Being Korean is a state of mind

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Being Korean is a state of mind

The Koreans are not Korean, They are quite British. And they rock. Rather, the four-piece band plays what the members ― Oliver Hicks, Brent Newman, Rob Harwood and Chris Hill ― like to call “space rock.”
Based on South London, the band has just finished recording their first album with Lenny Franchi, who’s also produced for Tricky, Bjork and Garbage.
The Korean Broadcasting System had them on the TV show “Sponge” recently. “The name intrigued us,” says KBS’ Kim Hyeong-sun. “We checked out their Web site, and they have many fans.”
A review on the Web site Designer Punk agrees, declaring, “They’re certainly going to be one of 2004’s hottest new acts.”
While waiting for the album to be released, the Koreans are touring, honing their sound and listening to eclectic music. Influences range from Daft Punk to the Kinks to David Bowie and old blues musicians such as Robert Johnson. The IHT-JoongAng Daily caught up with singer and songwriter Brent Newman from his home in London.

Q. I’m sure you get this a lot, but why are you “The Koreans”?
A. The four of us first got together in 1999, and of course, we talked about what our name should be. We had a few Korean friends. They were really cool. Modern Western living seems to have erased respect and honor from society.
The first song we recorded was “Slow Motion.” We used an Oriental music box that Oliver found in a junk shop, so we had an Eastern style music. That made it the sound for us.
I quite like that whole idea that people find the name intriguing. It questions what everyone might think of us. We could be Korean in today’s world. It doesn’t make a difference. You have people who are Korean who look American.

What’s the second most-asked question you get?
“What do you sound like?” Musically, we’re a lot of styles. We’re aware of everything that’s going on ― hip-hop rhythms, electronics. Our music is space rock on two levels. It’s futuristic, but it’s also about minimalist space. If there are too many guitars, we take them out.

How did the band come about?
Growing up in Sussex, south of London, Oliver and I shared a love of music ― alternative music, grunge. I started writing songs, bad ones. We got Rob involved, then picked up a guy who had been in secondary high school a year below us, Chris.

Where would you say you are musically?
We’re on a steep upward gradient. We’ve got a lot of songs still to make. I like the idea that we can move things forward, take the audience with us. I feel like we’re in a moment in the Beatles “Hard Day’s Night.”

I hear the band has a bohemian life by a railway arch.
Rehearsal studios in London are expensive. We contacted a railway company and asked if we could use a space underneath a railway arch. They said all right. We bricked up the ends so you couldn’t see inside. It’s quite a kooky little bend. There’s a bedroom, recording studio, rehearsal room, kitchen. It’s become quite a scene. A bunch of bands share it ― the Cape, the Stains.

How was it working with Lenny Franchi?
Lenny Franchi heard our first single, “Machine Code.” He thought it was a good song, but could be produced better. He also did “How Does It Feel.” He really understood what we’re trying to do, and has his own ideas. He’s perfect for us. He has worked in electronic dance music and bands. He’s able to merge the two sounds. It’s an honor that he approached us.

Your mission in life?
Making people dance. We grew up in the weird times of ’90s dance music electronica. And then grunge. You stand there. Brit pop? New bands are into the rock ’n’ roll of the 1950s. You can dance to it. We want to be on stage making people dance.

No ballads then?
We don’t tend to play them, although swooning the ladies is always nice.

by Joe Yong-hee
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