Posted on May 17, 2014
When reading about or faced with having to describe Korea’s punk rock pioneers Crying Nut, it’s hard to avoid such clichés as “legendary”, “best-selling”, “phenomenon” and “rambunctious”. They are undoubtedly the most famous and successful Korean indie band of all time, yet, after 20 years of performing, many expats in Korea remain unaware of their significance, their fantastic entertainment value, and even their name—born of the original four members’ middle school memory of having to walk home after spending their bus fare on walnut cookies. I first heard of them in 2003 due to their quirky, melodic sing-along punk song “Quick Service Man”, whose music video, showing the band entering military service, had snuck its way onto the K-pop channels. Yet it was only three years ago that I first saw them live, on a crazy sweaty night in DGBD, and was completely smitten by their high-energy, comically rousing, almost theatrical performance, as well as their pirate-themed Irish punk rock touches, even without understanding all of what they were saying. Concert after concert, they remain the one band that puts the biggest smile on my face—almost as big as their own infectious smiles when playing together, even after having done so for two decades. Their talent for song writing and performance is amplified by the very distinct characters each of the five members presents, both onstage and off: dapper lead vocalist Park Yoonsik; charismatic jester, bassist Han Kyungrok (aka Captain Rock); mischievous twins Lee Sanghyuk (drummer) and bespectacled Lee Sangmyun (lead guitarist); all backed by “ringmaster” Kim Insoo (on accordion, Irish whistle and keyboards), who is seldom seen without his sunglasses and who moonlights as vocalist for seriously heavy metal band L.O.D. The original four members have been friends since elementary school and formed their band in 1993, in their last year of high school—they met Insoo in Hongdae six years after that. I believe it is the five musicians’ varied talents, personalities and interests that have helped the band experiment with many diverse genres well beyond their limiting label of punk rock, and it is this which has led to their crowd-pleasing, continued success in Korea.
Crying Nut are frequently lauded as having almost single-handedly jumpstarted not only the Korean punk movement (which they named “Chosun Punk”), but the greater Hongdae indie scene, when their debut single “Speed Up Losers” sold an unprecedented 100,000 copies back in 1998. Their record label Drug, named after the underground club they used to play at, was also one of the first indie labels. 7 best-selling studio albums, countless tours and many awards later, they are about to embark on a tour of the U.S., including stops in California and Texas, as well as their second appearance at the South By Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin in March. Ahead of their upcoming U.S. tour, members Park Yoonsik and Kim Insoo were kind enough to answer a few questions for DoIndie.
Yoonsik : We may not be outstanding individually, but we’re powerful when we work together – especially onstage. For me, every show feels special and different, even when we play the same songs. I’m never bored. Playing and shouting gives me a lot of pleasure. I think this is the same for everyone in Crying Nut.
Insoo : Being in a rock band is what I can do. I can do it well and it is fun work. Every day I eat, breathe, drink, and rock ‘n’ roll. But there is a difference between these things. Eating, breathing, and drinking are necessary. Rock ‘n’ roll is not. But I’m always still playing. When you’re in a rock band, every day is different, special, and fun.
Yoonsik: I was shy as a boy. I only started listening to rock music and playing guitar when I met the twins and Kyungrok. Even though I’m 40 years old now, I still have a pure passion for music.
Yoonsik: He was a very odd person. He was a public service worker. He brought over a weird bag with a bunch of CDs in it (CDs were rare at that time), turned on some music, and started dancing. He knows a lot about music. We started playing with him after talking about music together and watching some Dead Kennedys’ videos.
Insoo: I worked part-time at Drug. I got to know the other members of Crying Nut from DJing. I just started playing with them. I don’t remember when it was. It all happened really naturally and we didn’t even realize I had become part of the band at first.
Yoonsik: At the time there was no rock ‘n’ roll in the mainstream. Most of the music was made by pop idols. Korean rock existed only in the underground and there was no indie music yet. We were influenced by Nirvana and Sub Pop and we released the first indie split album, Our Nation Vol. 1, on the first indie punk label, Drug. We were the first Korean punk band. Our song “Speed Up Losers” influenced bands like No Brain, Lazybone, and Rux.
Insoo: In the late 80s, there was nothing special happening in the Korean rock scene except heavy metal. So punk and alternative were explained in terms of the heavy metal scene in the mid- 90s when these kinds of genres were being created. That became a bond that limited free musical activities. At that time, the music seemed a little grotesque. Of course, I think it was an invaluable attempt….Anyway, in the mid- 90s, the indie and club scenes started being developed by the new generation who were trying new things without any limitations. It was pretty hard to develop because live performance venues were illegal until the early 2000s and there were many restrictions. But it helped, as we can see today.
Yoonsik: Korea is a powerful country in terms of the IT industry, but the people who distribute music digitally treat musicians like shit. For example, if a digital song costs 600 won, they take most of the money and give the musicians 5 – 10 won. I hope musicians can get a higher rate of return for their music, like iTunes does.
Insoo: It is all the same in any country in which the scene gets bigger and big money flows into it, such as when agencies pursuing the major music industry try to scout Hongdae bands or live venues change into discotheques. Think about the Native Americans when they were invaded. How could they beat the material superiority of tons of soldiers, guns, and cannons? However, one has to live and survive.
Yoonsik: All of our members are good singers and song-writers. Everyone is talented and each member has their own unique personality. In addition to his rapping, Sanghyuk is a great dancer too!
Insoo: We experiment with many different genres all the time. I think this album has fewer songs, which is why the different genres are more noticeable. And why are you only asking about Sanghyuk Lee? Don’t you think my metal will be good in the US?
Yoonsik: We wanted to show that there was other music in Korea beside K-pop. The people in the US spoke a different language, had different skin, and different culture, but we could share our feelings through music. I thought that was amazing, so that’s why we want to go there again.
Insoo: We could only drink inside and smoke outside. That was tough! Americans like to talk, so it was fun meeting them. But I can’t speak English. Thank God our last tour was before Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” If they had known of Psy then, I probably would have had to make a T-shirt that said “I’m not Psy.” I like meeting Mexicans in Texas. They love Korean food and spicy food. They look similar to me and they also gave beer to the Asian musicians. They invited me to a party too, but I couldn’t go.
Yoonsik: I mixed up Austin and San Francisco on our last tour. I thought SXSW was in San Francisco. I won’t make the same mistake this time around! In 2012, our official SXSW showcase was at a place called Soho Lounge. More people came than were expected. Soho Lounge was a wooden building so people couldn’t jump around too much because it could be dangerous. The police actually came and monitored the capacity of the room.
Insoo: I was playing on top of the bar at one of our New York gigs. I fell down, but didn’t get hurt at all. I think the US must have different gravity than Korea does!
Yoonsik: I’d love the chance to do some busking while we are at SXSW.
Insoo: I am looking forward to cheap whisky and good tequila!
Yoonsik: There are many talented musicians in Korea. I believe they can make it abroad. I hope that the government funding is increased, so that many bands can play outside of Korea.
Insoo: I think they do support us because the government has to do business in order to run the country. We will do it thankfully if they support us. In my opinion, music is one, not divided into American, British, European, Mexican or Japanese Rock. Fun is more important than business. Playing on new stages is always interesting. I am just having fun rather than expecting the jackpot. We are thankful to cover our expenses, and we can drink with the rest of it.
Yoonsik: The music scene in Korea is small. Performing and playing your own music is important. Making friendships with people from other countries and sharing ideas is also important and is a great experience for musicians to have.
Insoo: Playing overseas gives you more experience and a wider world view. It gives me many thoughts on how to live in the future.
Yoonsik: We haven’t decided yet. We played a cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Kill the Poor” in 2012.
Insoo: It’s top secret!
Yoonsik: We don’t have any special plans yet. But I guess we’ll be doing some gigs around Hongdae.
Insoo: We’ll play more gigs and do band work. I’m not sure exactly what we’ll do. We’ll think about it more in the US.
Insoo: I prefer Valentine’s whisky to Valentine’s chocolate. The other day, I ran into a woman and she gave me socks. She asked me to please wear the socks during a gig. So romance always exists!
Interview by: Rock N Rose
For more information on Crying Nut, check them out here: