Rock n’ Seoul: Riotous Korean Band Billy Carter (빌리카터) Drop in on Dublin

Billy Carter

One of Korea’s most distinct cultural outputs, KPop is world renowned, and – led by the comic satire of Psy in recent years – has established a genuinely global audience, with the US, in particular, a huge market. Its stars, though, rarely appear in Ireland.

Rarer is a showing from a Korean rock act – in fact, it’s probably not even an annual event – and it’s a genre that two years living in Korea taught me is genuinely impressive. The arrival of Seoul act Billy Carter on our shores this May, then, marks an unusual event for the Dublin music scene. We caught up with singer Kim Ji Won ahead of their Whelan’s show at the end of this month.

A lively bunch, Korean psychedelic psychobilly rockers Billy Carter (빌리카터) find their spiritual home in the Seoul student district of Hongdae. That means they’re born out of Korea’s young rebellion: an escape from cultural conservatism, they developed amid an arts-focused drinking district, a party spot where the soju flows like water, and sweaty basement rock gigs are long the norm. Breaking out is less common.

Speaking of the rarity of getting gigs around the world for Korean acts – and particularly for Korean acts that fall distinctly apart from the Kpop genre – Billy Carter vocalist Kim Ji Won explains “Hongdae got extremely huge and full of tourists and local people who want to hang out. Rents got very, very expensive, and so many live venues had to shut down or move. Still there are more venues in the Hongdae area than in any other part of Seoul, but we can find good venues in other areas too. Hongdae is our local but the atmosphere changed a lot. Maybe it’s time to move on to the bigger world.”

In Depth: Manic Street Preachers

“Go and listen to David Guetta and tell me what that says about modern society? People just don’t care. I think we’re all to blame.”

Throughout their 20-year career, Manic Street Preachers have always stood out as a band intent on doing things differently. Having conquered the world with household name Nineties albums like The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go, their het-up brand of politically feisty rock has been hanging around near the top of the charts ever since. They’ve performed in Cuba and – with the band’s well-documented socialist leanings coming to the fore – been granted an audience with Fidel Castro. They’ve penned angry tracks about every issue from the British monarchy to class wars, and cemented their status as Welsh home town heroes by selling out the sizable national stadium on New Year’s Eve. More recently, the band have revisited the past, taking their own glance at their iconic history and the as-yet-unsolved disappearance of former lyric writer and rock legend Richey Edwards, producing Journal For Plague Lovers using words taken from their former bandmate’s old notebooks.

Interview: Frank Turner

Since leaving successful UK post-hardcore outfit Million Dead, you can track Frank Turner’s musical progress by following his career at Reading Festival. Having stepped up by one stage per year for the past three (a record which, should he continue, will put him in the main stage next year), Frank’s new style – a witty, slightly angst-ridden take on upbeat alternative folk-rock – is a massive departure from his old band’s efforts, and has quickly won him something of a cult following. His vivacious, sing-along live shows have done nothing but build on the love, and these days he’s practically fighting off the attention from big name producers like Grammy nominated Alex Newport. State caught up with him as he grabbed a lunchtime sandwich in Oregon, midway through his US tour, to ask him about new album Poetry of the Deed, life on the road, and how he feels about Derry…

Tell us about the Poetry of the Deed. Is it much of a change of direction?

It certainly wasn’t any kind of radical departure. I think the main difference this time is I bought the guys on my live band into the studio with me, which I haven’t done before.

There’s a little bit of politics creeping into the album. Is that something you like in your music?

I don’t want to be a protest singer, that’s something I’m quite emphatic about. The moment you get labelled as a protest singer, people stop listening to the music you’re making and just try to catch you out on your politics, which personally I find really boring. If I wanted to be a politician, I’d go and be a politician, but I want to be considered and judged as a musician. So yeah, there’s a political angle to what I do, on occasions, and that’s fun, but it’s not a central point of what I’m doing. I’m not trying to change the world, or anything as naff as that.

A few too many people are already trying that?

Well I think the idea that music’s ever changed the world is laughably naïve. It may have sound tracked the changes, but that’s an entirely different proposition.

Your sound now is very different to Million Dead all those years ago. Is it a very conscious distinction?

I was involved in writing quite a lot of stuff for Million Dead, but then I saw myself as trying to write riffs and lyrics, now I’m trying to write songs. It’s a slightly different discipline, and I’m quite interested in song writing as a concept. I don’t want to sit here and say something as naff as “I’m trying to write classic songs”, but… I’m not trying to write something as scene specific as angular, quirky post hardcore songs.

‘Try This At Home’ off the new album has a fairly hefty Irish twang to it, we thought.

Okay! I grew up listening to a lot of stuff like Rancid, The Offspring, NOFX, stuff like that. To me, some of that was coming out in that song. But I’ve got no problem with the Irish twang!

Some of the songs from your previous album have an almost ‘early Arctic Monkeys like’ poetic quality to the lyrics. Is observation key to your song writing?

I try not to be overly analytical in my song writing. I just sit down and try and write the best song I can about the thing I feel like writing a song about. It comes from life, and things that happen, but I know that if I’m going to write a song I’m probably going to have to play it a fair few times around the world, so I generally try to write about something that bothers me enough to keep talking about it.

Do you ever play the Million Dead stuff now?

For a while I emphatically didn’t, as it was important to me not to remain ‘that guy who used to be in that band’, but recently there’s been at least one song that’s been making an appearance in the set every now and then, because I feel confident and established enough now to do it without it being the focus of the set.

We were stood a few metres from you watching Radiohead at Reading Festival, and a few people were coming up to you, saying hello. Does that feel a bit odd?

It is a bit strange, yeah. But it’s also a compliment, and my mum brought me up to be respectful when someone pays a compliment. I mean occasionally it’s too much, and they’re really in your face and stuff, but if someone comes over and says “I like your music”, something like that, I’m flattered.

Your touring is incredibly prolific, do you ever get bored of it?

No. No one every makes you go on tour, and if it was really so terrible, you could stop tomorrow morning, and really not that many people would care. I think it’s intellectually redundant complaining about something you don’t have to do. But I do a thing every now and then where I try to think about what I was doing two weeks ago, and every time I do that I feel blown away. You mentioned Reading Festival, which was about two or three weeks ago, and Reading Festival feels like a lifetime ago to me. Touring makes life last longer, it seems.

We think one of the things that attracts people to your music is that you take the piss out of yourself a bit?

Yeah, well if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re a tedious git. People like that come across as a little false, because that’s not what real life is like. I think you can have a much more profound emotional effect my presenting life in technicolour than in tedious monotone, like life is terribly hard and awful.

Like in ‘Long Live the Queen’?

Yeah, it was important to me in that song in particular to mix up humour with what happened. The girl who died, she was so vivacious when she was alive, and I think she’d have been upset by a song that was all loss and sadness. She’d have told me to get my shit together and start having some fun. I wanted to honour that spirit.

You’ve got a fairly substantial name over here, now. As we speak you’re on the road in America, is it very different on tour over there?

It is a bit, yeah, not least because I’m a foreigner. I really enjoy touring the States and actually having an English accent’s kind of a head start. There’s a lot of anglophiles in this country, so you can get up on stage and go “cor blimey governor, strike a light” and half the crowd are on side already. But there’s something really iconic about touring around the States anyway. I’m going to spend the next few years going back and forth.

What have you experiences in Ireland been like?

I’ve had a lot of good times in Ireland. Particularly Derry, Derry you have to approach with caution. Crazy, crazy stuff happens in Derry. I’ll particularly blame the boys from the band Fighting with Wires for that. Cahir is an absolute liability of a human being. I love him deeply.

What’s coming up in Frank Turner’s future?

For the immediate future, I’m going to be on tour for a very long time, and that’s fine by me. I see what I do as an ongoing process rather than a journey towards an end point. I see myself as an entertainer, and my job is to get up every night and help people have a good time. I don’t see an end point as say Wembley Stadium, do you see what I mean? I just want to keep going, and playing, and I’m lucky enough at the moment that I can make a living out of what I do.

Frank Turner plays Dublin Academy on October the 13th and Belfast Stiff Kitten on October the 14th.

As published in State Magazine, September 2009 (click to view original).

Pendulum: Backstage with D&B’s rock-influenced heroes.

….Dressed head to toe in black and sporting a straggly Kurt Cobain haircut and limb-sized tattoos, Paul looks more like a rock star than the head-proud jungle DJ that stereotypes have led us to expect. Unsurprising, perhaps, as Pendulum’s roots are almost entirely in metal. Ask him what he’s into, and Paul will wax lyrical about Queens of the Stone Age; punk legends Fugazi; a variety of “sick Brazilian Death Metal” and – his sole concession to dance – “that new blog house rave stuff.” Pendulum’s latest offering reflects this: the floor-pounding neo-electronic sounds of ‘In Silico’ is as metal-like as an electronic album’s ever been….

….Purism – or rather a lack of it – is right at the heart of Pendulum’s ethos. Swigging from his breakfast Jack Daniels, Paul tells us proudly how his band have succeeded in bridging the rock and dance scenes: “We’re trying to do these tours, and we can’t think of anyone to take with us, it’s a daily struggle” he jokes. He might be being tongue in cheek, but it’s a serious problem: very few acts have such all-encompassing appeal. There really is no such thing as the average Pendulum fan….

For full article click here (copyright 2009 PureGrainAudio).

Artist Profile: And So I Watch You From Afar

From painful conflict, they say, comes great art. Northern Ireland’s capital, Belfast, is the trembling centre of one of the world’s most long running nationalist conflicts. It’s a city of paranoia, violence and occasional moments of pure, unadulterated bliss. It’s also a city of silence; a place where everything there is to say has already been said. And So I Watch You From Afar are the sensational product, the thumping melodrama that sums it all up, and they’re threatening to not only put Belfast on international music’s map, but to permanently mark the city in bright-red, font-size-32 capitals.

‘We are the Bull, You are the China Shop’, the four-piece instrumental punks inform us on their website, but then again, your computers speakers will probably have told you that before you get round to reading it. The bashing, fast/slow, loud/ soft melodrama of And So I Watch You From Afar is a soundtrack to the modern lifestyle, the loud outweighing the soft and the occasional slowed down moments so dripping with importance they’re impossible not to soak up and enjoy. Their playful stage personas: ‘Gut Slurper’, ‘Bone Cruncher’, ‘Face Eater’ and ‘Blood Gargler’ are not a scary throwback to 80s hair metal, but, according to Guitarist Tony ‘The other Guitarist Rory’s way of amusing himself. We’re very lively on stage, very in your face and confronting. That’s what we do with everything. We thought the names might help bring that across’.

The name, ‘And So I Watch You From Afar’ is a reference to modern day big brother-ism. As a band recently described as the ‘beating heart of Belfast’s extraordinary music scene’, ‘the sound of someone crashing an oil tanker through Sigur Ros’ ice flow’ and ‘Mogwai, if they were from Belfast and had massive balls’, the attention’s something the lads are going to have to get used to. Their song titles are equally expressive, with epic highlights like ‘Don’t Waste Time Doing Things You Hate’ and ‘ Set Guitars to Kill’ saying more than adding lyrics to their songs ever could.

There’s a stigma attached to instrumental bands; that they simply aren’t as evocative, or that they’ll fall into a dangerous, Mogwai-dominated cliché of post-rock crescendos and swirly-ness. Taking the time to praise the Scots, Tony makes the point ‘we’re more like Fugazi, or if we were to aim really high, the Clash. That would be our dream bench mark.’ Rather than referencing classics, however, ASIWYFA prefer to summarise their own music as ‘Jaggedy, and drenched in delay. There’re lots of kind of stop start bits. We just try to keep it interesting’, a summary that seems suitably lacking in pretension.

Off the stage, ASIWYFA have plenty to say for themselves. The lads recently spent their free time baiting partners in crime ‘Fighting with Wire’, in a comedy rant worthy of true superhero villains (and prompting their rivals to don superhero outfits and fake duct tape moustaches in response). When bored of the comedy YouTube videos, the lads tour in a former Northern Irish police van, constantly holding their breath in the hope that the removal of markings is thorough enough not to prompt the more politically-orientated locals to reduce them to less than the sum of their parts.

Having hosted a launch party for their debut album in a venue that’s normally reserved for established bands with international followings – and received more stars next to their name in the press than the Hilton Hotel chain – ASIWYFA are impressively modest about their achievements. ‘People see us as some kind of scene leaders?’ Guitarist Tony Wright asks us. ‘It’s really flattering, but you wouldn’t really want the voice of the whole movement to be an instrumental band, would you?’ In a country where music is often too closely tied to politics or bitterness, perhaps you would.

When it comes to touring, Tony tells us that ‘Apart from the occasional bout of decadence and alcohol’ the band – for the sake of their live performances – are a fairly chilled out bunch. Of course, when they say chilled out, they’re conveniently ignoring their habit of making audiences bounce around like fools night after night. And the extreme tour van experience. And the band rivalries. And the fact that if they weren’t in bands, they’d all be ‘Dead. Except for Chris, the drummer. He’d probably be on Dragons Den’.

ASIWYFA are a band on the brink of greatness, a modest four-piece tottering on the edge of a potentially world conquering album, and basking in more critical acclaim than any Irish act since U2 first stumbled onto the scene 33 years ago. The philosophy? It’s summed up in a song. Don’t Waste Time Doing Things you Hate’. ASIWYFA didn’t, and look where it got them.

As published in Eloquence Magazine, May 2009

Radiohead: High and Dry on an Incheon Stage.

Rokon are delighted to announce that Radiohead – that’s right, Radiohead – will be one of the headliners at this years Pentaport music festival. We’re happier than a celibate nun who’s stumbled across a desolate cucumber field, and are already in the process of lining up a complex on-sale-day routine to ensure we all get one of the highly prized tickets.

Radiohead may not match the likes of Coldplay or U2 when it comes to CD sales, but in terms of political influence and melancholic lyrics the four bookworms from the literary middle class of Oxford, UK are rocks modern-day revolutionary point men. They are punk for the modern generation: Radiohead speak their mind, making forceful political statements in their music and backing them up with an impressive range of social activism. They even manage all this without destroying their kit every gig, after all, this would go against their ‘green’ message.

Radiohead appear to have made only one early compromise: they were renamed at the request of record company EMI – after a Talking Heads album track – from high school name ‘On a Friday’. From then on they haven’t given an inch: from Amnesiac’s unsubtle sarcasm about former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to a heavy corporate, anti-globalization stance, Thom Yorke’s boys have always called it how they saw it. They even went out on a limb last year as the first major artist to release a solely online album, allowing the buyer to choose how much they want to pay: a move that no doubt cost millions but fits in perfectly with their political beliefs. Respect.

The politics, of course, would all be the irrelevant ramblings of another ineffective bunch of activists if it wasn’t for the stunning musical accompaniment, and Radiohead’s music truly is sublime. Having graced many a moving Hollywood moment – the use of ‘Talk Show Host’ in Romeo and Juliet being a particular stand out – often leaves uninitiated audiences scouring the credits. Slowly but surely Radiohead have become the kind of act people will still talk about years from now. The five high school friends are now as important as anyone in world music. Whether they’re strumming through the self depreciating heart break of ‘Creep’ or the falsetto complexities ‘High and Dry’ all the tracks have one thing in common: they are invariably deeply meaningful and stunningly beautiful.

Pentaport really couldn’t have pulled a more exciting headliner out of the bag this year. Radiohead’s appearance will be a musical high point for everyone involved in the Korean music scene, and no doubt will be an emphatically emotional experience for all of us. Expect ‘Lucky’ and ‘No Surprises’ to cause grown men to shed tears on the arid Incheon airport soil. Let the ticket scramble begin…

As published in Rokon Magazine, May 2008.