DoIndie: SMACKSOFT Interview

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For a band, the process of maturation brings with it a great deal of anxiety and no little amount of angst. The debut album is easy by comparison. There’s no expectations, no critical anticipation, no fans whose standards you are trying to meet or please. There’s only getting your sound out there and trying to get as many people to listen to it as possible.

But you can only ride that first album for so long. Eventually you have to put out the much discussed sophomore album. Bands have all sorts of names for this, the sophomore curse, sophomore slump, second album blues, etc. Some bands are so aware of the idea they use the concept to their advantage (Grandaddy’s (great) second album The Sophtware Slump). All the pressure comes from the process of public creation.

For the debut, an artist could experiment, tweak, play around with their sound, and decide exactly how they wanted to be portrayed. Once their music is out there, however, bands are saddled with the burden of their previous albums. So then what does the artist do? Do they produce an album that sounds extremely similar to their previous effort at the risk of being called derivative, a one-trick pony? Or do they experiment and continue to push their sound in new direction, possibly at the expense of alienating a fan base who already loves the music they make.

The more albums a band produces, the more complicated this question becomes. Trying to compare Please Please Me Beatles with Let It Be Beatles or Pablo Honey Radiohead with King of Limbs Radiohead is a foolhardy task. Did fans who loved the original sound of the band’s first album continue to refine their taste through the experimentation and growth? Or did they cease in their development after Help! or Creep? It is always an interesting question to ask the fans of bands with a large catalogue when they started listening, or their favorite “version” of the band. Often fans will have a ready response to this question and rattle off the codified ranked order of each album’s quality.

SMACKSOFT, a rotating collection of musicians with the enigmatic front-woman BoRyung Whang serving as the constant, is just such a band. Now six full albums in, the question for fans often arises on which version of SMACKSOFT do they like the best? Which line-up, which album, which sound?

With the band participating as a member of this year’s Korean offerings at Austin’s SXSW festival, an entirely new audience will be exposed to the diverse and impressive SMACKSOFT portfolio. Doindie was able to talk with BoRyung about her experiences, what she expects from the tour, and how she has dealt with her band’s malleable character.

DI: First, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. We’re sure you are super busy getting ready for the US trip and SXSW. So let’s start off by talking about your previous tours. This isn’t your first trip with SMACKSOFT overseas, correct?

BW : Correct. We did tour the states for about a month from Oct. 08~Nov. 08, 2012 in a trip that included Tijuana, Mexico, LA to Mexico to LA. Then we flew to Chicago to rent a car to drive to Boston to New York, Atlanta, Dallas, New Mexico then finally back to LA. We moved around more than 30,000 km. haha

DI: How do you feel about your slot at SXSW? Last year the group travelled under the label K-Pop. Do you feel like that’s disingenuous and an unfair descriptor considering the diversity of the bands performing? And are you satisfied with the way the bands are selected for those slots?

BW : Hell no. WTF. That is so lame. I’m not sure if it is the same this time though because SMACKSOFT doesn’t have a gig on the K-pop night out stage. Anyway I want people to know that Korea has more genres than just K-Fucking pop music. Or do they just think that whatever music a Korean plays is K-pop?

DI: Why do you think the Korean government feels it has to label Korean music as a nationalistic cultural export? Do you feel your artistic integrity is compromised or used at all in some of the political pageantry?

BW : Haven’t given that much thought. I feel like I’m in North Korea now that I think of it. As long as I get more of an audience, then it’s good for me.

DI: How does it feel when you have to play without the full band? Are you satisfied with the sound you produce?

BW : I play acoustic guitar when I play alone. It’s like drawing with a pencil or a charcoal stick with just one color instead of painting with full colors when I play alone. Not so much color to it but it has it’s own value I suppose. So my answer is Yes and No.

DI: Because you will be playing for an audience comprised of people who, ostensibly, have never heard your music, will you adapt your set list or playing style at all?

BW : I believe music makes people into one harmony. I just believe in it.

DI: When you introduce people to your music, what do you want them to take away or what do you intend for them to feel? And which songs do you think best represent SMACKSOFT’s sound as it has developed over the years?

BW : Marching Through War on the 5th album “Follow your Heart”, Horizon on the 4th album “Mana Wind”, and etc. Horizon sounds totally different when we play it live compared to how it sounds on the album. I want people to feel good and decent in their souls.

DI: How challenging has it been to maintain a core, signature sound with the ebb and flow of different musical talents inside the band? How has the turnover of musicians effected the direction of the band?

BW : Not so much of challenging. I write my own/ SMACKSOFT’s music and have players after I hear them playing. It is under control. Some times we jam and I arrange the sound to make new music also.

DI: More than many other Korean indie bands, SMACKSOFT seems to have a large foreigner following. Have you intentionally catered to non-Koreans at all?

BW : I grew up in the states and it seems pretty natural to me. Music is music, I do not have any other intention other than being creative, honest to myself, and making good sounding music. It’s pretty simple.

DI: Different bands like different reactions from their crowds. It’s always unfortunate when a dancy band has to play through a sitting crowd or a quiet band has to play through a raucous crowd. What is your ideal audience while you are playing?

BW : Like I said I believe music creates one harmony. We all become ONE. I just believe in it and it happens.

DI: Once again, thank you very much for speaking to us and good luck at SXSW!

BW : Thank you


Interview by: Alex Ameter

Before they head out to America, Smacksoft will hold a concert to help raise funds for the tour.

Date : 7th March (Fri) 8:00 PM @ Nestnada
Bands : 스맥소프트 (Smacksoft), 레인보우99 (Rainbow99) & 아폴로 18 (Apollo 18)
Cover : 20,000