Before the birth of Smacksoft, frontwoman Bo Ryung Whang had gained a reputation of her own as one of Korean leading underground artist. Debuting in 1998 with Cat with Three Ears, Bo – the name she likes to be called with – then formed Smacksoft in 2002, which toured in support of her second album, Sun Sign. Blending dense layers of electronica, rock, and post-punk, Smacksoft performed in Japan and Korea, but had to go on a hiatus as Bo went for travel and focusing on her education. Smacksoft returned in 2007, and since that has won recognition from various institutions like Korean Music Awards and Louder Than War. They have also opened for MGMT in Seoul, performed at numerous large-scale Korean festivals including the Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival, Green Plugged Festival, and the World DJ Festival, toured North America.
The band now consists of Bo Ryung Whang (guitar, vocals), Rainbow99 (guitar), Jin Shil Suh (drums), Ji Yong Shin (bass), and Ha Neul Kang (keyboard, synthesizer). This year they are returning to the US for SXSW, then they will be heading to Amsterdam for performing in CinemAsia Film Festival in April. We talked with Bo about Smacksoft’s music and beyond.
Perhaps you are a bit tired of this, but when people begin to talk about ‘Korean music’, rock bands won’t be the first thing that comes to their minds. Apparently, both at home and overseas, it is not easy to make people see that there is more to Korean music than idol groups. Has Smacksoft encountered this kind of limited knowledge when trying to introduce yourself to a new audience, and how did you deal with it?
With my appearance and the way I carry myself, it’s impossible for people to think I make K-pop music! So we’ve never really encountered any situations like that. Without saying a word, people can tell our band makes rock music. And we don’t care at all about what people think about us or our music, so maybe that’s also why we’ve never encountered situations like that.
Smacksoft’s music has shown changes over the years. We love the harsher, earlier sounds but we also love what you present us with on Follow Your Heart. What has made you want to experiment with different sounds throughout your career?
I love all different kinds of music. I think electronic sounds are just as awesome as rock music. And it’s fun to try new and different things. Life is full of experiments, isn’t it?
And on Follow Your Heart, you include both versions of “Marching Through War,” which is perfect, because it shows both sides of Smacksoft’s sound. Which version of “Marching Through War” does the band like better? The ‘live’ version or the ‘electric’ version?
Thanks! I think we all like both versions pretty much the same. But we only perform the live version at concerts.
Bo, in your creative process, how do you decide what material is good for your solo album, and what is good for Smacksoft? What difference is there in creating the two?
My solo EP came out at the end of February and is called, As if Nothing Ever Happened. For my EP, I used ukulele and acoustic guitar. But with Smacksoft, I used computers, electric guitar, and keyboard. So the main difference is just the choice of instruments.
How has Hongdae changed from the 1990s when you began to emerge there, Bo? Suppose we suddenly find ourselves in Hongdae right now. What things do you recommend for us to do there?
In the 1990s, Hongdae was a romantic, artsy place. It was a calm area. Now it’s too crowded and commercialized. We play a lot of shows there because most of Seoul’s indie scene is centered around that area, but I don’t spend much time in Hongdae aside from that. But if you visit the area, try and check out some shows and support the bands playing there.
Which artist(s) would Smacksoft like to work with? Please don’t feel you need to limit your answers to musicians only. They can be painters, sculptors… anything.
There are so many artists we’d love to work with. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, David Bowie, Bjork, and Quentin Tarantino would all be really cool to do something together with.
When touring or performing overseas, what things do you enjoy the most? How were Mexican and American audiences you played for in 2012 different from the audience back home in Korea?
When performing overseas, we enjoy hanging out, exploring different cities, and meeting lots of new people.
In terms of audiences, I think that a lot of Korean audiences don’t really show their emotions like overseas crowds do. We have fun playing gigs in Korea, but the shows we played in the US and Mexico during our 2012 tour were really fun! Most of the people at the gigs were dancing and shouting. It felt like they were more free than Korean audiences to do whatever they wanted.
You will return to the US for SXSW this year, and then you will go to Europe in April. Are there any specific expectations you have about your upcoming international performances?
We just want to enjoy the experiences, the places, and the people we’re going to encounter. Life is filled with so many small awesome moments that I think we sometimes take for granted. We’re grateful for the overseas opportunities we have and want to have fun and make the most of them.
Smacksoft’s March US tour dates:
March 13 Austin, TX @ Icenhauer’s (SXSW)
March 16 San Antonio, TX @ Limelight
March 20 San Francisco, CA @ Brick & Mortar Music Hall (CAAMFest)
Again we have to thank Shawn for the fantastic opportunity of interviewing Bo Ryung Whang from Smacksoft.