Anytime koreanindie.com gets an email from a band wanting the site to listen to their music, the first thing I look at is the location of the band. Many times when bands submit their music, they are based in countries that have little or nothing to do with South Korea or Korean indie music.
The Breathing almost fit that category because I wasn’t sure who the band was. Considering that the band took a long hiatus and are returning to Seoul and the Korean indie scene, I thought it would be interesting to ask the band some questions about their return.
Can you introduce the band?
The Breathing is difficult to introduce these days since we have such a long history and we’ve had so many members over the years. We’re saying that we’re an international band with a long history and a new beginning.
Currently the band is vocalist Sunny Kang and guitarist Mitch Auvenshine, who are original members, and drummer Andrew Kim, who joined the band about three years ago. We’ve reworked the band a bit and are releasing some new songs with a new sound after taking a few years off while Andrew was in the military.
Can you describe the music?
Our music has changed over the years, and is known to change from song to song. We have a hard time writing in the same style twice. You can even hear that on this three song EP. But basically, we’ve always been a pop band with a female vocalist and a million different influences. That will probably never change.
How has your music changed from when you first started until the return from hiatus?
We first started in America with all American members except for Sunny. So at that time we were more of an acoustic folk emo punk band. We would go to all these punk and emo shows and open up for these really loud bands with our cello and hammered dulcimer and acoustic guitar.
After reforming in Korea, we joined a record label here and got new members. Our sound was mostly formed by the members and their influences, which was a bit of jazz, pop, and rock. And it was also formed by our producer and the label, which wanted a more accessible sound for Korea. Which meant turn down my guitar amp and make big climactic choruses.
Now with our new sound, since we’re down to three members, we’re filling in a lot of the gaps electronically, which is something we’ve always tried to do. But on this EP it has a distinctly more electronic feel with the same unique sound of Sunny’s voice and melodies, and with the energy of Andrew’s drums.
What do you think of the Korean indie scene?
We were a part of the Korean indie scene for a long time, but the funny thing is, it changes so fast that we’re basically starting over from scratch now. We used to know a lot of bands, and most of them have disappeared. But a lot of them are still around, and becoming quite successful and we’re happy for them.
I’m excited about the new generation of bands coming up because many of them are not afraid to be creative, and aren’t trying to just be the next Radiohead or Muse. So we feel distant from the scene now, but are hoping to be able to get back into it with this new EP…even though we’re old now.
Where do you get your influences from? Any favorite bands?
We have so many influences and it’s hard to mention them because they change constantly. We’re constantly listening to new music and finding new bands. These days it’s really hard to keep up with it all. I almost wish we were still limited to the CD collection like the old days.
I’m excited about all the new music, but it’s just really hard to wrap my head around it all as a songwriter and musician. I want to absorb it all, and in a way, we kind of do. I don’t know if other people can hear it, but I can hear influences of about ten or twenty musicians or bands in each of our songs. I think that’s a good thing though. Most bands these days are kind of a mosaic of all their influences and we’re kind of the same I guess.
What do you think of Korean indie bands getting attention internationally?
I think it’s great and something I’ve been trying to do for years. We’ve worked with a Japanese company, and a program in Malaysia and the Philippines called I-AMTV, interviewing Korean indie bands, and just trying to get them some international exposure. Actually we’ve probably had more exposure internationally than in Korea. Because we’ve always seen ourselves as an international band.
But I think Korean bands have had a difficult time seeing themselves outside the boundaries of Hongdae. So I’m glad to see that changing with Korean bands playing at South by Southwest and things like that. And Psy just paved the way for all of us, so we should probably all ride that wave. I remember seeing him at Pentaport years ago, and he was not much more than an indie artist. You never know what’s going to happen when you step outside the norm.
Where do you think The Breathing fits in Korean indie music?
Well, following up with the last question, I have always seen us as a bit of a bridge between the Korean indie scene and the rest of the world. We hope that increases with time and as we get more exposure. Both in introducing Korean music to the world and introducing the music of the world to Korea.
Whenever my Korean friends ask me who my favorite bands are, they’ve never heard of any of them. I think the more variety of music we can show to others in our music, the more they can grow their sphere of influences. Also, we’ve always been good at building community as a band. We’re not competitive at all. We just like to have fun and make friends. So we’ve always been a little weirded out about how competitive Korean bands seem.
They just play their set and leave before the other bands play, and things like that. But when we toured in Japan, the bands all get together after the show and drink beer and eat spaghetti. It’s a very friendly atmosphere. The same thing happened when we played in America and China and other places. I think Korean bands need to enjoy being in the scene together and I feel like we naturally bring that out in people when we play shows and meet other bands. Because we really just don’t care. If you’re famous or not, we’ll hang out and have a good time.
And even if someone’s music isn’t exactly our thing, we can still watch and enjoy seeing a band who’s having fun with it. And share the common experience of a band trying to express themselves through music. Our music might not be everyone’s thing. Everyone needs to get past all that though, because the best music scenes, Seattle, Brooklyn, Nashville, have all grown out of a sense of community between the artists. A real sense of collaboration and mutual respect. So we’d like to see that improve in Korea and to help push it in that direction.
Anything to say to readers?
I think I just said it. I want to say thanks to Korean Indie for doing a great job opening up the Korean Indie scene to the world. I assume the readers are doing the same thing. So keep it up! We’re looking forward to meeting you all real soon!
The Breathing plan to debut two music videos for songs off of The Glory and the release of the EP is coming soon. It’s interesting to hear thoughts from experienced musicians who are returning to the Korean indie scene after years away.