SEOUL, South Korea –While K-Pop rules the roost here, Korea is also home to a vibrant indie music scene. On any given night, it’s not unusual for the Hongdae District in Seoul to have thirty different bands playing gigs. While Busan’s scene is not nearly as strong, it does hold the distinction of producing some of the more successful indie talent that have made the migration to Seoul in search of fame and fortune.
The Busan-born trio, Every Single Day are members of the old guard in Korean indie music. They formed in 1997, and were part of Busan’s indie-rock migration to Seoul during the late 90’s that included Rainy Sun, Ann and Pia.
Bassist and singer Moon Sung-nam, guitarist Jeong Jae-oo and drummer Kang Moon-chu did the Busan circuit until recording their first album Broken Street. Disk in hand, they headed to Seoul and her six million more souls in 1999.
The Seoul scene was much different than things back home recalls Sung-nam.
“In Seoul, it’s about business and connections to make yourself known. In Busan, you don’t have to do that. You can just be a good musician and people will hear you and know you. That’s the hard part about living in Seoul as a musician. In Seoul, you need good management, timing and luck, aside from just good music.”
And they did make good music.
Their first album is fun, poppy and very easy to listen to. “Kiss,” the opening track from Broken Street, is a blissful example of late 90’s pop-punk, offering up catchy guitar hooks, a hurried bassline and a melody that cajoles you into hitting ‘repeat.’
Jeong Jae-oo attributes that original style to Busan’s music scene at the time. “Our first album was made in the underground music culture of Busan, so there was a lot of influence coming from there. It wasn’t Seoul’s mainstream. That’s when we decided just to make the music we wanted to make.”
There was a college indie cult scene in those days, with punk drawing the largest crowds. To compete, the Busan groups united to help promote each other and book gigs. They dubbed themselves the “??????,” the Republic of Seagulls, after Busan’s mascot bird.
Despite banding together with other acts from Busan, the early days playing Seoul tested the bands passion for making it on the much bigger scene. They were the very definition of ‘starving musicians.’
“Since we weren’t living with our families, we were poor and had to get our own house and buy our own food. The Seoul artists could just live with their families. So, in the beginning, we couldn’t really have fun, we just had to survive,” remembers Sung-nam.
Jae-oo laments how the indie music scene is tough on a lot of non-Seoul acts trying to make it big. “I’ve seen many bands have bad experiences in Seoul, and two or three years later they just leave and go back to their hometowns.”
ESD endured, and after a Spinal Tap-like succession of drummers, they welcomed Hyo-yung Kim to the group and got to work on what was then their fourth album, which would be their breakout, The Bright Side. Released in 2008, the record contained the popular single, “Lucky Day” — a song that would change everything for the band.
Producers of the Korean drama Pasta liked the bands sound and added several tracks off The Bright Side to the soundtrack for their show. Building on that, the band was invited back to the small screen to produce the entire soundtrack for the drama, My Princess.
It’s nice to have TV royalties to help pay the bills, but the band went back to their studio roots and recorded the album Moment, in July of this year. Unlike their previous releases, the sound is more polished and produced, but it deviates little from their pop-rock Busan roots.
The opening track, “??” (Wings), begins with a distant, thumping techno beat reminiscent of what you might hear on the street outside a Hongdae club. Almost immediately, the band kicks in with a groove not unlike Passion Pit or Phoenix’s, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
The sound, however, isn’t typical of most Korean rock. Hyo-yung says that while ESD has remained loyal to their roots, many musicians coming into Seoul adjust to the taste of the times.
“Most indie musicians want to get on a label and become popular, so their style follows what’s popular at the moment. These days, there aren’t that many indie musicians that work with experimental sounds because it’s not popular within the mainstream.”
Lyrically, Moment swings between pondering personal relationships and celebrating the everyday living of life. In the track, “Dial,” Sung-nam sings remorsefully about a scrap piece of paper with a phone number found in his wallet after blacking out during a night of drinking. The song was written to express the “emptiness of the instant human relationships in modern society.”
With “I’ve Got It”, the albums only song completely in English, the lyrics (I was faking. I was shaking. Now, I’m solid. I’ve got it. I’ve got it.) are an affirmation of joy and confidence after too much time spent worrying.
When asked how much importance is placed on melody vs. lyrics in the songwriting process, Sung-nam said, “If music was a person, the melody would be the first impression and the lyrics would be the personality and thoughts of that person. When an audience listens to a song just once, the lyrics don’t matter as much to them. The lyrics are more important to someone that buys the CD and listens to it over and over again.”
The album’s final track begins with the band snarling back and forth at each other in the Busan dialect — which is the source of pride for Busan and a source of ribbing from Seoul. Although it’s just an outtake of the band confirming with the recording engineer before playing, the razor-edge pronunciation, dripping with attitude, gives notice that they are still Busan bred.
But they know where their bread is buttered.
“If we hadn’t moved to Seoul, we probably couldn’t have kept our band together and would probably have opened a music academy or raw fish restaurant, got married and had kids by now,” said Sung-nam.
Photography Jesse Lord & Oh Min Guk