Leenalchi hopes to break away from gugak reputation in its upcoming second album

Korean band Leenalchi, consisting of vocalists Ahn Yi-ho, Lee Na-rae, Kwon Song-hee, Shin Yu-jin, bassist Jang Young-gyu, Park Jun-cheol and drummer Lee Chul-hee, rehearse for the upcoming concert ″Mul Mit,″ slated to be staged at the LG

It’s not easy for a band to see commercial success in Korea, unless it’s a hit K-pop boy band. Those who perform as a band here often argue that there’s no market for them in Korea as it’s heavily focused on music by idol groups.

That's why it came as a surprise, even for the band members themselves, when the Korean band Leenalchi came under the spotlight.

The band rose to fame not long after its debut in 2019. The following year, Leenalchi and Ambiguous Dance Company, a contemporary dance troupe, were featured in the Korea Tourism Organization’s “Feel the Rhythm of Korea” promotional video series. Due to the success of the video series, Leenalchi’s music began to attract listeners across the globe.

The band’s hit song “Tiger Is Coming,” which was featured in the promotional video for Seoul, has garnered an exceptional amount of attention from international fans for its unique sounds. The secret to its distinctiveness lies in fusing the traditional sounds of pansori, or traditional Korean narrative singing, with modern pop sounds. In fact, Leenalchi's first full-length album “Sugungga” consists of 11 songs that were reimagined based off of the five surviving pansori pieces called “Sugungga.”

Leenalchi recently returned home from its first international tour. It performed in five cities in four countries: the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium and Hungary.

“In Korea, we are categorized as a band that does crossover gugak [traditional Korean music],” said Jang Young-gyu, the leader and bass guitarist in the band. “But we realized after the international tour that people from other countries do not perceive us as a band that does traditional Korean music, nor do they even attempt to frame us by any genre. They enjoyed us as a band that does pop music that just sounds very different and new.”

The seven-member band said it wanted to break away from “the frame of being a band that does Korean traditional music.” That is why, for the second full-length album the band has been working on, Leenalchi decided not to use existing pansori pieces like it did for the first album, but create original work to showcase the band’s true colors.

The new songs will still have pansori elements in terms of vocals, however — which is still a big part of the band as it has pansori singers as vocalists.

“But compared to ‘Sugungga,’ the second album will sound more like rock music, very rough and even somewhat psychedelic,” said Jang.

Prior to releasing the album, Leenalchi decided to showcase 10 songs that will be included in the new album with a concert titled “Mul Mit,” which means “underwater” in Korean. The concert will be staged at the new LG Arts Center Seoul in Magok, western Seoul, from Oct. 28 to 30.

The second album, which will be released sometime next year, tells the fictional story of an astronaut’s journey. The story was brainstormed by the band members and weaved together by director Park Jeong-hee.

But what's so wrong with being perceived as a gugak band?

According to Jang, doing band music already puts musicians in a very niche market in Korea.

"All bands in Korea are known as indie bands. With that frame, the market becomes so small. In fact, there’s practically no market for bands in Korea,” said Ahn Yi-ho, one of the band's vocalists. “Leenalchi’s case is unprecedented, but it’s still a small market. You can only say a market exists when a band can make enough money to invest in their next work. That is impossible in Korea at the moment.”

That is why, Leenalchi, like many other bands in Korea, have turned their eyes overseas.

“We hope to appeal to foreign listeners with our new music,” said Ahn. Leenalchi said it showcased one of the new songs titled “Hehe Haha” during its international tour and said foreigners at the concert were singing along right away.

“Even my two-year-old son who used to be crazy about ‘Tiger Is Coming’ now always asks me to play ‘Hehe Haha’ every morning,” said Kwon Song-hee, a vocalist. “We believe it will definitely appeal to listeners of all ages and nationalities.”