At the behest of Korean Indie, Romantiqua wanted to share a small glimpse of our life as a band in the Seoul’s indie scene. It’s been more than two years as a band and we’ve been fortunate to have developed strong personal relationships. This means that, as with any family, there is petty bickering balanced by deep care and concern for one another, with the added benefit/difficulty of one member being a foreigner—or, in guitarist Lee Chang Hyun’s words, the “fucking American.”
To provide the best window into how Romantiqua operates, Chang Hyun and I (Anton) sat down to interview each other. With a few beers, a grilled mackerel, and joined by our good friend and bonafide rock star Im Hwan Taek of Hollow Jan, we bullshit about our lives, what it’s like to play in a band with a foreigner, and our first full length album (to be released on May 23rd). Oh, and dick jokes. Because if Romantiqua is a family, then we are apparently the teenage boys.
Chang Hyun: So, how are you these days?
Anton: No, I’ll go first.
Chang Hyun: [laughs]
Anton: What is your name?
Chang Hyun: My name is Chang Hyun Lee, 이창현, from Korea. I am a guitarist in Romantiqua.
Anton: What is your quest?
Chang Hyun: Quest? What does that mean?
Anton: Quest is, like, your journey, or your adventure. Your goal.
Chang Hyun: Sex. [laughs]
Anton: What is your favorite color?
Chang Hyun: Ahhh, green. Deep green. Like the color of your clothes.
Anton: So…you like me?
Chang Hyun: No…I don’t like you. I love you.
Anton: Aww, how sweet.
Chang Hyun: [laughs] Fuck that.
Anton: If you were going to die right now, but you could listen to one more song, what song would you listen to?
Chang Hyun: That’s very sudden. Mmm, these days my favorite song is Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “I just killed a man…”
Anton: What is your drink of choice?
Chang Hyun: I love all kinds of alcohol, but my favorite is Macallan, malt whiskey.
Anton: What would you do if you had 10 billion won?
Chang Hyun: First I would go to the bank. I’d use the money for my whole life, and I’d just play guitar, and meet some girls, and make songs. I just want to enjoy my life.
Anton: Do you think your life will be long or short?
Chang Hyun: I want it to be long, because I want to do so many things. But sometimes I feel like I don’t want to stay here long. Because there are so many problems…and I don’t want to live here.
Anton: What? You don’t want to live in Korea? Or you don’t want to live on Earth?
Chang Hyun: [laughs] Just some other place.
Anton: Do you think Hell would be fun?
Chang Hyun: I don’t know…I’ve never been there before.
Anton: There are lots of girls there…they’ll do whatever you want.
Chang Hyun: [laughs]
Anton: What food do you eat when you’re drunk?
Chang Hyun: When I’m drunk I need some spicy 국밥, Korean style soup. I like fish soup, spicy fish soup.
Anton: What about when you’re sad? What do you eat then?
Chang Hyun: Chocolate.
Anton: You always eat that! You eat chocolate when you’re happy.
Chang Hyun: [laughs] Just, I need it. I love chocolate. Also when I drink malt whiskey.
Anton: Yeah, dark chocolate goes well with malt whiskey. Okay…who do you idolize?
Chang Hyun: A band?
Anton: No, a person. It could be a musician, or just anyone. Park Geun Hae, perhaps?
Chang Hyun: [laughs] Nowadays my favorite guitarist is Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. So every day I listen to “Yellow Ledbetter,” every day I watch their videos on YouTube. Every day I try to play like that, but it’s very difficult.
Anton: Yeah, keep practicing. [laughs] Who is your favorite person in the room right now?
Chang Hyun: This… [pointing to the beer]
Anton: Mr. Cass? Mr. Cass…nice to meet you.
Chang Hyun: Cass, I love you.
Hwan Taek: Idiot…
Anton: How do you feel playing in a band with a foreigner?
Chang Hyun: Ahh…I think with Romantiqua, when we make music we can be more creative because we think about music differently. And we have more fun than other bands.
Anton: Have there been any problems in playing with me?
Chang Hyun: Every band has their problems. Sometimes I can’t…I misunderstand what you say. But it’s the same, sometimes when Hyun says something to me we have misunderstandings, too. In a band, language doesn’t matter, there can always be misunderstandings.
Anton: If you could change something about me, what would you change?
Chang Hyun: Sometimes I feel bothered, if I work very hard at the restaurant, then I don’t want to practice, I just need a rest. But you like to practice very hard…씨발! And language. I want to talk well with you, about music and other things, but sometimes it’s hard to explain things to each other, so I want you to study Korean very hard.
Anton: I do! My Korean has gotten a lot better.
Chang Hyun: I know, but I want to talk Korean with you all the time. It’s easier to explain important things. So you have to study harder. Do your best.
Anton: 알겠어요 (Okay, I will). Are you worried about anything, with me?
Chang Hyun: With you? When we first met and we practiced together, it was a very amazing time. We clicked as a band, and everything felt so good. But that’s when my worries started, because I knew I wanted to play together for a very long time. But you are American, so I thought you might want to go back home. But nowadays, you have a girlfriend. So…get married soon. [laughs]
Anton: Do you think I’m happy here?
Chang Hyun: Yeah, absolutely. So, I don’t worry a lot now.
Anton: How do you think I do with understanding Korean culture?
Chang Hyun: I think you do very well these days. When you first joined us, you were very good, like a gentleman, and good with other bands or Romantiqua’s friends. But sometimes I felt like, for example, with drinking culture or showing respect to older people, you didn’t understand the manners very well. Or you weren’t comfortable. These days, I don’t understand how… These days you are very good with everything.
Anton: Well, yeah. I’ve learned a lot. You guys had to teach me, so I don’t make us all look like fools.
Chang Hyun: 응, 잘하고있어. (Yeah, you’re doing well.)
Anton: 고마워 (Thanks). How do we communicate?
Chang Hyun: Now?
Anton: Always. Like at practice or gigs, or if we’re just hanging out, like now.
Chang Hyun: Mixed. Korean and English.
Chang Hyun: [laughs] No…70/30.
Anton: Yeah, that’s about right. Do you think I’m sexy?
Chang Hyun: No! Fuck you! Why are you asking me that?
Anton: What did you think when you first met me?
Chang Hyun: Yeah, I remember. I said to you, “You’re gorgeous.”
Anton: What did you mean by gorgeous? My face?
Chang Hyun: [laughs] No, I didn’t know well what gorgeous meant. Your drumming is gorgeous. And you’re awesome, that’s what I meant. Everybody laughed when I said that word, but I didn’t know why you guys were laughing.
Anton: What do you think of my music style?
Chang Hyun: You like Dire Straits and David Bowie and jazz. I like them, but my style is different…I love your drumming. Just drumming. [laughs]
Anton: What do you think of my fashion?
Chang Hyun: Sucks.
Anton: What do you think of my nose?
Chang Hyun: Big! [laughs] Just big.
Anton: Hwan Taek, what do you think of me?
Hwan Taek: Umm…gorgeous! [laughs]
Chang Hyun: So, my turn. Hello.
Anton: 안녕하세요. 앤탄브린자입니다. (Hello. I’m Anton Brinza.)
Chang Hyun: How are you?
Anton: I’m well. How are you? [blows a kiss]
Chang Hyun: Fuck you! Don’t do that. Okay, we’re talking about how it is to play music with foreigners. So, you…fucking American.
Chang Hyun: Just try…
Anton: What? Try not to be an asshole?
Chang Hyun: Yes. [laughs] What’s your favorite way to relax?
Anton: With the album and practicing drums and my writing and my job, I don’t get a lot of time to relax. If I do find a moment I like to drink beer with my girlfriend.
Chang Hyun: How’s your teaching life? Are you always annoyed by your students?
Anton: No, it’s not too bad. My students are great. A few of them annoy me, but almost all of them are really good and fun.
Chang Hyun: Who’s your favorite fashion designer?
Anton: Um…I don’t know any…
Chang Hyun: I can tell. You look like a beggar right now.
Chang Hyun: What is the last song you listened to?
Anton: I was listening to a jazz drummer called Ulysses Owens Jr.
Chang Hyun: These days you listen to a lot of jazz?
Anton: Yes, I almost only listen to jazz nowadays.
Chang Hyun: Why do you always drink beer?
Anton: Because it’s cheap. I would drink Scotch if I could afford it, but I cannot. And soju gives me a headache.
Chang Hyun: So you are a beggar!
Anton: Well, if I was a beggar, then I’d drink soju anyway. But I can afford a little bit of beer, so I choose that. I’m a struggling musician. Almost the same as a beggar.
Hwan Taek: [laughs] Yeah, that’s right.
Chang Hyun: [laughs] What is the last song you would listen to before you die?
Anton: Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony.
Chang Hyun: [laughs] It’s too long!
Anton: I know, I can stretch the time out before I die, as long as possible. And it’s so beautiful.
Chang Hyun: No, you only have five minutes.
Anton: Five minutes? Shit… Steely Dan, “Babylon Sisters.”
Chang Hyun: What’s the most important thing for you in Romantiqua?
Anton: Making new songs. Always making songs and growing together as a band. Not changing, just doing everything better, and incorporating more, as many different influences as we can. Always adding to what we are.
Chang Hyun: Do you think there’s a difference between musicians and normal people?
Anton: Yes. Any artist thinks more creatively, more freely. And that’s important in social situations, for people to keep their minds open. It helps to lessen tensions and unease. And I think a true artist is more willing to actually speak their mind, to say how they really feel about something. No bullshit…Be careful there. Are you drunken?
Chang Hyun: No, not yet. Who’s your favorite drummer?
Anton: Steve Gadd. An American session musician, a jazz guy. He’s played with everyone.
Chang Hyun: So, how do you feel playing in a band with Koreans?
Anton: It’s been very exciting for me. At first, two years ago, it was a little scary. I was worried about how things would work. But I liked all of you guys from the start. That made it easier. And we moved fast, very quickly into the Hongdae scene, so I didn’t really have time to worry.
Chang Hyun: Did you play with other Koreans before?
Anton: Very briefly. I had a band with my good friends Jung Woong Sae and Choi Seung Hoon. They both moved the opposite way over the Pacific, moved to the States. They’re more American than I am. That band was a lot of fun, but never really serious.
Chang Hyun: What problems have there been playing with Koreans?
Anton: There’s definitely a language issue. But I like to think of that as opposite of a problem. I think that, in a way, because of the language barrier, the problems that arise can never really develop. It’s easier to ignore them because we don’t know how to talk about them. So they never really explode, and we can focus on the music instead.
Chang Hyun: What benefits have there been?
Anton: I think the song writing process is easier, because we can’t…or, because I can’t talk about the details too much. So you three guys will talk about things, and I will pretend to understand, but really I don’t. And then I just follow the music. And sometimes when I talk about some detailed idea I have, you three will all nod your heads and say you understand, but I can see in your eyes that you have no idea what I’m talking about. But if I lay the idea down on the drums, then you all understand. I think that’s more effective than trying to talk an idea out.
Chang Hyun: Do you know it’s a very difficult situation, when there is some important detail in a song, but I don’t know how to explain to you how I feel about it? Every time I try to explain, but my English is too bad.
Anton: Yeah, well, not just you. Hyun and Sung Joon, too. But the only times that’s really a problem, is like on days when someone is too tired or stressed out, then you guys have less patience for English. But that happens with me too. Sometimes I come to practice in a very bad mood, and I don’t have the patience for Korean language on those days. So, that’s hard on everybody sometimes.
Chang Hyun: Anyway, if you could change something about us, what?
Anton: Hmm…Sometimes I wish Hyun could drink alcohol. And sometimes I wish that you and Sung Joon did not drink alcohol. [laughs] I think your sensibilities as musicians are all very good, so I wouldn’t change that. The only thing I would change, for all three of you, is your dedication to practicing for yourselves, to become better guitarists aside from Romantiqua.
Chang Hyun: Have we helped your life in Korea?
Anton: Of course. You guys have taught me a lot. But you’re horrible Korean teachers. [laughs] If I have any sort of question, you’re all very understanding about my occasional lack of knowledge. You’re all very generous to me. And personal problems, too. I can talk to you guys about anything. And you guys have gotten me involved in the music scene here in a way that a lot foreigners never have the opportunity to do. I’m grateful for that.
Chang Hyun: What do you do when you’re angry?
Anton: Well, I keep it inside, and eventually it comes out behind a drum kit. I try not to let anger ruin my days.
Chang Hyun: What do you think about Korean dick?
Anton: I only know about one…and yours is really small.
Chang Hyun: No way! 잘해! I’m doing well!
Hwan Taek: [laughs] Fucking liar.
Chang Hyun: Do you miss America?
Chang Hyun: Why not?
Anton: I don’t know. I just love living here. The city is amazing, and the culture is so much fun to be a part of. My friends and the lifestyle are exactly what I want at this point in my life. And I don’t know what I’d do without Korean food.
Chang Hyun: 너, 고등어 좋아 아니야? 앤탄? (Don’t you like mackerel? Anton?)
Anton: 네, 좋아해. 너무 좋아해. 하지만 갈치조림을 더 좋아해. (I like mackerel, I like it a lot. However, I like spicy hairtail stew better.)
Chang Hyun: 매운 음식도 좋아해? 맞아? (You like spicy food, right?)
Anton: 매운 음식을 가장 맛있어. (Spicy food is the most delicious.)
Chang Hyun: 김치는? (How about kimchi?) You always eat all the kimchi.
Anton: 김치를 사랑해 (I love kimchi.). It cures everything. I heard it will even cure a broken heart.
Hwan Taek: Anton, why do you play with this fucking asshole?
Anton: He promised to do something for me…sexy stuff… I’m still waiting for it.
Hwan Taek: 창현, 십년후에 로만티카 뭐 할 거야? (Chang Hyun, what will Romantiqua be doing in ten years?)
Chang Hyun: 십년후엔…I don’t know. We will have a good future though, I know that. And we’ll still drink beer…
Anton: We’ll still be drinking in this fucking restaurant? Shit…
Chang Hyun: [laughs] But, I think we will change from beer. We’ll be drinking malt whiskey.
Anton: Instead of six bottles of beer we’ll go through six bottles of malt whiskey every night? After we just returned from our tour in Europe? America? Chang Hyun, what do you think of the US?
Chang Hyun: 미국 좋아 (The US is good). I hope to go there.
Anton: What’s better, the US or Korea?
Chang Hyun: I don’t know, I haven’t been there…
Anton: Use your imagination. You’ve seen movies. Do you want to own a gun?
Chang Hyun: [laughs, pointing at his pants] Yeah, in here. I have a gun!
Hwan Taek: 미치놈! (Crazy asshole)
Anton: What do you think of Romantiqua’s new album?
Chang Hyun: Our first album…I think it will be better than our EP. The sound is really big and loud. I think the sound is very sexy. When we make songs, we try to be creative, and it takes a long time. But now they’re perfect. It will have a very good sound, and I hope we make a sensation in Korea’s indie scene, and in the world.
Anton: Hwan Taek, have you heard the mixes? What do you think of the album?
Hwan Taek: Gorgeous! [laughs]
Anton: Gorgeous like your beautiful hair?
Hwan Taek: Oh my god… I think it will be as good as Hollow Jan’s album.
Chang Hyun: No! No, I don’t…I’m not sure. But I hope…
Anton: Our album is Day 9? Day 10? Day 11?
Chang Hyun: What do you think about the album?
Anton: I think this album is going to kick everybody’s ass. Everyone who listens to it, they’re going to feel a pain in their ass because they’ve just been rocked out of their chair. 고등어님, 로만티카의 새로운 앨범 어때요? (Mr. Mackerel, what do you think of Romantiqua’s new album?)
Chang Hyun: We killed the mackerel.
Hwan Taek: 맛있었어. (It was delicious.)
Anton: I guess that means we’re finished…
Chang Hyun: Thank you and goodbye. Now get out of my restaurant.
Romantiqua’s album release concert will be held at Club Bigbird in Hongdae on Friday, May 23rd, 2014. Club Bigbird is a new venue being opened by the owners of Club Freebird. It is located in the former Club 500 (오백).