THE KOXX are changing the face of Korean music. The quintet’s unabashed partying, punk rock, and lady-killing ways have been taking fans (namely, female ones) by storm in Seoul and beyond, transforming an industry where pop music has historically reigned absolutely.
From the moment we saw your great video for “Trouble Maker,” we knew we had to cover you guys. The video follows you guys on a night out, from waking up with hangovers to hitting the club and partying. Is that what your real life is like? If so, can we hang out with you guys the next time we’re in Seoul?
Well, if you consider going to parties and drinking to the point of blacking out and being totally hungover the next day kind of a glamorous lifestyle…then yes, it’s all true. If you want to come to Seoul and party with us, you’re welcome anytime. That is, if you think this kind of fabulous life is for you.
Your song “12:00″ is about trying to pick up a girl. Which one of you guys is most successful with the ladies? Be honest!
Haha…generally speaking, we don’t really know who would be the strongest contender for the ladies in a one-on-one competition. Hee hee. There is a Korean saying, “Don’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing.” Another is, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But at parties or out at clubs, Hyunsong (lead singer) and Saron (drummer) are the most popular.
How did the band get started? We heard it had to do with some pretty amazing parties…
In 2008, we planned an end-of-year party with our friends. Back then we didn’t have Sunbin on bass or Shaun on synth yet. We had other members. But that party was the first official KOXX show. We had such a good vibe at that party that we officially formed a band, and in the summer of 2009 we had our first show in a club, and we started doing full-fledged club gigs.
Your debut LP ACCESS OK was released last summer. Is there a main songwriter in the band who walks into the studio with the songs already written, or do you develop them while recording?
In general, for a song’s major theme, someone might walk in with something, or while we’re playing a show it could be like “whoa” and it just happens. There are no set rules for who composes which parts. Our style of working together depends on the circumstances.
You guys have been on tour extensively, playing in Korea and Japan. What are your best and worst memories of being on the road?
The best thing about touring is meeting lots of other musicians and being able to share the different ways we think. Korea and Japan have a lot in common, but the cultures are different. So we can learn from each other.
A bad thing about touring was that there are too many good things to eat, and we eat them all.
Being faced with a new culture and being able to experience it, it’s the most fun thing about touring. If the food is good too, then that makes the best memories.
One thing we don’t really like is having to travel all the time, which can make us tired.
You’re an indie rock band in the Korean music industry – which is normally dominated by a few big entertainment companies. Do you guys think that this system is changing?
The best thing for the Korean industry to do is not to figure out what people already like and then flood them with that music, but to produce various kinds of music and let individuals choose what speaks to them.
A few big entertainment firms are dominating the Korean pop music industry – taking the long view, it’s hard to imagine that having a very positive effect.
But recently, the Korean pop music scene is changing, little by little. It’s not that more people are coming to clubs now, or that indie album sales are exploding, but still, both consumers and producers of music need to keep trying, we think. It won’t happen overnight, so everyone has to steadily keep at it.
The market won’t switch just like that but we think it’s happening. Rather than a few entertainment firms leading the market, wouldn’t having various artists of all different colors make for a cooler business model?
Who are the hyung and mak-nae of the band? When Kpop artists give interviews, they talk a lot about how the older members have more responsibility than the younger members. Is that true in your band as well?
The “hyung” (oldest brother) of the band is Sunbin, the bassist, and the maknae (youngest) is the synth player, Shaun. However, we wouldn’t say that just because his age is older, Sunbin has more responsibility in the band. We just play rock-paper-scissors to see who does what.
We love your covers — of A-Ha’s “Take On Me,” and MGMT’s “Kids,” and Friendly Fire’s “Paris,” to name a few. What else are you guys listening to lately? Who are your biggest musical influences?
When we first started making music as THE KOXX, the biggest inspirations were artists like Friendly Fires, the Foals, and Cazals. In general, we were into garage rock. But as we got more and more into it, we met new friends who exposed us to new artists and found new inspiration, so the breadth of music we listen to has gotten wider and wider. Lately we really listen to a lot of different kinds of music. We listen to new releases of the artists that we’ve always liked, but then we’ve recently gotten obsessed with dubstep, another thing we’re into is third world music – we’re not limited by genres, and we get inspired by lots of things.
THE KOXX made their debut on Hello Rookie, a reality show contest about indie rock bands. Are there a lot of shows like this on Korean television? What was it like to be on television for the first time?
To be more accurate, in Hello Rookie, active indie rock bands are invited to participate in a contest. It’s not really a reality TV show.
Frankly, the idea of spreading indie rock through a contest doesn’t exactly excite us.
But on the other hand, Hello Rookie was a show that actually cared about the artists and was sincerely into the music. The prize for winning was to appear on another Korean TV show called SPACE Konggam. That show was the first time that we performed on television.
For sure, there are lots of TV shows where Korean bands can play. And just as there are people who want to broadcast Korean bands to help them succeed, there are other people who aren’t interested in new music and just want to show “safe” music. But as we mentioned, we think that it’s getting better, and that there’s more and more indie music that appeals to networks and the public.
You all majored in music in college. How did each of you guys decide to pursue music? How did your parents react when you told them you were going to be in a rock band?
In Shaun’s case, he just naturally fell into it starting in elementary school. He was walking down the street when he saw a telephone pole with a picture of Ozzy Osborne and Randy Rhoads, and it made such an impression that he immediately started learning guitar. He’d already been playing piano for a long time at that point.
To officially declare “I’m in a band” to your family, you have to expect that they’ll oppose you, or that they’ll worry at first. The musician’s life isn’t one with a guaranteed future (hee hee). But considering we’re Korean, I lucked out because from such an early age I just instinctively gravitated towards music that, thankfully, I didn’t get anything like that. In fact, I worry about what would have happened if I hadn’t gone into music (I’d probably be wearing a fast food uniform right now).
Sunbin and Saron also just naturally got into music, I think. In Sunbin’s case, his family was actually very supportive. Saron faced a lot of opposition. The expression on his parents’ faces when he told them that he was going to be a musician – even now it’s hard for him to talk about it.
Any plans to bring THE KOXX to play outside Asia in 2012?
We haven’t officially released our album there yet, but we’re scheduled to tour in Singapore and Thailand in March. We’ve already performed in Thailand so we’re really looking forward to spending some more time there. As long as time and circumstance permit, going on tour is always a fun thing, we think.
If we want to focus on more Korean indie rock, who are some other people who are making good music that we should hear as well?
There’s a band called achime. If you understand Korean, the lyrics will make a deep impression. There’s also Nell and Pia, bands that we’ve listened to and had a lot of respect for ever since Sunbin’s school days.