Producer Choi Pil Kang. In his childhood, his longing for music made him start composing songs. In 2010, he met a dream partner called “YG”. If he showed a distinctive memorable sound for Se7en’s “Digital Bounce” to a fancy electronica sound for 2NE1’s “I’m Busy”, he offered an old pop sound, starting with BIGBANG’s “Monster” to Kang Seung Yoon’s recently released “Stealer”. Since Taeyang’s second album that will be released in November will have songs composed by Choi Pil Kang, will this interview help us to predict which kind of music he will show this time?
Hello. Please introduce yourself.
Nice to meet you. I’m composer Choi Pil Kang. I’m currently working as a composer exclusively for YG.
Let’s start with your childhood, I wonder when you started making music.
To be honest with you, I could almost never listen to music when I was a kid, which makes the fact that I’m doing music right now quite amazing. My father is a reverend, so he was naturally strict. I almost never listened to Korean music until I started primary school. There’s a song that I heard by accident back then. Back in the day, when you dialed a phone number and pressed 1, you had access to a service of the popular Korean songs at that time. That’s when I listened to Shin Hae Chul’s song titled “‘내 마음 깊은 곳의 너'(t/n: You’re deeply in my heart”) and I unconsciously fell for this song too. I think this was the moment when my craving for music started. Meanwhile, Seo Taiji and Boys, Hyun Ji Young launched their careers and I also fell for dancing. As I started dancing, I also started making music.
After that, did you earnestly start making music?
Since I spent one to two years trying to follow along the dance moves I saw on TV, I really loved dance music. I had this vague thought that “if I make this kind of music, I’ll be even cooler when I dance”. After that, was this during my 3rd year of middle school? By chance, I saw an ad in a newspaper about computer music lessons. It was a big thing for me. I thought that I absolutely had to study this. I think this was the moment when I began to think more like “I want to make music” instead of “I will compose songs”.
You said you started making music because of your longing for music, so was there a specific opportunity for you to take the composer’s path?
I immigrated to the US when I was in high school. I still loved music so much that I kept making demos. My dream was to make my own album. While working this way with no definite plan, I looked for someone willing to release my album in Korea. At that time, the most famous composer was Yoon Il Sang. I sent him a demo I had prepared. When I think about it now, those were tracks that didn’t make any sense, but I was contacted, so I just left everything behind and ran back to Korea right away. At that time, I was offered to work on Kim Gun Mo-hyung’s album. My song didn’t make the cut, but you can say that this was the moment I began my life as a composer.
In 2007, you released an album with the team called iM [t/n: pronounced I Am]. How did you come to join this project?
It also began through my acquaintance with Il Sang-hyung. At that time, I still wanted to release my own album. As he was in the middle to start his own company, he offered me to do it together. The company he founded is called Nega Network today. It’s the company that gave me my first contract. Since I was on my own, I thought about forming a team. My friend Big Tone that I made music with when I was in the US joined us. Another friend of mine was selected and the team was complete. So in the midst of all these preparations, we released a single under the name “iM”. Il Sang-hyung knew I composed songs, so while I was working on the album, he introduced me to a lot of people. And that’s how the first song I was credited and received royalties for was “Escape” by Lee Jung Hyun.
You’re a YG producer now, I wonder how you became a part of YG.
It was also in 2006 while I was preparing iM. There’s the lyricist Kim Ee Na. We knew each other. I guess she knew the ones in charge of the A&R department in YG and she made them listen to my music. This was how Yang Hyun Suk-sajangnim heard my songs. He called me and said he wanted to meet me. To be honest, since I belonged to another company, I accepted out of politeness. Sajangnim told me to contact him if there was an opportunity later on. Some stuff happened with the company I was in, so I naturally sought out Yang Hyun Suk. I told him about my situation and he accepted me. This was the moment when I started working as a composer for YG.
What was the first song you worked on in YG?
It was also in 2010. My first work was “Digital Bounce” for Se7en. Ah, there was also BIGBANG’s “I Don’t Understand” before that. This was before I entered YG. When I met him, I said I’d write only one song for him and I did.
Se7en’s “Digital Bounce” has a very distinctive sound.
I was really into electronica at that time. I went to the club a lot and I think that eletronica was the only sound I listened to. This inspired me and I worked on electronica genre songs, but no one knew it. This was a song I did only for myself. Coincidentally, this was the time when I started working at YG. It was the time when they were working on Se7en’s album, so I made them listen to it. Yang-sajangnim liked it, so the song was selected to be given to Se7en.
Among BIGBANG members, I know you’re close with the sociable Seungri.
It’s true. Seungri has natural social skills. To be honest, when I first entered YG, everything was unfamiliar to me. But Seungri came to see me first in my studio and he told me “hyung! So there is indeed someone new! You will work with me, won’t you?”. (laugh) This is how he approached me and we naturally became close.
This opportunity to work together came for Seungri’s solo album?
More than an opportunity that came along, if sajangnim tells you to do it, you must do it. (laugh) He told me “Seungri will release an album. Try to write a song for him” and that song turned out to be “What Can I Do?”. To be honest, “What Can I Do” was supposed to be released as a single, but working with Seungri went so well, that he said he wanted to try to create more songs. So this is through practice that we made a few more songs. Sajangnim listened to the songs and he said “let’s not release a single. How about an album?” and we made 4 songs in nearly 2 weeks. This was how Seungri’s first mini-album was born.
What kind of music partner Seungri is?
He was very surprising. I thought he was a singer who only did what he was told music-wise. He had so many personal ideas that were his own. I would play the piano or give him a code work and he’d made a melody on the spot. This is something I really enjoyed. All the songs we’ve made until now were created through this method.
While working on the Seungri’s first solo album, you formed the “Seungri-Choi Pil Kang” line.
It wasn’t intentional. It’s just that we worked hard on it.
I wonder about your style as a composer. What kind of style are you usually looking for?
I think I’m like an omnivore. I think the genres I like depend of each season. I was really into hip-hop for two years, then I was really into the electronic sound, so that’s the sound I was seeking. Lately, I’m stuck on a digital or old pop sound. So I think it’d be more accurate to say that what I’m looking for is music instead of a specific genre. For instance, Yang-sajangnim really likes my sauce [=style] or my sound. When I think about it too, when I create music, I’m the kind to worry a lot about the sauce or the sound. I think that being sensitive to the style put the focus on the sound.
You said you were stuck on old pop, so that’s why your recent work has this analog vibe.
Indeed. I think this is how it was for “Missing You” which was a track on Ji Yong’s first solo [mini]album. It has a hip-hop beat, but the sound is vintage and Ji Yong’s latest rapping style was added. The song “Cold” by Epik High is in the same style. So is BIGBANG’s “Monster”. You can say that Se7en’s “Digital Bounce” then 2NE1’s “I’m Busy” were all about the electro genre, I think you can say that starting with BIGBANG’s “Monster”, the electro sound is mixed with an analog sound.
When we listen to songs like G-Dragon’s “Missing You” (feat. Kim Yuna), Epik High’s “Cold” (feat. Lee Hi), Seungri’s “I Know” (feat. IU), there are a lot of strong female featurings. Is there a specific reason?
Honestly, there’s no specific reason. I think it just happened naturally while we were working. Seungri’s “I Know” was incindentally created durint this two-week process while we were working on “What Can I Do?”. It’s a song Seungri and I made together, it was the last one we worked on. I was playing the piano, Seungri added the melody and wrote the lyrics. But somehow he felt like the song would be better as a duet. I was thinking the same. As we were wondering who he could sing it with, Seungri said he’d directly talk about it with IU. It was really hard to get in touch with IU at that time. Yang-sajangnim even joked and asked “will IU actually do it?”. (laugh) However, Seungri actually brought her in. He’s really amazing. This shows how friendly he is.
We’ve already met and talked with Lydia Paek. You composed “Missing You” which Lydia sang live. Do you have no intention to work with her?
Nothing has been released yet, but we work together when we have the time. I’m a track maker, Lydia is a melody maker. It’s an exchange between us. For instance, if sajangnim wants Lydia’s voice on a track I made, I insert Lydia’s voice. I think we can work comfortably because we’re a part of the same agency.
What kind of songs have you been working on lately?
Lately, I’ve been working on Taeyang’s album. I think it will be released soon. To be honest, my focus is more on the rookies right now. As you know, there’s a battle program going because a lot of rookies need to debut. It’s not that the songs are already ready, but we’re in the stage to think about which songs we’ll make.
Is there any interesting story about one of the songs created during all this time?
I think I can talk about Ji Yong’s “Missing You”. It was at a time when I was really into the electro genre. I listened to an old song by coincidence and I completely fell for this music. For a week, when I wasn’t working at the studio, I made a short song as I practiced my guitar skills. Instead of a strong punchy feeling, the beat was somehow off, the sound was rough. I though it’d be a waste to keep it just to practice, so I turned it into a song. This song was “Missing You”.
If you were to choose the song you have the most affection for among those you’ve created so far?
I think it’s Se7en’s “Digital Bounce”. It’s a song very meaningful to me. It’s the first song of mine that was released after I was hired in YG, but it’s also a song I worked on for a long time after going through several attempts. Besides, I wanted to make a song with a well round sound at that time and it turned out better than what I thought, so this is the song I feel the most attached to.
Recently, you worked on the song “Stealer” by Kang Seung Yoon. How did this song come to life?
It’s also a song I made while I was into old pop. Sajangnim’s order to work on Kan Seung Yoon’s album came at that time. I worked on this song with Big Tone who also has rapper activities and DEE.P whose studio is next to mine. The three of us sat together and said “let’s try to make a song for Kang Seung Yoon”. I played the piano, we made the melody and the song came out through this natural process.
How was it to work with Big Tone and DEE.P?
The working process itself went smoothly. To be honest, I had some worries like “would this song suit Kang Seung Yoon”, so I had even made a guide. So I called Seung Yoon to my studio. As soon as he came in, I made him listen to the song and asked him to try to sing to get an idea. I was surprised that it really went well. He liked it too, so I think everything went smoothly from there.
When you work on a song, do you think about the complete concept up to what the musician expresses on stage?
I don’t think my skills go this far yet. I’ve been doing music for more than 10 years, but I really started composing songs when I was hired in YG. It’s been 3 years now. My goal for now is to create concepts just like Teddy-hyung does. When I came to YG, I was surprised when I saw Teddy-hyung. He’s good at creating music, but he can also create stage outfits, music video concepts. I was very surprised to find out that he could do that. I don’t think I’m at this level yet, but I think I’m learning while being in YGE. I also want to try to work in various fields in the future.
Original article: cuvism magazine
Edited by @canoeknits
t/n: that Taeyang album, though… * smdh *