In part 2 of my conversation with Decadent, we get more into the heart of what the band’s all about: the music. Blues-rock certainly isn’t a rare weapon of choice for bands from South Korea. However, what separates Decadent from many of their peers is how they wield it.
By now most of you know my introduction to the band came in the form of neo-blues track “A.” It’s only natural I had to ask them about its origins, but most pertinently, how the hell they even pulled it off. Blues is a deeply rich and cultural genre that isn’t for the faint of heart and certainly not for uninitiated pretenders attempting to wear the style for clout. While I have them in front of me I have to know if the music they create is predicated on the type of hard feelings usually associated with the blues.
”I do write things about any emotional circumstances,” Dennis begins. “But he’s”– nodding in Chang’s direction — “the one who writes about the real kind of love emotions. He was the one who wrote ‘A’ and ‘B.’”
Oh, so he’s the one who decided my emotions were his to play with, then? I indicate that I’m coming for him about the way he tore me to shreds with perhaps the most authentic blues I’d heard come out of the country up to that point. We all share a laugh. Little do they realize I’m dead serious.
After the laughter dies down, Dennis continues. “I do put some of my experience. But I don’t really come out and say… It’s hard to speak in lyrics, ‘It’s my moment, I got a hard feeling, I just broke up.’ I’m not the one who can write that stuff. But he does it well. I can sing it, but I can’t write it.”
But damn, can this boy ever sing. I tell him as much. I can’t help myself. His voice is what utterly destroyed me at first. Of course, upon deciphering the lyrics I was no more good, but my first impression was that voice.
“We don’t do ‘A’ today, so it’s sad,” he says. The information does sting a bit, considering it’s the root of my adoration of these musicians. However, I’m sure it gets tiring to constantly have to perform a song that everyone’s so obviously obsessed with. Even more tedious, perhaps, is having to talk about it as if it’s their only track. I assure Dennis there won’t be any pouting on my part.
But I do have to talk to Chang about how he managed to manipulate my emotions so easily with his lament about the frailty of love and the urge to cling onto it in spite of the heartache.
When I first listened to the song, it was on repeat for twenty solid minutes. Both Dennis and Chang are surprised, Dennis loosing a gasp and a sigh. There aren’t many songs that get caught in my soul and won’t let go like “A” did. It makes me remember the first time I listened to Jeff Buckley’s Grace album. “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” to this very day clutches on to me like the titular lover in sleep, not letting me move. Not letting me breathe.
When I ask if they’re familiar with Jeff Buckley, Dennis instantly responds, “Oh that’s one of my favorite artists.”
At the mention of my ardor for Buckley’s ode to finding hope in hopeless love, Dennis lets out another sigh as if the world was reborn in Buckley’s voice. “That’s a huge honor,” he says with humility in his voice. “Jeff Buckley is my favorite vocalist of all time.”
So now that we’ve established kindred spirits, I have to actually get to the bottom of what “A” is all about. I turn to Chang, the culprit of my shattered soul, and wait intently for the story behind the tune. “I think I started writing lyrics when I was actually about to break up with one of my exes,” he says matter-of-factly.
“You don’t have to speak specifically,” Dennis says with a laugh.
“I mean, I don’t fuckin’ mind,” Chang retorts. This is the point in the interview when I realize we’ve reached a camaraderie, at least a for the time we’re together. “Sorry for the language,” he says, mostly unrepentantly. I assure him it’s no foul on his part. After all, we’re all adults. Surely we can share a bit of harsh language.
“Okay I think that’s all,” he continues. “When it comes to the song it doesn’t have such a specific, in detail… I don’t consider it that way. And that’s how I meant it. The feeling, the initial reason I wrote the song, it’s not… You know, it’s supposed to be simple.
“And as a songwriter I think I can maybe talk a bit about blues. Where blues has come from. It’s from slavery.” Not many artists are brazen enough to dig into where the genres they sit in come from. Very few concede the inherent racial aspects of their music, how it’s steeped in a great deal of pain for my people. It’s refreshing to speak to an artist who not only knows but acknowledges the roots of his sound. I shouldn’t be surprised. If you’ll recall from the first part, Chang was adamant about the need to get back to music’s roots and to the point where the genres connect.
He continues, “What I find with blues is that it should be… it’s something about your life that’s in total dipshit, it’s totally fucked-up, but still you have to go on. You’re not so educated, so the way they somehow expressed it might sound rough, but they still had it under control.
“Just imagine yourself being a slave. I don’t think you can go on just directly facing the reality or whatever, you can’t go on. It’s too harsh, it’s too fucked-up. So I think it’s about that kind of attitude. It should be rough… I cannot find any better word for it. It’s rough, but you still kind of hold yourself. You shouldn’t just put it down in one song. And I think that’s what I do or how I do blues. That’s the perspective I have.”
“That was our first time too!” Dennis exclaims. Seems Chang feels he’s had to hold back in the past. Whatever his reasons, I’m grateful he’s giving me the privilege of understanding how his mind works.
With the history behind the song and its compositional origins in mind, I wonder if “B” stems from the same sort of experience. If it’s more of an extension of “A” or something completely different. “I would say it’s actually a Side B,” Chang says. “‘A’ still kind of holds on to hope. It’s about the will that they could go on. When it comes to ‘B,’ it’s the opposite I would say.”
Now speaking on Decadent’s self-titled LP, I’m intrigued to know the roots of the sound. For me, the A EP seemed to be more steeped in rock and funk. Decadent, on the other hand, expresses deeper shades of blues and R&B, jazz, elements of music closer suited to neo-soul. Perhaps not in the traditional sense, more a deconstruction of the genre as each part stands alone while also fulfilling Chang’s desire to meld together at their roots. Each song another branch leading back to a singular source. Does something like that just happen?
“I’d say yeah,” Chang confirms. “I don’t really personally consider the recent record something more jazz and blues. I don’t think so. Maybe it might have sounded that way because there was a lot more guitar tricks. Maybe that’s the reason.” I laugh at the implication that it was just a trick of their technical prowess. But my experience with soul has tuned my ear to the melodic makeup of those tracks.
Decadent runs the gamut of styles, from the resounding influence of 16- and 32-bar blues, to rock, and yes, hints of jazz. Though Chang doesn’t immediately see the jazz parallels, songs like “Peter Parker” have hints of modern jazz conventions like you’d hear from Jose James. “Ausgang” has the same sort of dissonance one might hear in something from Incognito or even the versatility of Quincy Jones. But obviously this is one girl’s perspective. I’m not above being corrected by the actual source.
“No, no,” Dennis placates. “Everything is not wrong about something we record. Actually,” he continues, “we gathered our music when we were planning the stuff for Decadent after we made the EP. We gathered around the songs and we made a story in it. So we placed them in, and there were three more songs left. We didn’t put them in. We had a lot of songs we were planning. We didn’t mean to be, ‘Well this album’s rock.’”
Not only are they invested in the emotional weight. Seems Decadent really does have a literary bent to their music as well, no doubt compliments of Dennis’s affection for poetry and his short-term education on the matter.
I’m now even more fascinated with the way the band’s music is structured. Their process seems more organic than organized, as if they come into the studio with either a basic idea or nothing at all and build from the ground up. I was referencing interlude “The Window,” whose composition seems to have come from a bit of riffing while goofing around in the studio. From there bloomed “Ausgang,” one of the album’s roomier, breathier tracks.
“I think it depends,” Chang says.
“It depends on the song really,” Dennis agrees.
“Sometimes we might find something by just jamming out,” Chang says. “Or sometimes we may make some certain plans, you know certain structure.”
Speaking of structure and best laid plans, I take a moment to acknowledge this is their second appearance at Zandari Festa. I’m interested to know how they find the festival so far in their second year.
Dennis sighs heavily, and Chang simply says, “Not really much is going on.”
“Actually,” Dennis begins, “we’re having gigs every week since September. It’s just another single event we’re having. But we all do our best. We try to do our best in every single show.”
I’m shocked at the breakneck pace they’ve set for themselves. But I can concede that it’s all a growth process, and growth can be both painful and exhausting. I wonder if they notice a progression either musically or even just in their studio decorum from this year to when they first performed at Zandari last year.
“Do you?” Dennis asks Chang.
The band leader takes a moment to think. “Well,” he says, a note of contemplation in his voice. “I think when it comes to recording I feel so. When I just started the band, I knew nothing at all. And I just started to learn, like how to design the whole sound stage. Yeah, I think I consider that growth maybe.”
I’m stricken with the closeness of this unit. They really do build from one another. They’d have to be able to trust each other to continue their upward progression, particularly after enjoying a certain amount of notoriety. I can’t deny that a huge draw for them is their frontman. Dennis has a voice that could absolutely break your heart. It’s when you delve deeper into the lyricism and musicianship that you give your soul away to the band’s whims.
The teardrop and holler in Dennis’s voice, the crooning ache of Chang’s guitar and his ability to bring poetry out of pain speaks to people who’ve walked the earth before. As something of a silly question, I want to know if they could come back as anything what would it be. After all, it’s almost as if they’ve all been here before with that kind of musical dexterity and soul.
“Of course, Jeff Buckley,” Dennis says almost instantly. “My favorite musicians: Jeff Buckley, Damien Rice, and do you know Ryuichi Sakamoto?” Sakamoto-san is as in tune with the stories of nature as Decadent are with stories of human nature. “That’s one of my favorite artists. I envy them a lot,” he admits. “And, of course, Amy Winehouse.
“Actually I learned lots from here,” he continues. “I was not the kind of person that sings like this. Even if you search out our things that we did in ’16, a live gig. I don’t really sing like I do now. So I learned a lot from him, and I learned a lot from them too,” he says, indicating his band mates. “Like how to sing more like Decadent inside.
“So the two vocals are Jeff Buckley and Amy Winehouse. And that really helped me a lot. I try to copy them. The way they use their voices, what emotional things, what songs they sing, and what circumstances they had arrive when they wrote them. I learned to think about those kinds of things.”
It’s not exactly a shocker that he’d profess his greatest musical influences as two late singers whose voices could change the molecules in a room. I’d say he’s succeeded in at least bringing the genuine soul they had. Or, I should say, Winehouse and Buckley have taught him well how to bring his own soul to the surface
“Thank you,” he says, a shy and humble chuckle chasing the words.”That makes me feel a lot better.”
While Dennis’s influences are well obvious and he speaks their names without hesitation Chang takes a solid 30 seconds to consider the question of reincarnation. “I think,” he begins slowly, his words measured. “I want to be reborn as the son of a some Latin family, Brazilian or Italian or whatever, and have a very lazy life smoking weed. Just have a very lazy life with very big support from my mom.” Thus we get another facet of the enigmatic composer and songwriter. That answer is everything I needed to hear on this drizzly Sunday.
“Yeah, I want to be stupid and lazy, smoke weed, play video games,” he says. The laugh we share is loud and obnoxious. It’s easy to joke with them, to be in on the gag at certain points in our conversation.
“A cat,” Christian says, proving the fact that I’ve found kindred spirits with the members of this band. “Just me,” he continues. “And I want to play the drums like Questlove.”
Meanwhile, Seol: “Guinea pig and koala. Because they are cute.”
Obviously it’s because he wants all the girls’ attention. When I say as much, both he and Dennis release a knowing, “Oh!” as if I’ve cracked the code of the universe. I mean, he doesn’t deny it, so there’s obviously something to it.
We’ve now reached the end of our time together. I’ve talked too much and they’ve got a sound check to get to. It’s fitting to end our chat finding out what their future plans are for themselves and the band. “For the band? Future plans?” Dennis asks, searching the eyes of his band mates. He constantly loos to them. He very much values every member and what they have to say.
“I don’t have one,” Seol says.
“To just continue on,” Chang adds after a few moments.
It’s a good way to live, day by day, letting the universe align itself however it will.
“That’s the healthiest way of living I think,” Dennis agress.
“As long as we have money,” Chang says. I can’t even laugh at the joke because it’s a shared desire. As with many artists I’ve had the chance to talk to, they all have jobs during the week they have to keep food on their tables.
“Yeah, we do,” Dennis reveals. “I work at a comic book cafe. And Seol works at Subway. We did it since the band started and even before.”
It’s an unfortunate reality for many if not most creatives. I too have brought work with me on my first trip to Korea, so I understand the sentiment.
“Let us go on,” Dennis says, voice heavy-laden with the reality of the situation. “With loads of money,” he adds with a rueful chuckle.
Decadent is perhaps the most intriguing band I’ve had the chance to interview, if for nothing else, the honesty and noticeable closeness of the members to each other. In the end, there were so many questions that went unasked, a lot of digging into their music I wanted to do. In hindsight I realize perhaps the moment got the better of me. However, some of the insights they shared were phenomenal. I’m forever grateful they took so much time to talk to me and let me be a fan and a confidante for the hour we shared.