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[Herald Interview] Linkin Park’s Joe Hahn talks band, K-pop, future plans

“Being a Korean is cool now”

Being in a band is cool, especially if the band is Linkin Park.

The iconic American rock band has produced numerous hits, including “In the End” and “Numb,” since its debut in 1996 and boasts a long list of awards. Since the tragic loss of its vocalist Chester Bennington in 2017, the band is on hiatus.

Still, the band exists and Joe Hahn has been part of its miraculous journey through the years, standing in the back as the DJ. The 42-year-old Korean-American artist is now stepping forward in South Korea, sharing the story of Linkin Park and offering advice to aspiring musicians on a TV show here. 

Joe Hahn (JTBC)
Joe Hahn (JTBC)

Hahn is a jury member, along with other big figures from the local music industry, on JTBC’s “Super Band,” a talent show that aired its first episode April 12.

“The talent (of the contestants) is amazing. Each story is so different and unique,” Hahn said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul.

“They don’t know what to expect and there is magic that happens when they actually meet another person, the third person, the fourth person and whatever the number.”

As part of Linkin Park, Hahn hopes to share his story with the contestants. Though now established, the group had its difficulties in the beginning. At first, producers thought the band was just a bunch of kids doing weird music.

“Nobody wanted to sign with us, we met almost every label. And people did not understand. They needed us to decide whether we are going more hip-hop or rock,” he recalled.

The band’s music was something new -- a mix of everything from metal rock and hip-hop to disk jockeying. They each were doing their own version of music, creating synergy with how the music genres worked together.

“We took fate into our own hands and we started building our own fan base. We made cassette tapes, CDs and went to clubs to give out flyers,” he recounted. “What we did actually worked so well, we had a marketing company promoting other bands.”

“I want to share these stories. I see the disappointment on the faces (of contestants), but they actually are super talented. Any one of them can be successful and the combination can be even more successful in the context of a band.”

At a press conference held earlier this month for the Friday night TV program, the jury -- including Hahn -- expressed sorrow that bands that perform their own music seem to have fallen out of the mainstream music scene here. The entertainment industry has been tightly evolving around K-pop idol groups.

“When I am in the States, people are talking so much about K-pop. I think it’s pretty brilliant how these labels have been able to recognize things that work and systematically create what they call as the K-pop machine,” the Los Angeles-based artist said.

“I have appreciation for that but I know there is a lot more (to Korean music) than that,” he said. “I actually met some people from those companies, they actually like this kind of music, but as a business it is a lot more difficult.”

Yet he was sure up-and-coming bands like Linkin Park would have their day too.

“We just need whatever the next Nirvana was. You need someone strong, a front man. (‘Super Band’) can actually bring the conversation back on the table. It could be through the show or through someone watching the show,” he said.

Though Hahn strongly calls out for the next wave, he still greatly appreciates the roaring K-pop trend. He says being a Korean is something cool now, with the country leading various industries around the world.

Hahn’s father was a miner and his mother was a nurse, both in Germany. Mass migration from Korea to Germany happened in the 1960s and ’70s, when West Germany invited workers. His parents were part of that diaspora.

“It was very difficult to grow up as an Asian in America, but you know, now it’s like things are changing,” the Dallas-born musician said.

Hahn believes the K-pop trend could lead to something bigger.

“One thing I think about the K-pop factory, it is a great training ground. (The trainees) can learn so much, but they can take that training and turn that into artistry. What do you really want to say?”

That is why Hahn likes BTS. He even worked on a music video of Steve Aoki’s “Waste It on Me” track featuring BTS last year.

“More than the music itself, I love the story. They are thinking about their fans. It’s really important, you know. There is a few components that I would give (as advice), know your audience and have a relationship with them, and become an artist,” he said.

While some may know of Hahn only for his role in Linkin Park, there is more to him than that. He is also a producer, photographer and director. He showed short film “The Seed” at the Busan International Film Festival in 2006.

“While I am here, I get to meet with people and see what the possibilities are, whether it will be art or fashion. I am very open to it. I think in the past, I wasn’t, because I was focusing on certain things,” he said.

Deeply involved in photography, Hahn will be holding an exhibition in China beginning Saturday. He may take out a camera on his JTBC show too, since he takes it with him nearly everywhere.

“I have many interests. Of course the music is the main thing that people know me for. But I actually started with visual arts in college,” he said. “When I was young, I used to love comic books. I used to draw all the time.”

After studying visual arts in college, Hahn started work in special effects, designing imaginative creatures and doing storyboarding for movies and TV.

“With film you have passage of time. That was the beginning of me,” he said.

By Im Eun-byel (
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