When you were interviewed after you released your sixth album, you said, “Life isn’t much fun because all I’ve done is music the whole time.
Gary: I had really become lethargic back then. Really. (laugh)
Yet I think there must’ve been a lot of changes to your daily life after that and until you release this album. And you appearing in “Running Man” in particular must’ve served as a reason to it.
Gary: When I was first asked to appear on it, I discussed with [Noh] Hong-chul and he asked me how much energy I think I’d gain from it. So I said, “I’d be happy even to get just 100 percent” when he told me not to worry, that I’d receive 200 percent energy from it which turned out to be true. I think I understand why people become hooked to variety shows and think of how to make the shows more interesting.
But it must’ve been difficult to adjust to a field of the industry you’d never even tried before.
Gary: I had a really hard time the first two months because there were over ten cameras shooting the seven of us outdoors so we had to speak up. And that made me sound awkward and then I’d cringe at what I’d said. (laugh) Ha Dong-hoon [also singer Haha] had told me that I’d have an easier time if I set on a character myself which I thought was stupid at first but things started going well for me after I became ‘Monday couple’ with actress Song Ji-hyo. That’s when I realized it’s important to have a set character.
Your song “Reminiscence” in this album is about LeeSSang yourselves. You talk about the trouble you used to cause during your school days and how you were lost during your twenties. Yet you found a path in music and have reached where you are today. I’m curious as to how you found that path.
Gary: Well actually, it wasn’t that I wanted to do music but I liked dancing so much that… [says quietly] I wanted to become a celebrity. (laugh) I’m the generation that grew up watching great dancers such as Park Nam-jung, Hyun Jin-young and Deux that when I lied to get into clubs in high school, people like Lee Juno were dancing there. And you have no idea how exhilarating it was just to get to watch them. That’s why I formed a group called X-Teen but nobody could rap, nor really dance amazingly and nobody was good-looking either so the group failed and then I joined Honey Family which did well. But I screwed up again with the thought that ‘I’m a celebrity now.’ Which led Honey Family to break up, I got kicked out of school and I couldn’t even make money when I suddenly thought, ‘I’m really going to regret not doing music before I die.’ So I cut off everything out of my life including friends and women and for close to two years, I worked on LeeSSang’s first album. That’s when I discovered ‘my music.’
The other songs in the album shows that you also think a lot about how others make a living and how hard of a time they must have as well.
Gary: There was a time when older friends of mine with money used to call me out to bars and have me sing at times. And although I like to go out and have fun, I never speak down on someone yet one of those days, my friends were treating the band and waiter at the bar recklessly. Then one of the people on the band came to me and asked for my autograph but it turned out that I had actually seen him at my gym. So I told him that he shouldn’t be asking for my autograph when we’re both people who do music. And I showed my support for him, saying he should work hard since he’s married and has a kid as well which is when I felt weird. And I wrote the lyrics to “If I had to Live” based on my memory from that day. Of course, I wasn’t trying to defend them. I just think that all occupations are honorable and everyone is working to make a living so what couldn’t you do to live.
Maybe it’s because you’ve been through hard times but it seems like you do your best to answer people who seek your advice on Twitter.
Gary: I’m so proud of myself for working hard when we prepared our first album. (laugh) At the time, I had two million won in my bank account from the money I made from teaching idol trainees to wrap and I lived a year on that. When my friends from school said they want to go snowboarding, I always told them I need to work. Because it was going to be embarrassing to tell them I don’t have any money. When I woke up, I’d wash up, work out, listen to music and write lyrics. Then I’d warm up what was left over from breakfast and have it for dinner and if I was really bored at night, I’d go out and rent a few videos. That’s how I spent a whole year. That was when I was in my mid-20s yet nobody had a nice word to say to me. Even if there could’ve been, I had blocked everyone out and I also had a serious case of social phobia. I think that’s why I’d like to tell young people about my experiences and help them in working hard at living their lives. Although I’m sure that some of them just want a response from a celebrity. (laugh)
One of the emotions that passes through your music is that you’re fighting off someone in a boxing ring. Is it because you’ve actually learned to box that you’re good at delivering the image of ‘fighting’ through text?
Gary: I think it helps because there are things I’ve heard while learning to box. There are a lot of amazing stories old directors tell me. And they’ll actually be practicing their own golf swings instead of teaching me to box while they tell those stories. Then when I think back on them when I get home, wow, they’re really amazing stories. (laugh) But I try to really bring out the feeling rather than using actually boxing terminology.
What is it like to actually stand inside a ring?
Gary: The first time I ever went to a gym was when I was exactly 20 years old but I got beaten up by ninth and tenth graders because I didn’t have any physical strength or skills. Yet there are a lot of things I learned while getting beaten up. I also met the late boxer Choi Yo-sam there and I got shocked by his everyday life. He’d wake up at 5 a.m., train, eat breakfast, nap, train, eat dinner, analyze video, then train… for ten years. This was before LeeSSang was formed and I felt a lot of things from seeing how he lived his life.
I don’t think you’d have expected such experiences to serve as the foundation to your lyrics back when you were lost and having a hard time. How do you feel about those times now?
Gary: When I first started writing the lyrics for songs to our first album, I had to think long and hard about what to write. Agencies at the time had told us to come with something commercial if we want to become popular. For example, commercial meant that we had to be cool like Drunken Tiger and rap as well as CB Mass but we weren’t at that level. (laugh) However, I thought that people of my age would be able to relate to our songs if I wrote about myself. And I was struggling so much that I was looking up music when I came across some amazing lyrics from Deulgookhwa’s song. “My past may have been dark, my past may have been tough but if I can love my past, if I can draw a picture of my memory, then I go forward.” I was gaining courage through their music so I wanted to write something through which I could share this feeling with others. That’s how I came to write the lyrics for “Rush.”
Have you every considered doing any writing outside of writing lyrics?
Gary: I think it was around the time we released our second album that someone came to me and said, “Hey, why don’t you write a book and sell it. It’ll make money,” although I didn’t pay any attention to it. But I was recently drinking with Harim when he said, “Hey, release a book poems.” So I said there’s no way I can release a book with poems saying things like, “Everything was awkward when I first ate with you. I would pay attention to whether any rice would stick beside my lips when I took the spoon to my mouth” when he said I shouldn’t think of selling it but just give it to people that I meet, as gifts. And I think it’s a good idea. I’m not good at telling stories, like novels, but I think recording the things I feel while traveling would be fun, regardless of the money. At the same time though, I’m pouring any energy I’d have to do that into doing variety shows these days. (laugh)
How is life for you right now when you think of the life you dreamt of living when you were in your twenties?
Gary: I’m happy with every moment and every aspect of it, beyond expectations. When we were working on our first album, I used to think that we’d have achieved everything we ever dreamed of if we made 15 million won a year but we actually started by getting paid that much for our contract. Then we were doing well until things took a turn for the worse and I had zero money in my bank account, but we started all over again and I think we’ve done great. That’s why just like I wrote on my Twitter account, I’m so grateful yet embarrassed. I don’t think we could get any more successful than we are now. When will the day ever come again when our songs are sweeping music charts and the buzzword is “I want you Kang Gary.”
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Reporter : Choi Ji-Eun five@
Reporter : Lee Ga-on
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