[Next Wave] Five monkeys of Jannabi relive heyday of old pop
Published : Sep 18, 2017 - 17:37
Updated : Sep 18, 2017 - 17:37
The Korea Herald is introducing Korean singers, musicians and actors poised to join the next wave of top stars in a twice monthly series. -- Ed.

Despite their different personalities, finding common elements among the five members of indie band Jannabi wasn’t difficult. In addition to having grown up in the same neighborhood, they are all undaunted about the future, worship iconic rock stars of the past and are truly and madly in love with music, especially old pop.

“It’s really funny that we’ve always been in love with everything from the 1960s and ’70s, the times we haven’t even lived in. We can just feel the time‘s vibes, fashion, music and lifestyle. It had a huge impact on our music, as well as on our daily lives,” said vocalist Choi Jung-hoon during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul.

“Some may think we are still young and childish, but if we are the only one lagging behind, that’s going to make us special, right? There is no need to be ahead of everyone else all the time.” 

Jannabi members pose during a recent interview with The Korea Herald, except for Yoon Kyul who was absent due to an injury. (Park Hyun-koo/ The Korea Herald)
The band sounds more like a closely-knit circle of best friends when you consider their name Jannabi. The word ”jannabi“ means monkey and all five members of the band -- Choi, Kim Do-hyung, Yoo Young-hyun, Jang Kyung-joon and Yoon Kyul -- were born in 1992, the Year of the Monkey in the Chinese zodiac.

Back in 2012, the band started out with Choi, Kim and Yoon Young-hyun -- three townies of Bundang, a satellite city just South of Seoul, -- under an independent label established and headed by Choi’s older brother. Like any other musician-wannabes, the original Jannabi members started from scratch, busking on the streets of Hongdae and Insa-dong, until three other members joined the group in 2015.

Choi believes the time they performed on the streets has helped the band develop a backbone and thick skin, even though it was the band’s darkest time as well. It took the members several months to realize that a key to success was not in performing what people wanted to hear, but in following their heart and pursuing music that made their own hearts beat.

“Back then, we were too young, blaming each other for failures. But soon we realized that the problem lay within ourselves, not in some external system or pressure. We started to perform our own music instead of Maroon 5’s, and people still liked it,” said Choi.

Since 2014, Jannabi has released three digital singles, including “Rocket” and “November Rain,” its first EP “See Your Eyes” and several sound tracks for TV dramas. In August 2016, Jannabi went on to release its first full-length album “Monkey Hotel.”

The album marked the band’s significant growth as established musicians, and the band held its eighth solo concert “Stop, look and listen” in July. Compared to its very first concert in a small coffee shop with only four guests, the latest sold-out concert held at Ewha Womans University‘s Samsung Hall was proof that Jannabi is no longer nameless. 

Jannabi members pose during a recent interview with The Korea Herald, except for Yoon Kyul who was absent due to an injury. (Park Hyun-koo/ The Korea Herald)
Being heavily influenced by pop music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, including several Beatles hits, Jannabi’s own music has a strong retro sound with a touch of emotional sensibility that pierces one’s heart. While the melodies are as simple and catchy as children’s songs, the lyrics are warm and insightful, as if written by a philosopher.

Asked to define the band’s music, the members said in unison, “Sound that comes from your parents’ car.” Just like older people who shrug their shoulders at the latest music trend, Jannabi also felt detached from what was going on in the K-pop scene. But they didn’t find such alienation worrisome. Instead, they were proud of being different.

“There is a reason why old pop songs never die. We won’t change our music so that we can fit into an ongoing trend. We will build our own music on a foundation of classics,” guitarist Jang said.

The five members of Jannabi, most of whom have been taking some time off from university to focus on music, are confident -- so much so that they call themselves “legends.”

“We call ourselves ‘legends’ to motivate ourselves. When working on music, we hole up in our house and pull all-nighters for days to come up with one good line of melody. With such passion and dedication, we believe we’ll become musicians legendary enough to occupy one full chapter of a book about Korean music history,” Choi said.

“People tell us to come down to earth, go back to school, get married, or plan our future. But music is our future, all we’ve got. Call us crazy, but I‘m sure we will become legends one day.”

By Hong Dam-young (lotus@heraldcorp.com)