Nov 9, 2006
The Singer Lee Seung-hwan (41), well known for his sweet voice and baby face and his excellent ability as producer, is back with his ninth album “Hwantastic,” two years after his last. The Chosun Ilbo met him in his Dream Factory studio in Seoul this week, where both his passion for music and his cynicism about the outside world were in evidence. “What would be the point if I didn’t reflect my own life in my music and tell the truth through my music?” he demands. “There are too many songs that lack deep feelings and emotions today.”
Lee started to express his own thoughts about life in his music with his third album “My Story,” released after his mother died. His greatest hit “For Thousand Days” on his fourth album was based on his own bitter experience of breaking up with someone he loved. His divorce from actress Chae Rim served as inspiration for his music. “I wrote down how I felt at the time and based on that, I wrote songs.”
We listened to his title song “How Could Love Be That Way.” It starts with his low-key voice accompanied only by the piano but then swells to include chorus and string orchestra. With its conventional progression through introduction, development, turn and conclusion, the song clearly targets a mass audience. He calls it a “giant ballad.” But other songs like “Rewind” are cheerful, with funk and big-band jazz elements, while “Pray For Me” combines gospel, hard rock and blues to reflect his interest in a variety of genres. “Moonlight Girl” even features Pansori, a traditional Korean ensemble consisting of a sorikkun or singer and a gosu or drummer.
While appealing to listeners in their teens and 20s in his early days with his sweet ballads, he has kept trying to change by including more rock elements since his fourth album. “It bothers me that many of my fans still love the songs from the first and second albums. Some say, ‘You’re betraying your fans. You don’t respect your fans who love your ballads and made you what you are today and do only what you want to do.’ I understand them, but I don’t agree. I want to be a musician who leads the audience.”
Dubbed the king of live performance, Lee gives between 20 and 50 concerts a year. “It seems that I got better on the live stage,” he says. “I worked out three or four hours a day and it helped me build stamina. I got a body most men envy. I used to get a terrible pain around my shinbone when I jumped around while singing, but it’s gone away.” His first concert was in Synnara Live Hall in Seoul in front of just 10 people in May 1990, but since than he has become a big man in the performance industry, attracting audiences of more than 10,000 at a time.
“This will be the last regular album I release in the form of a CD,” Lee says. “People download music to their MP3 players and listen to it via PC speakers today. It seems professional musicians have noticed that music doesn’t earn money any more, so their number is declining. It makes me sad.” His motto is, “There’s no such a thing as tomorrow,” meaning he will give his best to get everything he has to do done today.
Lee wants to perform in music clubs in Japan. “Just as the Korean martial artist Choi Bae-dal visited every martial school to defeat his competitors in Japan, I want to do the same in famous Japanese music clubs and show them what the essence of Korean music is,” he says.