Posted on May 25, 2014

Interview

The rock scene in Hongdae has an electricity coursing through it like no other. One of the most impressive forces lurking amidst the tightly packed alleyways of the district comes from the post-hard rock band Harry Big Button. Formed in 2011, the beautifully grungy, guitar driven hard rock heaviness of Harry Big Button fuels the passion of head bangers across the country.  As a result, the arrival of their newly-released EP “Perfect Storm” in early April has generated an unprecedented excitement across the indie scene. With a new lineup, some unbelievably rocking shows, and a front man with boundless charisma, Harry Big Button is poised to reaffirm their status as living legends within the Hongdae rock scene.

My personal experience with the band began in the summer of 2012. At the time I was completely unaware of music in Korea outside of K-pop, but I happened to be at the Jisan Valley Rock Festival camped out by the smaller Green Stage and decided to check out the early afternoon acts. It was on that blazingly hot summer afternoon that my life in Korea forever changed when we saw Harry Big Button first take the stage. They brought a uniquely aggressive and passionate hard rock sound I hadn’t heard in years. I have rarely seen a stage presence like vocalist/ guitarist Sungsoo Lee’s and found myself in awe of their explosive performance. Meeting Sungsoo later in the afternoon, I had chance to chat with him about rock music and the indie scene in Korea. It was that meeting that led me to find more shows and learn about other bands in Hongdae, eventually leading to my decision to move to Seoul. I have been following the band ever since. Their shows are always powerful and energetic and never cease to revitalize my spirit. For those who have never experienced a live show, I highly recommend rectifying that horrible deficiency in you life at your earliest possible opportunity. Harry Big Button remains a unique force in the Korean rock scene and will certainly retain its status as a major force in the indie music scene for years to come.

DoIndie was fortunate enough to sit down at Jebidabang in Hongdae and ask front man Sungsoo Lee some questions about their album, their showcase, and also the music scene at large.

We know you’ve been asked a million times before, but for your newer fans, please let us know the origin of your band name and what it means to your music more recently.

Sungsoo Lee : ‘Harry Big Button’ is originally from British slang. It’s a rare kind of slang, meaning a cheap looking vintage car stereo with chunky big buttons. For me, when I found it, I thought it was quite similar to my musical style. Vintage basically means old stuff, but we kind of create old things in a modern context. So I always say Harry Big Button’s music is like vintage and modern styles together – post hard rock music.

The line-up of Harry Big Button has changed a bit over the years, but we have all been excited for what seems to be a more permanent grouping to have taken shape.  What does having a solid line-up mean to you as a band, and what can we expect to see from this collective after this?

Sungsoo Lee : It was (during the line-up changes) an early stage of band formation. No one wants to change members and have people come and go. Sometimes, even if you don’t want to, it happens. But I think this latest formation I want to keep as long as possible. We just released the second EP and plan to make more songs for the next full album. Writing music doesn’t just happen overnight, so we have to wait and just write one song at a time until we’re satisfied. Hopefully, we will be able to release a full album later this year or early next year. Of course, that’s not a guarantee.

With the addition of bassist Neil Smith, Harry Big Button has a foreigner in the band for the first time. How has that been?  Additionally, how do you feel Korean fans have responded to Harry Big Button’s new line-up?

Sungsoo Lee : I think nationality isn’t important. Who he is and what he wants is what matters. I never consider Neil as a foreigner, just a band member. He has been adjusting very well.

Some people have been really confused by the changing band members. It’s not because someone is not good or is not playing very well; it’s more they personal issues forcing them to quit the band. I can’t explain all the time the reason why each person leaves. All I can do is show that we can keep playing good music together. This is the only solution to make everyone understand.

You have been part of the Korean rock scene for over twenty years. How have you seen it change from the 80s/90s into today? How do you see the scene continuing to change?

Sungsoo Lee : Someone told me that the number of bands has really increased, like maybe ten times more bands are around today than in the 80s and 90s. And there are now all kinds of different styles, because before, especially in the 90s, most bands played heavy metal. So, there was a big heavy metal scene and they focused on particular genres. Now, people are playing their own stuff and you can’t even judge what sort of genre they play. It’s a good thing that many kinds of musical styles exist at the same time, but the thing is, though it’s hard to say, now, they are more following the trends. People have a tendency to play more trendy music rather than unique, characteristic music. I think that’s the only negative aspect of the scene right now. The rock and music scene in Korea is basically all the same, from the 80s/90s thru today. There is a sort of limitation here because of the quite limited area in which we play. So, there aren’t a lot of ways to promote our music to a larger range of audience. This should be improved in the future.

How were the shows in Gwangju and Chuncheon leading up to the EP release and what were the fans like?

Sungsoo Lee : It was strange in a good way because we played our new song (“Coffee, Cigarettes and Rock’n’Roll”) for the first time for the audience and they started to sing along. I never expected people to sing it together with us. It was an amazing experience.

A lot of your lyrics have a bit of a dark edge to them. Where does the inspiration come from for your songwriting?

Sungsoo Lee : Well, it all comes from everywhere actually, from my friends, from relationships, from current affairs and any political thoughts. Everything happens around you, and even small things can become the most inspirational thing. It seems like it’s all random, but you have to always focus on what’s happening out there and try not to just focus on yourself. You have to listen to others and listen to what’s happening right now. I think that’s the most important thing.

“Perfect Storm” references different things to different people, what does it mean to you?

Sungsoo Lee : A lot has happened over the years with Harry Big Button and for me personally. I was severely damaged both physically and mentally. It happened over the past two years, but when I wrote this song, I had gotten over it. I think I was able to overcome this difficult situation because of music and good friends. I want people who are having a difficult time right now, to get over this through our music. I want to help them get rid of these negative things. It’s all about life and things that have happened over the past one or two years of my life.

Obviously, our readers would love to know more about the latest tracks.  Which song on the newest EP is most pertinent and/or meaningful to you and the band?

Sungsoo Lee : Actually, “Control” was released last year, so I’ll talk about the songs apart from that. Everything has strong messages and each song is from more personal kinds of feelings and emotions. But, I’ll say “Coffee, Cigarettes and Rock’n’Roll.” Actually, that motif is from the place we’re sitting in right now (Jebidabang). At that time, I wasn’t really able to move around, and I couldn’t really go anywhere. I found Jebidabang and would just sit down alone, drink some coffee and have a cigarette. I’d look through the windows at the people on the street. During that period, I needed to try to motivate myself rather than just get really depressed. I mentioned before that “Perfect Storm” is very meaningful, but at the same time, “Coffee, Cigarette’s and Rock’n’Roll” is really meaningful to me as well.

Harry Big Button fans have been enjoying both “Trust Game” and “Control” (two of the newer tracks on the latest EP) for a while now; can you give us any insight as to their inspiration and/or meaning?

Sungsoo Lee : “Control” was written when I had just gotten out of the hospital. I really wanted to play my guitar, but I couldn’t play because my left shoulder and my collar bone were all broken and I couldn’t even grip the guitar. After a couple of weeks, I could fret using only my index finger and I could just play the A-chord and so “Control” just uses the one chord, A. I wanted to go out a play live gigs, but I couldn’t do that. I just imagined myself playing a gig and not really being able to control myself. ‘I want to go out and play,’ and so desperate kind of stuff. But, not really in a depressing way, more about my expectations and in a positive way; more relaxed and with some hope.

As for “Trust Game”, at this time, I can say it is inspired by the trust building exercise. If you trust someone, you’ve really got to trust. If you have just 1% of mistrust, you’ll just fall down. If you trust someone, you’ve got to trust them 100%.

“Circle Pit” is brand new to your fan base. What does this song mean to you?  Where did this song come from?

Sungsoo Lee : My friends actually changed the name. At our first Jisan (Valley Rock) Festival (2012), for Harry Big Button’s show there was some slamming and moshing, but I’d never seen people make a circle pit at one of Harry Big Button’s gigs. So, I thought, ‘Ok, I’m gonna write one song to see a real circle pit at a festival.’ But the meaning, of the lyrics, is kind of aggressive. It’s the one song on this EP written in Korean.

You write a lot of your music in English. How do you decide to write a song in Korean?

Sungsoo Lee : I don’t have any particular intention to write in a specific language. Sometimes, you’re just having a coffee or something and suddenly some lyrics just pop up. If it was in English, I’ll just write it down in English. If it was in Korean, I’ll write it down in Korean. I’ve found I get something meaningful when I’m watching a movie and there is a good scene. I get some inspiration from that and I think because of that, if I’m watching a movie in English, I receive those feelings and express myself in English rather than in Korean.

How was the recording process different for you this time than on “King’s Life”?

Sungsoo Lee : It wasn’t so different, but we did some more experimentation in terms of creating different tones. Last time, we used two different studio amps together with my own amp, an Egnator. We tried the three amps together at the same time, but this time, we got five different amps together, like a kind of music shop, just displaying all different kinds of amps. I wanted to achieve really good, thick, fat tones. All the other processes were not really different, though the members were different, so we had more of a relaxed environment and we may have improved from the full-length album, the last album. Because Dae Hui is a really experienced drummer and we record in the same studio, so we know all the gear and how everything works so it’s much easier.

What did you find most challenging during the recording process?

Sungsoo Lee : The vocals. When I’m recording a song at home, especially the vocal lines, I can’t really shout, shout, with a louder voice, so I keep my voice really low. And when we practiced, I realized that it was too low and I had to make some really high notes sometimes. I can’t really change all the riffs because of the tunings and things. This time, with the “Perfect Storm” album, there are more higher notes than the “King’s Life” album. It was so difficult sometimes. Playing guitar, drum and bass is relatively easy to keep the sound and pace, but for the vocals, you’ve got to show real emotions, and that depends on the conditions, and that’s really difficult. Last time, I recorded like five or six songs in a day, and I didn’t realize, no one can do that, like I set a kind of record.

What was most rewarding?

Sungsoo Lee : As an artist, you have made like a complete piece of artwork, rather than just showing segments. So making an album is the most desirable, for musicians.

You no doubt have an intimate awareness of your plethora of fans here in Korea, but what are you hoping for in terms of expanding your fan base?

Sungsoo Lee : A lot of bands desire to play to a global audience. As for Harry Big Button, we’ve been preparing for a long time. Not necessarily very aggressively, but we’ve been spending a lot of time just sending CDs to small record labels and reviewers for two or three years. So, I think this year is the right time to make it work. I think, hopefully, the global audience will love Harry Big Button’s music.

Early sales for the new EP were very impressive, how do you feel about the success of the album?

Sungsoo Lee : I want to say thanks to the Harry Big Button fans and for always giving us the energy and inspiration to keep creating music. I think that’s it.

How did you feel about the EP release showcase?

Sungsoo Lee : It was one of the greatest shows for Harry Big Button, along with the big live show, the “Friendship Concert” (우정의 무대), at the end of last year. I was really happy to see people really enjoying the music, even though there were a lot of fairly new songs for them. I was really happy to see them. They were just really focused on the music rather than taking photos and shooting videos. I want them to just relax and enjoy the show and the last showcase was like that. So, I was very satisfied.

Sometimes, I feel like live concerts are time-relative art. What I mean is, if the show is over, you’ve got to keep the feeling inside, rather than playing videos. It’s hard to explain, but sometimes it’s better to keep the things in your mind for a long time, rather than rewinding, watching, and so on. Live concerts are like that, as in when it’s finished, it’s supposed to be done.

How have the shows gone since the release of the EP?

Sungsoo Lee : Since the Sewol ferry tragedy, there’ve been a lot of shows cancelled, but I think it is the right time for musicians to do something, rather than just stop playing music. So, we’re planning to play more shows than before.

What are your feelings about the current atmosphere, cancellations, etc? How do you think it is for the bands, people, etc.?

Sungsoo Lee : Like everyone, I feel very sad. But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do in your position. I mean, if you just stop things because of this, it’s not really helpful. As musicians, what we’ve got to do is play more music to express the right emotions and cheer people up. That’s what we should do right now.

How did your experience with Crash shape your song writing, singing, etc.?

Sungsoo Lee : I learned a lot of good things, because we recorded our third album in the UK over a period of about a month. I learned a lot from the producer, his name is Colin Richardson, and he was one of the most skilled and famous producers in the world at that time. There weren’t really those kinds of producers in Korea then. There were engineers and musicians, but there weren’t really producers, more like creative producers. He had really good ideas for the music. It helped me a lot with how to make good sounds and so on.

It was also really good with Crash to play live gigs in really big venues, like Olympic Stadium, and places like that. There was once a really big concert for music censorship in, maybe, 1997, and we had a crowd of maybe 20,000 people we played in front of. It was like…I’m never really nervous when I play, but that crowd, it made me really nervous. Wow. The thing is, that area, it wasn’t a place with a big stage and then people on the floor. It was like stadium seating, so it felt like they were just falling down, you know. It was an amazing experience.

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Interviewer : Brian Gilbert (신기연)

Buy 'Perfect Storm' (Digital) :

iTunes (US) ← Click
iTunes (UK) ← Click
Daum
Click
Naver ← Click
BugsClick
OllehClick
Genie ← Click
MNet ← Click
Melon ← Click

Buy 'Perfect Storm' (Physical Copy) :

Hyang Music ← Click
Yes Asia (International Shipping) ← Click
Yes 24 ← Click
Aladin ← Click

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For more information on the band, check them out here :

Official Site : http://www.harrybigbutton.com/
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/harrybigbutton
Twitter : https://twitter.com/HarryBigButton
Cafe : http://cafe.daum.net/harrybigbutton
DoIndie : http://www.doindie.co.kr/en/bands/harrybigbutton

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