KoME had the chance to chat with Korean jazz singer Youn Sun Nah in Aalen, Germany.
Youn Sun Nah performed at the Ramada Hotel in Aalen during the local Jazzfestival on the late evening of November 6th.
The room had been packed and a lot of people were surprised by the Korean singer and her unique approach at jazz. After her performance we got the chance to talk to her and surprisingly she recognized us again, though it had been over a year already since we first met in Munich. It's no lie that she is probably one of the nicest people one could hope to meet and even now as a really well known artists, she is still so down to earth. Having an interview with her doesn't seem like work, but more like catching up with an old friend.
We decided to grab a table at the Ramada Restaurant. Already after the usual "Hello! How have you been?", she told us she had a good time and enjoyed touring in Germany again. Her Album Same Girl was released one month ago and since then she had been touring, but when we asked about her plans on going to Brazil, she told us, "You know what? Someone sent me a mail. A booker. A Brazilian booker, he was quite interested in organizing the concert. Ok, nice...he was so enthusiastic and I said Ulf [Wakenius] and he also was like "Ok lets go, let's do that!" But suddenly the booker disappeared.“ Who knows what happened there, but we hope that Youn Sun Nah gets such an offer again and that this time it is carried out.
Talking about her album, we asked how she got to record Metallica's super hit Enter Sandman, though she had already mentioned during the encore of her performance, that it was Ulf who had the idea. She remembered the time they first sang it together:
"We were at Las Palmas, we had a concert there, the weather was nice and we had a lot of time between rehearsal and the concert. We were having fun and kept playing like that. He started Enter Sandman and i sang to it. Ulf asked, 'How do you know this tune?' But it's world famous so i know it...because i have my brother who listened to it a lot. And he said, 'Let's sing it', but i wasn't prepared. He encouraged me to work on it a bit and then just a few days before the recording of the album, he suggested we could do that."
And with big eyes and a deep "Noo!", she showed us how surprised she was, but Ulf answered "Yes Yes!"
"So I asked the people at the label if we could put it on the album and they said 'Why not?' I hope that the Metallica fans won't kill me!"
But honestly, she doesn't need to worry. Her cover is a totally new rendition to the song. Many covers before tried to copy the original sound a lot, but Youn Sun Nah and Ulf Wakenius actually changed it up. When Andy mentioned he actually liked it more, she laughed out loud and asked if he was kidding, but he definitely wasn't since her version is appealing to a wider audience, which may not be into metal. „You know we're just two people on stage and i couldn't sing "say your prayer" (here she mimicked the deep voice of James Hetfield). What makes her version equally powerful but different is, she put a lot of other emotions into it, and her voice is strong in a different way.
On the other hand, you can find Kangwondoo Arirang on Same Girl, a Korean folk song. It's a real contrast, so surely we asked if people ever mentioned anything to her, since Korean really is a language not many people are used to hearing. In her opinion though, the tune is similar to world music, so people are used to listening to this kind of music. Maybe it sounds like Asian music and they accept it very easily.
Our next question was why she named her new album Same Girl. Her previous one had been Voyage and it made sense, since nearly her whole life she has been travelling a lot, not only in the real world, but also in the world of music. Her explanation was that both albums have a similar sound, with the same musicians and it's on the same road.
"But the thing is, we didn't change, we didn't add some electric sounds. The sound is the same but....how should I put it....I sing a little bit differently. When i sing, for example, Metallica, it's different. And when i sing Randy Newman or a Korean traditional song, it's different. But it's still me."
She wasn't the one who decided on the title. Youn Sun Nah let her friends listen to the album and they said, "It's the same colour, but different even though it's still you." So the title Same Girl came by accident. Andy commented that Voyage sounded more melancholic and Same Girl more colourful and happy. But she argued that it starts with the slow My favourite things and then My name is carnival is quite pop-like. Shyly she asked, "It's more fun, right?"
And of course Pancakes had to be mentioned, which made her laugh out loud in such a cute way, one simply has to laugh along. "You sing about food!" Andy mentioned. Who else does that? But talking about food, since she travels a lot, we gathered she must know a lot of delicious dishes, so we asked her favorite. Curiously, we get to know a bit about the positive sides of globalization. France is regarded as a country with the best gastronomy, but you can find very, very good French food also in Germany and Korea.
"You know the best French food i had, was in Sweden. But at the same time, wine in France, you can't beat that. It's perfect, cheese as well. And the Beer. I played in Heidelberg a few days ago and went to a private brewery..." She dropped her head to the table and showed us how wasted she apparently was. "I had the impression I was not drinking a beer but eating a good meal." We then had to tell her then about a Swabian saying: "A Bier is au a Schnitzel", which means "A beer equals a schnitzel", which definitely made her laugh. Besides beer she also likes wurst, a word she always says with a really cute french accent, rolling the r. On the road at rest stops she always gets wurst and even receievd a new nickname from Ulf - It's not First Lady or Worst Lady, no, it's Wurst Lady.
Of course she also likes Korean food, which she only finds at expensive places in France and is never the taste of her mom's cooking. Youn Sun Nah mentioned she really likes kimchi. "That's why i like German food. Sauerkraut, is a little bit similar. When i miss kimchi in Paris but can't find any, I buy a can of sauerkraut, put in some chili and i boil it. And it becomes kimchi Soup. Not exactly the same, but it's lovely." Maybe Koreans should try this as well, with their recent cabbage shortage!
We ventured into a new topic and tried to find out what the singer does on Christmas and New Year's, which surprisingly was quite different from what we are used to. Youn Sun Nah mentioned to us she was having two concerts in Korea, near Seoul. So she would basically be home, but Christmas isn't normally a big celebration with family like as it is in Europe. It's become a little bit commercial. In Korea it's not about family gathering, but is instead celebrated with friends. "Though we have many Christians and we go to church, still it's more about having fun with friends. But in Korea it's the New Year we spend with family. It's funny, when I asked friends in France what to do on Christmas, they said they had to get in a car and drive twelve hours to their family, and then on New Year's they were sitting alone, at home, watching TV.
When we finally got back to the topic of music, we asked Youn Sun Nah what singer or songs she would recommend to our readers who aren't familiar with jazz, since most K-Pop fans are quite young and it's normally not a genre teens and tweens listen to. In her opinion, a singer is definitely easier to recommend, since people can sing along and memorize it better, even if you are tone deaf.
"Norah Jones sings, I can sing, you can sing. What was her famous tune?" For a few seconds she thinks and then starts singing, "Lalala don't know why I didn't come." So how many people know that tune and sing it. It's not like an instrument, not everybody can play like that." There are many singers she'd recommend, especially Norah Jones and Dianna , and it's easy to get their CDs. She also recommends Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra. "Maybe Louis Armstrong, you should start with him. People listen to him a lot. The legendary jazz singers should be a start. Their sound is completely different from what we hear now. Like i sing Enter Sandman, but i am considered a jazz singer."
Finally we talked about her huge success in France, where her album climbed up the charts pretty fast. "Everyone is surprised. The label is surprised, the press is surprised, my friends are surprised, the CD sellers are surprised and on top, me! I don't know why it's like that. I met the director of ACT and he couldn't believe it. Wow, i was very very lucky. I took photos of this because I want to remember. It happened...I asked the CD merchants, and in their opinion it's because it's different. It's not like the American singers, it's new. Maybe the curiosity." It was visible in her eyes how excited and surprised she was about her success when she talked about how she could hear her songs on the radio, in the taxi or even in a department store. But she also thinks that after Norah Jones comes out with a new album, she will be forgotten.
Well we definitely don't think so, she's undoubtedly a very talented artist and deserves all the recognition she gets. Not only should she be well known by jazz listeners, her albums always show such different sides of music, offering something for a bigger audience.
We ended the interview with a little bit of small talk, as she had to leave the next morning at 8 am. One last thing she mentioned was that she regretted she didn't have the chance to go to the Limes Thermen right next to the hotel, but she would try to come back one day and definitely save some time to go and relax there. We're certainly looking forward to her return.