[March 2013 – Cuvism] Sungha Jung – Interview

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Please introduce yourself.

Hello. I’m Korean fingerstyle guitarist Jung Sung Ha.

I heard you started playing guitar when you were 10. Did you start through a special occasion?

My father enjoyed playing the guitar as a hobby. I’ve always had this image of him, so that made me want to play too. That’s why my father taught me the basics and I started playing.

Since your father has always shown you strong support, what does your father mean to you?

My father introduced me to fingerstyle. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have been able to choose the guitarist path. My father always got everything prepared for me to play comfortably. On the other hand, he’s also a teacher who has a harsh judgement on the way I play. (laughs)

I’m curious to hear how you ended uploading your videos on Youtube.

My father is the one who uploaded the first video. My father only did it simply out of curiosity and enthusiasm. He was curious to see which reactions people would get while watching my video.

The reactions were explosive. Through this video, you received love and interest not only from Korea, but also from all around the world. Wasn’t it burdensome to get the nickname “guitar prodigy” at such a young age?

It cannot be not burdensome. To be honest, I never thought of myself as a guitar prodigy. That’s why it always felt awkward to get such nickname. It’s nice to get this compliment, but it’s true that it has become a burden. Every time I play, I always get the feeling that I must do well.

I’m curious to hear how you felt when Yoko Ono complimented your version of “All You Need is Love”. To be honest, because of your young age, this probably didn’t mean that much to you.

To be honest, just like you said, I didn’t really know who Yoko Ono is. (laughs) Because I didn’t know how much of a great band the Beatles were. That’s why when my father told me this, I just thought “oh okay”. After that, as it became a hot issue in various media outlets and through interviews, I found out who she was.

You’ve become the most famous Korean fingerstyle guitarist. I found out that there are also a few guitarists around the world who uses this technique. Please explain to us what the fingerstyle is.

In the past, acoustic guitar was only used as an accompaniment when you sing. Fingerstyle is about playing the acoustic guitar like I said. The guitar must express the vocals. Instruments like the guitar, the bass, the drums must express the melody at the same time. So that’s why it’s not an easy technique in the end. However, the fact that I can play by myself anywhere is what makes the technique so nice. Still, compared to before, it seems there are more people my age who dream to be fingerstyle guitarists.

I heard you met Michel Aumont who is a world famous fingerstyle guitarist and he gave you a song. How was it to meet Michel Aumont?

I’ve played other musicians’ songs at a young age and Michel Aumont is one of them. There’s one of his songs that is called “Goutte d’or”. The melody is beautiful but very hard to play. A video of me playing this song got uploaded and this is how we got in contact. After that, I got offered to go to Paris with the SBS program “Star King” and so I met Michel in Paris. After that Michel emailed me and said he was writing a song for me and he published this beautiful song called “Sungha’s Waltz” on his next album. It was a great honor and I really enjoyed this moment.

Musicians still don’t get much attention in Korea. What are your thoughts on that?

It’s what I’m the most sad about. To be honest, I’m still young, so I don’t know well what the structural problems are, but just from my external perspective, the fact that musicians have less recognition and are less well-treated than singers is something we know for sure. I want to become a musican who gets more recognition than singers.

Unlike overseas where musicians have many places to perform, there are very few ways for musicians to showcase themselves in Korea. It seems the possibilities are as small as this scene is.

You’re right. Me aside, there are fingerstyle guitarists in Korea. They all play good songs. They’re extremely talented people. However, there aren’t much venues for them to perform. Even when they do perform, it’s not easy to catch the audience’s attention. I got known through mass media and I was able to do a few concerts, but it’s the Korean reality that others can’t do it like this.

How is the situation overseas?

In Europe or in Japan, I can often hold concerts in small venues. I held many concerts in various places with just my guitar and a small sofa. I wish we could create this kind of atmosphere in Korea. However, the focus is only on the countless K-Pop audition programs and the idol scene these days, so it seems musicians have even less opportunities to be on stage and it’s sad.

I heard you were very sad because you couldn’t attend Jason Maraz’s Korean performance last year. How did you feel when you heard that he wanted to play with you.

I was very happy. Because he’s a musician I really like. A lot of people all around the world get crazy over his music, they sing and play along [t/n: as in “make covers”]. To be honest, I’m just one of them. I heard he mentioned me in various interviews and he said he watched my video and was touched. That was so awesome and it made me really happy. I mean I’m just a little boy from the East. (laughs)

It seems that you receive love calls from many artists. Is there one you remember specifically?

Jason Maraz, anyway? (laughs) I think it’s the offer I remember the most.

You’ve done different kind of collabs. Is there one performance you particularly remember?

The one that makes me the happiest is when I played with G-Dragon who is my favorite musican. I also enjoyed the performance I did with 2NE1.

Come to think of it, you’ve done a lot of collaboration with YG singers. How was it to bring acoustic music and hip-hop together?

I think acoustic and hip-hop are a good match. I think there are a few more stuff I’d like to try to do with this.

If there’s an artist you want to play with, who would it be?

Hm… There are a lot! There are many singers I made the promise to work with if I get the opportunity. For instance, Lucidfly, Younha, John Park among others. I really love these musicians. And I’d like to work with famous foreign artists like Eric Clapton.

I saw you doing street performances in Itaewon last year. Do you often do street performances?

It was in the area where I live. To be honest, I don’t have much free time, so I can almost never do street performances. Last year, I did some street performances in Hongdae, Itaewon, Daehak for events. Many people cheered me on, so it was a lot of fun and it stayed on my mind. It was a great experience.

I saw a performance of you singing John Mayer’s “Why Georgia” in “Baek Ji Yeon’s People Inside”. You’re a good singer too! I wonder if you have ever throught about being also a singer-songwriter.

I truly want to be good at singing. Still, I don’t feel that God gave me singing skills as good as my guitar skills. (laughs) Vocals are something I was born with, so I’m not that greedy. I do hope that I get to express my story through singing if I get the opportunity.

Do you have a moment in your happiness when you were the happiest?

I think I’m the happiest when I play in front of fans who listen and like what I play. The reason I go on tours overseas although it’s hard is because I also have fans over there who want to hear my music.

I heard you were also on the Billboard uncharted and social chart. How did you feel when it happened?

It was fun and exciting. I was even number one on the Uncharted chart. It seems that my rank has been going up and down for a few years. (laughs) I heard I reached the 11th spot on the social chart. I can only thank the fans who listen to my music.

What is the most important thing a guitar player need?

I think a music player is different from a musician. When you play as a music player, what people remember is the session men. Delicate mechanical performances are what the session players need, if you want to make your own music heard, you need basic technique, but I think you must be good at playing what you want others to hear. There are countless music players who have better technique than me, but I’m the only one whose performances have the emotions I have. The music players I like are the ones who keep the emotions alive. I think even a simple melody will be different according to the one who plays it. That’s why I try my best to put various emotions in my guitar playing every time.

You released the album “The Duet” last December and it was made of composed songs as well as remakes. Please tell us more about your album.

To be honest, I didn’t mean for it to be a duet album at first. It happened coincidentally. My third solo album happened while I was in Kyoto, Japan. As for Japan, there are so many fingerstyle players I like over there. That’s why I ended up working on my album in Japan. I thought it’d be so great to invite them and record together.

So it happened spontaneously.

Yes. I sounded them out on the idea, and they willingly encouraged me, so I ended up recording a solo album as well as a duet album.

I heard the recording time was short.

Yes. The whole recording process took 8 days. It wasn’t easy to record two albums in this short amount of time. (laughs) The outcome is this awesome duet album. I really like this duet album a lot. It is filled with songs I personally like, and there are also song with harmony as good as it was recorded through a duet. I think it’s even more meaningful because it’s a project never done before with the Japanese artists who participated in.

I wonder what your future goals and dreams are.

I want to write a lot of good songs. I want to create my own unique technique and more than anything, I want to keep studying music.

Please give a piece of advice to young people like you who go down this musician path.

If you want to become a good guitar player, you must truly love guitar first. In my case, I think I never let go of my guitar once I grabbed it. There are times when it was boring, but I think I still play today because it was mostly fun. Love your guitar.

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Jung Sung Ha’s life style

What do you usually do in your leisure time?

I study because I must take my GED test on April, so I do absolutely nothing else right now. (smiles)

I heard you have the practice bug. How much time do you practice a day?

When I have a bit of free time, it can be more than four hours. I don’t have much time these days, so it’s hard for me to practice even 2 hours a day. Even if it’s for a short time, I try to practice constantly.

Aside from acoustic music, do you enjoy listening to other kinds of music?

I listen to K-Pop the most. And I also enjoy listening to rock music from the 70’s and the 80’s. And of course, I also like listening to fingerstyle music.

Is there a musician and an instrument player you like?

Hm… There are so many, so it would be hard to pick just one, but if I were to pick one person, it’d be G-Dragon.

I’m curious to hear the reason.

The reason I like him, first of all, is that he’s different from other idols. His forever evolving image is so charismatic. The music he’s seeking has so much freedom and so much personality that he’s an artist that stands no
comparison to see him as a role model.

Which musician have you grown the closest with as you’ve been doing music?

A lot. People like finger style guitarist Kotaro Oshio, Ulli Vegas Shawoojen (?? 울리 베게스샤우젠), Michel Haumont, Tanaka Akihiro. On the Korean scene, there are people like Ham Chun Ho, Lucidful-hyung, John Park-hyung, Younha-nuna, G-dragon-hyung, Lee Seung Gi-hyung.

Music aside, it seems you’re very into movies.

Yes. I usually watch any kind of movie. I like blockbusters, and recently I enjoyed watching “26 Years”.

What have you been into lately?

Clothes, shoes… Fashion is something I’ve been more and more interested in. I’ve also been into Apple equipment and webtoons.

What is your fashion style in your daily life?

I like the casual style. Should I call it an ordinary style? It’s hard to define it precisely. (smiles)

You started a musician career at a young age, so do you have no regret of not being able to challenge yourself in another field?

I have none so far. Even in music, there are so many things I want to do, so I think I will keep finding challenges.

You probably have some regrets about not being able to get school memories like others since you’re home-schooled.

I definitely do. It’s the hardest part about my life and what makes me feel lonely the most. However, my path is different, so I believe it was the best choice for me and things like this can’t be helped.

I’m curious to hear about your ideal type.

A pretty and nice girl? (laughs) I think about it these days, but I feel like it would be more comfortable to be with an older girl.

Aside from the dreams you have for your career, do you have personal dreams?

I want to bring people hope and happiness. Of course while being happy myself!

Tell us about your future plans.

First of all, I must pass my GED exam, right? (laughs) And this year, I have a world tour with concerts almost every month. I’m studying music a bit more seriously, so I want to work on various songs.

Please say a few words to our Cuvism readers.

I’m very happy to have met you like this and I really enjoyed this moment. I will keep working hard on making good songs, so I hope you will keep looking out for me and cheering me on. And show a lot of love to Korean musicians. Thank you.

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Cuvism
Translation: @thesunnytown – thesunnytown.wordpress.com

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