Lee Seung-chul takes risk with ‘Time’

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Lee Seung-chul takes risk with ‘Time’

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Lee Seung-chul

Veteran singer Lee Seung-chul celebrated the 30th anniversary since his debut with his 12th album, “Time Flies Like an Arrow,” which was unveiled at a large showcase early last week in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul.

Lee’s first release in two years shows courage and proves his love of making good music. These days, producing a full-length album is viewed as risky and experimental in a fast-paced music industry that forces even top musicians to release singles and avoid in-depth records. But Lee insisted on releasing a regular album with a full 10 tracks, claiming that he doesn’t want to be calculating when it comes to his work.

Grammy Award-winning sound engineers Steve Hodge and Dan Parry, who have previously worked with world-renowned musicians Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson and Adele, took part in engineering the Korean singer’s powerful record.

The JoongAng Ilbo met the 48-year-old at a press preview on May 21 and asked him some questions.

Q. Why does your voice sound different from usual in the new album?

A. If I reveal why I guess many younger singers will follow this method [laughs]. When I was recording I had a guide track in my left ear while listening to my voice in my right. I thought if I didn’t use this method, then the new album would be no different from my previous ones. I think it’s a refreshing way to create a new style of music. Without the new approach my music might have sounded a little sticky.

What musical change did you want to make?

In an interview I usually don’t tell junior singers to attempt a new singing method because I know that singers can’t change their singing habits. In the sense of a metaphor, even though people can’t change, they can change the clothes they wear. That’s why I tried the new technique of listening to both the guide track and my own voice when recording the music.

What did you care about the most when working with internationally renowned sound engineers?

Sometimes I think it would be great if I could release an album with just a song and a single instrument. What I’m trying to say is that I believe there is no instrument that is as good as a song itself. With that thought in mind I wanted to express emotions that could truly touch people, and in order to achieve that goal I needed help from highly skilled engineers. For the 12th album, we worked through a live cast. While I was singing in Seoul, the engineers worked in their local studio in real-time. I think it was a very effective method because we could make additions and alterations right at that moment. I hope many singers have a go at this approach.

You have released full-length albums almost every two years since your debut. Will you continue to do that?

When preparing an album I think it’s important to take the flow of age into consideration. The effort that is put into making a full-length album doesn’t usually pay off. Due to this reality, I assumed it could be a good idea for me to release a single every season. That thought makes me mull over whether the 12th album will be my last full-length record, but I know that many people expect me to continuously bring them out, so I’m still deliberating over the issue.

Do you feel under pressure because of the public’s expectations?

I know that people want something from me. I recently heard that students majoring in practical music chose me as the person they want to learn music from the most. Just like I look up to my senior Cho Yong-pil, I have juniors who look up to me, and because of that, I can’t release a single just to top the music charts.

I agree that selling many volumes of an album is good, but I think I will be able to give more inspiration to students majoring in practical music if I release full-length albums.

You mentioned in previous interviews that you want to give opportunities to lesser-known songwriters.

I received around 100 to 200 songs when I was preparing for my 12th album. Out of all of those tracks, producer Jeon Hye-sung and his engineering team selected 50. I then chose the final songs that would be included in my album. After choosing them, I realized that there were some tracks written by rookies, which was very surprising. I guess this happened because I chose the songs without allowing any personal feelings to get involved.

What did you focus on when arranging the songs?

If I ask a music arranger to work on a song, they usually set popularity as their top priority. But since the new album celebrates my 30th anniversary, I wanted to concentrate more on showing my individuality as much as possible.

Even though it is a little difficult to give a sense of a musical and orchestral feeling in a singer’s album, I have always wanted to give it a go.

Why didn’t you feature any other singers on your album?

Having someone feature in one of my songs means I’m appealing for popularity. Of course, I need to take public attention into consideration in that I’m a pop musician, but I didn’t want to rely too much on someone else featuring on one of my songs. Instead I just released an album showing what I can do instead of requesting the help of my fellow musicians.

How do you overcome it when you face a slump?

I overcome difficulties through performing. The more I feel that I’m undergoing a slump, the harder I try to make myself busy by staging performances. Once I even performed five times within a week. I suppose musicians should overcome any hard times through music.

Is there anything more you want to achieve as a musician?

I have a long way to go. I want to be successful like Psy (laughs). Even though two billion hits may be a little far-fetched [which Psy achieved on YouTube for the video of hit song “Gangnam Style”], I’ve set the goal of accomplishing 200 million hits.

What has been your best moment during the last 30 years since your debut?

Right now is the best moment. I’m not saying this as a joke. Releasing the album that marks my 30th anniversary and sharing my music and stories with reporters is all a great joy for me. I’m currently 50 years old, but I never imagined I would be able to continue my career as a singer until today. I believe this is a huge blessing for me, so I should be thankful for every moment.

BY PARK HYUN-TAEK [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]
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