This article written after an interview with Zitten was edited by Philip Gowman and first published on London Korean Links.
In January, Korea’s premier indie label, Pastel Music, released a 5CD compilation to commemorate its 5th birthday. On those five CDs there are 71 songs in total. Needless to say there is plenty of good music on those CDs – I had expected as much when I pre-ordered it. What I did not expect was to find that the best song, out of all those 71 tracks, came from somebody I hadn’t even heard of till I read the tracklist for the first time. The song in question was 곁에 – an “early recording version” of it, to be specific – and the artist responsible was Zitten (짙은). With a little help from the guy that created the old Zitten web site I was able to make contact with the vocalist, Yong-Wook, and learn more about my new favourite duo. That is if you can still call it a duo with one member struggling on his own as the other is busy fulfilling his mandatory military service.
The beginning of Zitten can be traced to a hobby club for music where covers of Oasis, Radiohead and Coldplay were played. As the team dissolved, guitarist Yong-Wook and drummer Ro decided to continue to play together just for fun. They recorded five songs of their own and took the name Zitten before putting them on an EP entitled “Rock Doves” in 2005. 500 copies were printed and it sold out in three months. Late 2007, Zitten won the band category at the 1st Pastel Audition and here we are. There is already enough material for a full album, but Pastel wants to make some changes – add some real strings here, record new drums there, etc – so it’ll be another while before it’s released. Perhaps in the summer or autumn, Yong-Wook says.
What is this music then, that sounds so fantastic even before Pastel has had much of a say in it? Yong-Wook enjoys listening to modern rock as well as the great folk musicians of the 1960s, whereas Ro is more into electronica. For the sound of Zitten, however, they have once again reached towards Coldplay to get the right sophisticated and reflecting atmosphere. Damien Rice and Lee Juck too have influenced their songwriting, the latter in particular for the upcoming album. Another change from the EP is that they are now making better use of the piano. Add that to a change in recording facilities and the result is a sound that not only is richer, but also somewhat jazzier. Both Ro and Yong-Wook write lyrics on different aspects of love and memories, but while Ro concentrates on partings and misunderstandings, Yong-Wook every now and then incorporates a “micro-political theme”.
Going political, I asked Yong-Wook about this alleged death of indie bands that the obligatory years in the military is said to bring. He admits that there is some truth to that and comments that the Korean army isn’t really familiar with creativity. Three months ago, Ro, as many other musicians, went into the military to serve as a “military music soldier” so it’s not all that bad for him as he gets to play guitar and brass instruments. He can not have a computer, however, so it is difficult for the two band mates to work together. Yong-Wook stresses that Ro is a very important member of Zitten, with good skills in programming of and performing on various instruments, but now Yong-Wook is working on overcoming his own weak points as it has become more of a solo project on his part: performances nowadays are informal and carried out alone at cafés or bars he used to frequent. Yong-Wook has already finished his service, so let’s hope that all goes well for him now and that Zitten will prosper once the duo can reunite.