Posted on May 17, 2014

Interview

Watching Kingston Rudieska rehearse from the wings of the imposing main stage at the Sejong Center for Performing Arts (part of a celebration of the traditional “Arirang” melody, for which they had prepared their own reggae-edged version), I pondered how far they’ve come. Since forming in the underground punk clubs of Hongdae around 2003-4, these pioneers of authentic Jamaican ska (with a local twist) have played every festival in Korea, released 3 albums and 2 EPs, collaborated with top idol stars, appeared on major nationwide TV shows and toured to the Philippines and Japan. And they are about to kick it up a notch, with their first ever collaboration with an international artist, German ska/reggae/dancehall/trombone legend, Dr Ring Ding. Having been active in Europe since the late 80s, primarily with his prolific band The Senior Allstars and more recently Ska-Vaganza, Dr Ring Ding is also well-known as a composer and expert music producer who has collaborated with every top ska artist out there, including KR’s role models, The Skatalites. When Kingston Rudieska (KR) was first performing in Hongdae, before they had written many of their own songs, they used to play a cover of one of Dr Ring Ding’s biggest hits, “Bad Company”, which leader Choi Chul Wook had fallen in love with through the internet, with vocalist Sugar Suk Yuel later turning it into his own by translating the lyrics into Korean. Years later, Dr Ring Ding got hold of a copy of KR’s debut album “Skafiction” and gave it a good review in a German magazine, which is how the band first got in contact with him. Fast forward to August of 2013, and Dr Ring Ding & Ska-Vaganza agreed to share the stage with KR (and Japanese ska band Doberman) at the Jisan World Rock festival. KR were clearly thrilled to play with their hero at last, and the result was a joyous celebration for musicians and audience, at sunset on the ski slope, some of the most fun I’ve ever seen at any festival. During those few days practicing together, the band suggested to Dr Ring Ding that they record a song together, and he was only too happy to comply. But one song soon became two, then three and then five—recorded in only 1 manic day!—and about to be released in Europe, Japan and the US (as well as Korea) on a ground-breaking EP album called “Ska ‘n Seoul”. Dr Ring Ding himself has just returned to Seoul, without his band this time, to play in a special concert with KR to celebrate this release, on March 15 in SangSangMadang. I sat down with our nine boys and their manager in the dressing room of Sejong Center to talk about this exciting step in their career.

Before talking about the EP, congratulations on reaching your ten year anniversary! How do you feel about how far you’ve come?

Choi Chul Wook (trombone, leader) : Tired! Time flows so fast, like a river! I can’t believe it’s already been ten years. Sugar Suk Yuel (vocals, percussion) : Ten years ago, we could not have imagined that we would have performed on so many different stages, and at so many festivals. We’ve spent our youth together [Chul Wook breaks into wistful song, “청춘을~~”/”Youth~~”]

I was lucky enough to hear a preview of the “Ska ‘n Seoul” EP. It sounds fantastic, like nothing you’ve done before. I get the feeling that Dr Ring Ding, as the producer of this album, brought out the best in you. What was it like working with him? What did you learn?

Seo Jae Ha (guitar) : He’s the best, most awesome producer! His style is simple and direct; he helped us to work so quickly.
Bae Sun Yong (trumpet) : I learned what ska truly is.
Sugar Suk Yuel : He made us feel really comfortable. The whole process was so comfortable.
Oh Jeong Seok (trumpet, flugelhorn) : When he gave us instructions, we’d say “OK boss!” We saw him as a kind of teacher. If he didn’t know ska, if he didn’t have 25 years of experience as a producer, we wouldn’t have trusted him so implicitly.  He really inspired confidence in us. When we recorded in the past, we were often hesitant and nervous, but he gave us such strong and decisive leadership that we surprised each other—not only in our new focus and concentration, but in abilities we didn’t know we had. But although he was so strong and decisive, he made the atmosphere extremely relaxed and fun.
Han Kuk Jin (manager) : KR has never recorded in this way—it was practically all recorded in one take! There was no time to waste. This forced the members to concentrate, and it also made them more unified than ever. Also, because it was mixed in Germany, we finally found the right sound for our ska music. We are very curious about what the listeners will think, as it’s quite different to what KR has done before.
Chul Wook : Usually, when we record, we spend a long time practicing and planning every detail before we go into the recording studio, which sometimes holds us back. But we recorded all the songs on this album basically in one night! As a result, I think you can hear more of a sense of “humanism” in these tracks, more naturalness.

Any funny stories?

Sugar Suk Yuel : We had a lot of fun together, he was often joking around. He was like a real older brother. After working together we used to eat and drink together and it was surprising how he really felt like a “neighborhood brother” (동네 형) even though it was his first time in Korea.
Jae Ha : He was really disappointed by the sausages in the convenience stores in Korea, of course!
Son Hyoung Sik (bass) : He was really shocked when we took him to eat “penis fish” (개불)!

How do you feel about the fact that this is your first album to be released internationally?

Chul Wook : It’s really exciting. For years, we’ve listened to so many albums by international ska bands, and it’s great to think that we will be joining them, and that people in other countries will be listening to us.
Jeong Seok : I think this is a really unique album, because it’s a meeting of Asian ska and European ska.

For me, the standout track on the EP is definitely your fun, jazzy cover of the traditional “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, with Dr Ring Ding acting as preacher and all of you shouting out a rousing chorus! Whose idea was that?

Chul Wook : When I was in high school we sang this song in my choir and I loved it. Korean people aren’t familiar with it but I understand that it’s as well-known as our “Arirang” to many Americans, so I have always wanted to remake it.
Sugar Suk Yuel : Kim Insoo from Crying Nut came to the studio to record the chorus with us!

What was it like to actually record “Bad Company” (Korean version) with Dr Ring Ding, who originally wrote it?

Chul Wook : A dream come true. The reason I admire Dr Ring Ding is his ability to capture that real Caribbean sound—not pure ska or reggae, but also a feeling of calypso, soca, dancehall—he brought some of that 1960s Jamaican “roots” sound to our song. I feel very proud of how it sounds. This sound has never been heard in Korea before.
Jeong Seok : Dr Ring Ding told me, after we recorded it, that when he first heard us play, he thought it sounded like an original Korean song. In fact, like a Korean traditional song. So that means it sounds really natural.

Give us a taste of what the audience can expect or what your expect during your show with Dr Ring Ding on March 15th.

Jae Ha : We’re going to sing a lot of songs in English with Dr Ring Ding, so that’s going to be fun! I think we can achieve the same kind of moving atmosphere that we did at Jisan last year.
Sugar Suk Yuel : This is a really big show for us. We hope that all the people who enjoyed our show at Jisan with Dr Ring Ding will enjoy this show even more. Most importantly, the new album will be on sale at the show, along with t-shirts and other merchandise, so I hope the audience buys a lot! We want to tour to Europe, but we have no money, so please help us!
Hyoung Sik : This time Dr Ring Ding is coming alone, so we are going to play our own songs and his own songs together with him.
Jeong Seok : Of course we’re going to play the songs on the EP, but we are also going to play a lot of secret, surprise songs! [everybody cheers] So first, KR will play some of our own songs, then Dr Ring Ding will come on stage and we will play for over an hour together—his hit songs, ska classics and other surprises. We will show you everything!

Although it has always had a limited following in Korea, there have been a lot of developments in the ska and reggae scene in the past year. Do you think ska as a genre is growing in Korea?

Jeong Seok : Yeah, I definitely think so! Even if it’s slow, it’s definitely growing up [Suk Yuel sings “grown on up~”]
Chul Wook : You could say there is still almost no ska “scene” in Korea. But I know we have a lot of supporters who motivate us to keep working, and I think this new recording [“Ska ‘n Seoul”] is really important for helping ska music in Korea to mature. Koreans don’t really know ska, but I think they would really enjoy it. I want Koreans to know what fun, enjoyable music it is. There are no barriers to ska—look how it had the power even to bring Dr Ring Ding all the way from Europe to Korea!

What are your hopes and dreams for the future, as a band?

Suk Yuel : Thanks to this album, the idea of collaborating with musicians overseas is now a possibility.
Jae Ha : We are already planning a lot more new songs, and I hope we can do a lot more collaborations with foreign ska musicians and also that many more ska bands will emerge in Korea. I want to show our junior (후배) ska bands that anything is possible.
Jeong Seok : My dream is that all our current members stay together until we die! I imagine us in our 50s, 60s, all gray-haired grandfathers. In 30 years I want us all to meet here together again for an interview. Later, when I’m 85 and Jae Ha’s 84, I’ll tell him “hey, bring me some coffee” and he’ll say “yes, brother” (내, 형) [Jeong Seok mimes Jae Ha walking bent over, everyone laughs and joins in discussing who will die first].
Chul Wook : Ten years ago, the idea that we would be recording with Dr Ring Ding was only a dream, which we could never have imagined coming true. But after working hard for ten years, we met him. So, who knows what could happen in another ten years? Perhaps we could even work with the Skatalites! Personally, I also wish that one day we could travel together to Jamaica.

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It’s no secret that Kingston Rudieska are my favorite band in Hongdae; indeed, they practically introduced me to Hongdae. Besides their infectious ability to make one happy and dance like a fool, one reason I love them is that it is obvious they are a true family of brothers. I’m terribly proud of their continued success and I believe this album has been a push in an even better direction. Come and see what all the fuss is about on March 15th!

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By ROCK ‘N ROSE

DoIndie has 3 pairs of tickets to give away for the “Ska ‘n Seoul” release concert at SangSangMadang on March 15th ! For more details on how to win this prize, please go to our facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/doindie.kr).

For more information about the concert and Kingston Rudieska (click the poster) :

 

To book tickets for the concert: INTERPARK

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The EP album “Ska ‘n Seoul” will be released on March 12th. To find out more about it and the band, visit Kingston Rudieska at the following websites :
Official Homepage : http://www.kingstonrudieska.com/
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/rudieska2004
Twitter : https://twitter.com/K_rudieska
Cyworld : http://rudieska.cyworld.com/
Doindie : http://www.doindie.co.kr/en/band/kingston-rudieska/

For a taste of the EP and scenes of the recording process, don’t miss this video:
A message from Dr Ring Ding to the fans in Korea:
Kingston Rudieska’s recent performance of “Bad Company”:
Dr Ring Ding’s music video for “Dancing With the Fat Man’s Lady”:

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