"We Make A Frankenstein Monster."
If THE KOXX are the handsome misfits of Korean music, and 2NE1 are the candy-coated wonder women, then W&Whale are the up-and-coming electropop nihilists. Made up of Kpop veterans W and ingenue vocalist Whale, they’ve been bubbling to the top of the Korean electronic music scene since 2008. But with their latest EP Circussss they’ve gone fully rogue, with four-to-the-floor bangers and dark lyrics about doomed relationships.
There’s more: in the video for their dance-tastic single “Break It Down,” Whale, swagged out in a boa, sexily beheads her tied-up, blindfolded bandmates. Who look like they’re kinda liking it.
So, yeah: “Break It Down” was banned from Korean television.
But as we found out through emailing with them, they’re also really thoughtful people who say things like, “Playtime is more important than work time.” Hm, wannabe S&M fetishists who believe in a healthy work/life balance: this quartet is full of surprises.
Read on to learn about how Whale joined the team, their opinion of idol-based Kpop (spoiler: not good) and how watching The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo gives them music mojo.
Your music is a little electro, a little rock…but would you still call your music Kpop?
If by “Kpop” you mean “music made in Korea,” then yes, you could call our music Kpop. But if you mean the teen pop that’s at the center of idol-driven music, then the term isn’t exactly right. W&Whale’s isn’t just about the sound, we think the lyrics play a big role too. And in our lyrics, we go beyond the love stories and swagger you find in idol music. We’re dealing with much deeper stories.
Basically, our sound is grounded in electronic music, and beyond that, we try out all genres of music. From Latin American folk music, to Chicago-style blues, we’re always trying to make you hear something older in our sound.
Who came up with the concept for your “Break It Down” music video, and did the band need convincing to do it?
We asked Digipedi, who made the music videos from our last album, “R.P.G Shine,” and “Highschool Sensation,” and we left the concept in their hands. We’ve also been friends with them for a long time. We really liked how those videos turned out, and we knew how good their work was based on other videos they directed too.
We think that music videos are really films, which are a director’s artform. We didn’t want to meddle with the director’s intent, and we didn’t feel like we had to.
Whale, you have to do some extreme things when you perform in the music video for “Breaking It Down,” like shaving other band members and pretending to cut off their heads. Were you ever embarrassed during the making of it?
While we were shooting the neck-cutting scene, a spark from the tool touched my hand and it really stung.
An explicit version of the music video was banned from Korean television. What was your reaction when you found out the music video was banned?
We figured that lovers of W&Whale’s music would figure out a way to see it no matter what, so we didn’t worry about it at all. We don’t want to make the kind of music that one hundred people will listen to once, and then forget. We want to make music that one person would listen to a hundred times. The same goes for our music videos.
How did Whale meet the other members of the band and become a part of the group?
It was through an audition in 2006. At that time, W had been wanting to make a different kind of album, and we thought recuriting a new vocalist would definitely change things. Over 3,000 people auditioned. Finally, we chose this one guy, and we were just about to call him when Whale’s demo CD arrived. Because it was too late, we had no desire to listen to it. But I was moved by her neat handwriting-’Please discover me’- on a messy scrap of paper. It made me play the CD. And we’re still making music together to this today.
Whale: Meeting the members of W seems like an accident. But I think it was destiny. I sent my demo CD to Fluxus to be a solo artist at just the moment that W was looking for a vocalist. Fluxus suggested that we do music together, and after listening to W’s music, I decided to do it. At first, our very different musical styles made me – a 22-year-old- work very hard. But being exposed to such music and in the process developing my talent – that was a priceless opportunity. At the time, I’d been studying jazz, and so doing electronic music was an idea that was even hard to imagine.
Bae Young June, you’ve been successfully making Korean pop music since 1993. What would you say is the biggest difference between then and now in the Korean music business?
From LPs and cassette tapes to CDs, and now CDs to MP3s, the storage medium has changed, that’s true. But now the act of “listening to music” has turned into very complicated entertainment. The industry of creating background music for TV soap operas, movies, and computer games keeps growing. But along with that the music itself keeps getting lamer, which I think is regrettable.
But at the end of the day, I believe that people can recognize quality. It’s an essential fact of art that in the art industries, competition and getting an edge is more important than development. In that sense, maybe things really haven’t changed much between then and now.
In your opinions, what unique quality does each member of W&Whale bring to the music?
A four-member band is a tremendous phenomenon, like four universes existing at once. We all have very mild personalities, but still at base each member has a totally different character. From our hobbies to even what we like to eat, we have nearly nothing in common. “To accept each others’ differences”: there’s a word for that in French [and English], “tolerance,” that sums up how we get along with each other.
You’ve put out several EPs as W&Whale, and Circussss was the latest, from last summer. What are your plans for a full-length, and how will it be different from your earlier work?
Our future plans are so free-floating that even we don’t know they are.
Nearly every day we go into the recording studio and make a Frankenstein monster, experimenting with new sounds. No matter what, we’re confident about the the fact that for every W&Whale album, we create a sound that’s different from the one before.
But really, until we write our new songs, we’re not making any plans.
If you each had to pick an artist, musical or not, who inspires you, who would it be and why?
It’s a hard question – it’s too difficult to pick just one. We believe that a man can’t be a genius alone. Besides music, we get inspiration from other artforms, like movies and books. Recently, we were extremely impressed by the movie The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo directed by David Fincher. His movies always make an impact visually, but they also expand our understanding.
Books: we’ve just ordered the complete works of H.P Lovecraft.
Music: We’ll always adore Radiohead. Recently, El Camino by The Black Keys and Born To Die by Lana Del Rey were really nice. Oh! In April, Lenny Kravitz will have a performance in Korea. So we are listening to his all albums.
What do you usually do at home in Seoul when you’re not in the recording studio, or touring your music?
Like we mentioned before, we’re really interested in a variety of cultures. We diligently watch all the latest movies and read the latest books. We diligently listen to the latest music. Also, we collect comic books and toys. Playtime is much more important than work time. In the end, our free time is the raw material that becomes our music.
Image Courtesy of Fluxus Records