Does the name Sister’s Barbershop (Onnine Ibalgwan) ring a bell to you? Many of you may be very familiar with this name and some even might be their fans. As you probably know, Sister’s Barbershop is known as one of the best Korean modern rock bands, and consists of three members: Lee Seok-won, vocals; Jun Dae-jung; drums, and Lee Neungryong, guitar. It may surprise you; the guitar player Lee Neung-ryong is a proud graduate of the University of Seoul (UOS). Surprised? Well, this is only one of many surprises to come since Lee is not just an ordinary guitar player with a typical life story. Let me introduce Lee Neung-ryong of Sister’s Barbershop and share his story with you.
LEE Hello, fellow UOS students. My name is Lee Neung-ryong. I entered UOS in 1997 and graduated from the Dept. of English Language and Literature. Yes, although I majored in English Language and Literature, I became a musician, which seems irrelevant to my major. However, since I was a student at UOS, I took a great interest in music and even joined Mundus Musicae, a small music club in my department. Currently, I am a member of Sister’s Barbershop, where I play the guitar and compose music as well. Since our first album in 1996, we have released a total of five full-length albums and had a long period of rest after the last album, ‘The Most Ordinary Things’ in 2008. We are preparing our next album now.
UOS Sister’s Barbershop’s first and second albums seem to be loved only by a few fans, while your third album is loved by many, and your fourth and fifth have gained an even wider range of fans. It seems, then, there must have been some changes in the music which Sister’s Barbershop has pursued.
LEE I sometimes think about what kind of music we really create and pursue. Each of our albums is different from the other in terms of the style of songs, and I think this is exactly what we are trying to do ? to make music that is not particularly bound to certain styles. Thus, our music should be called something new each time we release a new album. Now we are called a modern rock band, but this also does not suit us because the word ‘modern rock band’ does not define our music as a whole.
UOS Sister’s Barbershop’s songs are known for their beautiful melodies and philosophical lyrics. Who composes the melodies and who writes the lyrics? Does it take a long time for you to make songs? Or do you make songs promptly?
▲ Sister’s Barbershop’s 5th album,‘The Most Ordinary Thing’
LEE Every song of ours is composed by both Lee Seok-won and me. Sometimes we write the words or music for a song together, but at other times one of us does both. I usually compose and arrange the songs while Seok-won writes the words. It does not take too much time for me to make songs because I do it on the spot.
UOS At one point you left the band. Why did you change your mind and rejoin the band afterwards?
LEE I quit the band after the fourth album. At that time, I was frustrated because I thought that I could not make songs any more. However, when I luckily had a chance to reassemble with two other members, I promised myself not to do things that I would regret ever again. In the end, it was my fault that I was inconsiderate of other members, and if only I were more considerate towards them, I would not have done anything that left me regrets. Thus, I joined the band again and resolved the troubles I had with the members, and we soon released our fifth album, ‘The Most Ordinary Things.’
UOS You have acted before. You starred in a movie called The
Heaven is Only Open to the Single! What is the movie about?
LEE The scenario of the movie had already been made by the director Jo Sung-kyu before he even got to know me. Then after we met for the first time and spent some time together, Jo added me to his movie, actually as a main character. The Heaven is Only Open to the Single! is a simple romantic comedy about the story of a man named Neung-ryong (Lee Neung-ryong), a poor musician, and a woman called Yun-so (Choi Yun-so), who is a top actress. I am the
main character, but I was also the music director in the movie. The songs Neung-ryong makes in the movie were all composed by me. I took great pleasure in going back and forth between my imaginary self and my real self as I acted as Neung-ryong.
▲ A scene from The Heaven is Only Open to the Single
UOS How did you like acting? Are you going to continue acting?
LEE How I began acting was really by chance for the director, Jo, suddenly decided to put me in his movie. I accepted his offer without hesitation. Throughout the movie, I enjoyed acting. It was something I have never tried before, and thus I was not good at it at all, too. Even so, this fact encouraged me to put more effort into it. If I am given another opportunity to act, I think I will accept it. However, I have more interest in making films as a music director than as an actor.
UOS We would like to hear about your campus life. What did you mainly do as a UOS student?
LEE When I first entered the Dept. of English Language and Literature, I did not fit in. I began looking for another place I could belong to, and I found the club UOS Drama, where I got to take part in plays and met many other students. I never dreamed that I would become a guitar player at that time. I sometimes still go to see the club’s plays and meet students who are now leading the club.
UOS What does UOS mean to you?
LEE When I was doing music in Sister’s Barbershop and attending UOS at the same time I thought I should take some semesters off to devote myself to the band. However, I soon regretted this. I thought doing music was the only thing that gave me a reason and motivation to live, but I realized that it was actually my ordinary daily life that kept me going. There was no need to divide my life into two: life as a UOS student and as a musician. So I came back to UOS to continue my studies and graduated after the release of our fifth album.
UOS When were your hardest time and your happiest time? Tell us about your life as a musician.
LEE I always wonder if I can really do music. The ability to make songs or do music is not something you can get from somewhere or someone. A worker can prove himself a reason for his existence by working and providing the result of his work. However, this does not apply to me ? I do not always get the outcome that is equivalent to the amount of time and effort I invested in my music. In order to prove the worthiness of myself, I have to be able to produce highquality songs always and at any occasions. I think this gives me the pressure that when it comes to the point where I cannot produce good
songs anymore, I would not be able to make a living then.
▲ Sister’s Barbershop
UOS Recently, a number of media programs began focusing on some underground indie bands, which then become more known to the public and whose songs more popular. What do you think about these underground indie bands? Do you want more media exposure in order to make yourself known to the public as well?
LEE I think the meaning of the word ‘popular’ is being misunderstood and misused by the public. If popular music means that it speaks of something that is everyday-like and common emotions, then the music I do can also be understood as ‘popular music.’ However, if the music that is formatted or patterned ? for
instance, a certain singing style or particular characteristics of a music genre ? is called ‘popular music,’ then I cannot say that I am doing popular music. I do not want to approve the public who consumes and appreciates only a certain style of music. Some Indie musicians, who claim to be underground bands, are in fact stuffed with such so-called ‘popular music’ and misuse the word ‘Indie.’ Fortunately, this is the story of only few, and to be honest, there are many musicians who have their own styles in their music. I think the word ‘Indie’ does not refer to a certain kind of music; rather, it is a term related with the musician’s attitude. Genuine Indie music is the music which is created from the inside, not the outside.