“Eyy~ Are you the guy?”
The low and husky voice filled the whole room. These were people who brought an aura, like a different kind of air, into the room as soon as they entered.
‘The hyungnims doing the session, their presence is no joke.’
Minho looked around at the six people who were sitting in the live musicians’ waiting room at the back of the cafe.
Iseol Yoon as the vocalist. Sanggun Lee as lead guitar. And the four session men that Sanggun casted.
“You look good on screen but you look better in person, eh?”
“…hyungnim. It’s him, not the girl.”
Sanggun pointed to Minho when one of the session men spoke.
“Ah really? Why is it so dark here in this back room?”
“That’s why I told you to take them off indoors. Why are you wearing aviator sunglasses at night?”
“It’s a man’s pride. Don’t go there.”
Minho slowly observed the four session men who gave off the vibe ‘We are artists’ even just sitting. They were instrumentalists who were acknowledged for having the best skills in the indie music world. Sanggun had even learned music under them.
Minho had heard they were in their 40s but none them looked it. There was a saying that you’ll remain young if you keep playing music. It seemed that phrase was right.
The man who was looking at the wrong person before looked at Minho at last.
“Sanggun. He’s the one you were complimenting until your lips went dry, right?”
The synthesizer player wearing the sunglasses, who was named Daehwi Shim, eyed Minho top to bottom. Minho bowed deeply and respectfully greeted him.
“Thank you for your assistance.”
“Sure, I look forward to your skills.”
Daehwi and the other three session men looked as if they were bored out of their minds but their anticipation of how Minho was going to be producing this song seeped out.
Their stares should’ve been overwhelming Minho but instead he was burning with excitement. It was because the perfect composition for Iseol’s song was already drawn clearly in his head.
Minho taught Sanggun first.
“Sanggun hyung, you’re the important start of this song. If the drum sound is put in softly with cello and the violin starts, the lead guitar has to change to a completely different sound. Hyung, give me your guitar for a sec.”
Minho took Sanggun’s guitar and began strumming the melody he was humming in his head. Daehwi was watching and his eyes glowed.
“The way you play guitar is somehow similar to Sanggun.”
“I told you, he has good skills.”
Minho who was deep in composing the song didn’t care if the two people were appraising his skills or not and went on to the next part.
“When the lead guitar dies down, the first verse will start. And Iseol’s vocal tone and sunbaenim’s synth sound have to suit each other.”
As soon as Minho finished Daehwi began to add the melody to the synthesizer as if saying he understood. Minho snapped his fingers.
“I heard it briefly before and the song is alright. Who did you say made this song?”
Iseol who was suddenly called on lowered her head, unsure what to do.
“Did you really write this song?”
Daehwi repeated the tune and smiled as he looked over at Minho. And then he grinned at Iseol and spoke.
“Bravo! Good, good. You have good skill.”
“Thank you, sunbaenim.”
Daehwi poked Sanggun’s side.
“This guy couldn’t even memorize the guitar chords when he was Iseol’s age. He was only an expert at memorizing girls’ phone numbers.”
“Ey, hyungnim! That’s not cool!”
The session men exploded in laughter at Sanggun’s outburst. It seemed they were accustomed to making fun of him like this. Daehwi opened his mouth and spoke to the session men when the laughter began to die down.
“Either way, the song is good. And I like the direction of this fella’s production. It’s going to be a fun stage like we haven’t had in a while.”
The three instrumentalists all nodded, ready to give Minho their trust.
From that moment, the time flew by.
The cellist and the violinist used to play classical music together so they were like hand in glove. The melody these two improvised completed the original song with a rich harmony.
Minho gave a thumbs up to the drummer who was showing off a rhythmic beat with just the snare.
“The beat has to come in loudly at least at this point when the bridge finishes.”
It was truly a perfect nod and a wink. Conversation with an expert was possible with only a few words.
“It sounds good, it’s good.”
Minho beat the air following the movements of the drummer. It was like they were one band from the beginning, following Minho’s signals as they performed together with one heart.
Iseol who was singing along with the complete tune was in awe of Minho’s amazing producing ability that flowed like magic. It was enough to make her wonder if there was any other time she had played music as joyful as this.
“With this, it’s enough.”
Minho spoke as the song composition finished.
“What I want to say last is enjoy yourselves.”
“The young fella sure knows it well. Sounds good. Let’s let loose and enjoy ourselves.”
Daehwi lifted his hand, and everyone joined in with a high five.
The live stage at cafe Once.
All of a sudden a number of musicians entered and filled the stage. It was rare to see a performance here with enough people to make a band, and they drew the customers’ attention.
Sanggun grabbed the mic first and asked for their understanding.
“It was originally my turn to sing but I wanted to introduce a really good song to everyone. So I invited these people. You don’t need to be disappointed because a fellow named Minho Kang who rearranged my song produced it himself.”
Daehwi who was in the back raised his voice and jumped in.
“Sanggun, everyone heard your song so many times they’re already sick of it. You’re the only one disappointed.”
- That hit the mark!
- No beating around the bush there!
Sanggun pointed to the instrumentalists as the regular customers laughed out loud.
“You guys already know well the one who spoke just now, right? He’s one of the four rats of this cafe, Daehwi Shim on the synthesizer.”
Sanggun introduced Daehwi followed by the other session men. Whistling and cheers sounded as the members who were like the grand seniors of this cafe appeared. Then Sanggun pointed to Iseol who was standing right next to them.
“This is Iseol Yoon who performed first tonight. That’s correct. We came out again with the song that no one reacted to much. Listen to how good it became.”
The customers’ stares all remained on Iseol as Sanggun stepped to the side with his guitar.
Iseol stood in front of the mic and let out a deep breath. Her hand that was holding the mic trembled slightly, probably due to nervousness. The reality of the situation was sinking in.
‘What in the world, I can’t believe they are performing my song together!’
Her mouth went dry. She forced down a swallow.
‘It’s okay. I didn’t make any mistakes when we were practicing back there.’
Even if she comforted herself like this, it was very overwhelming to stand on the stage where she had failed two hours earlier. There was the joy of performing together but it was the first time today she realized she could feel sorry and anxious because she was doing it with others. It was her fear of making a mistake.
She breathed deeply again. She calmed herself saying ‘let’s do well.’
“The song we’ll be singing is titled ‘Once Again’. This is a song for everyone worn out by daily life.”
Minho was standing among the customers and her gaze met his. The first person to shout ‘bravo’ to her song. Her first fan, and an odd guy.
- I like music. Just that.
That’s right. It was just that.
The trembling disappeared like a lie at the thought that she wanted to let the person who was staring at her with anticipation-filled eyes hear a good live performance.
‘Whew~ let’s go!’
The song started with an upbeat guitar sound. The melody of ‘Once Again’ captured everyone’s ears from the start as Sanggun’s rhythmic instrumentals joined Iseol’s unique vocal tone.
There were customers automatically moving their shoulders to the beat once the cheerful drum and the soft chords of the synthesizer were added. As the violin and cello gifted everyone’s ears with a state of ecstasy, there was no one sitting sitting down in the cafe.
A contented smile grew on Minho’s mouth as he watched.
“Wow, it’s a good song.”
“Dang, she can sing well on top of her pretty looks? I’m telling you, it’s only a matter of time till she’s popular.”
“I took a video, should I upload it?”
“Upload it, upload it!”
The customers’ excitement didn’t cool down even when Iseol had finished her live singing.
Minho turned his head towards the people who were gathered and having a friendly conversation after the performance finished.
“Sanggun. I heard the cafes in this neighborhood can’t pay your rate? Wow, you sure have succeeded.”
“No, It’s not to that extent, hyungnim.”
“It’s good you’re making a lot of broadcast appearances but visit here too from time to time. Wouldn’t it be good to perform like we did today? We discovered a gem like Iseol too.”
Iseol who was getting a drink heard Daehwi’s compliment and coughed as she choked on her juice.
Minho smiled and handed her a napkin.
Iseol glanced at Minho a few times and then turned to fix her gaze on the juice cup.
Minho looked at the clock and spoke.
“I think I have to head back now.”
It was 11:30 PM. It was time to return to his gaming house now that he was yawning with fatigue. Minho stood up from his seat and said his goodbyes to Daehwi and the session men.
“The performance was the best. I’ll come again next time to listen.”
“Sure, you worked hard today too.”
Sanggun waved a hand and made a gesture saying ‘I’ll call you late.’ Minho turned around and locked eyes with Iseol. He gave her a thumbs up and walked out of the cafe.
Iseol watched Minho go and her words trailed off as she hesitated. Daehwi saw her and spoke, hinting.
“It’s gonna be hard to meet another producer like him. Follow him and get his number at least.”
“I can give her his number.”
Daehwi clicked his tongue at Sanggun as if he was hopeless.
“That’s why your wife always lectures you for being so slow-witted”
Daehwi pointed in the direction Minho had gone.
“I can tell by just looking at him. His type is the kind to concentrate on only one thing if it hits him. He’ll only pay attention to you if you stay next to him and keep showing him your face.”
Iseol made up her mind and put her guitar case over her shoulder.
“I really thank you for helping out today. I’ll keep working diligently from now on, sunbaenim!.”
Daehwi and the session men all smiled happily and waved as she said goodbye. Iseol quickly ran out the cafe.
On the sidewalk outside, Minho stopped his footsteps in front of the the chicken restaurant named ‘The Extinction of Pigs’. It felt like he could hear his juniors’ annoying pleas saying that he hadn’t treated them to a meal even though he won the tournament.
‘Garam has to be fed until he’s full for him to snore less.’
Minho walked over to the outdoor carry out counter and ordered five chickens, thinking to take them home as their late night snack. Then he spotted Iseol hastily running out of the cafe.
‘Is she going home?’
Iseol looked around and ran toward the street. Maybe she was in a hurry because it was so late.
“Bye Ms. Iseol!”
Without thinking, Minho waved and called out to Iseol as she passed in front of the store.
Iseol was surprised by that sound and turned her head as she ran. And at that moment she tripped and fell to the ground.
It didn’t seem like she was hurt but it was an embarrassing situation so Minho quickly went over to help her get up.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have called you.”
Iseol turned red as an apple as she shook her head back and forth. Then she spoke with a voice like a mouse.
“I was worried you had left already.”
Iseol turned her gaze to the ground as she continued to speak.
“Can you listen to another song I made sometime?”
Listening to it wasn’t a problem but Minho hesitated since there was a condition to produce a song the way he just had.
“If it’s in this cafe then anytime.”
Iseol lifted her head, smiled widely and grabbed Minho’s hands. Then she flinched because of her bold actions and let go of his hands again.
She was so calm on stage but she was like a shy younger sister once she came off stage. She had a different type of beauty than the lively Eunha Seo or the easy-going Sora Oh.
“Since I’m way younger than you, you can speak comfortably, oppa.”
Minho felt like his heart was melting due to the soft whispered ‘oppa.’ It was a familiar word but he felt good every time he heard it. It was like a strange feeling of being acknowledged as an older brother.
Minho felt like he could continue to keep in contact with her since they had grown quite close from preparing the performance.
“Can you tell me your phone number?”
Iseol took out her phone.
“Of course, of course.”
He called out his number and his phone rang right away in his pocket. Iseol bowed her head after they both finished saving each other’s numbers.
“Thank you for today, Minho oppa. Even if I keep annoyingly contacting you, please pick up.”
“Of course, of course.”
Iseol waved her hands as she disappeared to the other side of the street.
Minho just watched Iseol contentedly. He felt like this was how it would feel to have a younger sister. And it didn’t feel so bad.
“Your chicken is ready.”
Minho picked up the chicken he had ordered and headed back to the gaming house light-footed with the chicken in hand.
It felt like a night for sweet dreams.
Minho hummed Iseol’s song ‘Once Again’ as he walked the streets of Hongdae at night.
Space: Live cafe ‘Once’
Effect: The influence of the cafe owner’s wife enables those who share her musical tastes to produce great songs.