Korea’s indie music scene is something worth paying attention to. From garage rock to electronic, they have everything on their menu. But one thing for sure is, you can’t talk about the scene without mentioning Crying Nut, the top-selling Korean indie act of all time. Formed in 1993, this punk band officially started their music career in 1996 when they released a split album entitled Our Nation Vol. 1 with Yellow Kitchen. In 1998, Yoonsik Park (guitar and vocals), Kyungrok Han a.k.a. “Captain Rock” (bass and vocals), and twin brothers Sangmyun Lee (guitar) and Sanghyuk Lee (drums) released their first full-length album Speed Up Losers. The album suprisingly sold more than 100,000 copies. A year later they added Insoo Kim (accordion and keyboard) to the formation and the successful sophomore album Circus Magic Clown was released.
Their latest album Flaming Nuts (2013) has been highly appraised by critics and fans. Blending ska, heavy metal and polka with their punk sound, Crying Nut proves once again that they’re still going on strong and showing no sign of stopping. We feel honoured to be able to talk with these veterans about themselves, their music and the Korean punk scene.
How do you guys feel about returning to SXSW this year? Is there anything special you are preparing for American audiences?
Yoonsik Park: We’re super excited about playing at SXSW again. It’s a massive music festival with bands, music industry staff, and music fans from all over the world. We don’t have anything special prepared for the American audiences. We’re just going to play hard and with a lot of energy like we always do. Hopefully people will enjoy our music and want to get wild and crazy with us!
Sangmyun Lee: We can’t wait to share our music with new audiences at the fest. SXSW is an amazing festival. There’s music everywhere. When we were there in 2012, I wish I had 10 bodies so that I could watch every band that I wanted to see.
Kyungrok Han: I’m planning on showing American audiences my drunken face! I’m going to be drunk on all the great music at SXSW… and by all the Lone Star beer and other alcohol we’re going to drink in Austin!
Insoo Kim: Just like everyone else, I’m really happy to be performing at SXSW 2014. But I hope we get to play on some bigger stages this time around. In 2012, the stage was too small and I had to play beside the stage!
After more than 15 years in the Korean indie music scene, have there been any significant changes that you guys have observed?
Kyungrok Han: In the old days, it was illegal to sell alcohol in Korea at live clubs. We changed that stupid law by performing lots and starting a signature campaign. And back when we started there wasn’t a distribution network for indie labels either. But Crying Nut helped establish that.
Insoo Kim: There are a lot more rock bands now and the skill level of bands is a lot higher. One thing that has stayed the same, though, is that Crying Nut are still the best drinkers!
Many people (especially outside Korea) are still not aware of ‘Chosun punk’. As pioneers of this genre/scene, how would you describe Chosun punk to new listeners?
Sangmyun Lee: There was no punk culture back when we started performing in 1995. We started learning about overseas punk music and were very moved by it. We wanted to make a Korean version of it, so we called it Chosun punk. We could have just called it Korean punk, but that sounds boring so we chose Chosun punk instead. Chosun punk is punk music played with Korean emotion.
What one Crying Nut song would you recommend new fans to listen to? Why?
Yoonsik Park: Circus Magic Clowns is a good song for new listeners to start with.
Sangmyun Lee: I’d recommend Summer from our latest album, Flaming Nuts. I think the song is a good representation of our recent musical mindsets.
What was the craziest thing you’ve ever done on stage? Can we still expect you to do similar things now?
Kyungrok Han: Once I fell asleep on stage because I was too drunk. But we’re supposed to wait until after the gig to go to sleep!
Sangmyun Lee: I think we’ve done a fair amount of crazy stuff over the years. We’ve all taken off our pants on stage. One time we played horribly because we were too drunk. Some audience members asked for refunds after that show. I’ve had to stop shows to go pee because I drank too much beer before and during the gig. Another time we cut open the stomach of a beautiful doll and scattered cow organs and blood side of the doll for Valentine’s Day. We’ve done lots of other things too. I think the only thing we’ve never done is take a crap on stage. I don’t think anyone would want to do that! We’re older and a bit more mature now. We still play loud, jump around, and get drunk and wild. But we manage to play well at the same time and try to ensure that everyone has fun!
Some of you have started your own families. How has this affected your lives as musicians and as a band that has to tour in faraway places?
Yoonsik Park: It’s hard to leave family members to go away on tour. But our families understand our situation.
Sangmyun Lee: It’s also challenging because we don’t make much money from touring abroad. We need to work harder to make money after tours.
Which punk/rock musician, dead or alive, would Crying Nut love to collaborate with, if given the chance? Why?
Kyungrok Han: We’d all love the chance to collaborate with Dead Kennedys. Their music contained humor, rebellion, drama, and action.
Insoo Kim: I’d love to work with Joe Strummer from the Clash and Sun Ra as well.
You’ve been having fun since the early 1990s. We’ve seen comments from people saying that you guys don’t ever seem to get older! Do you think there will be a time when you guys think “OK, we’ve had enough fun, we’re too old for this”?
Sangmyun Lee: I think that as long as there is beer for us to drink, there is no way we ever think like that!
Insoo Kim: I can’t see us saying anything like that anytime soon.
We’re sure this interview can make you imagine how awesome Crying Nut is on stage. They have conquered various music festivals in several countries with their high-spirited live set and this March, the quintet will bring their energy, fun and passion to stages in America (you can check the schedule below).
March 11 Austin, TX @ (10:30 pm) Elysium (Official SXSW Showcase)
March 13 Austin, TX @ (5:15 pm) Spider House Cafe and Ballroom (The Texas Rock N Roll Massacre 2)
March 14 Austin, TX @ (4:30 pm) The Dog & Duck Pub (Exchange Entertainment presents)
March 15 Austin, TX @ (6 pm) Antone’s Records (Freddie Steady’s 14th Annual Frontier a Go Go Rock & Roll Hootenanny)
March 16 San Antonio, TX @ Limelight
March 18 Los Angeles, CA @ Cafe Nela
Special thanks to Shawn for giving us the chance to interview this exciting band.