Kyuho: “With the song SUICIDOL I wanted to deliver something intentionally so I used English to have people understand it more easily. Because it doesn’t work if you don’t understand it.”
Before the show supported by VII ARC and Phlebotomized in the Popcentrale in Dordrecht I managed to sit down with Kyuho Lee, the man behind Madmans Esprit, for an interview in which we talk about his music, influences and of course the European tour.
For the photo album of this show, follow this link.
01. Since last year a lot of people heard about you and your project Madmans Esprit, but rather than me giving an introduction, could you please introduce yourself in your own words?
Kyuho: I am Kyuho from Madmans Esprit, which is basically a solo project of mine. Currently for the tour I make use of live support members from Germany and Korea. Musically it’s influenced by a lot of different genres like black metal and classical, but also other experimental music like Pink Floyd and musical influences that I got from Japanese musicians in the visual kei genre.
02. Opposed to the majority of content I have written about the last 10 years, you are a visual kei musician from South Korea. Same genre, but different location, basically. So naturally my question is, how did you get in touch with the visual kei genre of Japan, and what inspired you to become a part of it in your home country?
Kyuho: The thing is I think around 15 ago there was a visual kei band which was called THE TRACKS in Korea. Something like a K-Pop boy group but in visual kei style and with a metal sound. When that came on the TV I found it interesting and I started to search more of these bands online, found X Japan, Dir en grey and LUNA SEA, all big visual kei bands. I really wanted to make a visual kei band since I was very young, but I couldn’t find any people who were interested in this, and Korea is a very conservative society so even alternative or goth fashion is quite hard. I started to put these visual kei elements together after I found band members who were interested in this, because when I was just by myself I could do just whatever. Now I have live members I can tell them “okay, you like my music and you like playing together, but I am aiming for this certain aesthetic”, they agreed and now this is happening. There currently are no other active visual kei bands in Korea though.
03. Everyone has a reason to start writing music, but what was this reason for you? Do you feel like writing music is an escape from reality for you? Meaning, does it help you cope you with the world around you?
Kyuho: I’m not sure really. Since I was really young I was making my own things, writing, painting, drawing, making games and studying programming. When I started to listen to music it was all very natural for me that I made something of my own. That’s the most interesting thing for me. I am not very sure how it is effecting my everyday surroundings or the reality I face every day.
04. Are there any artists out there, either active or inactive somehow, that inspire your work? Or that you personally enjoy listening to?
Kyuho: X Japan would be one of the influences that I have because of their classical and dramatic songs. Also Dir en grey would probably be one of them. But I actually don’t listen to that many visual kei bands, about five I think. My other influences come from more of a metal background. I mention this over and over again, but there is a band called Shining from Sweden, a black metal band. And Radiohead is my absolutely favorite. But even though there are some very crappy famous songs they are quite brilliant musically speaking. I personally enjoy the new album from Billy Irish, I think it’s brilliant.
05. Last year you were added to the GAN-SHIN label here in Europe, and now you are on your first European tour. Do you feel like you’re actually growing as a musician now you can bring your music to a wider audience here in Europe with the help of everyone here?
Kyuho: Yeah, definitely. It’s a completely different situation to how it was before.
06. Speaking of Europe, you have lived in Berlin for a while, but due to unfortunate Korean rules you had to return to Korea again. But when you lived here I’m sure you have seen something of Europe, or at least Germany. Is there anything you’d like to see while you are here?
Kyuho: I’m not sure, I’m not really interested in sightseeing or turning around and finding something new. I am not really interested in sightseeing wherever I go. I do enjoy going to cafés and being there with my friends. I can also enjoy other stuff, but I can’t really think of something specifically.
07. Since you have lived in Europe for a while, you’ve also learned another language. Which means you understand your native language Korean, English, German and Japanese. Which is quite impressive of course. But you’ve chosen English as the primary language for your musical works. Do you feel like you can express yourself more easily in English to a wider audience than with just your native language?
Kyuho: It depends, I think. I actually try not to make everything in English. English could be easier, but it can also disrupt the flow due to linguistic imperialism. Trying to express what I want to express just by what I have in my head most of the time. For example with the song SUICIDOL I wanted to deliver something intentionally so I used English to have people understand it more easily. Because it doesn’t work if you don’t understand it. But I use the language which expresses what I want to deliver best.
08. Next to Madmans Esprit you’re also active with ms. Isotop Romatem and HUMAN TRACES. But how do you juggle this around? Do you ever work on something intended for one project and think it would fit another half way through for example? Or are they all isolated projects that you dedicate your full attention to?
Kyuho: I think they’re very separated. Of course I’m a part of them so there are some influences that I have, but most of the time when I am writing music I know from the very beginning, from the first notes of the guitar riff “oh, I won’t use this for ms. Isotop Romatem” for example. Because if I don’t do it like that it doesn’t have much of a point to have multiple projects at the same time.
09. You’ve brought your live support members with you for this tour, but part of them come from Korea and a part of them comes from Germany. Has this ever caused any problems? Like language or culture wise, or is the distance between you more of a challenge?
Kyuho: No, I think we’re actually doing pretty great. We all speak English and can communicate in English. We all love drinking so everyone is all respecting each others boundaries, and I think the distance is a good thing. Musically we pick out everything separately. Before the tour we came here a little early, like two days or something, had a few beers and everything just came together.
10. If I’m not mistaken, one of the support members you’ve brought with you today is also the singer of ms. Isop Romatem, where you are the guitarist. Does it feel strange to swap these roles around depending on the projects you’re playing in together?
Kyuho: Not really. He also plays guitar in the other band, and I’ve been trusting him for a certain sense of how he plays. So when he plays guitar in Madmans Esprit his character is quite similar to the character in ms. Isotop Romatem. So for me it’s very natural that he plays what he plays in this band.
11. We’ve spoken about what you are doing right now -which is the European tour-, but what are you planning on doing after that? Are there any ideas buzzing around in your head for the next release, or are you planning on something entirely different like fashion, or other works of art?
Kyuho: There are a couple of very ambiguous ideas that I am planning of making at some point, but I am not a hundred percent sure on what I will do with them or if I will even make them into reality. I’m planning on making music of course, but other things like fashion, art or videos or anything, they have to be centered around music. They can’t be the main thing of the band. So when there is something new, the other things will naturally follow.
12. Looking at your work and what you have shared about it online, you seem like you feel like you are being limited in being who you really are, and that your music is one way to be yourself. In a world where there are no limits and nobody to wag their finger at you about stuff you can and can’t do, what would your art look like? Would it look different than what you are currently showing the world? Meaning, do you feel like you have to censor yourself -even if it’s just a slight bit- in your work right now?
Kyuho: If I had a different environment it would probably something completely different than what I am doing now. One of the main things of Madmans Esprit, or anything I’m creating really, is an expression of pain, oppression and sorrow I guess and they’re basically from my surroundings. My reality I have to face every day. So it would probably be completely different yeah.
13. It might be a bit of a lame question that has been asked more times than anyone can count, but again going to that world without limits, is there any artist that you would like to work with to create music or art together? And who would this artist be? And obviously, why this one specifically?
Kyuho: This is actually a very difficult question… I can’t really think of a specific person. I mean the thing is that when I am making music with this band I don’t communicate with other people. I don’t talk with others about what they think of something. I have an idea of I want to make and then it’s done. For me it’s very hard to imagine to work with someone else in the creating phase. When we play it live I communicate what I want, but in the creating phase it’s very hard for me to imagine to work with someone else. It might take days for me actually think of something as an answer…
14. To help promote the release of your latest work, SUICIDOL, you’ve also designed some jewelry. Are you planning on doing this more often by creating more jewelry, or was this a one-time thing? And why yes or no?
Kyuho: It actually depends, I think. Because I felt like the song SUICIDOL and the music video are both quite fabulous and fancy, so I thought these choker and other things were very fitting with the music as merchandise. I also really hate these band shirts with just the band logo on top. When people want to spend some money on the merchandise that I am selling because they like my music I think they should look super cool with it. So it could be like everything, but there can be something in the future I think.
15. And as a last and final question: is there anything you’d like to share with the readers of this interview that I haven’t asked about or addressed yet?
Kyuho: This is also one of the very hard questions to answer… Uhm… I’m not really sure how the readers will be but yesterday I had a concert in Cologne and I was really touched by the people because we started really late and we couldn’t get many reservations. So I was very worried that there wouldn’t be that many people, but the atmosphere was one of the hottest during this European tour. So I am really thankful for the fans, and if someone reading this is my fan, then I am really, really grateful.