Melting Faces: Interview with …Whatever That Means

In the past few years, punk rock in South Korea has gathered a lot of momentum. Though it still has a long way to go to reach the popularity of its sugary-sweet peer in K-pop, or even the sudden surge in notoriety of its equally rebellious cousin Korean hip-hop, there are a few bands who’ve created a name for themselves on punk’s underground. At the forefront as one of the pioneers of the punk movement in Korea is band …Whatever That Means.

A band who saw its beginnings celebrating lead singer and guitarist Jeff and bassist Trash’s wedding has been going strong since 2009, keeping the early essence of punk rock alive in Korea. Having toured the US and multiple countries in Southeast Asia, including concerts in Malaysia and Singapore last year, and featured in documentary Us & Them: Korean Indie Rock in a K-pop World, …Whatever That Means has spread the punk gospel to anyone willing to listen.

With as busy as the band stays, I was very fortunate that Jeff took time out of preparing for the band’s second US tour and the release of their collaboration with band Burn Burn Burn to answer a few questions for our Rock ‘n’ Seoul’s readers.

Camiele: Thank you for your time. I really appreciate it. First I wanted to know who are some of your biggest musical inspirations?  Beyond your musical influences, what else has inspired your sound?

Jeff: I grew up in the midst of the American punk explosion of the 1990s and have always been really influenced by the bands I discovered back then. Bad Religion, Face To Face, The Descendents, The Bouncing Souls, MxPx… they’ve all been huge influences for me. I love the way they all mix all of that angst and aggression with just incredibly melodic music. Beyond those specific bands, I think a lot of our sound is just influenced by a desire to energize the crowds we play for. We want to write songs that people want to sing along with, songs that make people want to jump around and get out whatever has been pent up inside all week.

C: You have many songs about love, particularly falling in love and missed moments (The Newest Hope EP in particular). How much of your experience is put into songs like that?  How much of it is trying to express something universal?

J: I’m not good at writing songs about “universal” ideas. I think they are probably things that people can relate to, but all those love songs have actual stories behind them. Most of them, all the happy ones that is, were inspired by pretty specific moments with my wife/band mate, Trash. I wrote “Never Be The Same” as a wedding present for her. That one is about when we were engaged and she called to say she’d bought her wedding dress, and it was like, “Whoa, this is real now.” I wrote her “More Than Ordinary” while we were on our honeymoon. The less happy love songs like “The Nothing,” “Get Over It,” and “Crazy” are about failed relationships from my past.

C: Sixty-Eight, Twenty-Two seems to be your most personal release to date. The music seems to focus more on personal stories than universal experiences. Did you set out to make an album that was more biographical?

J: I didn’t plan for the album to have a theme, it just kind of came out that way. I didn’t really notice it until I read our album review in bROKe in Korea when Jon Dunbar compared us to the Heimlich County Gun Club album that came out around the same time. Jon pointed out that their whole album was kind of about being lost and searching for a new home after growing up in Korea, and ours was about finding my home here in Korea. Like I said, that wasn’t the intent, but I guess it makes sense.

I wrote most of that album in 2012. Trash and I spent that year living back in the town where I grew up in Pennsylvania while I was in graduate school. It was great to spend so much time with family and old friends, but I was so homesick for Korea all year. That’s when I really knew that Seoul was home now, and I guess a lot of the album reflects that.

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