Korean Music Interview: Common Ground
It is a well-known fact that a lot of groups outside of the idol market are more often than not bypassed by fans, not because they are talented but simply because they did not fit into the mainstream market. One such group is Common Ground. Mention their name to most people and there is a chance you may come up against a couple of blank stares and a resounding “who?”. Start up a conversation however about the talented and much talked about SNL Korea Band and you can get people talking. Now say you were to mix these two conversations and throw in the fact that the SNL Band and Common Ground are in fact the same group it’s likely some people are bound to be a little confused. How can such a respected and much-loved group that has been around since 2004 still be so unrecognised by the wider public? And how the hell did they stay under the radar for so many years, yet do so much?!
Often sought out by national orchestras and jazz bands hoping to work together and even ‘ex’ idols (Jay Parks Joah everybody) Common Ground are currently making their way onto people’s playlists and into artists recording studios. But it’s not just as a group that this talented group are sought as each of the members has released a huge mix of music solely ranging in both genre and style. We were recently lucky enough to be able to ask them a few questions about their music, their plans and SNL.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us how your group came together?
We are the Korean funk and soul Band Common ground. We released our first album called “Player.s” in 2004 and after 10 years we are still playing together. Despite some member changes over the years we continue to grow in strength as a group because the group’s seniors show good teamwork towards the new members which holds us together as a team. All the new members are in their mid-twenties but we think it works well and we are compatible.
To a new listener how would you describe the music Common Ground creates?
If we were to introduce Common Grounds music by genre we would describe it as being mainly based around soul, funk, jazz, and disco music. All of these genres of music have a very distinctive rhythm and groove to them and all of these things are important to the music we pursue, music which anyone can easily enjoy and surround themselves with. We like to think we are like DJs who can easily make crowds of people feel excitement with the music they play.
The group performs both the opening and closing songs for SNL (Saturday Night Live) Korea. Has being on the show helped to further raise your profile within Korea for those who may not have heard of Common Ground before?
When SNL Korea first got licensed by tvN South Korea the producer of the show, PD Yoo seong-mo, was looking for an artist that was similar to Lenny Pickett. (*Lenny Pickett is the musical director of NBC’s SNL band and also the saxophonist of group ‘Tower of Power’ since the 90’s.) It was decided rather quickly that Common Ground’s leader Jay Kim fit the profile perfectly.
In 2011 around the time the show started to come together Jay Kim released his 2nd solo album ‘Perfect Experience’ which was a smooth jazz blend and perfectly compatible with the first season of the show. So in 2012, when the season 2 started Common Ground joined the show alongside Jay and it was a perfect fit. It has really helped us to become popular.
Looking over the previous work of the group a lot of the members have also been present as solo artists in Jazz bands and orchestras, as well as the group. Do you think the group member’s ability to so easily handle other styles of music makes you more appealing to the public?
Many popular musicians, jazz bands and orchestras have invited us to play with them because we are what they like to consider competent musicians here in Korea which we respect a lot so we always take up their requests and play in their sessions. From playing with small jazz bands to idol groups it helps us to assess the music we are making and see where improvements could be made.
I am not sure if we have the ability to appeal to the wider public but we try to focus more on enjoying the music rather than worrying about that. Like food, not all music will have the same appeal to different people. When we make our music we don’t feel we have to match everyone’s tastes necessarily because we believe that there must be some people out there somewhere who will enjoy the music we produce and that is enough for us.
Music performed by idols (though still popular) has slowly been disappearing from key music charts and is being replaced by independent musicians. Do you feel that this apparent decrease in interest is paving the way for other musicians work to be enjoyed by the wider public?
To us, idol music is like colourful fireworks but its shelf life is too short. Although it is fantastic to look at. after a while it can make you feel a little bemused, and then it disappears before your eyes leaving behind a hazy smoke. We too love to watch idol music videos because they are great to watch but that’s more because they are focused on creating something special, visually.
A more exciting idol is always bound to come along at some point. I am not a prophet so I’m not sure about the future, but I think if Korean groups were to make music like Daft Punk, the dances they could do would be fantastic.
What do you think of the increase of interest from international fans towards Korean Independent music?
Increasing overseas fan interest in Korean music is a good thing. Even though there is a language difference, Korean indie musicians continue to create music that seems to be charming throughout the entire world. That is surely something that many people will easily agree on.
Many may not be aware but you provided the in-session instrumentals for Jay Parks ‘Joah’. How did the group’s inclusion on the song come about?
When we were discussing music with Jay Park in the SNL waiting room, we learned that the group shared similar tastes in music to him. So when we had the chance to work together with him on a project we went for it and Joah is the result of that.
What are the group’s plans for the rest of 2014?
2014 marks the 10th anniversary of Common Ground and it is very meaningful to us. Due to this we are preparing a 10th anniversary concert featuring both new and old music.
Do you have anything you want to say to our readers?
Common Ground will continue to provide enjoyable and appealing music, so please continue to send us a lot of care and love in the future.
Thank you to Soundholic for giving us the oppoutunity to ask the group a few questions and to the group for great answers.