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[Herald Interview] Leenalchi returns with much-anticipated second project 'Mul Mit'

Oct. 19, 2022 - 21:18 By Park Ga-young
Members of Leenalchi pose for photos during an interview on Wednesday. From left Jang Young-gyu, Ahn Yi-ho, Kwon Song-hee, Lee Na-rae, Park Jun-cheol, Shin Yu-jin and Lee Chul-hee. (LG Arts Center)

Leenalchi, the group that took South Korea by storm with “Tiger Is Coming” in 2020, is back with “Mul Mit” with a lot of pressure on their shoulders this time.

The sensational success of “Tiger Is Coming” has kept the band busy for the past two years as the members continued to experiment with what the band could offer. But that means a lot more ears and eyes have been anticipating their new project.

“We feel a lot of pressure but hope people can enjoy it,” Ahn Yi-ho, one of the four vocalists of the band, said during an interview with local reporters on Wednesday.

There is already good signs that the new project -- a story of an astronaut's journey -- could be similarly successful. Ever since vocalist Kwon Song-hee brought 2-year-old son to a practice, he has been asking for "Hehe Haha," a song in the new project, every day instead of "Tiger Is Coming."

“Mul Mit,” meaning under the water in Korean, is the brainchild of months of discussions and brainstorming sessions by the band members, including bass guitarists Jang Young-gyu and Park Jun-cheol, drummer Lee Cheol-hee and vocalists Lee Na-rae and Shin Yu-jin. The story was arranged by Park Jeong-hee, one of the most experimental directors today, time, who suggested the second project.

Unlike their first project "Sugungga” which is based on the pansori “Sugungga,” a centuries-old tale of an ailing Dragon King looking for a rabbit liver as a cure, “Mul Mit” is an original work, which shows the band’s efforts against being trapped in a fixed image as a gugak band.

"We wanted to create a new story to avoid the frame of a Korean traditional music band, because pansori accounts for a huge portion in our music and people expect us to work on the five madang of pansori, but I don't think that's what we need to do," Jang, who also serves as the producer of the band. Pansori works are counted in madang, which translates to "courtyard," where they are traditionally performed.

Something else the band wanted to avoid was the themes of destruction and doom.

"When we met in March this year with director Park, she said that there are too many stories about doom and destruction. We wanted to talk about something else and that led to a hymn to the birth of life,” Jang said.

Leenalchi performs during a rehearsal on Aug. 19 at LG Arts Center. (LG Arts Center)

Named after a famous singer in late Joseon Dynasty, members of Leenalchi originally got together to perform “Dragon King” in 2018 and later formed as a band, at the suggestion of bass guitarist Jang. Soon after, the alternative pop band became an "exceptional" success for a South Korean band.

A promotional video for the Korea Tourism Organization titled “Feel the Rhythm of Korea,” featuring Leenalchi and the Ambiguous Company, a dance troupe, has garnered more than 600 million views on YouTube since it was released in 2020. The following year, they won three awards at the 18th Korean Music Awards.

Their success is exceptional considering "there is practically no market for bands," according to Ahn. "You can only say a market exists when a band releases their work and based on that work they can prepare for the next project, which is not the case for band musicians here," he added.

This frustration often leads many bands to seek overseas opportunities.

"If you do band music, you're categorized as an indie band here, and that's why you want to go abroad, where your music is recognized," Jang explained. "Even though we didn't think we could ever be part of the commercial music scene, from the get-go, we wanted to engage in commercial activities and that's why we've done a wide range of activities, to test what can be done as a band."

Even though it's not out of frustration in the case of Leenalchi, the band finally made it overseas for the first time in September, performing in five cities in four European countries - the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and Hungary.

“Because pansori makes up a big part of our music, we were worried about how the audiences there would react to our music. But we found out that Leenachi’s music makes them dance,” Ahn said. Bass guitarist Park added that he was excited to see foreigners who made up 80-90 percent of the total audience during their "Nice To Meet You Tour" sang along to their songs.

Leenalchi’s 60-minute concert where "Mul Mit" will premiere is set to take place Oct. 28-30 at LG Arts Center, in western Seoul. Ticket prices range from 30,000 won to 70,000 won.