Posted on November 15, 2014
The first time we heard Baekma was very late one night at a club in Hongdae. It had already been an exciting but long evening of great music and we were about ready to call it a night, when a band took the stage that persuaded us to stay a bit longer. With their interesting sound, an engaging stage presence, enticing lyrics, and even a cowbell, Baekma definitely made an impression. The four-piece indie-pop band is comprised of Stephanie Bankston (vocals, keyboard), Maggie Devlin (vocals, guitar), Eilis Frawley (drums), and Mike McGrath (bass). They formed in 2013 and have been bringing their unique sound to Seoul’s indie fans ever since. We were fortunate enough to sit down with the band one Saturday evening, and over a few beers we discussed music, feminism, the release of their first album, and their upcoming showcase. For those who are not yet fortunate enough to know them and their music, here is Baekma! (And yes, they know what it means.)
Maggie : This is Mike. He’s from England. And he often gets complimented on his hair as well as his bass playing.
Mike : [Laughing] That’s a lie.
Maggie : He’s very good at lightening the moods in practices with his wonderful puns and jokes that are non-stop….literally they never stop.
Mike : Steph is from Middle America…..is it Middle America? Does that count as Middle America?
Steph : It’s right in the middle.
Mike : Right, ok. I don’t know. Steph has a wonderful voice. She does a wonderful Pink impression. You’ve gotta hear her belt out [singing falsetto] “You’re just like a pill….instead of making me..” She’s really good at that. What else do I need to say about Steph? She did a triathlon recently, which is insane.
Steph : I also try to play piano in the band.
Mike : She’s in the band! She plays keys and she sings wonderfully. And she writes.
Steph : Angry songs.
Mike : She plays the cowbell spectacularly.
Steph : Also a lie. We really like to talk each other up……This is the fabulous Eilis Frawley. She is the backbone of the horse that is Baekma…and the hooves. She is from Australia. Adelaide, I even know the name of the town. Where they have…falling roos? And she is a fantastic drummer and she makes our music very diverse and interesting, because many times we ask her to play a really simple beat and she’s like, “Yeah, I can, but it would be way cooler if I played this other amazing beat.” So she brings our music to the next level. And her hair is amazing, too.
Eilis : This is Maggie. Maggie plays the guitar. She’s quite good. And she’s a good singer, too. She writes very good lyrics. And…what else?
Mike : Maggie is the hardest-working in the band.
Eilis : Maggie practices the most, for sure. She the hardest worker. She’s the organizer of the band. Without Maggie, maybe we would not do anything.
Maggie : I think that’s a nice way of saying I’m very bossy.
Maggie : Actually, I had given up music. I was in a band when I first came to Korea and I gave it up, just to have more time. And Stephanie had always wanted to start a girl group. And she knew me through my first band and so we played together a couple of times. She contacted me, and I said no (this is like a very romantic story). I said no two or three times. But she kept pining after me.
Steph : I said just come over. We’ll see what happens. I think we’ll sing really well together. And you would tease me, too. You would send me some songs sometimes and say, “So I was just dickin’ around, and I wrote this song” and it was amazing and I said she had to come over to sing.
Maggie : So me and her started as a two piece and it was instant….I think our voices work really well together. We just complement each other songwriting-wise. Then, we decided to expand the enterprise of Baekma.
Steph : We really wanted it to be all girls in the beginning (Sorry Mike), because that was not really happening in Seoul. So we really needed a girl drummer which is kind of a hard thing to find, especially in Seoul, so we were patient. We just kept playing with my little drum beat on the keyboard until fate one night at FF brought me to Eilis.
Eilis : She doesn’t remember it.
Steph : I have vague flashes. A friend of a friend literally grabbed my hand and said, “You need a girl drummer, right? I know a girl drummer.” And dragged me across the dance floor to Eilis and drunkenly I was like, “Are you any good?” She said, “Yeah, I’m all right.” I said, “And where do you live?” She lived in Gimpo. I was like, “That’s kind of far. Are you going to be able to come to practice?” I was really kind of not very nice.
Eilis : Then I still e-mailed you.
Steph : Yeah, you Kakaod me the next day, I was like “Oh, good, I’m glad I didn’t scare that girl off.”
Maggie : Then she listened to some of our tracks on Soundcloud…
Eilis : I listened to some. I said, “Should I join these girls?” My mate was like, “Yeah, why not?” And I was playing in another band at the time. I didn’t know if I’d have enough time, and I didn’t know about all girls. Maybe it’s not my thing? And I listened to their songs on Soundcloud. And my friend said, “They DEFINITELY need a drummer.”
Mike : Oh it’s cool. I tell everyone this. It’s the same as being in a band with guys. Actually this is the band I’ve been in where we most…all four of us get along really well. I mean, I would hang out with everyone individually outside the band. Usually in a band, you get along with one or two guys, but then the drummer or something……But yeah, we all get along really well. I’m probably the most sensitive and feminine of the whole band.
Maggie : He definitely farts the least, I think. He’s like the least smelly, and vulgar.
Steph : You do get sad, though. Sometimes people don’t realize you’re in Baekma because they think Baekma is all girls. So he’ll have people come up to him and say, “I saw this really great band, Baekma!” And he says, yeah I know, I‘m in that band.
Mike : I’ve been told like three times, “You’re not in Baekma.”
(Pic : Aoife Casey)
Maggie : So, I was on a date with a Korean guy and it was already kind of crappy, but see it through, you know? And we were in a coffee shop and he went, “So, so do you know about baekma?” And I said no. And he said, “YOU are a baekma.” So I kind of pretended I knew what he was talking about and I asked some friends and they explained to me it’s a slang term for white chicks. Like, “Ride the white horse,” a coming-of-age experience that every young Korean man maybe wants to have? So I said it to Steph when we were on holiday and Steph said, “That’s the name of our band! That’s it!” I fought it at first.
Steph : Maggie was worried it was a little too controversial, maybe.
Maggie : Gimmicky, I was worried about. But it’s worked out really well, I think. I mean, we know. It’s really fun to give a guy one of our stickers. And they’ll kind of pretend they don’t actually know it means. “Oh, White Horse?”
Maggie : I’ve always done music like singing in choirs, or with different bands. I used to be a pub singer, singing Meredith Brooks on a Friday night. So that was my thing. In a pub in like countryside Ireland, where the football would be on a TV above my head and one time a guy told us to turn it down because he was trying to watch the football match. So, I’ve always done music in some form.
Mike : When I was about twelve, I got obsessed with Led Zeppelin and my best mate in French class was like, “I’ll play drums, you play bass.” We had a friend who played guitar and said all right, let’s start a band. So we did. I started playing guitar about a year after that and have just been in bands in and out since then.
Steph : I can’t remember when I wasn’t singing. I remember a story when I was really little, maybe three or four, my grandparents were playing Patsy Cline and they said that they couldn’t tell, like I had started singing along with her and they both turned around and thought, “She sounds just like her!” And like The Little Mermaid, you know, I was just always singing, in choirs….I took piano lessons starting at five. You wouldn’t be able to tell by my skills now, but I’ve been playing for a while.
Eilis : I started playing violin when I was five.
Mike : Well, la-dee-dah.
Eilis : And then when I was in high school I quit because I was like, that’s not cool. And someone told me I could play the xylophone in school orchestra and I thought okay, I can do that. And then I never really played drums. I went on and did percussion at University and then I came to Korea and percussion is not very accessible. So I thought, okay I should learn how to play drums, so I started playing drums here.
Eilis : I like tUnE-yArDs.
Maggie : I love The Clash. I’m a huge Clash fan…I’m obsessed.
Mike : I went through changes as a teenager. I went from Led Zeppelin, listening to the blues, and then listening to more punk stuff like The Pixies.
Maggie : Right now Mike has a favorite band, don’t you Mike?
Mike : I do have a favorite band. They’re called Say Sue Me. They’re a Korean band in Busan, they’re so good.
Steph : I always look up to, I guess model myself after female singers like Patsy Cline. I really like Karen O’s stage energy. I wish I could be more like her, jumping around doing crazy things. Musically, I’m more into synth pop dance stuff, like M83. All of us kind of have different influences and I think that’s what makes Baekma unique because all of it bleeds through a little bit to make this new thing.
Eilis : I don’t know anything.
Mike : Yeah, she’s like, “Oh, well in Beethoven’s concerto 3 in D Minor it does this so maybe we should do this.”
Eilis : So I have no idea. Maggie will say, “I really love this band” then I’m on the subway looking it up.
Maggie : Me and Steph, if we’ve got a new song idea we’ll give homework in the chat room. “Everybody listen to this!”
Eilis : Maggie writes stuff when she’s drunk and sends us videos.
Mike : Yeah, she sends us drunk videos. But they’re not on the website.
Maggie : Exclusive. Our new song, “Marriage of Convenience,” I wrote after we went to a band dinner with 4Brothers. I came home, I made a video…it was really, really embarrassing, I actually don’t really know why I sent it.
Eilis : Your eyes are not even open!
Maggie : Yeh usually, in the early days, there were complete songs that either Steph had or I had and then we would work on those. But these days, I’ll tend to write a couple of bars, or Steph’ll write a couple of bars and then stop and do no more, and then develop the song as a band. That’s how it’s been most recently.
Steph : I think now that the first album’s out of the way we’re looking forward to having maybe just a chord progression or maybe one lick or hook and then everybody making the song together because we really haven’t done that from scratch yet, I think it’s gonna be really exciting.
Mike : I feel like these days we’re kind of like two teams. We (Eilis and I) are like the engine room. So these girls, they’ve got amazing voices and they write these melodies and cool songs and then as we’ve gone on we get a bit more influence in driving the song and how we’re going to change the feel of the song a bit more.
Maggie : Mike and Eilis have a really good sense of structure, so where I would want a certain part, instinctively, to go on for quite a while, Eilis has a very good sense of time, so she’ll then put that down and then it makes a better song.
Eilis : And then Maggie will be like, I want it to be…… something outrageous, like Calypso meets punk. And she’ll be like, “Go!”
Maggie : Our most recent song is this kind of calypso thing and I sent it to her first and thought, “Is this mental? Can I actually send this to Steph and Mike or am I losing my mind?” And Eilis is like, “I’m on it. I’ll get the beat. Don’t worry.”
Maggie : I guess we’re very different. I think Steph is much braver than I am in that you’re way more honest, personally, with your song writing.
Steph : I think I deal with my problems in a very personal way. “Hey everybody in the crowd, you don’t know me, but I’m gonna tell you all this really serious stuff about my life.“
Maggie : I’m more social stuff or stuff that’s in the newspaper or a book that I read. I don’t deal well with disasters that happen and stuff like that and that’s I guess my way of processing that. Whereas I find it really scary, actually, to write, “I miss you” in a song. That’s kind of intimidating to me.
Steph : I was thinking about this. I haven’t been writing songs for very long and I’m still very insecure about it. I think you (Maggie) have a lot more experience, you’ve been writing songs for a lot longer than me. I would say I’ve only been writing songs for maybe two years…..like making an actual song and singing it in front of people. So I think it’s kind of like my first phase is “get all my stuff out”. I admire Maggie’s lyrics. I would like to get to a level where it’s not just about me and my personal experience in Korea but right now that’s how I deal with it. It’s very cathartic. And I think that there are a lot of women that come to our shows and I’ll sing a song and they say “I totally relate to what you’re saying”, because there’s no one else saying these stories. We are a population in Seoul and we don’t have a lot of people.
Maggie : I’m surprised at how many people remember our lyrics and say them back to us.
Mike : Yeah, because I don’t know any of them.
Eilis : We were recording and I’m like “That’s a great lyric!”
Mike : We’re in the studio and I’m like, “Oh, these lyrics are quite good! I had no idea that song was about this.”
Steph : All of us.
Mike : They’re all true stories, right?
Maggie : It’s really like a mash-up. That song is like a documentary.
Steph : And we wrote it really hungover. I’m proud that we wrote that hungover. Whoa, we didn’t waste this day! We wrote a song about how hungover we are.
Maggie : Self-reflection I’d say. We were both like wearing cardigans, and…
Steph : I think originally when we said, “Sort yourself out,” I was talking to myself, but I feel like I’ve grown up a little been since we wrote that song, so now I’m just singing it to the AUDIENCE.
Eilis : I think everyone can relate to that. Everyone’s been messy.
Mike : We’ve all been to DVD bangs and had an accident… we’ve all been there.
Maggie : Yeah, that’s why they’ve got those tissues in there!
Steph : I will say the birthday cake is my birthday in Busan. The second verse where it’s I was really drunk and smashed my birthday cake and I could barely speak but I said, “Let’s go to the noraebang!” and I was breaking glasses, dropping microphones. “I’m thirty! I’m not acting like it, but…”
Maggie : My most fun one was last week [Bang On the Ear: Female Drummer Show on October 24th at Freebird2]. I feel like we’re growing so much as a band, and Eilis started kit drumming a year ago and I started getting serious about guitar a year ago so every show we ratchet up anyway. And so last week I think we felt like, confident and it just felt nice.
Steph : I think we were proud, too, because we organized the show. We put it all together and a lot of people came out.
Eilis : I think for me the most memorable one was at Freebird 2 and that show that Steph ran, with the horse mask on her face, straight into a table and the table flipped and spilled drinks over everyone.
Steph : That was the very first song, too.
Maggie : And it was a Loose Union show, our first Loose Union show. Me and Steph used to be in bands that were involved with Loose Union but we were always kind of on the outskirts and we were like, “We did it, guys! We’re playing a Loose Union show!” First song, and straight into the table.
Eilis : I should definitely do less drinking.
Maggie : We’ve all had our moments, I feel.
Steph : I always have at least one or two just to not….. I still get nervous.
Maggie : Probably me and Eilis have gone the longest, and we’re probably the quiet burning alcoholics, or were, before we were reformed.
Eilis : I quit for a while and realized, “I can still play without drinking, this is great!”
Maggie : Mike has more or less always got a can of beer in his hand. He’s not Miss Mess, though.
Mike : I think I know my limits and I know how much to drink before we play.
Eilis : I’ve only had a couple shows where I felt I drank too much beforehand because I can’t quite work out which part of my body is doing which, but it still works. I feel good in the song, but it’s kind of on auto.
Mike : That’s me when I’m having sex. That’s exactly drunk sex.
Steph : I think it depends on where we’re playing, how much I drink. Last Friday I got kind of drunk because we were wearing these bras for Bras for a Cause, and for me to go on stage wearing just a bra, I need to drink some more.
Mike : That’s the only show I didn’t need a drink. Most comfortable.
(Pic : Shane Pilon)
Maggie : We were super shocked. But, we attributed that to that DoIndie show. We did detective work and we think it’s because we played the DoIndie show that they asked us.
Mike : There were a couple of other bands on the bill that were playing Pentaport, so we think somebody might have checked out the bands that were playing.
Maggie : So we should thank you guys, so thank you! But we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves because there was free Coca-cola and water and we were like…
Mike : Are we allowed this?
Mike : Yeah, it was big. We were really far apart. We should have just been in the middle.
Maggie : At one point I moved. I was like, “I’m gonna do it!” and I moved away from my microphone and then I quickly ran back. And I think it’s on video..
Eilis : I think it was also cool, though, because even though we were early we were the only ones playing at that time. So anyone who WAS there…was there.
Mike : Everyone was super nice to us. The atmosphere was great. We would hand out our stickers and say, “We’re in a band”. They’re like, “So what?” And then we say we played yesterday and they’d say, “Oh, really? Tell me about your band!” Nope. Too late.
Mike : (long pause) Say Sue Me!
Maggie : He waited a very appropriate length of time, didn’t he, to say that?
Mike : Their album is so good. You’ve got to listen to their album. It blew me away.
Maggie : I really like Vidulgi OoyoO. That’s my guitar teacher’s band and I think he is very much the real deal, like he freaks out on stage. He’s amazing to watch and I think JiHye (Ham), the female guitar player has an amazing style so I really like watching them.
Steph : Les Sales. They’re just fun and they have catchy songs. And they’re like friends, I consider them friends. They always come out when we play with them and stick around and watch our set.
Eilis : I’d say Les Sales. And maybe for attitude, Lay Bricks. They’re a young band, but they’re the nicest guys and they always want to help out and they want to promote to the Korean community that we don’t necessarily have the ability to reach.
Maggie : Oh, and Dead Buttons! I really enjoy. They were so brilliant and, at the DoIndie show, they were maybe the first band on, and they stayed right up until the end. They were awesome.
Mike : Billy Carter are so good. We really want to play with them.
Steph : I like Yukari. She’s different, but I just wanna be her. I just want her to give me a lesson in all those knobs and buttons.
Maggie : And at Pentaport we all really enjoyed No. 1 Korean. They were so much fun.
Mike : They’ve got no idea who we are.
Maggie : We’re facebook friends, though.
Eilis : For me, it was that drums and bass are done first, right? And it was knowing if it was good enough. I didn’t want to take too much time because we only had a weekend but I was like, “Oh, I could do it better.” I mean if I did it again maybe it would be worse, but I couldn’t decide.
Mike : Right, the time pressure for us to get our parts down. We want to get everything done as fast as possible so the girls can spend time on their singing and their instruments.
Eilis : There are some imperfections, but I think it helps the album.
Maggie : It’s kind of the Baekma way. We’d compare the album to a newspaper as opposed to a novel. It’s like a snapshot in time as we are now. I did my guitar as quickly as I possibly could and there are flubs that are very obvious in there, but that’s how I play.
Mike : Brad’ll fix it.
Maggie : Oh yeah, shout out to BA Wheeler! He’s just so patient and kind and everyone should try and record with him even though he’s the busiest man in Seoul. He’s just so supportive.
All : Thanks, Brad!
Eilis : There will be surprises…
Maggie : And we want people to submit art to the album release show, too. The girls who are making the digital album cover for us….. I think one of them said to Eilis that if you’re a band, if you go and play a show, you work very hard and you get a round of applause…..
Eilis : And it doesn’t cost you money to play.
Maggie : But if you’re an artist, you’re working with very little thanks coming back. So these girls were helping us out so thought we should open this up more and support others artists as well.
Eilis : I think as an artist you can have an exhibition but often that costs you money to hire the space. And then you have one night, and you might not exhibit the same thing again, whereas we can play the same songs in a different variety often. And I think we have a big enough following that we can help support them, because they supported us from the very beginning.
Maggie : There are also videographers and photographers who have really helped us out but they don’t get the round of applause. They might get a couple of facebook likes or whatever.
Steph : Hopefully, we’re talking about having some kind of video installation while we’re playing.
Mike : Who’s doing that?
Steph : You just play the bass, don’t worry.
Maggie : So, Juck Juck Grunzie is how I first heard about this issue. They’re so good, and especially recently, they’ve got way funkier and the last time I saw them they blew me away. And they don’t have a following at all, because they’re three chicks. And they are way better than a ton of bands, musically and how they push boundaries and stuff. I think it’s a bit different when you’re a Western female band.
Mike : But I think the thing is you don’t see that many young guys that much into indie music. A lot of girls come to the shows. You see some bands and there’s loads of screaming girls at the front. So you get these girls and they want to see cute guys playing guitar. It’s just the scene is not as big and some guys don’t seem to like it.
Steph : I think they’re either in a band or they’re not into Indie music. It’s like one or the other.
Maggie : And I wish it was different.….. there’s this wealth of music and talent in half of the population and people aren’t going along and seeing it. Take Baekma, for example, we are writing songs about their experiences. We are almost precisely the thing that people should be coming and listening to.
Mike : Loads of my favorite Korean bands on the scene are fronted by women. Like We Dance, Billy Carter, Juck Juck, Guten Birds, Say Sue Me.
Steph : I like Wasted Johnny’s!
Maggie : So, we’ve all experienced it. After a show the other night, on my way back to get the train, a guy grabbed my arm and tried to drag me down the street after him. And that was just, I was wearing jeans, and I was just trying to take the train home, and that happened to me. And it happens to everyone. Those guys that do that are swine, but what pisses me off is when as girls we have these male friends, and you put up a video like that and rather than listen, instantly some guys go on the defensive and say, “But I’ve never done that. I’ve never cat-called anyone, so it can’t happen,” or “Not ALL men”.
So I built myself into a rage and messaged these guys and said, “Let’s contact Hollaback Korea immediately and try and organize a show!” So we’re going to organize a show in December. We’re talking to Hollaback Korea and Seoul Survivors, to have a show probably sometime in early December.
Steph : It would probably be a good opportunity to have female singers. I mean, it doesn’t have to be female singers, but it would be all fundraising for Seoul Survivors services, which is a number that expats can call if they are sexually assaulted.
Maggie : And just to promote it as well!
Interview : Jamie Gilbert / Brian Gilbert
Korean Translation : 임도연 (Doyeon Lim)
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* We will notify winners on our facebook page on Oct 21st
Date : Nov 22nd (Sat) 22:30
Venue : DGBD
Door : 10,000won
Guests : Hatch and The Plan / Vidulgi OoyoO / The Killer Drones
For more information on the band, check them out at the following sites :
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/baekmaband
Official Site : http://www.looseunion.com/artists/view/BAEKMA
Twitter : https://twitter.com/Baekma_Band
DoIndie : http://www.doindie.co.kr/en/bands/baekma