Date: 2008 May 11
Place: Die Volkbuhne, Berlin
Question: Hyunjoon Shin | Photo: Michael Fuhr, Hwasook Song
Editing: Hyunjoon Shin | English editing: Pil Ho Kim, Joseph Kim


[weiv]: Would you please say something about the changes in your everyday life after your daughter was born?
Valerie: It changed a lot. Now I have a child and am having a break. I started music again just a few months ago. It is true that there is little time for making music. This is my second time playing in public after my daughter was born. In a festival in Iceland last October, we took her there and it was very funny (laughs).

[weiv]: First, let us know what is going on with your upcoming record. What will be the direction of the new album? I think you did everything you wanted in Faking Books.
Valerie: We will play two new songs tonight that we started working on for the new record. The first is called “Our Inventions” and the second one is “Page.” About the direction or the concept of the new album, it will probably become more reduced and electronic again. The song “Our Inventions” shows a new direction for the new album. But it will take time — one or two years until the new record comes out. It always takes long because of the schedule of the other band members. As you know, Markus is playing in the Notwist and a new album came out just a week ago. Christophe, the drummer, also plays in Ties & Trickled Trio.

[weiv]: It sounds that the artists in Morr Music are like family.
Valerie: Yes, we were really friends. When Thomas started the label, we all knew each other very well and asked friends to join the band sometimes. I don’t mean that it has become a big business, but now I don’t know quite a lot of bands on the label. There are bands from other countries outside Germany on the Morr Music label.

[weiv]: Now the music industry is in a big crisis. Are there any special strategies from Morr Music?
Valerie: It is a worldwide phenomenon. Because of the Internet, everything is changing and everybody tries to hurry to catch up. Musicians want to live off of music and it becomes more difficult. On the one hand, Thomas still tries to sell records, giving a charm with special cover artwork etc. On the other hand, he deals with iTunes and others. But I don’t really care about the sales. Thomas can tell you. I don’t think Lali Puna is important in commercial terms (laughs).

[weiv]: I want to hear more about ‘Weilheim’ as a local music scene.
Valerie: Weilheim is a small town which is 50km away from Munich. I am from a different town called ***** near Weilheim. So the ‘Weilheim scene’ is a symbolic name. People there are not into music like us (laughs). But it is also true that things got changed since the Notwist became known. After that, Weilheim began to be mentioned in newspapers and magazines together with the Notwist. Before that, few people even in Germany had heard about Weilheim and there is no reference of the locality in our music.

[weiv]: When did you meet Markus Acher and the other guys in in the Weilheim scene? Also please explain the status of the Notwist in the German alternative scene. (Michael Fuhr) I saw you playing in Cologne as the support of the Notwist.
Valerie: I met him (Markus) when I moved to Germany in 1993 even before the LB Page days. I remember we played together in Cologne but I don’t remember “why” (laughs) because normally we don’t really mix the Notwist and Lali Puna. We wouldn’t do that because it is too exhausting for Markus to play in two bands simultaneously. And I remember something else…it was a very bad sound (laughs). Anyway the Notwist is an important band for the alternative scene in Germany. In the 1990s, the main music cities in Germany were Berlin, Hamburg and Weilheim. Surely, the Notwist has a place in the alternative scene.

[weiv]: Before hearing your story as an artist, may I ask more about your personal history? Also please explain “Puna,” which is known to be a misspelling of “Pusan.”
Valerie: I was adopted to a German family when I was one and a half years old. After my mother was divorced when I was 6 or 7, she took me to Portugal and where we spent some years until I went back to Germany when I was 17. So my mother tongue is German, I can speak Portuguese, but I don’t speak Korean. The reason why I remember the name “Pusan” is that my mother collected everything that they [the international adoption agency] gave her.

[weiv]: When you put the name of the Korean city in the band name, how serious was it? Does being “Korean,” whatever it means, have anything to do with your identity? In other words, what is your imagination about Korea?
Valerie: It cannot be said that I had been interested in Korea. But there was a friend of mine who said she was a half-Korean. She has relatives there and visited Korea. She wanted me to come to Korea with her, but I couldn’t. For me, she was a sort of starting point. But I still didn’t buy or read a book about Korea. Of course I grew up in Germany and my mother tongue is German. It is sort of important because I learned that, you know, I spent all my youth trying to be like everybody else, like my brother and sister, people at school and I thought it was not important how you look and where you came from. But as I got older, I learned that it is also important where you came from. For example, when Lali Puna went to Japan 2 or 3 three years ago, it was great because everybody looked like me!

[weiv]: I hope I can return to your “Asian background” or “adoptee background” later. Now I am more interested in your “Portuguese background.” Some of your songs were sung in Portuguese, like “Girls in a Bathtub.” But you didn’t post the lyrics on your website.
Valerie: When I wrote the Portuguese lyrics, it came to my mind at the moment. But afterwards I thought it would be strange to post the lyrics on the website, because it was written in “wrong” Portuguese (laughs). Perhaps the Portuguese would think that I am not from Portugal. Then I thought I should stop writing lyrics in Portuguese. I like the song very much. There is a sort of feeling in every language and it is difficult for me to sing in Portuguese as well as in German. By the way, I was not regarded as a “German” in Portugal. I was called ‘chinoco,’ a bad name for a Chinese girl.

[weiv]: When you sang in English, which singers were influential? You once mentioned that Nina Simone was important to you. To me, your singing reminds me of Jane Birkin or Laetitia Sadier (in Stereolab), especially in “40 Days” (a cover of Slowdive).
Valerie: Nina sSimone is important for me. I don’t know the exact reason why, but her way of singing is so special and unusual. I also liked Nina Person in the Cardigans. She could change the mood of her voice n in a natural way. It is more difficult to sing in a natural way. I also like Jane Birkin and Laetitia Sadier as long as it does not sound like [a la Francaise] (laughs).

[weiv]: Then. L let’s move on to your early career. The story of LB Page cannot be skipped. It was known to be a girl punk band and that you played the keyboard. But it is unusual for a punk band to have a keyboard. .
Valerie: It was not really a punk band but a “trash” pop band in the mid-1990s in the town where I lived near Weilheim. It was a band for the girls who could not play instruments well and it was just for fun. Girls are different from boys when they form a band. Everybody is interested in the first place (laughs). It was a fun time and it was important for me to have that band because I could learn a lot. But we had a bad ending and it was very dramatic. Half of us didn’t want to work on more things. I wrote some songs at that time but we never recorded. Only Stephie [the frontwoman of Ms. Jon Soda] and I wanted to make more out of them.

[weiv]: I think some of your first recordings are the tracks in Safe Side including “Everywhere & Allover.” At that time, the sound was quite noisier and “trashier.” than now. Also one of the early songs was titled “Antenna Trash.” Does it have something to do with the “trash pop” you said you played in LB Page. The sound in the recording is very noisy. In that sense, have you ever been regarded as “shoegazers”?
Valerie: I don’t remember when they were recorded. I remember that Safe Side was released as a 7’’ vinyl record and it was recorded by 4 track recorders. Every time you mix, it becomes noisier! “Antenna Trash” is a radio station in Portugal called Radio 3. Mouse on Mars, another German band, was invited by the station to have an interview and we just took the name. But here in Germany there wasn’t a big scene of shoegazers like in the US, the UK and France.

[weiv]: This may sound impolite… but when I watched some live video clips of “Scary World Theory” on Youtube, I felt that your voice didn’t sound as excellent as in the studio album. I guess that mixing Lali Puna’s vocal sound with other sounds in a live performance was not that easy. Moreover, there were two different vocal styles in one song: the singing voice and the speaking voice.
Valerie: No. I felt a little problem at live singing. When I played the song “Scary World Theory,” it was more like that the melody was just too high. I am fond of taking singing lessons to make my voice louder. When I don’t have lessons, it is a real problem for me to sing live.

[weiv]: After the first album, Lali Puna became a full band and the sound became richer. But isn’t it difficult to play this kind of style? I heard that some electronic artists don’t like to play live that much.
Valerie: Not really. Playing live and recording in a studio are different from each other and I like both. For a live performance, we make some parts longer and skip other things. It is the other way round when we record in the studio. Of course Lali Puna needs a lot of technical stuff while guitar bands can play everywhere. But it is still OK.

[weiv]: I would like to hear something more about how Lali Puna is received in different locations. First were your tours in the US good enough? An interview article said when you had a concert in San Francisco, you looked very tired.
Valerie: It was Lali Puna’s first US tour and it was very, very tiring. After playing a concert, we had to pack all the stuff in the van and drive to the next city… Oh, it was exhausting. In the second US tour, it was much better. More people came to see us play. We also rented a sleeping coach. But it was too expensive.

[weiv]: Then, which country was the best and the worst, respectively, for having a concert tour?
Valerie: The cities I like playing the most are in the East (Eastern Europe). In cities like Berlin, every band comes here to play music. But, for example, in the cities of Poland, there are not many bands going there. As there is not much choice for them, people really look forward to concerts. It also costs a lot of money for them to attend a concert. So they are really waiting for it and very enthusiastic. The worst are little cities in Germany. They don’t relate to it and it seems that they want different music. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, were also hard for me.

[weiv]: What about touring Japan?
Valerie: When we went to Japan 2 or 3 years ago, Japanese audiences were very enthusiastic. But they were very polite too! We played in live venues with about 400 seats in Tokyo and Osaka. Perhaps that year was a sort of Anniversary between Japan and Germany and we were invited together with Mouse on Mars. Except for playing music on stage, it was a great trip. It was also quite strange, everybody looked like me. It was funny that everybody looked at the German guys (other band members), not me.

[weiv]: When and how did you begin to connect with Japanese pop culture?
Valerie: In Munich, there is a Japanese community and there are lots of concerts by Japanese independent bands. They are not famous bands and come here and play just for fun. But they are quite creative and innovative. I was a part of the community. It was also funny that they were open to me just because of my look. I know a little bit that the relation between Korea and Japan is difficult but it didn’t matter in Munich. The good thing in the Japanese community in Munich is that there are people around my age and the community is quite independent-minded. It was just by coincidence. Most of them speak Japanese and English. They speak bad German (laughs).

[weiv]: Is there a “Korean” presence in Munich? Are Koreans less visible while Japanese are more there?
Valerie: There are two points. The first, as I said, my starting point is my half-Korean friend. We knew each other for a long time and she did her band too. We knew each other for a long time and I didn’t realize she was half-Korean until she said “Oh, you are a Korean too. You should visit Korea” about 8 years ago. I didn’t even know that there was a Korean community until she told me. I was totally out of touch. But the Korean community is totally different. Most of them are old people and not my age. Also it is basically a religious community.

[weiv]: Then how did you relate to “Korea” in any sense, if you could not relate to the Korean community?
Valerie: The second point. There were always some people after concerts coming and saying “I read about the history of adoption. I am also a Korean. I was adopted too.” They have the same case like mine and relate to the music because of my story. The percentage of adopted Koreans in the audiences of Lali Puna’s concert is not that high. They have something to deal with between “where you were born” and “where you grew up.” Obviously, a lot of behaving comes not only from the latter but also from the former. Meanwhile I try to think in this way: “how you look” and “where you come from” is important too.

[weiv]: What about their senses of belonging to any community?
Valerie: They are rather connected to an “adoptee community” than a “Korean community.” They are different from each other. As far as I know, one of them is doing something in the community of Korean adopted artists.

[weiv]: Despite my short stay in Europe, I sensed that Asian pop culture, for example, Japanese Manga and Animation, Chinese film and recently Korean soap opera, is rising even in Europe.
Valerie: For me, it is difficult to find independent Asian culture except some Japanese artists like Cornelius and Takako Minekawa. I didn’t know much about other bands. And I didn’t hear any alternative music from Korea and Asia.

[weiv]: If you come to Korea, what kind of reception do you expect (or not expect)?
Valerie: When I come to Korea, I don’t expect so much. For me, coming to Korea is about being as a tourist, it’s not coming home. I have different interests and emotional things to go to in Korea. But when I am there, I am a tourist. I don’t expect anything like…that people will be friendlier than any other country. Well, I am very interested in seeing Pusan and Seoul, just to see how life is there. But I think now I accept my history. For a long time, I didn’t want to go to Korea with a band. I knew there would be a big emotional thing for me to go there. But now, I can’t really say… I hope or I guess now I thought about my past and about Korea and I think I can deal with it. There was a time when I thought I would go there and cry. At that time, I wouldn’t like to go with a band, because it’s a different thing. Now I have a distance to it.

[weiv]: I do hope that you come to Korea with the band. Thank you for spending much time for the long interview.
Valerie: Thanks. Hope to visit Korea not in the distant future. 20100507 | 신호미

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