Translating YB

February 26, 2014

Veteran Korean rock band scheduled to hold concerts

in Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles next month

By Park Si-soo

Powerful drum beats open the track. The solo performance is soon overrun by the noisy but rhythmic sound of electric guitar.

The sound instantly stirs listeners to shake their shoulders and tap their feet. It goes on for seconds and then the voice comes in: “Cigarettes is what she sells, I never saw such a beautiful face. Long hair, smoky eyes looking prettier everyday…”

YB’s guitarist Heo Joon, from left, vocalist Yoon Do-hyun, drummer Kim Jin-won, bassist Park Tae-hee and guitarist Scott Hellowell are caught in this teaser photo for the band’s first English-language digital single “Cigarette Girl.” (Courtesy of Dee Company)

YB’s guitarist Heo Joon, from left, vocalist Yoon Do-hyun, drummer Kim Jin-won, bassist Park Tae-hee and guitarist Scott Hellowell are caught in this teaser photo for the band’s first English-language digital single “Cigarette Girl.” (Courtesy of Dee Company)

The vocalist sings the story of a man’s witty and tenacious attempts to go out with the girl and marks the end of the song’s first bar by shouting: “Saechimttegi,” a Korean term that can roughly be translated into “mean girl.”

This is the beginning of “Cigarette Girl,” an English-language digital single Korea’s top rock band YB released on Feb. 18 on international music websites such as iTunes, Amazon and Spotify, in its very first step toward making inroads into the world’s two biggest music markets: the United States and the United Kingdom.

Originally released in 1987 by folk singer Song Chang-sik, the song was transformed into a classic rock piece by YB in 1999. It was recently modified once again, this time for the band’s official foray overseas.

To that end, the five-member band — composed of vocalist Yoon Do-hyun, bassist Park Tae-hee, guitarists Heo Joon and Scott Hellowell, and Kim Jin-won on the drums — hired Doug Goldstein, a former manager of the legendary U.S. rock band Guns N’ Roses, as its manager for overseas performances.

“We’re excited about new journey”

YB members are set to leave for the United States in early March to make its debut there. They plan to travel to the U.S. and U.K. before releasing the band’s first full-length English-language album containing 10 or 12 songs in June.

During a recent interview with The Korea Times at the band’s office in Mapo, northwestern Seoul, YB members appeared to have mixed emotions of being excited and anxious ahead of the much-anticipated journey.

“We are very excited because YB is the first Korean rock band going overseas,” said YB’s leader and vocalist Yoon Do-hyun. “At the same time, we feel some anxiety because this is something nobody has attempted.”

YB was formed in 1995 and has since released nine albums and numerous singles. Not only has the band’s musical prowess been recognized through the several domestic music awards it has received, but it has also hosted sold-out concerts here for many years.

Yoon said it was the band’s long-held dream to knock on the door of the international rock scene. This seeming pipe-dream began to take shape after Yoon received an email from a screenwriter American friend last summer.

“Sending the email on behalf of Doug, my friend wrote that Doug was interested in YB. He asked me to send YB albums to Doug. So I did it immediately,” the 42-year-old vocalist recollected. “Days later, I received an email from Doug. I could feel from the email that he (Doug) already had a crush on YB. Since then, everything has gone smoothly.”

Knocking on the door of the Western market with “Cigarette Girl,” YB will release two full-length albums by 2018 under Goldstein’s guidance.

“We are currently selecting songs, in coordination with our American agents, to be included on the first album,” he said. “We already have more than 100 songs released in Korea. They (agents) are reviewing all of them to pick out songs that meet the musical taste of our target audiences … In the process, I’ve realized that the taste of foreign audiences is very different from that of local fans because our hit songs here were mostly excluded in the selection.”

Joining YB in 2011, British guitarist Hellowell said the band’s powerful and dynamic music and performances, as seen in “Cigarette Girl,” will strongly appeal to international rock fans. “You may feel energy with our music and performances,” he said. “It’s not easy to see rock bands playing as actively as we do on stage… But we can make it without stage props, smoke or stuff like that.” Yoon echoed his view, saying “flawless” live performances are the band’s biggest strength.

Translation matters

YB members said the Korean-English translation of lyrics was the biggest difficulty they faced when making the digital single.

“The lyrics were completely re-translated. It was changed at least four times,” Yoon said. “Four different people were involved in the translation in an effort to not lose the cultural context.” Hellowell, who took part in the translation work along with three other translation specialists, said it was “impossibly difficult” to translate the original lyrics into English with the witty storyline and humor of the original preserved intact.

Reviewing the English lyrics of the song, Chon Hee-kyong, a professional Korean-English interpreter and translator, said, “Overall, it’s a fun translation of the original Korean version and even gives Western listeners a peek into Korean culture by leaving some of the words unchanged in Korean. Still, I found some parts of the song to be somewhat awkward, both in terms of the translation and the way they sounded as lyrics to a song.”

Yoon said he pins high expectations on the band’s broadening of its horizons, adding he won’t be let down even if it goes awry.

“Of course I hope to see YB songs ranked on the U.S. Billboard Chart and played globally. It’s not easy, though,” he said. “I just want to enjoy this moment.” Bassist Park echoed that view, saying his hope is that the band’s Western debut will pave the way for other talented Korean rock bands to expand their presence beyond local borders.

Drummer Kim was somewhat more confident than the others.

“Come and see our performances,” he said. “You will like it.”

YB is scheduled to hold concerts in Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles, as well as performing at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, next month.

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