It seems like it was just yesterday that they were singing on stage with young and fresh faces and their instruments in hand. Yet it has already been six years since they debuted, which is why they have started hearing from aspiring singers: “We want to become like you.” Like such, FTISLAND is now becoming someone’s dream or hope.
TenAsia met with the five members of the band – Jong-hoon, Hong-ki, Jae-jin, Min-hwan, and Seung-hyun – ahead of the September 23 release of their special album “THANKS TO” for their fans in Korea. FTISLAND spent a hot summer, attracting a total 100,000 fans to the 11 shows they gave for their “FTISLAND Arena Tour 2013~ FREEDOM~” which kicked off in Japan’s Miyagi Sekisui Heim Super Arena on June 15 and wrapped up at the Saitama Super Arena on July 14. And they are now practicing hard for their September 28 and 29 Seoul concerts, which will mark the sixth year since their debut.
During the interview, they were as playful and honest as they were when they were young. Yet they showed they had taken a step forward as artists by talking about real music and how they now truly enjoy it. As the interview progressed, with FTISLAND saying they are just happy to be able to do music wherever it may be, it seemed that it won’t be long before they are called more than just a ‘pretty-faced band.’
Hasn’t it been a while since you’ve done an interview as a full group? Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans that have been waiting for you in Korea?
Hong-ki: We thank our fans. So we expressed it through a song. We’ll release a special album called “THANKS TO” on September 23 and it’ll contain a song we made for our fans.
Seung-hyun: Hong-ki made it and the rest of us put our hearts into playing the tune (laughs).
Could you briefly introduce the special album you just mentioned?
Hong-ki: It marks the sixth year since our debut and we made it because we wanted to have people listen to the songs we made. It’ll be in the format of a mini-album but it’ll be a special album and contain songs for our fans, and for the people who have waited for us.
You successfully wrapped up your June-July Japan arena tour. How did it feel holding such large-scale concerts for the first time in two years since the Budokan in 2011?
Seung-hyun: It was a good experience and I think we matured in a new way. It has also made us want to hold even more concerts so we set some dates and are now preparing for them.
Hong-ki: It was the first time we got to decide on the set list and structure the concert in the way we wanted to. The staff and us worked together under the same mindset and set the concert in the direction we wanted it to go in. It was the most meaningful in the sense that we got to do what we wanted to with our self-composed songs of which there are many in Japan.
I noticed that whenever you had time in between the photo shoots, you got together and worked on the set list.
Hong-ki: We need to work on our 6th anniversary concert that’ll take place in Seoul on September 28 and 29. And after that, we’ll go on our Zepp tour around all of Japan for a month starting October 1. So we need to work on those whenever we can.
You’ve performed at the arenas and Budokan in Japan so all that’s left are the domes and stadiums. And I’m sure you want to perform at these venues.
Hong-ki: Of course, because it means the bigger the venue, the more fans we have. And we’ve said this to our fans at our concerts before but this is both good and sad at the same time. We like being near our fans. It’s also more band-like. So we’re not in a hurry to perform at bigger venues. That’s also why we’re going on a Zepp tour again. Because we want to interact with our fans from close up.
I was curious about that. ‘Why a Zepp tour when you’ve performed at the arenas?
Jae-jin: We’re not trying to compare but for groups that dance, the bigger the venue the better because what they show is important. But in our case, all we need is good sound but the larger the venue, the worse the sound. We also wanted to get that feeling of interacting with our fans from up close for the first time in a while, so that’s why we’re doing it.
Hong-ki: And more than anything, the Zepp tours are fun. I’m looking forward to the upcoming one because we also have more male fans now.
That’s right. I saw a lot of postings online by guys saying, “I want to become like you.” There are also quite a lot of covers of your songs done by your male fans overseas.
Hong-ki: A male student who is with his school’s band sent us a tweet with a video of his cover of our song.
Jae-jin: It’s amazing when we get to see young fans of ours sing and play our songs.
Hong-ki: What’s more interesting is that our fans in Asia, such as Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, do covers of the songs we released in Korea and not Japan (laughs).
Your Asia tour “TAKE FTISLAND” which started in Seoul last September, ended in Hong Kong this August. But at your fan meeting in Hong Kong, you said you’ll tour Asia again.
Hong-ki: We probably will [tour Asia] again. It was the case last year and is this year too, but we hold over an average 30 concerts per year. And our activities are on a continuous cycle. We’ll do our activities in Korea, then tour Japan, then release an album, then go on tour in Asia, and after that, hold more concerts in Korea or Japan in the winter. When a new year starts, we go on tour again.
Jae-jin: And it’s all interlinked. When we do one thing, we’re also be practicing for the next thing, and when it’s done, we move onto the next.
Well, you’re really busy but quite often, people in Korea don’t know what you’re up to. And yet you’ve released 11 singles and three studio albums in Japan. Maybe it’s because in Korea, we only got to hear your Japan major scene debut single “Flower Rock.”
Hong-ki: That was to differentiate our style in Japan versus Korea. These days, we’re talking about how it’d be nice to release the self-composed songs that we like. That is, of those that we released in Japan.
Jong-hoon: We’re already done choosing the songs.
Hong-ki: Oh, the ones we chose were for that? We’re already done changing the lyrics into Korean as well.
Now that I think about it, you sang the Korean version of your Japanese songs such as “Black Chocolate,” “FREEDOM,” and “Time to” at your concert in Hong Kong.
Hong-ki: That was the first time. We worked on the Korean lyrics up until the day before the concert.
Seung-hyun: He sang the song just once during rehearsals and then sang it on stage right away. That’s why we call Hong-ki the genius vocalist (laughs).
Which self-composed song is your favorite?
Hong-ki: I don’t have many self-composed songs but I feel attached to all of them. I like my first self-composed tune “Orange Sky” and love “Black Chocolate,” too.
Seung-hyun: My favorite is Jong-hoon’s self-composed song “LIFE.” It is also good when beginning a concert or end it.
Jong-joon: “I Confess.” Because fans love the song a lot. (laugh)
This is a trivial curiosity, but for your self-composed Japanese songs, do you write the lyrics in Korean first and then translate them into Japanese?
Seung-hyun: Sometimes I decide on the song’s theme and story in Korean first and slowly write out the lyrics in Japanese. And sometimes, when I’m really short on time, I write them in Korean and translate them into Japanese with the staff members of our agency in Japan. We exchange everything by email and I take part in everything from start to finish to see how everything gets translated.
Hong-ki: Every member has a different way of writing lyrics but I meet with the songwriter that’s set to translate my lyrics. Directly in Japan! It’s the fastest and easiest way.
You must be quite good [at Japanese] if you can write songs in Japanese.
Hong-ki: I can use it to the point that I probably won’t go starving [in Japan].
Min-hwan: Hong-ki is pretty good. He could probably get married in Japan. Not date but marry! (All laugh) And the rest of us aren’t bad either. We learned a lot from hanging out with our friends.
Hong-ki: We’re close with bands such as ONE OK ROCK, Redwimps, and Alice Nine. The members of ONE OK ROCK are older than I am but we’re basically friends. We talk a lot about music and also how the music industries of Korea and Japan work differently.
What do you mean by them working differently?
Hong-ki: In Japan, the artists get to do the music they want to do. The music industry in itself is just different from Korea’s. And people view us differently as well.
I think I know what you mean since I like the songs you’ve released in Japan more.
Hong-ki: We like the songs we’ve released in Japan more too. In Japan, artists get to go with the song that best shows that group’s color while in Korea, artists usually go with the song that best suits the public’s taste. “I Wish,” which was in our fourth album that we released in Korea last year, became the title track also because it worked out for other various reasons such as our agency’s situation as well.
Then the next time you release a studio album in Korea, do you think one of your own songs might become the title track?
Hong-ki: If we write a good song. There are several candidates for the title track to our mini-album that’ll come out in Korea in November. Some of them were written by songwriters and Jae-jin also wrote a song recently which is really good so we’re trying to make that the title track.
Jong-hoon: Honestly though, it doesn’t matter which becomes the title track. I don’t care as long as good songs make it into the album.
Well your fans will probably listen to the entire album but the public will probably judge you with just the title track. Isn’t it disappointing that they don’t really get to recognize the good songs?
Jong-hoon: It’s okay. I’m happy with just the fact that I can do music.
Hong-ki: At first we used to think ‘We want to become more successful in Korea’ but that’s changed to ‘We’re happy that we just get to do music.’ It’s what we felt while we were on our arena tour doing things we wanted our way. We felt, ‘This is what doing music is about. This is what it feels like.’
Do you think you’re not seen as the same kind of group in Korea versus Japan?
Hong-ki: We’re considered different types of groups to start with. In Korea, we’re almost considered a group that does ballad songs but that’s not the case. We’re a band.
Jae-jin: Honestly, Hong-ki could just go out on stage alone for the songs we do in Korea, right?
Then shouldn’t you do songs where you all come together in Korea as well?
Jae-jin: We should. And that’s why we’re working harder. Because we need to be band-like yet also be in touch with the public’s taste. We may be doing well in Japan, although we need to do even better, but we’re Korean so I think we end up working hard with the thought that we’d like to show everything that we can do.
You’ve all seen each other since you were young. Are there moments that you think, ‘We’ve really grown up’ or ‘We’ve really improved a lot’?
Hong-ki: It’s not easy to tell because we’re always together but when people around us tell us, ‘You guys have improved a lot,’ that’s when we think ‘Oh yes, you’re right.’
Min-hwan: I have several of our concert DVDs that were released in Japan and I watched them all recently. And we were completely different even just a year or two ago, although I didn’t realize it until I watched them. I saw how drastically we improved in each DVD. So I’m looking forward to the DVD for our latest arena tour as well.
Speaking of tour DVDs, I remember Min-hwan playing “SATISFACTION” on the drums in Budokan in 2011. The camera was on just him and it showed him playing passionately while drenched in sweat.
Hong-ki: Did you watch it on YouTube? It actually was in one of our DVDs as well. The DVD had two discs and one of them focused on single members of the group.
Min-hwan: I actually think about a lot of other things when I’m performing. What I perform just comes from practice. But I usually look around trying to see what the other members of our group are doing (laughs).
You think about other things? (laugh) What sort of thoughts do you have while performing and singing?
Hong-ki: I’m like Min-hwan as well. I’m the vocalist so I pay attention to things such as whether our fans are concentrating, whether I’m delivering the song well, which are things I’ve always paid attention to. I used to not have such thoughts in the past though. I had to just really focus and put in a lot of effort because I was anxious to do well. But I’m more at ease now so I notice what the other members of our group are doing. Things like, ‘Oh, he got that part wrong.’
Jae-jin: And also things like, ‘Oh, there’s a pretty girl near the stage, she’s wearing a bikini, I feel more energetic now. (laughs)
I also have to mention Japan’s “SUMMER SONIC 2013.” A friend of mine who was at your Tokyo show (on August 10) said the atmosphere was ‘crazy.’
Hong-ki: That show was a huge hit. But I also ripped my pants that day (laughs). We were jumping, throwing around our towels, and just got completely excited. But that’s how we do things. That’s what we’re like in Japan. We can be fun or go completely sentimental. We’re a band that has a summer and winter — we can do various performances.
Then are there certain things you consider more important when performing?
Hong-ki: Communication! We definitely move or excite our fans less when we’re out of shape. But sometimes, the tension that we need to make it happen will come about because of our fans. And that’s when I realize the power of having fans. My throat was in really bad shape for our last concert but upon seeing our fans, from listening to their cheers, and hearing them singing our song, I somehow managed to produce sound as well.
Min-hwan: We also think how the concert progresses is important when we’re drawing up the set list. Even when we do something fun, that in itself is an emotion so we take that into consideration. I think having done a lot of concerts has helped us think about these things. We won’t just decide on a song because of the mood but also think of which song should come after that one.
So you pay attention to even the small details for your concerts.
Jae-jin: What a lot of artists have done for the longest time is to sing their most popular songs the most and not sing their unknown songs. But we recently rid ourselves of this thought because we realized that certain songs are good for singing at concerts. There are songs that are good for performing and songs that are good on tape. Therefore, we don’t think we need to sing a popular song if it sounds better on tape. We definitely sound different when we come up with a set list that’s purely for performing. But it hasn’t been long since we figured that out. When we did our latest concert, our agency let us do whatever we want to and it was great. Everything was different including the power and pace at which the concert moved.
Hong-ki: We performed for 45 minutes straight with no talk. It felt like death (laughs). But it was fun. It felt like my heart would rip apart but it was fun. Our fans got worn out in the beginning too. But we rested together, and then went at it again. That’s why we call our fans our friends. Because we interact together.
You said there are songs for performing versus tape. Which song do you think is the best for performing
Jae-jin: “I Wish.”
Min-hwan: I still do think that song is the best too.
Hong-ki: When we first got “I Wish,” we thought really hard about how we should perform it on stage. But it somehow became popular among many people. So when I jump around while singing the chorus, our fans do the same. We’re now trying to think of a song that could replace it (laughs). In Japan, songs like “Flower Rock,” “FREEDOM,” and “Time to” are good for performing.
We somehow ended up talking only about music (laughs). Have you guys dated anyone recently? You should.
Jae-jin: Nobody interests me these days (laughs). But I actually just didn’t have any time at all to date anyone the past three to four months. I only slept an average four hours a day because I had to work on both my musical and our tour at the same time. All I did was practice and rehearse from morning till evening! But I’m done with the musical now so I guess I should try to date someone (laughs).
Hong-ki: I sometimes have one (girlfriend) and sometimes I don’t. But I don’t have one right now.
Min-hwan: And it’s not like you can date someone just because you’re interested in her. I think it’s fate.
Jong-hoon: Me, I’m so-so.
All: (Burst into laughter) You’re so cool!
Hong-ki: We’re pretty cool about dating because we think it’s important for doing music. As long as you don’t do anything ‘wrong’ and you click with the person, sure!
Speaking of musicals, Jae-jin, you recently got done with your musical “High School Musical.”
Jae-jin: I learned a lot from it. I’ve been with a band for a long time and I’m with them all the time so there was a sense of stability that comes from it. I was accepted for who I am regardless of what I do because they know me. But certain things about me may not be acceptable or be seen in a positive light in situations elsewhere. For example, I’m forgiven for walking around with a slouch or rocking my body to a rhythm when I go on stage with an instrument, but not when I’m acting out a character. A guy (Troy from “High School Musical”) who is confident, great at basketball, and is the most popular person in school can’t slouch. So these are the sort of things I learned. And I realized, ‘This is what I had looked like, these are the things I had done.’ And of course, doing the musical helped a lot with my singing as well.
Seung-hyun and Min-hwan, you two were in musicals before as well. Is there anything in particular that you remember from pursuing your activities alone instead of as a group?
Seung-hyun: I felt more responsibility. I worked harder because I was by myself, not as Song Seung-hyun but as FTISLAND’s Song Seung-hyun. I also tried hard to be respectful to the adults. I bought everyone their meals and took care of everyone including the main cast, supporting cast and the crew.
Min-hwan: I get scared easily. Because I play the drums, I’m also always at the back of the stage. Far away from the audience. So I hadn’t been scared before because the rest of my group would stand on stage. But I got scared having to go on stage alone and it’s why I was very hesitant to do the musical but I’m glad I did it. I think I was able to change my personality a lot as well by standing on stage alone.
I’m sure you get asked this a lot but how do you feel when you get compared to CNBLUE who is also at your agency?
Hong-ki: I think it’s inevitable.
Min-hwan: We compare ourselves to them too. We say things like, “CNBLUE is doing this too” or “Let’s try that out as well” or “Let’s do something else.” So we’re friendly rivals. But it’s just that others compare us in negative ways. In sort of a “They’re doing this but these guys are doing that?” way. We’re colleagues that do music together.
Jong-hoon, I saw your tweet from the last day of 2012. It said, “I worked hard in 2012 but it somehow wasn’t enough. I’ll work hard in 2013 so that it’s enough.” What do you think of this year so far? It’s almost over too.
Jong-hoon: It always feels like it’s never enough. But there’s a lot I felt as a band this year, and I think I learned a lot about rock and live performances. It feels like I took a step forward.
Hong-ki: (Says to members) Don’t you think we’ll feel really proud once this year is over? Because we’ve done a lot? (laughs)
Lastly, what is music for FTISLAND?
Hong-ki: Half of me. Music is always half of who I am.
Seung-hyun: Something I can never let go of. It’s like a shadow that’s stuck to me.
Min-hwan: My dream is to do music as a hobby because if something you like becomes work, there will be times that you won’t want to do it. It’s both work and play for me, something I can do as both my job and hobby.
Jong-hoon: Music is something that I like but also don’t like. I often have such a hard time preparing for live performances and writing songs. But I become happy when I see the outcome.
Jae-jin: Music is ‘subete’ (Japanese for ‘everything’)! I think music is what makes up my life. Everything that happened to me happened because of music as well. I met the beloved members of my group and fans because of music as well (laughs).
Reporter. Lee Jeong-hwa email@example.com
Photographer. Gue Hye-jung firstname.lastname@example.org
Translator. Jessica Kim