Lee Han Chul has been in the music industry for an impressive twenty years. In that time he’s involved himself in a lengthy list of ventures. He’s a soloist, a member of rock band Bulldog Mansion, a television host, a songwriter and composer – his list of work is impressive.
We caught up with Lee Han Chul for Indie Spotlight as he works on his latest collection of EPs.
Hello! Can you introduce yourself and your music to our readers?
I am Han Chul Lee, a singer-songwriter. I love to write and perform pop-style music with a good melody.
Your most recent, seasonal, releases have a very distinct style and feeling. Did you purposely write to a theme or did you find the style developed naturally?
2015 is the 20th year that I debuted as a musician. So, I want to celebrate it specially. I thought it would be awesome, if I release as many songs as possible. As I write songs very often, there is pack of songs I wrote already and some of them are not presented yet. In short, releasing more songs is reasonable plan. In this regard, I stopped hosting TV shows, being on the radio, and devoted myself to music. My goal is to release album twice in a year. I classified all songs not released based on the melody type, which ended up with grouping in seasonal theme. Songs under that spring and fall theme were already released on 6th, October, and Songs under summer and winter will be released in next year. Stay tuned with my next move!
You’re currently working on a project with a very strong message, what inspired wanting to make music that fights against the prejudice towards the “handicapped”?
I believe if you talk to somebody, you can understand him or her better. To fight prejudice against physically-challenged people, I wrote a song. People, both with and without physical difficulties – 20 in total – wrote the lyrics together, based on a melody which I had composed, and then recorded it. The song was released in August of this year under the title of “Near by.” The following month, I invited them to my concert and performed together. I will continuously do something that can change the world in a better way.
Do you feel you work differently as a solo artist and a composer than you do as a member of Bulldog Mansion?
As a solo artist, I prefer folk and pop-style melodies. I usually present emotional songs. On the other hand, I release dynamic songs emphasizing funk and rock rhythms as a member of Bulldog Mansion. I also contributed to the albums of So Ra Lee, Hee Eun Yang and Sunny Hill as a composer. I wrote songs for them in a wide range of genres and emotions which I could not write for myself because my voice does not fit the songs so well. In particular, I wrote dark and sad songs for So Ra Lee. Besides this, I have also worked on soundtracks for movies, soap operas, and commercial films.
As a composer: Does your song-writing process change when writing for another artist?
I choose songs from the ones which I have already written based on the theme of the artist’s album, voice, and emotion. If necessary, I write songs from the beginning which go well with his or her image.
Has there ever been a song you’ve written for someone else you wish you’d kept?
“Track 3” on So Ra Lee’s 7th album was supposed to be included in my solo album. However, she sang it very well so it became meaningless to add on my album. On the other hand, “Every little story” and “Track 8” presented a music style, that I had not thought of before. My spectrum in writing songs has been wider, due to her request to write for her. Thanks to a widened spectrum, I could release an album titled “Small room” which shows my dark emotions in 2012.
Is there an artist you’d like to write music for?
It may surprise you, but I would like to write songs for f(X). I am a big fan of Victoria from f(X), to be honest.
You debuted in the Korean music industry over twenty years ago. Have you faced any challenges due to the changes in the industry?
I debuted in 1995 as an artist through a big label. Luckily, I released three albums with the support of the label. But, I hoped to promote my career as a musician not just in a way which would allow me to perform whatever I wanted but also in a way that was sustainable. In this way, I bumped into the indie scene in Korea, which was in its incipient stage at that time. I am satisfied with the choice I made back then. At the beginning, many indie musicians played punk rock music and performed in live clubs. Nowadays, the number of genres performed by indie musicians has widened, and the channels through which they can promote their music have also diversified. Above all, it is amazing and it fills me with pride that some of the indie musicians, like 10cm and Kiha and the Faces, have become stars.
How do you think the industry differs for artists starting their career now compared to for you back then?
I won the bronze prize at the Yoo Jae Ha Music Contest in 1993 and the gold prize at the MBC University Song Festival in 1994, so that is when one of the big labels contacted me. As there was no internet service and Korean indie scene at all at that time, anyone who wants to be a musician should win prizes at music contests or circulate one’s demos to big labels. If then, there might be a chance to be chosen by a label. At that time, it was not easy to start your career without support from a label. Nowadays, it is easy to find musicians who start their career in various ways compared to back then. More and more indie labels are being launched. Even if one could not get a chance to sign a label or does not sign a label, he or she still can promote one’s career as a musician by releasing songs online.
You spent a number of years hosting All That Music, a You Hee-yeol’s Sketchbook-esque show for alternate music. How did it feel returning to the show as a performer earlier this year?
It was a pleasure to host a TV show under my name. I felt I became the Jools Holland of Korea. It was always exciting to introduce musicians I love and chat sincerely with them through Han Chul Lee’s All that music. After four years of hosting, I resigned from the MC position earlier this year to devote myself to music. Luckily, I had a chance to be on the show as a guest to promote my new album after four months of resigning. It felt like I was visiting my hometown.
Do you have plans to return to television as a host in the future?
Right now, I am fully devoted to working on seasonal themed albums to celebrate 20th year since my debut. After I complete it, I am planning to work as an entertainer again. It would be a pleasure if I was to get another chance to host a music show like All that music.
Your music career has already been long and successful, but there must still be many goals you wish to achieve as a musician. What hopes do you have for your music and the future?
My goal is to release my own irreplaceable music continuously in a sustainable way. I hope I can write songs that are touching, even if I only hum the melody without playing any musical instruments, like The Beatles’ songs.
Why would you suggest the readers of UnitedKpop listen to your music?
Around 1999, I was going through a difficult time as a musician. However, I overcame it by believing that ‘there might be people who love my music as I do somewhere in the world’. I hope that my possible music friends who might be somewhere in the world (Even if we speak different languages) listen to my songs instead of passing them by.
We’ll definitely be listening to more of your music and hopefully UK fans will be able to see you play here in the future! Thank you for featuring in our Indie Spotlight!
Let us know in the comment section below if you’re a fan of Lee Han Chul, maybe this interview has inspired you to listen to his music!