As our readers will no doubt already know, South Korea has a very rich history of punk music. When it comes to the diversity of the scene, you’d be hard-pressed to find two or three bands that sound exactly the same. Each has a color and sound that adds more layers to the genre in the country.
Enter Gumiho. A band as mythical as the creature they’re named after. With raucous music and a lead singer with a voice that legends are made of, Gumiho crashed on to the scene earlier this year and have been on a rampage ever since.
They took some time to answer some questions for us!
Recently, you’re guitarist left to live in Cambodia and now you have a new guitarist, Yujin. Before we continue can each member tell us more about themselves.
Matt: I’m originally from LA area and was in several bands in the LA/OC area for many years before coming to Korea almost six years ago. I’m old and have been doing this for too long, but I can’t stop! haha
Caspin: Hello, Caspin here. I like colours and coffee stains on notes.
Yujin: I’m the new one. I’m so happy to join this band ‘cuz Gumiho is really cool !
Stephen: Like Matt, I have been playing in bands for a long time. Although, Gumiho is one of the most fun.
What got you into music?
Matt: If I hadn’t gotten into music I would probably be dead or in prison. I needed something to keep me out of trouble when I was a teenager, and a lot of my friends didn’t have that thing and ended up in bad places. Music was my escape and my outlet while keeping me moving in the right direction.
Caspin: Woo, I think everyone is pretty much the same, I guess, getting exposed to music since we were very young. We can close our eyelids to unsee things that we refuse to see; however, it doesn’t work the same way with hearing.
My dad used to play his guitar and sing when I was three. I remember my sister and I listened to him singing and sang along [to the] same songs over and over — it was ’70s and ’80s songs. Growing up, I sang solo at church (big Christian family from mum’s side) and in music classes. I was told I was loud. Got in troubles because of that but also saved some people’s asses. I only listened to pop songs in my early teenage days but was exposed to Green Day when I was about ten or eleven because my sister liked their songs. She soon stopped listening to them, but I discovered more bands and other genres from different countries.
Like Matt said, it was my escape. There were two major periods when I was saved by music. I wouldn’t be here without it.
Stephen: My dad was a musician, so there was always musical instruments around the house to play with growing up.
How long have you been singing, playing guitar, bass, and drums?
Matt: I have been playing bass since I was a teenager. My first band was a street-punk band called The Creepers when I was about 14 or 15 years old. We sucked but did open for Marky Ramone, so that was cool. It was a good chance for me to get my feet wet in the music industry as a teenager despite us not having much success.
Caspin: As in a band, from beginning of February this year. As a person who enjoyed singing, since I was seven.
Yujin: I have been playing guitar for 13 years. I started playing in a school band in college at first, and then I moved into the indie music scene.
Stephen: I’m not sure, but long enough I should be better.
Do you play other instruments?
Matt: I started playing drums, but I can’t really do that anymore. I can play power chords on guitar.
Caspin: Took guitar and drum lessons when I was eighteen, but quit a month after. Willing to learn them both again though.
Yujin: Piano, violin, flute
Stephen: I also play the guitar a little.
Often musicians play in different bands, have you played in another band or are currently playing in a band besides Gumiho?
Matt: Just Gumiho for me right now. I generally only do one band at a time but I’ve had two other bands previously here in Korea, and I was in Tora! Tora! Tora! back in LA many years ago. The scene is so small here most people are in multiple bands though.
Caspin: Nope, never. Gumiho’s the only one and the first. Was going to form a band with a friend’s friend who went to music school (he was damn talented, got a scholarship because he played thirty instruments, and he was good — you play a tune and he’d play it right away) because we liked the same bands. Meeting someone who has a similar music taste in real life was super rare for me. We practiced once. Didn’t work out because he wanted to sleep with me. I wanted to make music together, not mixing our flesh together.
Yujin: I’ve had some other bands before. I’m in Gumiho only right now.
Stephen: I also play drums in a grunge/punk band called Fastdive.
Matt, you mentioned you’re from Los Angeles. How did you end up in Seoul, South Korea? Where is everyone else from and what was their journey to South Korea like?
Matt: My wife is Korean American, so we came here for our honeymoon, loved it, and then decided to move here. I initially came to Korea to get my master’s degree but then after that stayed.
Caspin: I’m from a small town from Gyeonggido, ran away four years ago, and have been living and working in Itaewon since.
Yujin: I’m from Suncheon in the southern part of Korea. I came to Seoul 14 years ago to go to university. (My actual purpose of entering college was to do music in Seoul. Even though my major was law.)
Stephen: Like many people, I moved here to teach.
When and how did you all meet and decide to form Gumiho?
Matt: I came into this group through our old guitarist and basically band founder, Steve. I had talked to him a few times at shows but didn’t know him well. I saw him post something about starting a band on Facebook and said “You need a bass player?” which can be rare here in Seoul. Steve knew Stephen, and our previous second guitarist Stephen May (yes, there were three Stephens at one point) knew Caspin who wanted to sing in a band.
Caspin: Woo, I still remember this like it was yesterday! I sang at an open mic night once back in 2015 or 2016, I can’t recall exactly, but I wasn’t happy at the fact that I was too shy and scared to take any steps for my passion. So I started asking around people and friends if anyone’s looking for a singer in a band. When I was asking Stephen (Stephen May, who originally started the band with Steve, Mr. Coke Zero), and when he said he actually knows someone who’s looking for someone (he actually took his phone out and started texting), I thought he was just saying things to pretend that he cared about what I was saying.
To be honest, that was my last hope because it’d been months, but I’ve got nothing. So I thought, “Okay, this is it and after this, you’re moving on.” Surprisingly and miraculously, he wrote me next day to speak to Steve, and a week later, I joined their practice. I remember I was damn nervous, but everyone was super patient and supportive. They said, “If you like to sing, you’re in.” And here we are.
Yujin: I saw their “wanted guitarist” post on their Instagram. I messaged them right away.
Matt: Yeah, Yujin messaged like 10 minutes after we posted on Instagram. She then came highly recommended by everyone that knew her. People were like “JUST GET HER IN THE BAND!”
Yujin, how did you get connected with the band?
I didn’t know any of them. I just saw their Instagram. I didn’t even think twice, I just sent the message, “Hi, I saw you guys want [a] guitarist. I contacted you with courage.”
I quit my previous band almost two years ago, and I got tired of doing band stuff and everything. I think I was burned out. So I would say it was just like fate.
We often talk about the difficulties of being a musician. Most of the time bands express how hard it is to make a living and support themselves, so they have extra jobs/businesses on the side to keep doing art. This sometimes reveals musicians’ other talents or skills. Is this something you relate to? If yes, aside from Gumiho, do you do other work to support yourselves or have hobbies that generate income?
Matt: Being a foreigner in Korea typically means you are teaching English, which is not always what you went to school for. My background was in graphic design and video production, so I still do some stuff in that field but mostly just for fun. I support myself by teaching business English to adults and doing “executive coaching,” which basically means helping business people with their English skills.
Caspin: I suppose most of people who are in bands have full-time/part-time jobs. Paying bills is just ridiculous, even if you are only committed to your job. I support myself by working at a restaurant/bar. Hair colouring as a side job from time to time would be fun and nice, but I need to overcome my shyness first, I guess.
Yujin: I work in a small distribution company as a product designer and planner. And I’m a director of planning for an indie record production company at the same time. Recently I’m a candle artist also. I like to do as many things as I can. I’m kind of a multitasker.
You mentioned in your interview with the Korea Times there are many barriers to being a band in Seoul. What are those barriers?
Matt: I think the barriers are just becoming a part of the scene and becoming a person that everyone knows enough to get some shows. It takes a bit more effort here, and you have to put in the work, go to shows, hang out with people and build those relationships. The scene is smaller here, so relationships are important. It’s punk rock, but this is still Korea and relationships are key.
In LA all you need is a band and you can find somewhere to play, but the quality of shows there could be really shitty. Like, “Your band can play on Monday night” or the ever famous “Your band can play if you sell 50 tickets.” I always hated that shit and refused to do it. If you like us, then just let us play. If we’re good, people will come. Simple. I think I appreciate the tightness and relationships here to the cliques of LA. Surprisingly we have a very strong following with the hardcore kids here. I wasn’t really expecting that.
Caspin: As a person who was new to this industry, I thought if you’re in a band, you’re playing shows with your friends’ bands because that’s how my friends always did. Didn’t worry about anything because originally I thought we’d play once in two, three months, to be honest, and I’d be darn happy. We got super lucky as a new band so far, actually.
Have you ever gotten discouraged as a band because of these difficulties? If yes, how do you shake off those feelings?
Matt: In the past I used to get discouraged when there were problems booking shows or the crowds weren’t there. But as I got older I said fuck everyone else because really I’m doing this for myself. It’s fun for me to be in a band and gives me something to do that I love. If I start feeling discouraged, then I’m probably not having fun, so what’s the point then?
Caspin: We don’t because we get show requests constantly, sometimes several times a week or every other week. Like I said, we’re lucky!
What/Who has recently inspired you (books, magazines, newspapers, television, movies, video games, art etc…)?
Matt: I think all media can inspire me whether it’s new or old. I really like to revisit bands or musicians I haven’t listened to since I was a teenager or try some different musician or music genre I don’t know much about. Inspiration can come from anywhere I think.
Caspin: Oddly, I don’t get inspirations.
Yujin: I get inspiration from social issues.
Stephen: I really enjoy going to poetry readings and reading poetry. There is a publisher called Write Bloody that has released a lot of books of poetry I enjoy. “The Madness Vase” by Andrea Gibson was the last book I read, and I thought their poetry was wonderful.
Who are you currently listening to?
Matt: I’ve been listening to a lot of the local bands, especially hardcore bands as there seems to be a lot of good ones in Korea these days. The Geeks, No Shelter, SandyNoiz, Flush!!, and SLANT are all good hardcore bands in Korea. I also like Rumkicks from Seoul. Non-Korean stuff would be the new Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes album, Murder By Death, Blondie, Bad Brains, Impaled Nazarene. Oh, and I also got back into an old favorite black metal band called Agalloch. My old lead singer in LA has a new band called AreaMan that I really dig too.
Caspin: Random lo-fi and remix. Songs with voices and words make me nervous.
Yujin: Too many, not just rock music.
Stephen: Looking at my Spotify to see what I have been listening to the most lately it looks like my heavy rotation at the moment are mewithoutYou, Balance and Composure, Norma Jean, Have Mercy, La Dispute, Bane, The Menzingers, and The Wonder Years.
In times when the creative juices are low what do you do to rejuvenate creativity? What do you do outside of music that contributes to your musicality?
Matt: Shock the system, disrupt whatever it is you’ve been doing to create the rut. I like discord. I spend a lot of time commuting and that means listening to Spotify. This is when I get into some weird genres or go deeper into my fringe genres that I really love. Most people don’t know that I’m a huge black metal and Swedish death metal fan. I don’t really get to express it in most of the bands I’m in, but I go to that genre if I want to cleanse my musical inspiration palette.
Caspin: I drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. I constantly tell myself to sleep less because I think it’s a waste of time. I consume A LOT of sugar; I go through about 200g for my coffee only and six to nine packets of hot chocolate on a daily basis. I watch YouTube and Netflix to get distracted from pressure.
Matt: Caspin’s vices are sugar and coffee.
Yujin: Go to art museums or just sleep. Sometimes I get sauce of music from dreams.
Stephen: I really like putting on an audiobook or podcast and walking around the city. Spending a few hours outdoors always makes me feel refreshed.