I was fortunate to see …Whatever That Means during my trip to Seoul. I had heard of the band and really enjoyed their album Sixty-Eight, Twenty-Two. The show also took place at the now-closed Club Spot, a venue I had been to once before, and was able to see an awesome show. After the show, all the bands went out to eat and I got the chance to talk with Jeff and get his insights about being a band in Seoul.
Now …Whatever That Means are preparing for their Winter Tour and it’s a great time for the band to introduce themselves. Questions answered by Jeff.
Can you introduce …Whatever That Means?
…Whatever That Means is melodic punk rock band from Seoul, Korea. We are heavily influenced by a lot of bands from the American punk explosion of the mid-1990s. We’ve been playing since 2009 and have toured in the US, Malaysia, and throughout Korea. Since the beginning, we’ve always had Korean and expat members in the band.
Currently, we have four members: Jeff (vocals/guitar/Trash’s sexy American husband), Trash (bass/vocals/Jeff’s badass Korean wife), Bialy (guitar/vocals), Mizno (drums).
…Whatever That Means started in 2009, how has the band changed over the years, other than members?
When we started, we were really, really pop punk. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, in our case, I think it was. We still play a lot of the songs from those early days, but they’re very different now.
Our songs still have a lot of melody, and my love for guitar solos hasn’t disappeared, but overall, I think everything is a lot more aggressive now. There’s just more energy than there was in those first 2 years. And thanks for not asking about member changes or this would have been a much, much longer answer.
What kind of message are you sending with your music?
Well, we’re definitely not a political band. And anyone who has spent a weekend with us will tell you we’re not a straight edge band. Haha. I guess if we have one message that carries through a lot of our music, it’s just doing everything you can to find what truly makes you happy in life. That might sound really simplistic, but here in Korea it’s not.
Kids are raised on a grueling study schedule with the long term goal of getting a prestigious job they’ll hate so they can work long hours, never see their family, and not have time to spend the money they work too hard for. I work at an university over here, and it’s amazing how many students of mine have never thought past that narrative. WTM definitely wants to get people to think beyond that.
How did the closing of Club Spot effect the Hongdae scene? Do you think another club devoted to punk rock will emerge?
It really sucked when Spot closed. That place was like my home here in Korea. I met my wife there. I met most of my friends there. It was the first place I ever bartended or booked a show. It’s where WTM had our first show, first two album releases, and so many other important moments. There are plenty of other places to play in Seoul, but it definitely feels like there’s a hole right now.
There’s no central place to call our own in the punk scene. I’m sure somewhere else will emerge. I don’t know where it will be. Ever since Skunk Hell closed over 5 years ago, people have been talking about opening a new punk club. There have been a lot of great shows at Ruailrock lately. I’ve got high hopes for that place, but we’ll see.
How did the cover of “Asian Prodigy” happen? Was it something the band was planning on recording?
I had heard the original Chinkees version years and years ago, and it was a good song, but it never really stuck with me. Then, while I was in grad school in 2012, I heard Mike Park‘s acoustic version, and it really hit me. The song had a lot more somber feel to it. The video was really moving, and I think that after living and teaching in Korea for a few years, the lyrics just hit me a lot harder.
Almost immediately, I told Trash that I wanted to make a skatepunk version of the song. We started playing it live, and then when we got to open for the Bruce Lee Band in August, I asked Mike for permission to record and release it, and he graciously agreed. The idea for the video came up when we were just trying to figure out something to do to commemorate the last Spot show. The lyrics fit really well with the last night of a punk club in Seoul, and we had just finished recording it so we decided to go for it.
The Winter Tour starts soon, why did …Whatever That Means decide to play in Singapore and Malaysia?
We toured Malaysia in 2010 when we’d only been a band for 8 or 9 months. We had no idea what we were doing at that point, but it was still a really fun time. We’ve wanted to go back for years, but it’s finally working out. As for Singapore, we had planned to go there the first time around, but it didn’t work out.
The planning for this tour has felt a lot smoother all around. We got to be really good friends with Dean, the singer from Kids On The Move, and he agreed to plan the whole thing for us. He’s really helped us out a lot.
Are there any expectations for shows during the tour? How are audiences different in South Asia compared to other places the band has toured?
Our first tour, we played so many shows where we just didn’t fit in. We played with so many hardcore bands and death metal bands, and like I said, we were still REALLY pop punk back then. I’m definitely looking forward to playing with more punk bands this time around, and I’m looking forward to playing with the hardcore bands again because we can actually hold our own this time around.
As far as how the audiences are different? I don’t know. There was a lot of energy when we played in Malaysia, but I think that’s the case whenever touring bands come through town. The best thing was just how friendly everyone was. I can’t tell you how many nights we went back to just relax out our hostel, and the manager would come up to tell us there was a whole crew of local hardcore kids waiting at the front door to hangout with us. That was really cool.
Is there a band that …Whatever That Means thinks deserves more attention among international audiences?
I could list a dozen bands in the Korean punk and hardcore scene that deserve more attention. Right now, I’d say the biggest ones are SkaSucks and Burning Hepburn. Not to slight any of the newer bands, because so many of them are great too, but those two bands have been around a long time, and have written some of my favorite punk and ska songs of the last 10-15 years.
The new SkaSucks album is untouchable. It’s just so good. As far as new hardcore band, I’d say The Kitsches and The Veggers. They both put on great shows, and their energy really translates into their recordings. That’s not easy to do.
What’s the one thing …Whatever That Means would change with independent music in South Korea? Is there any band that …Whatever That Means can’t stand?
I’m sure I’m gonna get in trouble for saying this, but I’d love to see independent music become less independent. I mean, I don’t want huge corporations coming in and telling everyone how to dress, sound, and act, and just in general screwing everything up. But I would love to see there be more opportunities for bands to get support to tour and focus on their music instead of getting locked into the crappy jobs with no vacation that destroy bands.
Obviously, that’s an issue anywhere, but even more so here in Korea where far too many people think that K-Pop is the only music that matters. Are there any bands that we can’t stand? Well, of course. There’s one band in particular, but their frontman has informed the whole of Korea that he knows everyone in the global indie business, and we’d better remember that if we ever want to have a future…..so I’m gonna play it safe and not name any names.
Anything to say to readers?
Go to shows whenever you can. Buy merch. Start your own band. The end 🙂