Posted on February 02, 2015

Interview

# Is there a meaning behind the name ‘Love X Stereo’? How did you come up with the name?

Toby : At first, the name didn’t really have any big meaning behind it. Ages back, I had some experience managing a punk rock label called Stereo City, so we took the Stereo part from there. After listening to the Cardigans song ‘Love Fool’ I decided I wanted to call the band Love Stereo. I checked on the internet to make sure the name was not already being used but sadly there was an alternative rock band in Australia who had already taken it. They were not really active anymore, but still, you can’t just take the name, so I decided it would be fun to just intersect the name with an ‘x’. And thus we became Love X Stereo.

Annie : When we made the name it didn’t have any real meaning behind it but now we like to think of the name as meaning a kind of two-way interaction of love.

# You started out as a skate punk band called ‘Skrew Attack’. What prompted the change in genre from skate punk to electronic rock and thus the creation of Love X Stereo?

Toby : I had already been playing for ages in Hongdae back in the 90s. I was in a punk band for a long time, but the other guys in the band and I had different thoughts on how to proceed. The result was that all the other members left and then it was just me. Things were not really working out for me and I was at my wit’s end, so I decided that I should ditch the Korean music scene and head to Canada. At that time, by chance, I was drinking in Ilsan with an acquaintance who said it would be a shame to quit after all this time and that he wanted to introduce me to someone. I met that person and he suggested we try to make a commercial pop punk band, and so we set about finding members. Via a friend of a friend I was introduced to Annie who at the time was training to be a singer. She had exactly the voice I had been looking for. After not such a long time we were already signed by a label and had an album out, but again it didn’t really work out and after 3 years we called it a day. I was getting tired of it all. So, this time I wanted to try something more fun, not punk. Around that time in the 90s both Annie and I were into electronic music like New Order, so we decided to have a crack at that kind of music. If we were to start a new band from scratch I wanted to be playing a style of music that I could take to play shows outside of Korea. One reason for this is that Annie had lived in LA since she was young and was perfect at English. Meeting Annie gave me a new reasons to continue making music. I’m so lucky she was exactly the kind of person I needed to meet. We have been constantly making songs and playing music together since we met.

# Who inspired you to start playing music and why? Who influences you these days?

Annie : This is a really hard question for me to answer because I grew up listening to all kinds of music in the USA. However, if I had to choose just one, then I would choose Cyndi Lauper, a vocalist I really admired. Even now, I remember when I was around 3-5 years old, I would be in kindergarten arguing with the other kids over who was better, Cyndi Lauper, Kylie Minogue or Madonna. I don’t know if it was just LA, but at that time even if the kids didn’t know who Ronald Reagan was, they all knew Michael Jackson. I guess because I grew up in a time when pop culture was flourishing, there are loads of artists that I liked and was influenced by.

Toby : Let’s see. If you include the pop I listened to when I was young there would be so many musicians, but actually none of them really influenced me to play the music I play today. When I started high school I listened to lots of music on cassette tapes. I went to an academy to learn guitar and met some guys who introduced me to Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Queen etc. I started a band with those guys back then, and I guess even now there is a scent of heavy metal in my music collection. I still seek out that kind of stuff.

Annie : Actually, I guess the music we make as Love X Stereo is influenced by 90s electronic and alternative music as well as punk. When we were planning the new band we chatted about what kind of stuff we liked, and a common interest was alternative music. So we made that our starting point.

# In 2014 you won several awards and got lots of accolades including being winners of 2014 Korea Creative Content Agency K-Rookies competition and were also named as one of the top 3 international artists at Culture Collide. Of all the awards / accolades you have received, which is the most important to you and why?

Annie : Honestly, none of the stuff we have won up to now holds any real meaning to us. I dunno. Even in the final, I just got up and said ‘ummm … thanks’. I never really thought any of the prizes were things I ‘needed’ to receive. If I hadn’t got them, I wouldn’t have been bothered at all.

Toby : The people who gave us those awards might be hurt to hear you say that… but I guess they would probably understand what you're saying too. K-Rookies have lots of different programs on offer. Things like offering support for albums and tours. That kind of stuff appeals to me, so I applied to them, but I’ve never really been into the ‘award’ part of it all. Also, you can hardly call us rookies these days. We have been playing for ages and we are really old!

# What is your process for making new songs? Do you start with lyrics or music? Does the band have one main songwriter? Or is it a collaborative process from start to finish?

Annie : It’s almost all teamwork, I’d say.

Toby : Annie takes care of almost all the vocals. I tend to make most of the music. I’m always making music, and if something sounds good I say, ‘Look, I’ve made this’ and show it to her. In the past I would come up with songs by making riffs on the guitar or bass, but these days I tend to use the synthesizer, so the feel of our songs has changed a lot. One benefit of that is that our musical scale has broadened. Nowadays because we use using all these different kinds of instruments, we have been able to focus on the sound element a lot more.

# You have been working hard on a new EP which is due to be released in February. This will be your third release following your debut EP ‘Off The Grid’ and debut full length album ‘Glow’. Can you tell us a little bit about the recording process for the new album?

Annie : With this album, after all our experiences in 2014 / becoming a duo I think we have finally discovered our sound. I don’t mean that the albums we produced before were bad, just that we have become more experimental with our music. When we prepared this album we were much clearer on our choice of instruments, and we had become better at arranging the songs. We also better understood what ‘character’ we wanted our songs to have.

# What problems have you faced?

Annie : Time restrictions. We received some financial support from the ministry of culture but there was a time limit. We worried a lot about that. We didn’t just want to release any old album. So we decided to make an album with some reworked older tracks we already had made and add some brand new tracks that would show the new direction the band was heading. Taking into account the time we had available, it’s okay … but I dunno. It was really stressful (haha). This album is just the start of our work for 2015.

Toby : We are going to release another album too! Before we recorded this one with the support of K-Rookies, we had already started preparing another one. We have almost finished that as well! We recorded these two albums separately, as separate projects, but there is a connection between the two.

Annie : Since there is some association between the lyrics and the feeling of the two albums, they’re going to be connected as part 1 and part 2. The title of part 1 is <We Love We Leave>, and that’s also the name of the album’s title track. Part 2 is gonna have a darker feel, I think.

# Last year as part of their ‘Art Of Recording’ project, KT&G funded a visit to Korea by renowned music engineer Adrian Hall. Adrian has worked with Britney Spears, Alicia Keys, Black Eyed Peas, Shakira and more. Love X Stereo got the chance to record with Adrian as part of this project. How was the recording session with him? Did any of the tracks make it into the public domain? 

Annie : We spent 5 days up at SangSang Madang’s Chuncheon base recording. Toby wrote on his SNS pages that it ‘was like being in a dream’. I fully agree with that. It really was like a dream.

Toby : Not only were we doing exactly what we always wanted to be doing, but we finally managed to achieve all the things we wanted to during the recording process. Adrian managed to get us sounding just as good as all the bands we admired and had been influenced by. It is not that the standard of Korean sound engineers is degenerating - they are really, really good - but they all just have this ‘Korean’ style about them. That is just not something we lean towards. Adrian Hall is a very famous engineer who has produced work with lots of super famous artists. His tone is very strong, and  that works really well for us. We liked it a lot.  

Annie : I think Adrian and Love X Stereo are well suited to each other. He is much younger than we expected. He was born in 1975, so the kinds of music we like are really similar. We recorded 5 tracks together, and they will be released this year on our part 2 album.

# What do you like to write about? Is there anything in particular that inspires you when you are writing lyrics? Is there a particular message you are trying to convey with your music?

Annie : More so than a special message, we tend to write about things we are feeling at that time. The majority of our content is about living or dying. Usually.

Toby : These days the world is a little chaotic, isn’t it? The news as well. It is impossible to listen to all that stuff and not be influenced by it at all.

Annie : I usually get a lot of inspiration from newspaper articles. I’m always saying, ‘What the hell is this?!’ I tend to write lots of realistic lyrics, but I don’t like to write blunt lyrics. I like using metaphors. I like my lyrics to be a bit vague but also to contain my values.

Are there any lyrics on this new album that stand out for you?

Annie : Probably ‘We Love We Leave.’ It is really simple. Really, its just a song with a few words, but within those words is a lot of implied content. It’s a song that conveys a lot of our values.

# You have played in North America several times over the last few years, including shows at SXSW, Culture Collide and the CMJ music marathon, as well as participating in some short tours with Korean tour agency Seoulsonic. How have those experiences changed you as a band? Are there any big differences between playing abroad and in Korea? What are they?

Annie : We have been on three tours now (some short and some long) so we know our place. It has been really, really helpful for us. Of course, it was a lot of hard work, there were some things we were good at and some things we were not so good at, but in conclusion it has allowed us to see clearly how we need to grow and develop musically. We have been able to weigh up what level our songs and performances are at, and that has been really good for us.

Toby : After going overseas, I can really see just how good Korean bands are. However, after going to America I can also see where they are lacking as well. Over there, the style of a band is so important. That style is the band's identity, and that’s something that I feel is lacking here in Korea.

Annie : In our case, I’d say we are clearer about our identity now. Also, I think the one of the biggest differences between playing in Korea and abroad is the response from the audience. The response from fans abroad is really great. Especially with regards to selling merch! You can often sell out of everything at just one show. The fans really show their support and give lots of feedback as well. It is really different from here in Korea.

Toby : Another thing is that all the people related to music give you feedback as well. They say things like, ‘Hey, your show was really great, but … it was a shame you didn’t do more of this/that’. I really like that because I have learnt so much from that kind of feedback. The first tour we did was 46 days long, and it was fucking hard work. We stayed in some of the crappiest hotels I have ever seen.

Annie : They were really bad.

Toby : Even though it was not allowed, we would have 5 people sleeping in a double room. Sometimes the manager would sense something was not right and call the room and say, ‘You guys don’t have 5 people in your room, right?’. We would say, ‘No, of course not,’ and then send a few people out for a while in case he came to check and kick us out. Accommodation costs were so much more that we expected, so we had no choice really. Even the really cheap places were expensive after you had been there for a while. New York, especially Manhattan,  was super expensive. We stayed in a really strange place there. When we went to the CMJ festival we received financial support from the Korea Creative Content Agency, so we could stay in nicer places. Oh! and the parking tickets! We got tons of them!

Annie : Ah, right! That was so annoying.

Toby : We racked up about $600 worth in one trip.

Annie : We should have known better, but we hadn’t learned all the tricks of the trade yet.

Toby : There are signs that tell you when it is okay or not okay to park, right? Also, in America there are cops on every single block checking -- only I didn’t know that! The cops were always walking around handing out tickets, even at night.

Annie : Once we found a place where it was okay to park the car, but someone who lived near by complained to the police and we got a ticket for that as well. I was really pissed off. Honestly, it was okay to park there!

Toby : It’s really bad for parking tickets in America. The toll fees as well are really high. I reckon we spent around 1,000,000 won on toll fees and tickets.

Annie : Yeah, after that long 46-day tour we all decided not to rack up all those fines like that again! (everyone laughs) Now we know some tricks to avoid these problems in the future.

# Is there one place that sticks in your memory from these tours?

Annie : New York.

Toby : Yeah, I liked New York the most. We went to LA and San Francisco as well. Ah, I really liked San Francisco too.

Annie : But, honestly, I think the place that left the biggest impression on me was Detriot.

Toby : Right!

Annie : Because, well, I don’t if I know how to put it into words.

Toby : Detroit is a city that has fallen into ruins. Have you seen that drama The Walking Dead? They filmed that in Detroit. It is really just like that. It has been a failed city for ages now. It has changed a lot. Lots of poor, young artists have moved into the area. It has become a good place for artists to get recognition.  

Annie : Detroit is a city that can hold ten million people, but these days they say only about a quarter of that live there. It is like one of those big buildings in the movie Inception, absolutely no one living there. It feels like that.

Toby : Usually, around 2 in the afternoon there are loads of people around, right? But in Detroit, no one. All the buildings are really big, but the streets are almost completely deserted. They have a monorail out there too, but it only works going in one direction. Public order there is not so good either. We never went out at night; we just slept. Even so, it is still a place I would recommend visiting.

# Korean Indie and K-pop are often linked together at shows abroad, for example at SXSW several indie bands play at ‘K-pop night’ out and share the stage with some of K-pop’s biggest artists. Do you think it is Korean indie’s fate to piggyback with K-pop overseas or do you think it can survive in its own right?

Annie : Actually, I think there is a big connection between Korean indie music and K-pop. One of the only reasons we get the opportunity to play abroad is because of people like PSY. I think it’s impossible to deny that fact. In 2012 when PSY blew up all over the world, he opened the floodgates for Korean music, and we started getting loads of positive feedback. In the past we didn’t get that feedback, but now if you say ‘Korean something’ to people, they are always interested, whatever it is. I think it’s impossible to separate the two these days, and I think that’s a good thing. This is because a kind of K-pop mania has formed, and now there’s even a K-pop chart as part of the US billboard chart as well. It’s amazing. There isn’t even one for J-pop, just K-pop.

Toby : Is that still there?

Annie : Yep, but I guess it doesn’t really hold much interest for people anymore. Haha. But it is still there. Most people who like K-pop actually like anything connected with Korea, so whatever we do, they always support us. You asked if Korean indie can survive in it’s own right … I think it is impossible, unless you make something really amazing. But that’s the same all over the world.

# What will your next hair color be, Annie?

Annie : I’ve no idea! Haha. I want to try a green color sometime, but not yet. Green or purple. Originally I wanted to dye it pink, but I heard that to maintain the color you have to keep going back and forth to the hairdresser.

# Why haven’t you dyed your hair, Toby?

Toby : I used to a lot when I was doing punk music. I was really into the punk style, so at one point I had tiger print hair and even yellow hair. However, I’ve gotten old since then and, anyways, managing it is a pain in the ass. Also, if have my hair longer people don’t like it, they say it looks messy and dirty. Another thing is, I used to ride skateboards a lot when I was younger, one of the symbols of skateboarders is their hats. Because of that, and the fact that managing a hair style is annoying and time consuming, I don’t bother dying my hair these days.

(c) Manchul Kim Photography

# What would you say are the high points and low points of your musical careers to date (either as a band or individually)?

Annie : I wouldn’t say we’ve had any real high points just yet.

Toby : Right, we are about due one soon aren't we?!? I guess the best thing up till now has been the touring. That was an extremely valuable experience for us. It was really great.

# Any low points?

Annie : There have been too many.

[everyone laughs]

Toby : Things are not so good right now! We are working hard to make them better.

# Toby, you have collected a lot of gear over time. Is there an end goal in mind, or do you intend to just keep collecting?

Toby : More than collecting it, I’m just always trying to work out how to make a better sound for the band. I just think of it as a kind of study on making music. I will give it a try and then if it is not quite what I want, I will change it, or if it suits our sound then I will use it. That’s usually my aim. I am not collecting it so much as that I need it. When someone tells me something is good, I give it a try. I guess to others, it looks like I am a vendor or something!

Annie : It does look like that. Sometimes. Haha

Toby : In the past I worked at a fairly well-known Korean online store selling musical gear. I was in charge of the MIDI and record gear. Not only am I really into all this kind of gear, but I am also a musician. So, you know, I want to have all the new gadgets. Like, when the iPhone 7 comes out, you gotta buy it, right? I want it. I’m like that. The problem is that I’m broke. So I have to get things of a standard that I can afford.

Annie : I hate those people who have loads of money and buy the best gear but at the end of the day produce shitty music. It pisses me off. I wish they would just give it to me.

Toby : Right, there are some people like that. If they gave their gear to me, I would do a better job with it.

# If you could be any animal, what would it be?

Toby : Hummmm, let’s see. An eagle?

Annie : An eagle? Why?

Toby : I want to be able to fly. Also, an eagle is the top predator of the skies, so it’s rarely attacked by anything. I wanted to be a pilot when I was younger.

Annie : That really wouldn’t have suited you!

Toby : If anyone asked me at elementary school what I wanted to be, I would always say pilot. When I went to middle school, my dream was to be a gag man (everyone laughs). When I went to high school, I didn’t have any more dreams! At some point, they all disappeared. After that, while playing guitar, I thought, ‘Ah, this is the thing for me’. Actually, I never had any musical training when I was young though, so I don’t know anything about music theory.

Annie : I would be a Capybara. They are popular pets abroad these days. I am always really happy when I see a picture of one.

# Some time ago, when we were chatting you mentioned to me that your goal was to headline Glastonbury festival in England. Is that still your aim?

Annie : Actually, that’s not really our ultimate goal. It’s just simply something we will achieve. We will appear at the world’s three biggest festivals. If we can achieve that, we will never have to worry about money again! Haha

Toby : Yeah, it would be good not to worry about money anymore. Also, I think if we manage to succeed, it would help stimulate interest in other Korean bands who would then also be able to play more festivals abroad. Hardly any bands from here have gone abroad to play major festivals in England or America. Actually, there still isn’t a team like that. Okay, Sultan of the Disco played at Glastonbury, but no one knew who they were. In order to have any real clout people need to know your songs, and for that you have to make a hit album. Before you make it big, the only thing you can do is to keep making music. We are always meeting producers and business people trying to find a way to get up there.

Annie : I think bands here in Korea are deluding themselves a little bit. At festivals like CMJ and SXSW the number of performing bands and musicians runs into the thousands. But Korean bands think once they have appeared at one of these shows that they have made some kind of big step forward. But it is not as simple as that. You need to be preparing months in advance. In our case we arranged 20 or more interviews, so many we couldn’t do them all. You have to prepare really hard for these things, but people are misguided, they just think, ‘Ah, I’m appearing at such and such festival. Something good will come of it, for sure’. We can speak English and we are always thinking about how we can succeed in a foreign marketplace. If, like you said, we make it to headline Glastonbury, then we will have created a model for other Korean bands to follow in our footsteps. I think that would be perfect.

Toby : Among all of SXSW festival’s stages, there are several sponsored stages. At those stages only certain bands can perform. Only bands with loads of fans and connections with people in the indie music scene can play on these stages. If you can be successful just once, more and more success will follow. It’s just really hard to make that first step. America, especially New York, attracts all the top indie bands when they are touring. It’s their full time job. When they tour, they make more and more fans and get more and more likes and follows via their SNS pages. It takes years of hard work to do that. Touring is the first step, and through that you can make lots of fans and meet producers, etc. Over time after growing bit by bit you can suddenly blow up. I think that’s the right way to do it, and it’s especially true in America. We went there just because it was a famous festival, and we learned so much from that experience, mainly that we were doing things wrong.

# So, you said this album was just the start for Love X Stereo in 2015. I think 2014’s experiences will provide a good background you can build on this year.

Annie : Yes, we concluded that we need to make better music. We want to make better stuff and show it to the world and get the response we want.

Toby : These days we have some connections in the music world, so I think the stuff we produce in the future will be higher quality. Keep your eyes and ears open for it.

_____________________________________________________________
Interview : Patrick Connor / Doyeon Lim
English Translation : Patrick Connor
Edited by : Heather Castille
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For more information on the band, check them out at the following sites :

Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/lovexstereo
Official Site : http://lovexstereo.com/
Twitter : https://twitter.com/lovexstereo
DoIndie : http://www.doindie.co.kr/en/bands/love-x-stereo/

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