Preceding the Pentaport Festival, I was granted permission to peruse the index of Korean acts about to don the weekends stages, for an interview of my choosing. While sifting through MySpace pages of said subjects about to play the festival, the search was halted upon discovery of the 'Sogyumo Acacia Band'. This Asian take on a 'Sigur Ros' type vocals rang through and caught my attention. Primarily a duo of MinHong Kim (guitar, vocals) and EunJie-Song (Melodihorn, vocals), accompanied live by a backing band, they have been playing together for 7 years. In the last couple years, the band has extended out with a side project aiding in the debut album of rising performer 'Yozoh'.
Recently (post festival), on one of the most humid days of a scorching summer in Seoul, we cheated the sun and sat down for a casual chat in the confines of a chic air-conditioned restaurant, and than extended the conversation to a nearby cafe.
translation by Soonae Jin (Pastel Music)
Q: What was your introduction to music or how did you get into it?
Yozoh: From our youth, it was very natural. We all started playing piano in elementary school (as is the norm in the nation) and it progressed naturally from there.
EunJie-Song: In this country, the school system and natural life is so hard to live, it's very strict and there is a lot of pressure to excel. I couldn't concentrate in this environment, so I tried to find something different. I would always listen to music in class to escape and get into my own little world.
Q: How did you know that you were good enough or that you would want to do this for a career?
MinHong Kim: In my life, I hate everything except one thing, music. So, I knew that's the only thing I wanted to do. When I served in the Army I bought a new guitar and decided to concentrate on making a band when I got out. I just felt rebellion against the country's discipline, I wanted my life to be more relaxed and in my control.
Q: Being in the Tent Stage audience (pictured below) at your show on the weekend, it was hard to ignore the growing fan base you've got, how did you perceive your Pentaport showing?
EunJie: Oh, we were quite nervous and excited, it was the biggest crowd we've ever played for.
Q: What do you do to relieve stress or get ready for a show backstage?
MinHong: Usually just some stretching.
EunJie: For Pentaport I was so nervous because of the crowd size that I began smoking again, after having given it up for so long.
Q: I noticed your set seemed to end abruptly or with no warning or acknowledgement of a last song, was this intentional or were you cut short of your allotted time?
Eunjie: Yeah, no it was just nerves, we had a plan and we hurried through the set and got done everything early.
Q: What are your thoughts on this festival bringing International and Korean bands together on the same bill?
EunJie: It's great for helping the industry grow. Something like 'The Gossip' with the lead vocalist being much bigger would never work here, image being so important. But it was great and now it opens up the idea or chance in people's minds. People being more open to various music attracts a lot more people to us.
Q: One of the crowd pleasing singalongs you played had the chorus "I want to taste your Banana". I'm looking at you and understand you to be Korean, so I'm wondering if it's the language gap or whether that song has the underwritten connotation I think?
Yozoh: Yes, it is sexual. Actually, that song got airplay on KBS(nation wide broadcasting network), but was eventually pulled after they figured out what it meant.
Q: How do you decide when to fit English lyrics into your music?
MinHong: Usually, we don't have much of it in our songs. For the festival, we really wanted to entertain, so we made the set fit to that. Because it's not our language and we don't know the grammar so well, we don't use it much.
Q: Any idea how Western music got popular in this part of the world?
EunJie: Well, actually the American military brought over the blues and jazz, during the war. Japan has also had a carry over to Korea.
Q: Online, I came across your cover of Neil Young's 'Harvest Moon'. How/when did you become exposed to Western music and what are the influences you carry into your own music?
MinHong: Growing up pre-internet, Western music was hard to come across, maybe one radio station would broadcast some songs, at the time there wasn't even an MTV Asia yet, but I really wanted to see more of the music, so I sought out a few places that aired the American version. As for Neil Young, I didn't discover him until some years ago. Now I listen to Neil Young in the morning, Bob Marley in the afternoon and Bob Dylan in the evening, another strong influence is Antonio Carlos. Also, I would like to create something like the Buena Vista Social Club here in Seoul.
Q: How do you carry these influences into your music?
MinHong: I love their music, but more I really respect the way they live their lives outside of the music as well and that's really what I aspire to do. But, that's where the similarities end, I'm not trying to be them, my music is Korean and I have to look at my life. I want to stay true to what is happening in my life and having my life reflect in my music is very important, I like the idea of art imitating life.
Q: On the weekend, I noticed the 'Melodica' is becoming a more and more popular instrument, how did it come to be so prominent in your songs?
Yozoh: (genuinely shocked) Really, it is popular?
EunJie: Well, we used to have an accordion but it was just so heavy to carry around and have on stage, so we brought in the Melodica and introduced it to Yozoh and she has become a master of it. We love the sound it emits.
Q: Are you wary of commercial success?
MinHong: No, we don't have a problem, we welcome it.
Q: What other hobbies do you have?
EunJie: Yoga. I spent a lot of time and money to find the right teacher, I find it very important to get all you can from Yoga.
Q: Obviously, the last few years in the industry have been dominated by the issue of illegal downloading, do you take exception to your music being accessible without your permission?
MinHong: No, not at all, it has helped us.
Q: Where do you make the income to survive on this as a solo career? Where is your music available?
MinHong: Composing, copyright.
EunJie: Our music is used as background music for blogs, ringtones, etc. It's available on Cyworld (itunes equivalent).
Q: Have you guys had any tours?
A: Yes, we get good crowds in Seoul and Busan (next biggest city), but some of the other stops are to a really small audience.
Soonae: They probably do the most shows in Korea. They play about a show a week.
Q: Have you ever toured or played a show outside of Korea?
Q: Would you be interested in coming to Canada and playing Pop Montreal.
Sogyumo Acacia Band
EunJie-Song - vocal, lyrics, chorus, melodihorn
Minhong-Kim - compose, lyrics, Guitar
Jooyoung-Jung - Bass Guitar
Kwanyoung-Kim - Electric Guitar
Jinho-Oh - Drum
Thanks to: Pastel Music & Soonae Jin
Co-contributor: Vivian Morelli