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Epik High, Iconic Korean Hip-Hop Group, Used Sleeplessness To Fuel Their Latest, Mesmerizing Album

They've been making powerful, empathetic music since 2003, but 2019 is in some ways a new beginning for them.

Do you have trouble sleeping? You do? Me too. And so do the three talented men who make up Epik High. It’s a universal experience, and one that inspired their latest album, Sleepless in _______.

Epik High

For Epik High, the (intentional) blank would usually filled in with "Seoul," but for listeners, it's wherever you are. To pronounce it, Tablo explains, "You have to pretend that you have a pencil in your hand and it’s going across the page *makes zip-like noise*."

"Do you have nightmares?"

"Are you heartbroken?"

"Do you feel down? Depressed, hopeless?"

"Do you find that things you once enjoyed no longer interest you?"

Those are some of the questions you hear, in an automated Siri-like voice, on the album's first track, "Sleepless." The recording is eerie yet soothing, meant as a series of questions that *they* want to be asked sometimes, "you know, when you need someone to hear you out." Relatable. It's one thing to check in with yourself (which we probably don't do enough of anyways :/), but another for someone else to care about your condition.

"Do you find that things you once enjoyed no longer interest you?" was the line that stood out to me the most, so I asked the guys how they've managed to keep their passion for music alive over the 16 years (!!!) Epik High has existed.

YG Entertainment / Via

Tablo: “There’s a song on the album called ‘Rain Again Tomorrow’ about that. Mithra and I are kinda talking about different things...but music is basically our life’s work. But because we’ve done it for so long and so often, sometimes we don’t enjoy it. Luckily now we enjoy music once again, but that’s why there are gaps between our albums, sometimes three years, sometimes a year and a half or two — which is a very long time in Korea to have nothing out. But I think it’s during those times that we feel that kind of thing. It’s a symptom of depression, when you don’t enjoy something you used to."

Taking their time to release new music and making sure they're mentally ready goes to show just how much creative freedom Epik High has maintained over the years — even while signed to a major label — instead of letting themselves be held to or pressured by hyper-paced K-pop standards. That's not an easy thing to do, so big ups to them.

Late last year, Epik High went independent for the second time in their careers after being housed under YG Entertainment (specifically a sub-label called HIGHGRND, which they founded) for six years, and they've been experiencing a surge of growth and success in the short time since.

If there's anything you take away from Epik High, it's that they've never strayed away from tackling deeper issues, both societal and personal — peep "My Ghetto," "Happen Ending, and "Born Hater" amongst countless examples. Collectively, they've gone through lifetimes of ups and downs.

Frazer Harrison / Getty

Tablo is especially open about his struggles and says he's been an insomniac since middle school. Since then he's made peace with his sleepless nature — and not only that, but he has clearly used it to his advantage and to fuel his art.

Epik High / Via

Tablo: "I don’t think I’ve gotten a good night’s sleep for, maybe, decades. Sleeplessness is something we all have personal experiences with and it occurred to us that sleeplessness, like love, is a very universal thing. Everyone experiences it, everyone has heartache because of it, everyone has troubles because of it. Sometimes it’s great — just like love — when your sleeplessness leads to ambition or when it leads to your dreams being awakened because you’re working hard and you’re grinding. We thought that, like love, sleeplessness is a concept/theme that deserves just as many songs."

But just to be clear, even though he's accepted his sleepless ways, he doesn't wish it upon anyone — especially his daughter, Haru.

But nonetheless, Epik High purposefully makes music in dark conditions in order to keep their working environment as a ~timeless~ space.

Epik High / Via

Tablo: "We usually work in a basement that has no windows anyways, and even on this tour we’ll stop at a hotel and I’ll literally always have my curtains shut. I realized that’s probably leading to more sleeplessness because I’m not getting enough sunlight or Vitamin D. But the reason is because when you're working hard on music and you check the time and it’s like 3 AM in the morning — all of a sudden you feel tired and like you gotta go home, and we don’t want that. We deliberately make our working environment a timeless place because creativity doesn’t really come to you according to a schedule. Inspiration will come to you whenever it wants, and we want to be totally prepared for that."

The same timeless factor goes for song releases: The title track of this album, "Lovedrunk," which features R&B crooner Crush, was deliberately kicked off of their previous album to become something new for Sleepless in _______.

View this video on YouTube

Epik High / Via

And in the statement-making music video, they forwent a typical format (i.e. including themselves in it) and tapped actor-singer-songwriter extraordinaire IU to act out the song's meaning.

Tablo: "We wanted to visually show what it’s like to forget someone, what it’s like to literally kill someone from your memory. Whatever is going on in your heart or mind when you’re trying to forget somebody, we wanted to personify it and show it as the video, so the video itself is a metaphor for what it’s like to forget someone. We used martial arts to express someone struggling to fight and defeat this memory. But once you really do — once you’ve won and killed that memory off — it sometimes becomes a bigger pain and struggle after it’s gone. So, be careful what you wish for, right?"

What sets Epik High apart is their dedication to and steadfast belief in creating original work that will be automatically tied to the group itself, their voice, and what they stand for.

Dingo / Via

Tablo: "We don’t like typical or obvious things. If you have a song about drinking yourself to death to forget someone — normally with K-pop videos we’d probably make a drama-type video in a Korean soju place and make it dramatic, and it’s raining and someone’s crying. That just seems boring to us. I know sometimes people want the obvious thing because it’s easy to digest, but that’s not what we’re here to do."

It's these core values that have made them so well-respected by fellow artists, which in turn makes the whole collaboration process feel very "organic and natural" to them.

@enmgmt / Via, Epik High / Via

At this point, thinking of a dream collaboration is quite hard because of the sheer number of talented folks they've *already* worked with — like Yuna, who they met at Coachella in 2016 and featured on the track, "No Different" for this album.

Tablo: "We were on the phone with BTS's Suga [who co-produced 'Eternal Sunshine' off of this album] and we needed a female vocalist for another song we were working on, but we couldn’t pinpoint who would be perfect for the song. We were debating it for weeks and we asked Suga, “Is there anyone that comes to your mind?” He was with the other BTS members and I guess Suga asked RM, who then said, 'Is there ANY female artist who HASN’T worked with Epik High??' We’ve been here for a long time, released many, many songs, so we’ve collaborated with a crazy range of people. We'll have to wait until a song pops up to know who we should work with. The song will determine that."

Shifting to a slightly lighter note, a while back I noticed Tablo shared his sleep playlist, so I obviously had to ask everyone what their “wake up” playlist would consist of.

CBS / Via, @blobyblo / Via

Tablo: “This is gonna be really weird because it’s gonna be so different from my normal playlists, but 'All I Do Is Win!' Any song that starts with 'DJ KHALED,' for some reason, is a very good alarm to have. And Dr. Dre’s 'La-da-da-da-dah' song — just anything that’s loud enough to wake you up. I used to have Nirvana’s 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' as my alarm. But other times I like listening to a jazz standard (old jazz songs with melodies) because listening to old songs in the morning just feels really good."

Mithra: "Our song, 'Burj Khalifa.' We perform it really early on in our concert set and it pumps up the crowd, and it’s a good song to listen to in the morning."

And it wouldn't do Epik High justice to write this entire interview without noting their hilarious dynamic. Despite the deep-feeling nature of their music, these guys waste no time joking around with each other — proving that they're just your average, dysfunctional, music-making family.

On that note, this seems like an appropriate gif to end on:



Well, there you have it. Thanks to Epik High for stopping by, and be sure to give Sleepless in _______ a listen!

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