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[Herald Interview] ‘We want to define our own genre’

A decade into career, group Ulala Session hits refresh

Ulala Session members pose for a picture during an interview at The Korea Herald’s headquarters in Seoul on July 6. (From left) Park Seung-il, Choi Do-won and Kim Myung-hoon. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Ulala Session members pose for a picture during an interview at The Korea Herald’s headquarters in Seoul on July 6. (From left) Park Seung-il, Choi Do-won and Kim Myung-hoon. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Ulala Session’s rise to fame was sudden, starting as the winner of TV audition program “Super Star K” in 2011, and its popularity has lasted.

However, after 10 years in the mainstream music scene, the group is still asked: “So, what kind of musicians are you?”

Giving their answer to this question, the group recently launched the project “U.L.S,” a series of albums that will present the new identity of Ulala Session and mark the start to the act’s new journey.

The three-member group is composed of Park Seung-il, Kim Myung-hoon and Choi Do-won.

Before kicking into anything new, the group is putting the past behind it with the first episode of the project, “Session.1 [U],” a single consisting of the song “I Am Fine.”

In a recent interview with The Korea Herald, Park, the band’s leader, said the song is a public proclamation as they embark on their new journey.

“Although the title says ‘I am fine,’ it’s actually a message for ‘U (you).’ The lyrics go, ‘We’re fine, so could you please not mind us?’” Park said.

Ulala Session was a prominent group from the start, with their outstanding vocal prowess and strong stage presence, backed by the members’ humorous personalities.

As sensational as they were, the group -- then a quartet led by Lim Yoon-taek, who passed away from cancer in 2013 -- was tagged by many groundless rumors and malicious comments.

Such negativity, on top of Lim’s death, came to drain the group of its energy over time.

“We became more and more cautious and aware of what the public thinks about us. We didn’t want to disappoint them. Rather than being that vibrant group we were at first, we started to think about how we could appear so in the public’s eyes,” Park said.

Even with its prolonged slump, the group never gave up, continuing to release new music, collaborate with other musicians and welcoming new members while bidding farewell to old friends. Kim and Park have stayed as part of the group since 2011, and Choi -- a long friend to Kim and Park -- officially joined in 2016.

In December, for their latest project, Ulala Session competed in another audition show, “Sing Again 2,” which aims to give a second chance to talented yet unknown musicians.

Although many questioned their second shot at an audition despite their fame, Kim said it was an inevitable step to reposition themselves.

“We wanted to regain that energy our name used to give out. As we took on every performance of the program and challenged ourselves, we felt ourselves regaining our standing. We began the show hoping to be ‘us’ again, and at the end, we were,” Kim said.


Ulala Session members pose for a picture during an interview at The Korea Herald’s headquarters in Seoul on July 6. (From left) Park Seung-il and Kim Myung-hoon and Choi Do-won. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Ulala Session members pose for a picture during an interview at The Korea Herald’s headquarters in Seoul on July 6. (From left) Park Seung-il and Kim Myung-hoon and Choi Do-won. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

Refreshed with new energy, the group is revamping itself through the “U.L.S” project.

Dropping the first of the series, “Session. 1 [U],” on June 15, the group said they are set to drop two more singles, each themed around “love (L)” and “sexy (S)” in the coming months, words that represent Ulala Session’s new identity, Kim explained.

While they are starting off afresh, the fundamental value of Ulala Session’s music will not change, the members assured.

“I can say this without hesitation: We will be just the same,” Park said. “The funky, flamboyant and peppy identity that we have identified as will continue, yet in a more organized, upgraded way,” he said.

Ulala Session plans to compile three new singles, plus several new songs, into a studio album that will be released this year.

The group is also gearing up to hold its first concert in five years.

“We’re putting care into every little detail, to make sure that our fans can leave the show feeling happy and proud to be our fans,” Kim said. To this, Choi added: “I feel the happiest and encouraged when I hear fans say that although they’ve seen many musicians live on stage, Ulala Session is different. I want to make sure they stay like this, and that they never get tired of supporting us.”

Known for their distinctive zealous energy, Ulala Session is a performance group that is like no other. The three men, even in their late 30s and early 40s, boast an ease on stage incomparable to the neatly-packaged freshness of more youthful girl and boy groups.

But what really captures the eyes, the members say, is the genuine stories they tell through their performance.

“The one single rule we stick to when we release a new song, do a cover performance or prepare for an audition, is that we pick a song that’s in line with our own story. It doesn’t have to be trendy, fancy or catchy, but it has to be able to tell the story that we have inside us at that moment,” Park said.

Performance, therefore, has a whole different meaning for Ulala Session. While many might imagine a flashy stage -- for the trio, performance is about storytelling through music.

“I think all of our singing and performing has a drama to it, and this is what defines Ulala Session’s music. We don’t aim to become a team that could be the best in a certain genre, but we want to become a genre in itself. Whatever we do, we hope it shows that Ulala Session managed to define its own genre,” Kim said.

The “U.L.S” project also commemorates the group’s 10th anniversary. Looking back on their path, the group said it was a time setting the foundation for their time to come.

“Although there were struggles and pauses, I don’t think it was a period spent aimlessly. When we first debuted, people nicknamed us ‘performance masters,’ which we felt was not for us. We felt like we didn’t deserve it, but now, we can say with confidence that that is who we are,” Kim said.

Kim continued, saying, “Although we don’t know how our next 10 years will unfold. We are anticipating that one day, we will be able to shake the nation and leave another mark in history, just as we did 10 years ago.”


By Choi Ji-won (jwc@heraldcorp.com)
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