Q: Glad to talk with you. First of all, please introduce yourself to us(‘which kind of job do you have’, ‘how old are you’, ‘where have you grown’). In the case of three Korean American(including John Lee), what is the relationship with Korea. Are you 1st generatin or 2nd generation? Especially as for Sooyoung, we guess you are 1.5 generation of Korean American in that you still use korean name.

A: I was born in 1967 in upstate New York, but I basically grew up in West Virginia, which is a small, rural state on the East Coast of the U.S. So I guess that makes me 2nd generation, at least technically.
I used to consider myself a full-time musician, since we supported ourselves with our music, but lately I’ve been working as a computer programmer on the side. It’s not something I’m really passionate about, but I enjoy it in a completely different way. My relationship with Korea is complicated, especially since I have no childhood memories of it. I first visited when I was 27, so at that point I was already an adult, and although my experiences during that two and a half months were amazing, I was also constantly thinking about history and the context in which Korea developed. So it would’ve been nice to visit at a younger age, because sometimes knowledge just gets in the way.

Q: We want to know about your parents and families. When did they leave Korea, and so forth. We guess your family is somewhat different from ‘ordinary’ Korean American famliy in that you grew up to be a indie rocker. We are also curious about your life in college. In the articles about Seam, you are known to play music in Ohio(Oberlin), North Carolina, and so forth, before you move to Chicago. That’s a little perflexing.

A: My parents came to the U.S. as students in 1962, but didn’t meet each other until 1965. As a child I always thought of them as very Korean, but in retrospect they were (and still are) really Westernized. My brother and I were basically latchkey children, since both of our parents were working all the time. They always spoke English around us, which is why I can’t speak or understand Korean. These days we have a good relationship, but I have to say that they weren’t very supportive of my decision to become a musician. When I was really poor and struggling to make ends meet, I had the feeling that I was on my own.

Q: We want to know how your band Seam was formed.

A: Seam formed in 1991, just as my previous band was winding down. I had written a lot of songs that just didn’t work with the other musicians I was playing with, so I started Seam as an outlet for performing those songs. At that time I was getting less and less interested in playing complicated, baroque music and the idea of being in a simple pop band really appealed to me. Over the years Seam has changed and become a little more musically complex, but we still have that minimalist spirit we started with.

Q: Please tell us about the scene which Seam belongs to. Where is your base?

A: We don’t really belong to a specific music scene. Occasionally we tour with bands we like (Versus, J Church, Korea Girl, and Spent all come to mind), but I don’t think we fit into a particular genre like punk, emo, or post rock.
Our records sell best in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, New York, and Chicago. We usually play those cities at least once a year. Personally I prefer playing on the West Coast because audiences seem more open-minded and less trendy, and the Korean food is better. L.A. can be really fun – a lot of Asian American (mostly Korean and Chinese) kids come out to the shows. I hate playing in New York. That city drives me crazy.

Q: We did not have much informations about US indie rock. First of all, explain ‘generally’ U.S. indie rock.

A: Some indie rock bands, like Pavement, are really too big to be considered indie. To me, indie means independent – bands that take care of things themselves and distribute their records outside of the mainstream distribution networks. These bands don’t really care about making money, and are more concerned with how their records are marketed and try to make sure that their business is conducted in a fair, ethical way. Of course it doesn’t always work, but that’s the general spirit. Recently I’ve seen some great indie stuff coming out of the Netherlands, Japan, Germany and Taiwan, so it’s not just an American thing.

Q: What is the goal that your indie bands(including Seam) truly seeks?

A: That’s simple. We want to write and record music that we enjoy playing without being told what to do by our record company.

Q: And how many copies of a record must be sold for indie band to survive as a professional musician. In case of Seam, how many copies per album? We are not investigate you. We only want to know the economic aspect of indie music scene. If it is not appropriate here, ‘no comment’ will be OK. And we will not publish your answer if you don’t want to.

A: Well, it’s different for each band, but I’d say you have to sell at least 15000-20000 copies of a record. Otherwise you probably won’t have enough of an audience to support the constant touring it takes to make it professionally. Our last two records have sold somewhere within that range, worldwide.

Q: We think indie acts are different from major acts. For example, Tour, recording, club concert etc. What are the differences?

A: Indie bands have to tour to survive, so in that respect, they are no different from major acts. This is a big country so touring the U.S. twice in a year can easily take 4 months, and Europe might take another month or so. It’s quite easy to spend 6-7 months on the road. That kind of travelling can really wear a band down. Recording budgets are typically much smaller, so indie bands are forced to be more resourceful in the studio.

Q: Please, explain your music generally. We feel your music is a little difficult for ordinary people to enjoy. We mean that your music would not satisfy ‘everyone’.

A: Our aesthetic is that of the both/and. We try to use every musical element: soft and loud, complex and sparse, fast and slow. I think anyone can enjoy it, but it’s not for noh-rae-bang.

Q: Who is the main audience of Seam? We guess that it’s ‘college people’. Is it true? And who are they? What kind of flavor they have?

A: Most of our fans are 20-30, either still in college or recent graduates. It’s difficult to sum them up as a group since I don’t know most of them personally.

Q: Does the so-called ‘Chicago music(or Chicago scene)’ exist? If it does, What is the place and role of Seam in that scene? In Korea, a few people have paid attention to ‘postrock movement’. Personally I want to know David Grubbs who was in the Bitch Magnet with you and Bundy Brown and David Pajo who was(and is) the member of Tortoise.

A: Chicago is a big city with a lot of musicians, so there are all kinds of different scenes here. Right now there’s a lot of post-rock coming out of Chicago which is generating media attention on a national level, but there’s always so much other stuff going on: hiphop, jazz, blues, punk rock, and electronica all have their own vibrant scenes here. I haven’t seen Dave Grubbs in a long, long time. He has played around town with various people, but we’re doing very different things these days, so I don’t run into him often. Bundy Brown (who is half korean, by the way) is working as a paramedic and occasionally playing music. Next month he’s performing with Charles Kim at the Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival. Both of them are great musicians, so I’m looking forward to seeing that. The last [Directions In Music] record that Bundy did is amazing. I listen to it quite a bit. Dave Pajo lives in Kentucky, so I almost never see him. I’m a big fan of his band, Aerial M.

Q: I thought that ‘typical’ music of Seam were the albums [The Problem With Me] and [Are You Driving Me Crazy?]. It may be said “Slow burning and exhalation”. But recent album [The Pace Is Glacial] seems a new attempt, but U.S. critics are not so in favor of your latest albium. What is your comment on that except ‘the critics suck”.

A: Most of the time I don’t pay much attention to what critics say about our records. What matters to me is how we feel about our records. Overall I was a little disappointed with the sound of [The Pace Is Glacial]. We had technical problems during the recording, which caused us to go over budget and compromise on a few things. But I feel like the songwriting on [The Pace Is Glacial] is stronger than on any of our previous records.

Q: It seems a vulgar question, but what is your opinion about ‘once alternative bands(etc. R.E.M., Nirvana, Pearl Jam. Smashing Punmpkins)’. They are popular even in Korea. People in Korea may be curious about your opinion.

A: I guess I respect the hard work that some of them put in to building their careers, but other than that I don’t have much to say about their popularity.

Q: What is the sources of bitter melancholy in your music? Does it have any relation with life as Korean American?

A: Some of my lyrics deal specically with my experiences here as a Korean American. Even though I lead a relatively privileged life in the U.S., I definitely am bitter about certain things in this country, especially about the ruthless brand of capitalism we embrace here. This is the richest country in the world, and yet more than 200f it lives in poverty. You simply don’t see that kind of inequity in France, Japan or pretty much any developed country. For me, it’s a source of han.

Q: We did not feel ‘the korean thing’ very much. The fact that you want to play in Korea was ‘unexpected’. Most of us cannot figure out the meaning of your lyrics. Rather we liked your music because you played music well ‘unlike korean’. Your music is not familiar to koreans living in Korea and we don’t know it fits Korean American taste living there. In short, what is ‘the korean(or the asian) thing’ in your music if it exists?

A: Of course we wanted to play in Korea! Outwardly it may not seem like we have much of a connection with Korea, but I feel very comfortable walking around on the street in Seoul or in the countryside, even though I obviously have problems communicating. I can enjoy an anonymity that isn’t possible in Chicago, or anywhere in the U.S. Our music doesn’t appeal to most Korean Americans. All we can do is make music we believe in and hope that people will buy our records and come to our shows. My identity as a Korean/Asian American is an important part of what I choose to write about, but we don’t really do anything to specifically target a Korean American audience. I should say, though, that there is a small group of people doing interesting things who are on the margins of the Korean American community, like Yu Tae Won (of the bands Kicking Giant and the KG), Helen Lee(Korean Canadian filmmaker), Michael Kim (publisher of the fanzine Secret Asian Man), Elizabeth Yi (of the band Korea Girl), and Cliff Son (filmmaker).

Q: We also heard about FAAIM. Please explain the motive of founding FAAIM, the events you did, financial management and so forth. In relation to FAAIM, it seems that [Ear of the Dragon] needs to be commented. More broadly, in what ways does the cultural communication and solidarity between Asian American realized in U.S.? As It is a ambiguous questions, please explain at length. And personally of you, does the identity of Asian American be in the way of your career as a more successful rock musician?

A: FAAIM (Foundation for Asian American Independent Media) was formed to address a lack of Asian American media representation. For people living in Asia this might seem esoteric, but since we are minorities in this country, it’s easy for non-Asians to forget that we exist.
I can’t explain it in writing other than to say it’s very strange growing up watching TV and movies without seeing anyone who looks like you. If I had to sum it up, that is the experience that brings Asian Americans together.

Q: We heard you have visited Korea several times. Have you listened to korean pop(ular) music. If so, what is your favorite? And do you communicate with korean musicians?

A: I don’t listen to much gayo (kayo?), but I really like some of the more underground stuff that I’ve heard, like Puredigitalsilence (PDS), Deli Spice and Yellow Kitchen. When I come to Seoul I try to stop by Citybeat Records in Hongdae to buy CDs. We also keep in touch with a couple of Korean bands by e-mail. Sometime in the future I’d love to see Korean punk and indie bands come to the U.S. to play. Japanese bands come here all the time, even though most of them aren’t very innovative or interesting.

Q: Korean(=Seoul) indie scene is only in the burgeoning stage. ‘Soran 99’ that you are invited is also a small show. What are you thinking of Korean indie scene?

A: I don’t know much about it, but I’m glad that there’s more to Korean music than S.E.S and H.O.T That kind of high energy music gives me a headache.

Q: How about the music of Deli Spice that you will collaborate on recording session. In addition Korean indie acts(including ‘a little successful Deli) seems to confront a situation in which they cannot expand their fans any more. Is it possible for them to ‘go to the U.S. Market’. and what you think are the necessary conditions for it to come true?

A: Deli Spice is interesting because the record I heard covers so many genres. I’m surprised to hear they aren’t big in Korea. Then again, I don’t know much about the Korean music market. It might be difficult for them to break into the U.S. market because of the language barrier. But their songwriting is great, so you never know. I guess the U.S. market is important, but Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan make up a huge market just in themselves. That’s what we’d like to focus on over the next couple of years.

Q: We heard that your record might be released in Korea under license. Congratulations! If you have something to say to Seam’s audience in Korea, please tell us.

A: Study hard and listen to your parents! No, I guess I just want to say that we’re really excited about coming to Seoul to play and having our records released in Korea. We’ve played in a lot of different countries, but never in our homeland. It’s a different feeling, especially for Sung Woo, John Lee and me, and one I’m sure we’ll never forget.

Q: Congraturations on your show in Korea. And last of all, Would you tell me which kind of things are needed for lasting relationship? I’m sure you’ve got some (potential) ideas.

A: Balance and trust. 19991023 | 신현준 [email protected]