Korean Homesick Blues: the finest indie sounds from Korea

Bored with K-pop? Want to find something a bit more adventurous? Of course, you’ll already be an avid reader of Anna Lindgren’s excellent Indieful RoK. And now, if you want to listen to some of the most interesting alternative, indie and underground music around, you’ll be tuning in to Korean Homesick Blues, a regular podcast put together by British-born Dave Candler, a “music taste-maker with industry thwack in the UK and the US.”

Your heart might sink at the thought of a podcast. After all, how many times do you listen to a podcast and think to yourself afterwards that you just wasted half an hour (or more) of your life? With Korean Homesick Blues it’s a different story. The recording seems to be over before it has begun, and always leaves you wanting more. The focus is on the music rather than the commentary, and in fact sometimes you wish that the host would do a bit more talking. The eleventh podcast addresses this – an extended episode including an interview with The Used Cassettes.

LKL got in touch with Dave find out more. Here are the results.1

Korean Homesick Blues banner

How did you end up in Korea? How do you earn a crust?

My extremely talented wife became a professor of political science at a university here, and after 10 years of us both living and working in New York – me as an editor at the big tabloid there, the Daily News – we thought it was time for a different adventure. I’m prohibited from earning a crust here – I’m on a spouse visa! All donations to Korean Homesick Blues gratefully received – though that would probably be illegal, too!

What motivated you to start up your podcast?

I’m absolutely in love with the ease of making a podcast and the immediacy of it as a medium. Why more bands don’t do them for promotion, I don’t know. I’ve done four Korean Homesick Blues so far in just a couple of weeks. I hope I don’t get bored with doing it, but the quality of the bands I’ve been playing, and those I’m sure I’ve yet to discover, keep me going. No sooner have I finished one Korean Homesick Blues than I’m thinking about what and who’s going to be on the next episode. I’ve got to thank the bands for supplying me with so much good stuff. Podcasting’s very punk rock in that you don’t need much technical skill to do it, and for it to at least sound okay. It’s what the Internet was invented for! Each half-hour episode of Korean Homesick Blues takes just under three hours to produce. I’m amazed that more people aren’t podcasting. I’m a complete ‘novice’ (it says so on my Podbean status), but with recording software such as the one I use, Audacity, the poor man’s Pro Tools, and a couple of links to hosting sites, where you upload your podcast, really anyone can get up and running very quickly. It’s a little frightening how simple it is, to be honest. I started by doing a podcast of my favorite music, stuff I thought people should hear but then, curiously, found that idea quite unsatisfying, so I killed it. The world doesn’t actually need another collection of Arcade Fire, Bowie and the Gang of Four. It wasn’t a valid creative purpose, and, besides, it would have been illegal, or extremely costly. I’m a good boy, and I don’t downsteal music, and I only play songs on Korean Homesick Blues after I’ve received emailed permission from artists to use their material. I seek them out on sites like MySpace and Koreagigguide.com, then I write to them. I’m pleased to say that other bands are starting to hear Korean Homesick Blues and taking the first step to get in touch with me. I chose to focus on Korean alternative music because I knew so little about it, but, being involved over the years with bands as a musician and working in the music industry in both the UK and New York City, not to mention being extremely passionate about music outside the mainstream, I was intrigued to find out whether there was a scene here. I’m thrilled to say there’s a very vibrant scene in Korea, with some really terrific bands doing extremely interesting stuff. But, like everywhere else, they’re struggling to be heard, and I enjoy being a small part of helping them get their music out there. Some of the best people I know are those who helped me try to get my own music heard, when there was little in it for them.

roosevelthotelLAAug2009Are you able to compare / contrast the Korean indie scene with, say, the UK?

People are going to try to express themselves through writing and playing music wherever they are, so, in that sense, there’s no difference. There are bands stuck outside Seoul hoping to some day break into the big city scene, but I had a similar situation same in England, where I was ‘stuck’ in Liverpool hoping one day to make it in London! Funny thing is, bands in New York City find themselves in just such a rut – so heaven knows where they’re trying to get to! Liverpool, possibly. It actually doesn’t matter where you’re based, particularly with the Internet. If a band’s music is good enough, they will eventually be heard, and will become successful – whatever ‘success’ means.

Which bands would you most like to feature on your site?

The Used Cassettes! Another band from Seoul. I saw their name on a poster for a festival-type gig in Seoul, and was somewhat intrigued, and went on to check them out on MySpace, where I heard their song Breakin’ Up Captain. I was immediately in love. I’ve emailed them a couple of times to request their mp3s to play on Korean Homesick Blues, but haven’t heard back. Many, many more people around the world need to hear them.

Would you say there’s a different sound emerging from Busan, Daegu etc than from Hongdae?

Interesting question. You’d think that all the most explosive stuff would be being played in Seoul, supposedly ‘where it’s all happening’, but check out Genius, who are in Busan, on Korean Homesick Blues! That’s one fired-up band, extremely talented, very tight, and they make an astounding noise. Could be that there’s some frustration that they’re down there in Busan and not in Seoul, and that’s part of why they’re so good. But, hey, the Beatles were stuck in Liverpool for a little while!

I noticed that many of the tracks on your podcasts have English lyrics. Is that because the vocalists are Korean American? Or are they aiming to reach an international audience because the Korean market is so small? Or because it’s cool to sing in English?

I was actually hoping you would ask me this as I have been wondering whether to address the matter directly on Korean Homesick Blues. But I didn’t want to make such a big issue of it. To the outsider, it could appear very unbalanced. But the music’s on Korean Homesick Blues, and always will be, simply because it’s very good. The plain fact is that I speak minimal Korean, and all my promotion of Korean Homesick Blues, and commissioning of the music I play, such as ads in the Musicians section of Craigslist Seoul, is done in my mother tongue, English. Naturally, such postings are going to be spotted in the main by musicians who are native English speakers. However, I desperately want to reach out to Korean-language artists and, if their music is at the least very good, have them on Korean Homesick Blues, and to this end my Korean language teacher has translated my Craigslist ads, which I’m starting to get them out to various sites. Not Craigslist, unfortunately, which apparently doesn’t accept postings in hangeul. I really would like to get the message out that I want all good music coming out of Korea no matter what the language. That’s extremely important to me.

Some of the coolest vocals I’ve ever heard are by Jang Goon from the Seoul dub reggae band I&I Djangdan, who I’ve featured fairly extensively on Korean Homesick Blues. She sings in Korean, pansori style. Fantastic stuff. And I know for a fact that I&I Djangdan are doing extremely well outside Korea (both Anna Lindgren and Mark Russell chose their Culture Tree EP as one of their albums of the year 2008 – Ed). Again, their music is undeniably good enough. It shouldn’t be necessary to sing in English, but unfortunately, English is actually the rock n roll language. We should all write to our local representatives and get this situation changed! In the next couple of Korean Homesick Blues I’m going to be playing a band from Spain, Berri Txarrak, who sing in Spanish. They’re not from Korea, but they’ll be performing in Seoul, at Club Ta on October 30 and Club FF on October 31. I think they’re great, and I’d like people in Korea to go and see them. Curious thing is, anyone who may immediately have a problem with a Spanish band being on a supposed Korean music site should relax because with a podcast I have unlimited ‘air time’, and Berri Txarrak won’t be taking up anyone else’s space. Sure, if they were, I perhaps wouldn’t play them. I like to think of Korean Homesick Blues more as a reflection of what is going on here. I have to say, too, it’s also a reflection of my existence here.

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  1. Apologies to Dave for taking so long to post this. As you will see, the interview was conducted a couple of weeks ago. []

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