread through YouTube and ranked on the iTunes chart. I felt that if this continues, people who like my music will keep listening and those who recognize me will recognize me. I think the fact that fans overseas recognize me just with my song and performance is very helpful.
10: Do you have plans to pursue your career overseas?
Taeyang: I personally have thought that if the international album is received well, I want to try working overseas. But that’s realistically impossible to do right now so for now, I want to go more deep with my music and make sure I get good results. Then that will provide the opportunity. I actually hadn’t even thought of releasing my music on iTunes. But now that it has happened, I do believe that the things I think could become reality.
10: At the same time, you must increasingly have more to think about. What you want to do is actually closer to the opposite of the public’s taste. They don’t listen to every detailed changed to the vocal or the sound that has elaborately been adjusted to it.
Taeyang: I do think that become the case more and more. The sound in the music these days completely set aside those very elements you just mentioned. But I would’ve had a harder time if I did music that goes with the times. I might not have been able to release an album at all. But I am very worried. I’m worried about doing music too but there are many cases where globally, the sound is emphasized more than delivering an emotion through a melody.
10: You’re an analog guy. (laugh) I hear you listen to a lot of old songs too.
Taeyang: Do I? (laugh) There is less music I’m moved by nowadays compared to the past because the songs focus around digital sound too much. When I was young, I actually didn’t hang out with my friends much, I never had a girlfriend and I didn’t have the chance to feel what love is. But music made me feel those emotions. A lot of that has disappeared now. That’s why I’m going to have a band create the sound for my concert.
10: Then what sort of musician do you want to have become in the next year or two?
Taeyang: Um, that’s a difficult question.
10: It wasn’t meant to be (laugh). As expected, you’re serious when it comes to music.
Taeyang: (laugh) I hope I’m remembered for an unchanged image. I’m going to keep studying music with the determination I have for it now as well as try hard to continue discovering more about myself. I’m going to do my best no matter which position I’m in and wherever I am, I want to become a musician who can move people’s hearts greatly through music. And 10 years later, I’d like to sing songs that touch people even more greatly.
10: Then what sort of music do you think you’ll be doing 10 years later?
Taeyang: More delicate music. And probably music that goes with my experience? I think that’s what’ll happen. (laugh)