[Special] Interview with HarryBigButton, April 2014

ONers who grew up in the 80-90’s must have witnessed the triumph of hard rock bands such Guns N ‘Roses, Aerosmith or Bon Jovi. Although it was once victorious, hard rock genre is not so popular anymore these days. But, it does not mean they’re losing fans. HarryBigButton, an indie hard rock band from South Korea could satisfy the fans of this genre. With their growling voices, vintage guitar distortions, and floppy hairs, you will be reminded of those years.

Sungsoo Lee, leader, vocalist and founder of HarryBigButton, is not a new comer in the Korean music industry. Previously, he was the guitarist in a considerably successful thrash metal band, Crash. Unfortunately, due to personal reasons, he went absent from the music scene for a while. In 2011, he finally decided to do music again and HarryBigButton’s journey began. Thanks to participating in a band audition program at a TV station, Top Band 2, HarryBigButton managed to gain attention from music lovers in Korea.

After releasing a single, Control, half a year ago, it was  time for them to satisfy their fans with an EP. The fans were really looking forward to this new album, so much that their latest EP was placed #10 at Yes24 Weekly Album Chart a week before the release time. The new line-up of the band will, of course, bring some changes compared to their previous album. In between their busy schedules preparing for the album, they took time to chat with RekON.

HarryBigButton 2

Left -right: Dai-hui Kang (dr), Sungsoo Lee (vc, gt), and Neil Smith (bst)

How’s the process of the making of your new EP so far? Tell us a little bit about this new EP. What can we expect from this new album? Is there any change from the previous records, or maybe a little bit experiment?

Sungsoo [S]It’s been going smoothly without any big issue. The title of our new EP is “Perfect Storm” and it contains 5 new songs. You can expect more wild sound and more distinguished character of HarryBigButton from the new album.

I always love to do experiments for tone making. This time we had five different guitar amp heads (last time was three!) plugged into five cabinets individually. Marshall, Mesa Boogie, Egnater and etc. The recording studio was like a music fair.;) At the end of the day we only picked best two and they growled like a wild beast.

Oh I remember now I did some other interesting experiment. The day after we finished the final recording I ran into the studio with a Jew’s harp. (Apparently Jew’s harp is considered to be one of the oldest musical instrument in the world.) I used it for one particular song. Can you figure it out where it used?

Anyway finally this morning I’ve received an email from Sterling Sound, New York and it says they have completed the mastering! It will be released on April 2.

As a senior musician, HarryBigButton feels like Sungsoo’s step to a new start. How confident you are with Harry Big Button?

S : Well it took me long time getting back to the music scene.But at the same time I’d prepared this for long. Now I am ready to rock with two other band members. What else do you need for that?

After a couple of times re-arrangement of band members, how do you feel about the current line-up?

S : We’ve been around as HarryBigButton in the music scene only three years by now. HarryBigButton‘s been evolving in many aspects. And we still are.

Dai-hui Kang (drums) and Neil Smith (bass guitar) are both energetic and passionate players. I’m always very excited to play music together. I am sure we’re all.

When we talk about HarryBigButton, we can’t avoid the topic of your participation in the band survival show, Top Band 2. If you were given another chance, would you participate again in a show of a similar kind? What would you do differently from the previous show?

S : Top Band 2 gave HarryBigButton great exposure to large audience and I appreciate that. The best thing about Top Band 2 was that I could meet many good musicians there.

There’s no proper TV shows for live music performance here. As far as it’s truly focused on music itself I could say “Why not?”.

Neil Smith previously was a member of Magma Fall, the rival band from Top Band 2, right? How’s the story that lead up to him joining HarryBigButton?

Neil [N]: Yes, that’s right. Actually HarryBigButton and Magna Fall were first introduced to each other at Top Band, became friends and played some shows together in Hongdae. However, in April of last year

I decided to quit Magna Fall as I had an ambition to go back to Europe and start a new band there. But after auditioning for HarryBigButton I decided that the offer to join the band was too big to turn down and stayed in Korea.

HarryBigButton 1

HarryBigButton’s EP Perfect Storm Showcase

As the one and only foreigner in your band, how does Neil Smith connect with other band members? I imagine there’s a culture gap between all of you.

N : Well, the differences between eastern and western culture do also apply to rock music which can sometimes be a difficult thing for foreigner musicians to understand when they first arrive in Korea. However, I have already spent a lot of time playing music in Korea and connecting with many Korean friends and musicians. I’m currently learning to speak better Korean which is important in terms of relating to the other members. Outside shows and practice I and Dae-Hui regularly spend time teaching each other English and Korean which has made communication far more easy between them. Sungsoo is fluent in English and also has a very good understanding of British culture having lived in London for a long time. This is very similar to Irish culture.

S : Neil always tries his best to learn things and adjusts him into Korean culture..

We play rock music together and we are all hard-working musicians. We haven’t found any cultural gap so far. Music seems to break all the barriers.

Since you have Neil Smith as a member, does he attract a lot attention from foreign listeners? Or he’s just simply a great and hot bass player?

S : Neil is a gentle guy but once he steps onto the stage he becomes a wild beast If you know what I’m saying. He is definitely a hot bass player.

What is the thing that each of you is proud of HarryBigButton?

S : At the early days of HarryBigButton there was no place for us to play a live gig as Hard rock isn’t very trendy music these days. It was really tough time but I never gave up and kept searching venues and promoting the band. Last year HarryBigButton was chosen as one of the most played band in Rock festivals. I am very proud of what we’ve achieved since started.

And I must say I am very proud of my band members who are real hard-working musicians.

Dae-Hui [D]:Firstly, the attitude of each band members who takes music seriously.

Secondly, the strong pride about our music.

Thirdly, the band that never stops and keep going forward

Last but not least, Sungsoo’s voice.

N : HarryBigButton had achieved many great things in Korea before I joined the band. Sungsoo started this band in 2011 and it didn’t take long for him to achieve success. This success is not just because of talent and good songs but it’s also because of the band’s ability to relate so well with audiences, Nowadays this not an easy thing to do while playing hard rock music. I feel proud to be in a band that has this kind of power.

What are the wildest dream each of you hope to achieve with HarryBigButton?

S: I imagine watching thousands of audience singing our songs at one of the biggest rock festivals. Isn’t that wildest?

D: Being able to make good music with pride until the end and becoming a band that makes the stage great.

N: I think HarryBigButton has the ability to be popular anywhere in the world and someday I would love to play at major music festivals in North America and Europe alongside other well known rock acts. As I am from Ireland, it would be very wild indeed if we got the chance to play at a big concert in Dublin with all my friends and family in the audience.

A lot of your songs are in English. Any reason behind this? Maybe a strategy to get more global?

S: There isn’t any particular reason of writing lyrics in English. It depends on which language I chose at the first place when I write songs.

Tell us the funniest story you’ve ever had while performing?

S: Well…I’ve never told to anyone yet but here’s my embarrassing moment.

I always do some special action when we play ‘King’s Life’. I hold my guitar with only left hand and raise it up and let the guitar fall down. Can you imagine so far? As soon as the guitar falls down it always hit my body. It never hurts before. But at one live gig it smacked hard on my very vulnerable area.I was almost fainted but I pretended nothing had happended. Since then I try to drop it gently.

D: Every live gigs are fun but there was an embarassing moment some time ago.

We were having a live gig in quite small size club and it was really hot(not talking about temperature)

I was excited and I took off my shirt in the middle of the live show. I heard some of audience shouted at me “Look at his beer belly! It’s cute!”. I was so embarassed.

N: A few months ago we played a gig at one of Hongdae’s most well known indie clubs, Club FF. When we started playing our first song almost straight away the audience jumped on the stage and started going crazy. This continued for the whole show and several times I had to keep dodging people on the stage so I could play the songs properly!

[HarryBigButton- (live) Coffee, cigarettes and Rock’N’Roll]

About your last concert: it was an amazing idea to have a collaboration with other bands’ members in every song you performed. How did you come up with that idea? What’s the purpose actually from that concept?

S: Thanks for the compliment. I had many thoughts and wishes when I stayed in the hospital.

I had some good friends coming to see me while I was there. One day I imagined once I recovered and get back to the stage again I hope to play music with them together for our friendship. That’s where the idea started.

How did you select which bands’ members you asked to have a collaboration with? Were there any specific criteria?

S: The difference between genres or styles in collaboration is not important. It rather often creates interesting results. However sharing each other’s passion together is very important. I am sure that made the show turn out more than everyone expected after all.

It must be a great experience to work with lot of different bands and genres. Care to share any interesting story from the concert preparation?

S: It was absolutely awesome experience for us to do such a great collaboration. It was the busiest season for all musicians at that time.It was so difficult to arrange the practice schedule with all twenty-four musicians! It took me full week only to fix the schedule. Sometimes we practiced eight hours a day waiting other musicians. I really appreciate how my band members and all collaboration musicians put their best effort on that. We shared valuable friendship and even with the audiences.

Can we expect another great concept in your next show, maybe on the nearest event, your EP release show?

S: I’ll definitely do more collaboration with various artists.It could be the live show or could be co-writing songs with musicians in other genres.

Actually there were three initial ideas connected in sequence for the collaboration. I will try my best to make all three work this year. So let’s see what will happen next!

I heard that there are great musicians and many music lovers out there in Indonesia. Hope we have live gigs there in the near future. Fingers crossed! (*)

Our finger too are  crossed. Isn’t  it awesome if they can come to perform in Indonesia? Before that, let’s enjoy their New EP. ONers in Korea can buy it at Yes24, and international fans can soon purchase the EP in iTunes.

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