From growing up in Korea and playing in heavy metal bands to writing the score for Squid Game, the most streamed show on Netflix, composer Jung Jae-il has had quite the career. In October, Jung Jae-il will be performing at the Barbican in London at K-Music Fest and we caught up with Jung recently to chat about his career, opportunities and which of the Squid Game death matches he would be most suited to. Read the interview here.

1. I wanted to start by going back to the beginning of your story and how you got into composing music?

I was a playing guitar in a heavy metal band and, because of that, I was covering a lot of different types of music and different songs. It just popped into my head about writing my own music and that is how I started composing. I enrolled in a local school that is how I started.

2. Growing up were there any film soundtracks which had a major impact on you?

Growing up I was inspired by so-called art houses and European films by the likes of Wim Wenders and also Andrei Tarkovsky.

3. You’ve gone on to compose scores for Squid Game and Parasite amongst others. How does the process work when writing and how did your career change?

First I get the script and speak with the director. Then, the main process is to clarify what the director intends. It’s all about opportunities. Being involved in Squid Game gave me numerous opportunities. As a Korean those opportunities are not easy for me to get without those projects. It also became easier for me to book studios.

4. I watched an interview recently where you said you had composed the Squid Game score while hungover? Is that true?

The Director rejected my work so many times it made me feel sad so I went away and I just drank. The next morning I woke up and went to the piano and played something randomly and the director said he really liked this. I think it worked for me.

5. You have a new record coming out later this year. Can you tell us about some of the themes on this record?

In terms of the record it is called ‘Listen’. Currently we are going through a lot of things like war and climate change and all of us need to listen to each other. I want more of us to listen to the world, nature and the universe. I want us to listen to what they say. I want us to focus on those mindsets. In terms of the format, it consists of piano solo, orchestra and traditional Korean music.”

6. When you are writing an album for yourself, what are the difference to writing a score for a movie or TV show?

The difference lies in the type of music. Firstly, for films, I need to satisfy the clients by creating the music the client wants. However, for myself, I want to say what I want to say. I become more spontaneous when I am writing my own music. When I make my own music, I don’t really think about record sales, so I just do whatever I want.

7. Considering the themes you have covered, do you see a visual element to accompany it?

Not really. I didn’t think about visualising the music. Also, on this record, I used a lot of complicated and hi-tech things and I don’t it would be easy to replicate those aspects on stage.

8. You will be performing the album at the K-Music Festival at the Barbican in London later this year. How excited are you about that especially considering what you talked about with opportunities earlier on?

It is unbelievable for me to be performing at such a renowned stage even as a solo performer. What is even more unbelievable for me is that I am going to be performing with the LSO. Is this really happening? This was pretty unthinkable for me. I didn’t really think of doing solo because it wasn’t really lucrative. However, Squid Game gave me a lot of opportunities. Also Decca, along with Squid Game, is also a big opportunity for me gave me another opportunity to launch a solo album. Everything was so unthinkable for me.

9. If you had to partake in any of the Squid Game levels which do you think you would be strongest and weakest at?

Haha. You know, I am a real coward so I would be eliminated at the first stage. Haha.

10. Squid Game isn’t the first success outside of Korea. Why do you think Korean movies and TV shows are always hugely popular?

I have absolutely no idea. One thing Director Bong quoted is that “the most individual thing is the most creative thing.” I also live in Europe and I can see that people here are craving something creative.

11. Now you’ve seen the opportunities, what are your ambitions going forward?

I don’t have a specific ambition however, what’s most important for me is not to fail. I have a promise with Decca and because of that I am trying something new and novel and want to focus on the music itself. I am studying a lot as well and working on my mindset.

12. Thanks for your time. Just to finish, what does the rest of this year and into 2024 hold in store for you?

For this year I will be performing at the Barbican as you know. In 2024, the film I am working on with Director Bong which is called ‘Mickey 17’ will be released. I will also be working on season two on Squid Game.

For more information on Jung Jae-il’s performance at the Barbican in London, visit the Official Barbican website

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