Posted on May 20, 2014


DoIndie has some signed CDs and concert tickets from Dead Buttons to give away. For more details on how to win this prize, please go to our Facebook page (

When Ken Robinson (gig photographer extraordinaire) invited me to “come say hi” to Dead Buttons at a punk show after-party, I hesitated, feeling outside of my comfort zone - I had never seen them play or heard their music, but knew their name because it frequently appears in the punk and hardcore lineups that tend to make me nervous. Then he said the magic words that got me curious: “They sound like The Black Keys!” A week later I put their CD on and was hooked within 30 seconds. Two weeks later and that CD had not left my stereo despite being played on repeat both morning and night. Several weeks after that, at their live gig at Freebird, I was right in front of the stage, screaming and thrashing about like a sweaty, aging go-go dancer - I have seldom fallen in love with any band so fast and so hard!

Dead Buttons is one of the most exciting and extraordinarily talented acts to come out of the new generation of underground bands in Hongdae. Having only debuted in 2012, they have already played on the Japanese side of the Korea-Japan Punk Festival, and are set to tour the UK in May, including two shows at Liverpool Sound City. Originally a three-piece band, since late last year there have been only two Buttons - drummer Kanghee Lee and guitarist / lead vocalist Jihyun Hong - yet they manage to coax a mighty rock 'n roll sound out of just two instruments. Much fuss is made of not only their great talent and good looks, but also of their youth. Jihyun, for example, despite being just 22, already has years of music experience behind him, not only playing guitar for hardcore band Combative Post, but also having played with punk groups Oi! Resolute, Sweet Guerillaz, and more.

Perhaps this experience is what led to the success of their first album, the five-song EP “Whoever You Are”, released this February. While the bluesy, rhythmic sound of The Black Keys is definitely in there, it’s obvious that they have a wide range of influences - from garage rock to punk to delta blues to rockabilly and even some psychedelic sounds. Indeed, what is extraordinary to me is the range they show within these five short songs (recorded in just as many hours!); each song has the ability to get you up and dancing. Beyond the EP though, their live sets include some assured covers and several unrecorded songs which have to be seen to be believed. The first time I saw them, in a small red-lit basement bar, I was convinced that a slower, boozy number - which starts with a riff that almost sounds like a gayageum, and lets Jihyun’s beautiful, plaintive vocals shine - must have been a cover of, perhaps, a Led Zeppelin track which I didn’t know. After the show, when they told me it was their own unrecorded song called “Hangover”, I practically dropped my beer.

Although I’m a little late to the Dead Buttons party, the guys have been kind and patient towards me, and found time to answer all my questions, in between preparing for the UK tour.

1. To start with, a question I’m sure you’ve been asked a hundred times; can you explain the origin of your band name?

Jihyun : Actually it doesn’t really have any special meaning. I just wanted to put “Dead” in front of my band’s name, I thought it sounded kind of cool, so that is what we went with.

2. Your more recent music is not so typical of the current generation of Hongdae bands. I think it is rare to find two young rockers who have such similar tastes and sensibilities. How did the two of you originally come to form a band together? Did you grow up with similar influences?

Jihyun : I had been exposed to western music on AFN (American Forces Network in Korea's radio broadcast) since I was young. Later, I was introduced to Kanghee, and we got together. I found out we had the same musical taste.

Kanghee : When we first met, I blacked out. All I remember is that we just talked about music. It is the same now. It’s surprising in Korea to encounter a person who has the same musical interests. I think the reason we differ from other bands is that we don’t think we have to follow the most recent "trends".

3. Your profile describes Kanghee as being "Paraguayan-Korean". What exactly does that mean? Were you born in Paraguay?

Kanghee : I am a 2nd generation Korean-Paraguayan. I was born in Paraguay so I am a Paraguayan. Now I have Korean nationality as well because I have completed my military service.

4. I’m aware that when Dead Buttons started playing, your music had more of a straightforward punk rock edge, and that Jihyun has a lot of prior experience playing in other punk bands. The fact that I first met you at a punk party, and that you usually appear in lineups that include exclusively punk and hardcore bands, gave me the impression that you are very much entrenched in that scene (or “family”). However, as soon as I heard your EP, which shows such surprising variety (while retaining that exuberant punk rock spirit), I realized that you defy such a limited categorization - as a fan of more mainstream bands, I would say your music deserves to be enjoyed by a much wider audience. Where do you see yourselves with regard to the Korean indie scene now and in the future? Do you still identify strongly with the punk community?

Jihyun : In fact, I have no idea. Punk cannot be defined and should not be defined, either. We released the album just exactly how we wanted to, and the response to it has been pretty good. We are not famous yet; but if we keep working hard, hopefully we will begin to get more recognition.

Kanghee : At first, we were trying out garage punk. However, we weren't getting any good results, because we had gotten ourselves stuck trying to make music to fit into the "punk" genre. Once we stopped trying to make music to fit in a certain genre things improved a lot, and now we make much more diverse music. We are rookies in the indie scene. It has been only a few months since the album was released. I want to introduce it to many people, but we haven’t had the chance yet. I don’t define our music as punk, we have been calling it "garage rock" recently.

5. When I was first introduced to your music, my friend told me you sounded like The Black Keys, which is what got me curious. I've read that comparison of you elsewhere, but your music is also described with a list of a dozen different genres. Does it bother you to be compared to a specific band? And how would you describe your style in your own words?

Jihyun :  Because we are a duo, we are often compared to other duo bands such as Toxic, The Black Keys, and White Stripes. People just focus on the “duo” aspect, even though we are four very different bands. But we don’t care about it. Yellow Monsters, Galaxy Express, and Apollo 18 are not compared to other bands so much because they are all trios. It’s true that I was influenced by The Black Keys (I like them so much!). Hopefully the songs we are going to release next will help us break away from the limitations of the word “duo”.

It is hard to explain our style in language. We didn’t form the band with a specific genre in mind. We are always just trying to strengthen our style. Perhaps our three upcoming singles will help define our style a little more when we release them later this year.

Kanghee : We really like The Black Keys. They are great but totally different from us. I don’t care about being compared to other bands. We are not the kind of people who worry about what other people think of us. I guess I can say our style is rooted in garage rock, we just like to keep adding layers to it!

6. How have you adapted your playing style since losing your bassist (to the band Cockrasher) last year? How do you manage to create such a rich and often heavy sound with only two instruments?

Jihyun : We don’t play most of the songs that we used to perform when we were a trio, when we do we arrange them differently. It is better to just think of us as a different band now. I create the "dynamics" of the songs by playing bass with finger picking, making a heavy sound through effecting, or excluding parts occasionally.

7. For such a young and relatively new band, it seems you are already receiving a lot of “buzz”. How do you feel about that and also about being chosen to play at Liverpool Sound City?

Jihyun : We have got so many things to organize, so we are very thankful for any “buzz”  we get.  We really did not expect to be invited to play at Liverpool Sound City. We will work hard to make a success of it.

Kanghee : It’s exciting to hear that there is a "buzz" around us and our music. People are becoming much more interested in us than I ever expected. Playing at Liverpool Sound City will give us some great experience. As well as being able to showcase our band and our music to new people, it will be great to discover some new bands ourselves while we are there.

8. Speaking of which, although you played at a punk festival in Japan in 2012, I believe this will be your first overseas tour. What are your expectations of playing to British audiences at both Sound City and the subsequent UK tour venues?

Jihyun : It won’t be any different from when we play in Korea. We will enjoy the live shows and have a laugh with the audience. If we are happy, the audience will be happy, right?

Kanghee : We are just going to do what we usually do. There’s no difference between playing in Korea and abroad. I'm just really excited to see how the audience reacts to us. I'm also keen to let people in the UK know that there are many great rock bands back here in Korea!

9. Who are some of your favorite Korean bands? Are there any musicians whom you consider to be your personal mentors or role models?

Jihyun : I can’t choose a favorite because I like so many bands. Dave Grohl is my role model. I feel some kind of raw energy in his voice and behavior.

Kanghee : I can say that in Korea, Galaxy Express are my role models. Because they are cool!

10. In the past year especially, more and more Korean bands have had the chance to play in the US and the UK, which seems exciting, at least to an outsider. What benefit, if any, do you think this has both for individual musicians and for the Korean indie scene in general?

Jihyun : Experiences are helpful in any form, so I guess overseas tours have lots of benefits for musicians. I'll have to go there first to think more about it.

Kanghee : It has affected us (Dead Buttons) really positively, because now we get to go to the UK! It is a great opportunity for us to go and play in another country. These experiences can only help us Korean bands grow and progress.

11. Besides performing, what are you looking forward to about traveling to England?

Jihyun : I have heard that there are no amps / drums etc provided for bands at venues in the UK so musicians have to bring them in and set them all up themselves. It is quite different to how it is done here in Korea. Should be interesting!

Kanghee : I think I will be able to learn how to find energy / confidence when in an unfamiliar situation (like being in a place where there are no people I know).

13. With only 5 recorded songs (as well as several covers and extras), you joke on stage that you would have to play your whole repertoire twice to play a full 40 minute set. Besides “Hangover”, do you have any other new songs in the works? And, though your debut EP was only released in February, when can we expect a new EP or full album?

Jihyun : We are planning to release three digital singles after the tour. I expect it will be sometime during this year. We will work on the full album slowly.

Kanghee : Neither an EP nor a full album are planned, but one single album will be released after the tour. I’m not sure… A full album takes more time.

14. One of your new songs, “Hangover”, which has not been recorded yet, is particularly striking and original to me - that simple yet haunting guitar riff (which sounds almost like a gayageum) plus Jihyun’s voice being the focal point - can you share anything about the inspiration for or writing process behind that song?

Jihyun : I tried to express the emptiness one feels on waking up the day after drinking alcohol, with that repeated riff and the lyrics. First I sketched the basic outline and we completed it by jamming.

15. When I played your album for my friend, the first thing she said was “I’d love to know who the ‘Witch’ is!” May we know that or is it top secret?

Jihyun : She is someone whom anyone can meet. She is an ordinary person who lacks affection and has a talent for messing up situations.

16. I think I’m not the only person who is curious to know why all your songs are in English. Is that a deliberate choice, and will you record any Korean songs?

Jihyun : When we choose the language we sing in, we regard it as an instrument. If we compose a song for which Korean is appropriate, we will write it in Korean.

Kanghee : I focused on English because I am a foreigner. So the lyrics are written in English. I am thinking about Korean and Spanish as well.

17. When you guys are not writing/playing/listening to music, or having a drink with other musicians, what do you like to do for fun?

Jihyun : Walk alone late at night listening to music. I enjoy a long stroll.

Kanghee : I like to read a book or watch a movie. Sometimes, when I don't have any plans, I watch a lot of movies in one day.

****Thank you so much to Dead Buttons  for answering our questions. DoIndie staff and readers all wish you the best of luck on your UK tour!****

Interview : Rock ‘n Rose
Translation : Park Ddang

DoIndie has some signed CDs and concert tickets from Dead Buttons to give away. For more details on how to win this prize, please go to our Facebook page (


Dead Button's UK Tour Dates :

May 2 : Liverpool, England @ Heebie Jeebies (Liverpool Sound City)
May 3 : Liverpool, England @ Kazimier Gardens (Liverpool Sound City)

Liverpool Sound City :

May 7 : Bristol, England @ The Hatchet Inn
May 8 : Southampton, England @ Unit Club (WTFest)
May 9 : London, England @ AAA
May 10 : London, England @ Astbury Castle


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