Seoul-Based Punk Band …Whatever That Means Talks Music & Multiculturalism [INTERVIEW]

Whatever That Means 2016

Like something straight out of the 90s, …Whatever That Means is a full-fledge punk band. With Korean, American, and Polish members, they take their influences from all over the world to express the emotions and disgruntlement of the generation. While they sing in English and about global themes, their songs are shaped by their home base of South Korea: “Peace of Mind (The Communist Song)” and “Asian Prodigy” reflect the socio-political situation in Seoul.

…Whatever That Means is set to embark on their 2016 US west coast tour later this month so ahead of their trip we spoke to guitarist Jeff and bassist Trash, who share both vocals and a marriage.

How are you guys feeling ahead of your US tour?
Jeff: I think we’re all just really excited to stop preparing for the tour and actually be on tour. There is so much work that goes into planning and preparing for an international tour, and at least for us, there is a huge feeling of relief once we’re finally sitting in the van, and our only responsibilities are to get to the next town and play a show. I can’t wait for that.

You were here in 2011. What’s changed for …Whatever That Means since then?
Trash: We’ve gone through several member changes since then. That’s the main reason it’s taken us almost five years to get back. Thankfully, despite all the frustration that goes along with searching for a stable lineup, we’ve come out the other side of it with the best lineup we’ve ever had. I think people who saw us back in 2011 are going to be surprised by the big step forward we’ve taken.

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You are all about punk, which isn’t exactly mainstream in Korea. What does punk mean to you?
Trash: Punk rock is about thinking for yourself, and living your life the way you think makes the most sense. It’s about questioning the things you’re surrounded by and forming your own opinions about them. Those definitely aren’t mainstream concepts in Korea.

How did you guys end up forming a punk band? Indie rock is hard enough in Seoul but punk…?
Jeff: Seoul has had a great, growing punk scene since the late 1990s. Trash and Daewon grew up in that scene. Bialy and I purposely searched it out when we got here. It’s a great community of fairly like-minded people. All of us had played in punk bands before except Bialy, who had always played in metal and hardcore bands. Coming together to form …Whatever That Means just happened kind of naturally.

You’re releasing a collaboration with the Seattle band Burn Burn Burn. How did that come

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Jeff: In 2011, we played at Nemesis House in Tacoma, Washington. It was one of the coolest shows we’ve ever played. Drew, Burn’s singer, and I struck up a bit of friendship that night and stayed in touch over the years. We’d talked a few times about releasing a split album, but when we decided we were definitely coming back to the US, we agreed the time was finally right.

With members from all over the world, what are the difficulties being part of a multicultural indie band in South Korea?
Jeff: It’s not as strange as people may think. I’m the only one who doesn’t speak Korean really well. Daewon is the only one who doesn’t speak English really well. There are certain situations where we’d all like to handle things differently than other members, but that happens in every band no matter where you’re from. When it comes down to it, we have all chosen to live and build our lives in Korea. Part of that is playing in the punk scene, so in the end, we have a lot more in common than we do different.

The indie scene in South Korea’s is clearly filled with a lot of talent but I’ve heard from several musicians that the support just isn’t there for non-corporate music acts. What’s your band’s take on things?
Trash: It depends what you mean by “support.” Are there corporate sponsors and big labels supporting the extremely talented independent musicians here? No. If that’s a band’s goal, then they’re kind of out of luck. But when you go out to a show and see all the kids that come out and spend their money on entry fees, CDs, t-shirts, and merchandise, when you see how many independent bands have crowd funded thousands of dollars to put out albums and tour, I’d say there’s a lot of support where it really counts.

Two members are married. Does that ever make for any difficult situations? How do you, or do you even, separate your personal and professional lives?
Jeff: This is always a very popular question, and the simplest way I’ve found to put it is that when it’s good, it’s pretty much the greatest thing on Earth, but when it’s not good, it can be the absolute worst. There was a lot more conflict at the beginning when we were trying to define our sound and learning the personalities and roles of all our members. These days, there’s not much conflict at all. And I think not trying to keep these different parts of our life separate is actually the key. It’s always important to remember that your band mates are your friends first and foremost. That becomes even more important when your band mate is your spouse, and you know that whatever is said at practice, in the van, or at home on the couch could spill over into any other aspect of life.

What does the name …Whatever That Means actually mean?
Jeff: Well, when Trash and I got married, we had a pretty normal wedding and reception. After the reception, we had a big punk rock show at our favorite club in Hongdae as the after party. At that point, Trash was playing in a band named BB Lucky Town. I didn’t have a band at the time, but knew I wanted to throw something together for that show. When my buddy Ric was making the poster for the show, I still wasn’t sure who I’d be playing with, so the poster listed all the bands and then at the end said, “and Jeff….whatever that means” and then once I’d put a lineup together for the show, we decided to call ourselves …Whatever That Means so we could pretend our name was on the poster. None of us actually liked the name. It was kind of a joke, and the band was only supposed to play that one show and be done. Now, it’s more than seven years later, and we’re stuck with it. Oops!

Are there any Korean artists you guys are fans of nowadays that KultScene readers should check out?
Jeff: Oh definitely. Some of our favorite bands in Korea are SkaSucks, Billy Carter, Chain Reaction, Burning Hepburn, and Animal Anthem. Everyone should definitely check out our label mates, Full Garage, too. Actually, as I’m typing this, they’re on a plane to the US for their first American tour. They’ll be playing all up and down the West Coast from July 7 through the 22nd. You can find those dates, along with our tour dates, on our label’s site.

Any last words for KultScene’s readers?
Trash: Thanks for taking the time to check out a local band from Seoul, Korea. Hope to see you
at a show!

Thank you, Jeff and Trash, for speaking with KultScene.

West coast fans can check out …Whatever That Means this summer as they hold a four-state tour:
July 23 Las Vegas, NV @ The Double Down Saloon
July 24 Fresno, CA @ TBA
July 26 Corvallis, OR @ The Interzone Café
July 27 Seattle, WA @ The Kraken
July 28 Tacoma, WA @ Real Art
July 29 Portland, OR @ Foggy Notion
July 30 Reno, NV @ PB&J’s
July 31 Berkeley, CA @ 924 Gilman Street
August 1 Los Angeles, CA @ The Redwood Bar

Are you going to see …Whatever That Means? What do you think of their music? Share your picks in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us onFacebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

HEO’s Ambient Rock Sound Takes The Stage At Seoulsonic 2015 [Interview]

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.”

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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.”

Do you have a favorite song by HEO? What’s your favorite Korean indie band? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear you thoughts and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Bloglovin’ so you can keep up with all our posts.

Artist Spotlight: Neon Bunny

If we love K-Pop for its glitz and glamour, K-Indie takes a spot in our hearts for its more genuine and mellow feel. And considering that K-Pop is not even that popular in Korea, let’s take a look at a more coffee shop friendly artist of whom I love: bedroom pop princess Kim Yu Jin, more famously known as Neon Bunny.

In an international spectrum where K-Pop idols reign supreme, Neon Bunny stands out for her electro pop sound that’s completely foreign to the genre. Her 2011 debut album, Seoulight, set her apart from the mainstream dub step pop for her danceable guitars and synthesizers reminiscent of early French band Phoenix’s work. Critics acclaimed Seoulight, and it even won her the Best Pop Album award at the 2012 Korean Music Awards, where Yu Jin beat out IU. Some of the album’s standouts include Long-D and Can’t Stop Thinking About You.

Her following EP in 2012, Happy Ending, was heavily ’80s new wave influenced and delivered stronger messages with songs like Oh My Prince. Neon Bunny’s sound became more disco and therefore club friendly with more upbeat tempos than before, such as in Bubbles. You could say Happy Ending is trendier than her earlier work.

Neon Bunny laid very low after her Happy Ending success for a while, only helping out with bands Smells on Listen to your Heart and Demicat on Singing Bird. But the hiatus ended back in March of this year when she released the single, It’s You, produced by Demicat himself. And while an album or EP is still not confirmed, It’s You sufficed for us fans.

It’s You’s sound seems like Happy Ending’s continuation, embracing the retro synth and electro elements. You can see her progression since her last EP by noticing Singing Bird’s influence on the song, but still retains her individuality and signature voice. This song leaves listeners with high expectations of what’s to come from Neon Bunny in the near future.

How do you like Neon Bunny? Let me know, let’s fan-girl about it! Don’t forget to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, and Bloglovin’ so you can keep up with all our posts.

Artist Spotlight: Lucia

If you haven’t heard of Lucia, then you’re missing out on an incredibly soothing voice in K-Indie genre of the music industry. Her peaceful vocals and thoughtful music videos earned her the spotlight for this article, and the following three songs will show you why you should give this singer a try.

Sim Kyu Seon debuted in 2010, under pastelmusic, but she already had a musical, The Magicians, under her belt prior to moving onto a new career path. Even though she changed her stage name to Lucia a year or so after her debut, she is still best known for her calm, gentle tone and lovely ballads.

The first MV on my list is a collaboration between Lucia and INFINITE’s Woohyun, titled, Cactus.

While this is labeled as a duet, the first half consists of mainly Woohyun singing. I wish there were more harmonic parts to this, because the pair’s (most surprisingly, Woohyun’s) soft voices complement each other quite well, especially at the end.

The video itself may be sad, but it’s wonderfully put together. I am in love with the split screen, and both sides use water and tears to interact with one another. Not only does this represent the fluidity of emotions between people in relationships, but it also shows how, despite the break up, the two still have a special connection.

When discussing her works of art, I must include Lucia’s That Season for Korean-Japanese movie, Flower Shadow:

Right from the get-go, I knew that watching this music video would be a wonderful experience. The animation is simple but conveys so much emotion and movement reflecting that of the song and Lucia’s vocals. The use of colors (not to mention a lack of colors) and emphasis of red definitely highlight the strong sense of love and loss. The rise and fall of action in the video also synchronized perfectly with the singer’s voice.

This is probably my favorite composition from Lucia, mainly because I just can’t get enough of soft but strong ballads with an equally controlled voice.

Another project of Lucia’s that involves dance is Demian, from her latest album, Light & Shade:

This is where Lucia showcases her powerful voice and vibrato, along with some interpretive choreography on an otherwise not-so-flashy set. Due to the simplicity of the background, certain elements like the fluttering of fabric, the throwing of rope, and the scattering of smoke stand out and capture your attention.

Both Lucia and the male dancer perfectly express the feeling that Demian gives off, using a slow build of curves into a flight of muscles with a flow that parallels a stream setting into a waterfall. I think this is absolutely breathtaking, and it’s definitely the right representation for the theme of her album.

Four years into the business, and Lucia just seems to blossom even more with each release. It’s a shame that she’s not as well known as she should be, but I’m quite happy to be able to discover her talents and share them with you. Be sure to follow her on Twitter and Facebook to keep a tab on new music!

Are you a fan of Lucia, or have you never heard of her? What do you think about her work? Share your opinion and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, and Bloglovin’ so you can keep up with all our posts.