by Gretchen Jacobsen
Yoon Nam, Korean-American DJ and queen of vinyl, gets retro and internationally bizarre, supplying our hungry ears since 2006, with all things ’60s and ’70s international psych, prog and outsider folk rock, spinning us into the trippy, psychedelic vintage air-waves of Georgia State University’s WRAS Album 88.5’s Jet Lag! Tune in and catch a unique show filled to the brim with vinyl recordings of the weird, obscure and enticingly strange, on air every Sunday night from 8 to 10 pm! She also delivers an all-classic jazz show, The Blue Note, exclusively using vinyl recordings, every Sunday afternoon from noon till 2 pm!
There is a ritual most Sunday nights at my house. I sit on the floor in a corner of my kitchen and chat with my husband while he makes dinner. We also listen to the radio, always WRAS Album 88.5. It took us a while to wrap our minds around the trippy, jazzy international sounds that comprise the vast Jet Lag” sonic-sphere, but once we finally “got it,” we were hooked. I wanted to learn more about Yoon, her tastes and her vinyl, so I thought I would just go ahead and ask her!
ATLRetro agreed that she’d make a perfect Kool Kat of the Week, so I caught up with Yoon Nam for a quick interview about her love of ‘60s and ‘70s psychedelic tunes and her adoration of the vintage-ly weird!
ATLRetro: What is “Jet Lag”?
Yoon Nam: The show features psychedelic music from around the world, focusing on the ‘60s and ‘70s and almost always played from vinyl. I especially enjoy featuring music that isn’t very common or heard on the radio much. When I started doing the show, I was taking over an earlier international music show on WRAS. I knew that I wanted to play a lot of prog, psych, strange folk and other music like that, so I eventually settled on the name Jet Lag. It is the name of an album from one of my favorite bands, PMF (Premiata Forneria Marconi). The name, of course, has to do with tripping, and the topos of travel since the show features music from all over the globe.
How did you become interested in this type of music?
I grew up in South Korea, and over there a lot of ‘70s prog and psych bands were actually famous. I was surprised when I came to the U.S. and found out that the general public often didn’t know about bands like PFM or Banco (Banco del Mutuo Soccorso). Italian prog is widely admired in Korea. Also, as I try to let people know through the show, there were a lot of amazing Korean psych and folk artists in the ‘70s, and they were still popular in the ‘80s when I was growing up.
There was a little record store called Wooden Horse Records near where I grew up in Seoul that I liked to hang out in, even when I was quite young. I heard a lot of European and American jazz and other stuff there. That’s where I spent my first allowance money from my parents. There were also clubs called “Dah Bang,” where DJs would play records while they served tea and coffee. They were just quiet tea and coffee rooms, but they had DJs playing records. While the DJs would play some of their own records, these “Dah Bang” would always have a large built-in collection of records, and so the customers could also pick and request the music from the library. The big collections of vinyl always impressed me a great deal. I would sneak in with my father sometimes and listen. My father was friends with a DJ, and he inherited a lot of records from that DJ when one of the clubs closed down. The whole retro-vintage culture movement in Seoul has brought “Dah Bang” back—all vinyl records, even—which is awesome.
Why does the Jet Lag sound appeal to you?
Although the show started in 2006 with me playing both CDs and records, three or four years ago I started playing almost all records. It’s about texture and sound. I love listening to records! I don’t play much, if any, newer stuff because it just doesn’t sound right or mix in well. There’s just something about the way they started recording music in the ‘80s. I’m also not particularly into information or sharing information; it’s mostly about sound – not necessarily about the rarity, though I do play a lot of obscure records on the show. When a person walks into the room and hears the music and wonders, “Where am I?” That’s what I like. Jet Lag is about travel and trips, both in terms of distance and culture.
How do you discover new sounds for Jet Lag?
Luckily, I did grow up with a lot of the music I play on the show. Sometimes it is simply a matter of something I’m really into showing up to be added to my collection (since I never, ever play computer files on the show). In truth, a lot of the records I buy these days come from overseas, but I often find cool stuff in Atlanta’s awesome used record stores, too. I also like a lot of ‘60s and ‘70s international movies. When I hear things I like, I track them down. Whenever my husband and I visit Korea, we always go to the underground arcades and record stores in Seoul and find fantastic records. I listen to stuff all the time, and I’m always on the lookout for records that I haven’t heard before or that might contain awesome music. The Internet is a really crazy resource, but it goes without saying that if I don’t like something enough to track down a real copy of it—a vinyl copy, that is—I don’t share it on the show. The show is personal. I have to really like something to play it on the air.
Are you a musician?
No, unfortunately. But I can hum and I love Karaoke!
Where do you go to see live music in Atlanta?
Atlanta is a great city for live music. I love 529, The Earl, Eyedrum and a lot more places. I try to catch jazz and classical music at Cobb Energy, Symphony Hall and Spivey Hall down at Clayton State, too.
What are you currently listening to that you’re not playing on the radio?
I’m really enjoying pre-1975 Vietnamese pop 7-inch records. It’s so wonderful; a collision of jazz and pop and traditional Vietnamese music. I listen to jazz constantly, but mostly stuff from the ‘70s and before. Again, something about the recordings sounds better to my ears.
How is the WRAS takeover affecting you and the staff at Album 88?
What happened was really unfortunate because it robbed Atlanta of something fantastic. It’s more than just losing music during the daytime hours on the radio to a duplicate of what already existed. It’s a symbolic loss. I still do The Blue Note—all classic jazz and vocals played exclusively from vinyl—every Sunday from noon till 2 pm on WRAS, but Jet Lag is no longer broadcast on FM after the takeover. We are still working hard at the station and really, really appreciate the outpouring of local support for us!
What are your plans after GSU?
Wow, plans? I’m writing my Ph.D. dissertation now (16th and 17th Century British Literature). I want to keep sharing music and making art after I graduate. Exactly how? Let me think about that after I am done with my dissertation!
Is there anything else we should know about Yoon?
I don’t actually know what to say about myself. I am a product of two different cultures—Korean and American—and music is something that connects them both for me. Even though I love music, I try not to be that person who shows up at a party and starts talking about nothing but music. Some people seem to be so competitive about what they know. I do DJ around Atlanta occasionally. Also, I enjoy making art about my female calico cat, Reginald.
*Due to the “daytime” takeover of WRAS airwaves, Album 88 programming, Jet Lag is still on air but The Blue Note can now only be heard via the WRAS HD2 stream or online through places like Tunein (Search for WRAS-HD2). There is also a free WRAS streaming app for Apple users that was created by a loyal WRAS listener.
*The fight for the return of 24 hour student run radio to WRAS is not over. Visit the Save WRAS page on Facebook for updates or to lend your support.
All photos courtesy of Yoon Nam and used with permission.