Seoulsonic returned to New York City last week as part of CMJ’s 2015 music marathon, with a new set of acts performing at SOBs (Sounds of Brazil) in Manhattan on Oct. 15. Three Korean indie acts- Sultan of the Disco, HEO, and WYM- performed throughout the night to showcase the music coming out of South Korea’s indie scene nowadays, brought together by Seoulsonic. I had a chance to speak to each of the acts before the show to hear about their careers and experiences at Seoulsonic.
[This is the first of a three-part interview/review series from the event.]
Hard rock meets ambience in the Korean duo HEO, comprised of male vocalist/guitarist/producer Heo and female vocalist/bassist/keyboardist Bo-yeong. During the live show, the pair and a drummer created a new take on dreamy indie rock, combining rock instruments with synthesizers and vocal distortion. The result was something akin to a waking dream, where music acts as the guide into wonderland.
The music during HEO’s set, the second of three at Seoulsonic’s New York City show, tip-toed the narrow line between the genres, never going too far off into either the rock or electronic genres at any one moment, but instead bringing them together to become a perfect indie rock dreamscape.
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Even before the show, it was clear that the pair were consummate musicians, with Heo and Bo-yeong discussing their career passionately. Despite the fact that HEO had won the electronic dance album of the year award at this year’s Korean Music Awards for their LP, “Structure,” the pair still has a lot that they want to achieve.
The pair has been together since 2014, when Heo decided to bring in another vocalist. He knew Bo-yeong from their college days, when she was an underclassmen. “I already knew that she played keyboard and vocals, so I suggested, ‘let’s play together’ for the second album.”
On stage, despite the fact that the band is named after Heo, it is clear that the two are a pair and neither one overpowers the other. Heo’s intensity on stage as he sings, wails on occasion, and creates the electronic elements contrasts sharply with Bo-yeong’s blank gaze as she sings in her Lana Del Rey-esque voice and plays her bass and keyboard, but the songs would feel empty without one of the pair on stage. If anything, the two came off that night as living embodiments of indie meets rock: Bo-yeong wore the favored fringe and body glitter popular at indie music festivals, while Heo wore the iconic black leather jacket of classic rock.
HEO played at SXSW earlier this year, and the CMJ show was the second part of that journey with Seoulsonic. “This time around, touring with my band, especially coming to New York, which is world famous, it’s a huge honor and privilege,” said Heo. “Especially because so many of our favorite bands have played in New York and a lot of our favorite movies take place in New York so it’s very exciting.”
Heo had appeared at Seoulsonic 2012 as a session guitarist for 3rd Line Butterfly, and was already familiar with Seoulsonic and the tour before HEO was brought on to the tour as the duo gained attention in South Korea and abroad.
Winning the Korean Music award for “Structure” was a big deal for the pair. “We couldn’t believe that we had won. It was a bit of a surprise that someone relatively unknown could win such a big prize.”
But despite the prize, they don’t feel like they’re famous yet.
“This whole album [“Structure”] was made without aiming for the mainstream,” explained HEO. “So as to why it even won is still a mystery.”
“If there’s anyone reason for why we won. It may be the fact the style of music is something that others haven’t really seen or heard before. It was very much a hybrid mix between rock and electronic, and while others have kind of experimented with mixing it, nobody else has really done it in Korea to this degree, with such a full force approach.”
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With twelve tracks, many of which HEO performed at Seoulsonic, “Structure” is a full length LP of electronic rock songs that sound like the average night’s dreams on a lot of acid.
As for plans after they head back to Korea? “We’re going to go back to the studios and start working on songs, with the goal to release a new single every month. Hopefully by next spring, we’ll have enough to release an EP or a full length album from all of those singles. More importantly, we’re releasing a vinyl album.”