Jung Yonghwa is putting his responsibilities as CNBLUE’s leader aside for a while to prepare for his first solo stages. As light as the load has become, he can now explore as far as where his possibilities lead him.
The past year was a memorable one for Jung Yonghwa. CNBLUE’s mini album, filled entirely with self-compositions, sat atop the popular charts with the reviews that praised the successful transformation of a 5-year-old band. His first period drama, “The Three Musketeers,” was also significant as it allowed him to broaden his ranges as an actor with a new character. But perhaps the year 2015 could be even more important turning point for him. The musician who will soon turn 27 (*Korean age) was at his busiest with preparing for his first solo album. Whereas CNBLUE’s album is a result of fair mediation between other members’ tastes, fans’ expectations, and his own satisfaction, he said this album is his attempt to reveal Jung Yonghwa’s voice more honestly. “It’s either more delicate or more powerful than CNBLUE. Within the team, there needed to be moderation, but I want to try what I feel like this time.” In his voice, with a faint trace of the Gyeongsang province dialect, I could smell that distinctive air of excitement and anticipation from someone who’s standing in front of the road not taken. “One could say my solo project is, all up to me. Where it does well or doesn’t, it’s all my responsibility. It’s rather a relief.” Until now, he probably didn’t know how far as a musician he could go, either. Soon-to-be completed, his solo album is a trip that both Jung Yonghwa and his fans are waiting with bated breath.
W: I heard CNBLUE’s arena tour in Japan was recently completed with a wild success, garnering nearly 100,000 audience. I assume these tours are quite different at their finish, considering how big the size is and how long you must have invested your time into them.
YH: In a way, it’s quite similar to when a drama is finished. Since the concerts continue for more than a month, I become very close to the staff and it takes time to come out of it. For a few weeks afterwards, I still live immersed in its emotions.
W: Looking back, were there anything memorable from this tour?
YH: The concerts were held on circular center stages that make 360 degree turns. I had stood on a stage like that once before major debuting in Japan, but it was definitely different to complete an entire tour with that. Being close to the audience, their reactions were much more immediate and had a bigger impact on me.
W: Before beginning your Korean activities, CNBLUE debuted first in the Japan indies. Now that you’ve become a band that fills Budokan, does it feel quite different from back then?
YH: We started from small stages and moved onto bigger and bigger stages. Arena tour was more like a vague dream when we debuted. There was a short period of time that I thought I deserved what I enjoy right now. But especially now, I think I shouldn’t be that way. I don’t want to lose the initial mindset.
W: How was Jung Yonghwa during the debut period?
YH: In some ways, I think things were better back then. I didn’t know anything and there was nothing to lose. So I could try anything with a light heart. I was full of whatever it was, whether it be courage or recklessness. But the more I did things, the more burden I gained.
W: What kind of burden is that?
YH: At the time I debuted and right now, I’m still busy the same way. But before, I was new to all the changes, so i was busy just adapting to things. Now that I’ve gotten used to things and have the leisure to look back at myself, and have many thoughts, in some ways it was discouraging. I was quite anxious for a while, but at the moment I’m quite at ease.
W: Do you think the profession as a musician is suitable for yourself?
YH: I often get the question, “What other job would you choose if you didn’t become a singer?” But I can’t imagine. I enjoy it so much, I believe it’s my calling.
W: Is there a time that this job is especially fun?
YH: When I’m on stage, and when I write songs. When I perform for two and a half hours, it does get exhausting, but on the other hand, the energy I receive from the audience is incredible. Composing and writing lyrics is just a fun thing to do for me. I often wonder whether I would have been as satisfied if I had another profession.
W: Many musicians speak of the addiction from the thrill you experience onstage. Professions that can experience such intense feelings must be extremely rare.
YH: That’s right. I know that not a few people consider becoming a singer as a dream job. Sometimes, it’s quite amazing that I’m pursuing that career.
W: Right now, you’re preparing for your first solo album. Was there an occasion that motivated you to make specific plans?
YH: Making music only for CNBLUE, I felt a kind of mannerism one day. I thought it’d be nice to resolve it through doing what I want to do with a solo album. I believe this effort to refresh the atmosphere will have a positive impact on the band, too.
W: How will Jung Yonghwa’s solo project be different from CNBLUE’s music? Can you give us a hint?
YH: My personal taste continues to change. If it was made before, it would have been mainly hard (rock) sound, but not right now. If I compared with CNBLUE’s music, it’d be rather delicate or more powerful. Within the band, there needed to be moderation, but this time, I want to go straightforwardly to the edge of the direction I want to go. In the end, I think diverse music will make way into it.
W: It seems that you try to fit yourself to the color of the band when you write for CNBLUE.
YH: I can’t help it. If I write only for myself, it’s not a band. I must consider other members’ tastes as well as the expectations from the fans for CNBLUE. I consider all of them. After a few years, I have a certain standard for that.
W: Could you give us an example of an interesting challenge you could take upon because it’s a solo project?
YH: I tried many different collaborations. If I make it only myself, although it’d be different, it wouldn’t be entirely different from CNBLUE’s. We’ve had very few collaborations with other artists, but through these works, I was able to broaden my range of thought. Experiencing diverse styles and being influenced by them, it felt like my own preferences have become more defined.
W: In CNBLUE’s discography, Jung Yonghwa’s composition is becoming more dominant. You seem very eager to write songs.
YH: Certainly, I don’t think all musicians need to be singer-songwriters. It’s not justified to criticize someone for singing someone else’s composition. Rather than being eager…I just enjoy composing so much. I know what suits me well, too. If I can’t express myself what that “something” is, I should get help from someone else. But I think I can express it myself, and that’s why I do it. I have many things I want to say through music.
W: How old were you when you first composed?
YH: I was third year in middle school. Rather than a grand objective of becoming a musician, I was just curious. I wondered how to write music, so I installed a demo program for composing on my computer and wrote the lyrics. I borrowed a cheap mic to record it, too. I still have that file saved in my computer back at home in Busan. Sometimes I take a listen, and it’s not too bad (laughs). I don’t think it’s important whether one’s good at composing or not. Even back then, there was a charm to that amateurish feeling. As I learn more and more new things, sometimes it feels like I”m losing the music from the time I didn’t know anything. I’m not definitely better now, and I wasn’t definitely lacking back then. Knowing more would be nice, but sometimes, I need to go with what I feel.
W: What’s that song about, the song you wrote in third year of middle school?
YH: It’s called “Easy Love” (laughs). Easy love, I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote that. The lyrics don’t make any sense, it’s just funny. But it still has its own feelings.
W: What kind of feelings?
YH: Well, the feelings of being cooked up in a room…?
W: Now I’m more curious about that song than the new album. In fact, the solo project is not your first individual activities. In Korea, you debuted first as an actor, and you still continue both music and acting.
YH: Instead of clinging to success and failure of each and every drama, I think of it as building a long-term career. I think it might burn me out easily to do just one thing. While I’m working in one field, the other line of work becomes more precious on my mind. Acting is fun, different from singing. It’s quite fulfilling to complete one drama, and it’s interesting to be received as a character and not as Jung Yonghwa. It’s definitely a special pleasure to live someone else’s life.
W: In dramas, you’ve played fascinating characters who almost seem unrealistic.
YH: Many people tend to think of me that way because of that.
W: How’s Jung Yongha in real life?
YH: I think I’m more full of charms than in dramas. Hahaha!
W: Park Dallying in “The Three Musketeers” this year was definitely different from your other characters, AND it was a period drama. It must have been a new experience for you.
YH: It was my first period drama, and I had to do action sequences as well. I feel gratified for having completed it. It wasn’t easy. There was a time I thought the filming wouldn’t end, but it did. When it was finished, I forgot about all the hardship and I was rather sorry about it.
W: Did you adapt well to the period drama’s way of speech?
YH: It was awkward at first but soon I got used to it. Later, I was narrating for another project and that intonation came out of my mouth.
W: You’re from Busan. Which was more difficult? Learning the period drama speech or adjusting your dialect?
YH: Although there is a standard for actors, there’s no correct answer for period drama speech. We haven’t lived the Joseon period ourselves, so we won’t know what’s correct and what’s wrong. In other words, there is room for one’s own interpretation. Dialect is different. Standard speech is strictly defined, so it’s obvious when you’re awkward. I think it helped me a little that I’m good at imitating people.
W: I’ve seen you do impeccable impersonations on TV.
YH: Even when I go abroad, rather than speaking foreign language well, I’m good at acting like i speak it well.
W: It’s rare for all the band members to act like CNBLUE does. Do you monitor each other well?
YH: When we’re busy with our schedules, we can’t watch it live all the time. We’d watch them at once or find out the spoilers.
W: Do you ever comment on each other’s acting?
YH: Rarely. There’s no correct answer for acting, and it might hurt each other’s pride to criticize and evaluate.
W: But perhaps you might think, “I’m the best at acting”…?
YH: Not really. But I tend to play lead roles and the other members are still supporting roles…haha, just kidding. Not that supporting roles are less important, but it’s true that the burden is greater when my role is bigger. When it doesn’t go well, I’d worry whether it’s because I didn’t do well.
W: It seems like you’re easy to get burdened and feel big responsibilities.
YH: I do get much burden, so I try to be responsible when I work. In any case, I’m the leader and the oldest in CNBLUE. Although, I’m the youngest at home.
W: What kind of youngest son are you?
YH: I have much aegyo and I talk a lot.
W: There’s the old stereotype that men from Busan are gruff.
YH: It’s probably because of the way they speak. In reality, Gyeongsangdo folks are very talkative (laughs).
W: Your line of work receives attention from many people, and often become the topic of their gossip. Sometimes you get ill-meaning words.
YH: I tend to not pay attention.
W: Were you that way from the beginning, or become that way?
YH: It’s the latter. I learned to ignore unnecessary words.
W: Have you become comfortable living with the public’s eyes on you?
YH: There was a time I tried to calculate and make music that would sell well. I thought of the others more than myself. Now, I somewhat understand what my fans would like and also satisfy me. I guess that means I’ve adapted that much.
W: Do you have an objective as a musician, however vague that may be?
YH: I want to go on steadily. I want to do this for a long time. This way, everything will be well. I tend to take it easy like this.
W: It’s a worn-out one, but we’d have to ask you this at this time of the year: Is there anything you anticipate for the year 2015?
YH: First, the year begins with my solo project. Doing my best to sing and perform. Other than that, I can’t think of anything else.
W: How does it feel to get a year older? Not that you’re old enough to react sensitively to this.
YH: I don’t take it seriously, but it’s surprising too. I’m already 27, 30 must be soon.
W: Whether it’s 30 or 40, do you anticipate turning a certain age?
YH: I feel my 30s will be so much fun. What I wanna do will be more certain, and it’d be the age when I’m comfortable and enjoying whatever it is.