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.