If any band encompassed the idea that what happens on stage is just a persona, the vocalist and guitarist that comprise the now-duo DIEALRIGHT is it. Their music is raw noise, pure sex-and-rage-filled energy that translates like magic to the stage. However, meeting them for the first time, a nervous endeavor for me, if i’m being honest (the band is undeniably one of my favorite in all of South Korea), I’m struck by their seeming shyness. It doesn’t help that neither one of us speak each other’s language very well (though to be fair, their English is far superior to my attempts at Korean). That being said, with a little effort, we have a rather insightful conversation.
I wanted to make the interview as comfortable as possible for the two of them, in particular DIEALRIGHT’s enigmatic lead, Chae Song-hwa, who took on the role of band representative and spoke the most. I provided her with some questions and gave her a chance to write out her thoughts. It all began with a tentative introduction.
“We are a band called DIEALRIGHT in Korea,” she begins, her response clearly practiced. She goes on to describe the band: “Garage punk rock duo. We are trying to make music that is easy to enjoy, stylish. Before we were trio, but now we are duo.”
I’ve always been curious about where the name came from. It’s clear Song-hwa wants to engage with me, and she does quite well. She is hesitant, but the both of us are a bit out of our element. So there’s nothing for it. She dives right and even with an answer in her head, she speaks confidently. “You know the band the Hives? I love [them]. When I thought of a band name, that song of the Hives kept spinning in my head. So I decided on that.”
With the passion DIEALRIGHT displays, both on record and on stage, I’m obviously curious as to where this love of music came from, what made them want to start making the music that would draw me to them so fervently.
“I have been interested in music since I was very young,” Song-hwa says. “I think it was very natural. Play the guitar, make the rhythm, attach the lyrics, hum the melody…”
It’s obvious from the aggressive way they attack the music the expression is very natural. They hold nothing back, reserve nothing for anyone’s sensibilities. In fact, they give me the same sort of Wild Child vibes as some of my favorite rockers, Joan Jett and the Pretenders. “I like Joan Jett and PJ Harvey. But I think we’ve been influenced by the many different [types of] music we’ve heard. Among them, we think The Kills and Dead Weather.”
Their love of The Kills is particularly fascinating to me. I can certainly hear the same raw-textured sound prevalent in the female-fronted duo. It’s all emotion, all ragged edges. I think Song-hwa has a grittier slant to her sound — the type of voice that instantly made me draw my initial comparison to Joan Jett. But her natural sensuality and Sung-il’s steadiness as the bassist give them a softer core than you’d think, very similar to the chemistry of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince.
Beyond music Sung-hwa reveals their inspirations come just as naturally as their desire to play music. ”Life,” she says. “Just life, our story. We’re going through something every day. Everything can be an inspiration.”
Their outlook on their inspirations is comparatively serene when stacked against their aggressive sound. They remind me very much of another band that attacks their instruments with the same ferocity, through a different outlet all together. Jambinai is a band that’s gotten attention for their marriage of traditional Korean music and metal. Loud. Raucous. Completely twisting the understanding of what Korean music can and should sound like. The initial response to what they offered was one of relative shock.
It makes me wonder what the response was like for DIEALRIGHT when they first started promoting their brand of female-fronted punk. “Most of the reactions were not bad. They see a woman, strong woman…” She pauses to think of the words. Instead she opts for a visual representation. She raises her fists in the air and stage whispers, “Woo-hoo!” It’s a moment that breaks the semi-tension of a thick language barrier. That, after all, is a pretty universal reaction.
“I love that about your band. I love strong women in music. We need more strong women.” Song-hwa agrees, her smile truly brilliant at the sentiment.
It’s at this moment when Sung-il chimes in: “Now we play music just a little hard. Before we played real hard. Now just a little.” We share a laugh. Mostly because it’s a joke that even without knowing each other we’re all in on. If there’s one word to define the type of hard rock they produce, “little” would not be it. And honestly, they have no real qualms about the noise level. “No, we don’t care.” Another laugh.
This, of course, is what makes DIEALRIGHT so fascinating to me. They have a calmness about them when they take their seats for this interview. Perhaps it’s just a means to ready themselves for our chat. But if you really pay attention to them on stage, they honestly are 100 percent comfortable up there, giving the crowd a show. What we hear in their music is honest-to-goodness rock that isn’t insistent. It’s powerful and unapologetic, but for them it really does seem like they’re just having a conversation, introducing the world to themselves one track at a time.
“Every song is me,” Song-hwa says honestly. “Every song is different, but every song is about me.”
Of course, I have to know which song is the most personal to her. “Our new song. Name is ‘Me, Mine.’ It was a song made during the most complex emotional state,” she reveals. Thus another facet of the band that many might not hear under all the bravado. Song-hwa is a really emotionally complex and open person. The music on their latest album, Minor World, certainly had a moodier pacing to it than the work on Satellite.
In particular, track “When We” was dark, a piece of blues tucked away behind elegant rock chords. “The song was very sad and sad and sad and blue,” Song-hwa reveals. “Very hard and talked about inner problems and past events. About regret.”
Indeed. There’s certainly something there that she seemed to want to get out of her system. It’s easy to see that even when timid off stage, they can’t help but put every ounce of themselves in the music. “Why did you want to know?” she asks, curious as to why this song in particular struck a chord with me. It’s the heaviness of the track. It weighed on me. Having gotten used to the grittier, balls-to-the-wall complexion of their music, “When We” seemed to point to something a bit darker. It was really quite heartbreaking.
“Sorry,” she says with a laugh. Despite the heaviness of the topic, the both of them are very generous with their smiles and laughter. It’s really heartwarming and does a great job of easing us into a camaraderie, even if just for the 20 minutes we talk together.
“I like dark songs,” I say, more laughter following the sentiment.
“Our new song, ‘Eternal Dreams.’ I think you’ll like it,” Song-hwa says, and again we share a laugh.
Through those moments of melancholy, however, they honestly just want their audiences to enjoy the DIEALRIGHT style of punk rock. “Enjoy is very important,” Song-hwa says. “Just enjoy. Dance and move. We want people to enjoy our music when they listen to it. Just not serious, not hard.”
It’s clear that audiences do and will continue to do so. In the past couple years, they’ve played notable European music festivals (Liverpool Sound City Music and Primavera Sound). They were also invited to use their music and perform in an independent short film called Future Flu. I’m anxious to know about those experiences.
“It was a really good experience,” Song-hwa says of performing in Europe. “I am grateful for the goodwill people have shown. If we have a chance, we want to go to America and Spain again, again, again. But there are no specific plans yet.”
My hope is to get them to South by Southwest (I’m selfish like that, you see). “We hope too!” she says, the brightness back in her voice at the prospect.
With a short film soundtrack under their belts, it’s only a matter of time before more opportunities like SXSW come knocking. “I was surprised and excited,” she says about getting asked to use DIEALRIGHT’s music in a film. “She (director/producer Rebecca Davis) wanted to use our music for her movies, and we thought, ‘What?!’” We all laugh again.
Song-hwa is incredibly expressive. She wears every emotion openly. “We saw the finished movie. We saw ourselves on the screen…” She gives a sound halfway between a sigh and a child’s exclamation of excitement. It elicits another laugh from everyone at the table. She’s got quite a way of expressing herself that’s incredibly endearing. “We were very excited. It was a very interesting experience when I watched a movie that was finished.”
Though Western tours aren’t on their plate at the moment, they’re a band on the move and won’t be stopped. “We are very slow, step by step. We will not hurry. We’re just beginning to change. We will prepare an album and a fun show. We are also thinking about using YouTube and live streams.”
Alas, we’ve come to the end of our conversation. Though there aren’t any more questions, it’s hard for me to want to part ways because they truly are incredibly sweet and giving people. As such, there was no other way to end this interview. I ask what they want to say to their fans in parting:
“We are coming!”