Jun 042014

(l to r) Sol Han, Annie Ko, Toby Hwang

One of the highlights of the recent Music Matters Live ’14 was the Korean indie outfit Love X Stereo. The band brings a modern alternative-electro sensibility to influences from 80s post-punk and 90s alt-rock. Live, the trio are a powerhouse with the undeniable chemistry amongst dynamic bass player Sol Han, inventive guitarist Toby Hwang and front-woman Annie Ko being simply irresistible.

In the studio, Love X Stereo have already produced three fine EPs and one truly memorable single – “Soul City (Seoul City)” – that personifies the word ‘soaring’ and is definitely one of the most exciting Asian indie bands out there. Singer-keyboardist Annie Ko is the focal point of this dynamic trio, with her good looks, powerful vocals and boundless energy and she was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to talk to us.

We understand that you lived in the USA for a bit – is that true? Can you tell us a little about that experience?

Yes. I lived in LA when I was really young. My dad was working on his PhD at UCLA. I remember that we had great weather, occasional earthquakes, and very little rain. But I was too young to remember all the little details. However, to look back then, I was very much influenced by 80s pop music. My personal hero was Cyndi Lauper.

Does being able to sing in English help with an international audience? Or does it make no difference?

Yes. It makes all the difference. Our lyrics come out naturally in English. It’s not that I want to, it just happens that way. And that defines our sound as well. I do think that we do have more foreigner fans than Korean fans, definitely.

How did you get your start in music?

I used to learn piano and violin when I was young. And singing along the tunes in the back of my dad’s car was my favorite hobby.

When did you decide that you wanted to take music making seriously and why?

Realizing that you know how to do this and that better than others – that was the problem. I was a really good pianist and a really good singer of my age. But I was never encouraged to be a professional musician. In fact, it was the very opposite. Basically, in my youth, I was told not to do music (not even for fun) from every adult I knew back then. I was a very troubled kid. But when I turned 20 and came to Seoul city, I realized, anyone and everyone was doing music. I got mad at that point, and started to do it seriously.

Skrew Attack – how did you get involved with that?

I was working on a solo act with Song Baek-gyeong (from group 1TYM). I told him that I wanted to be in a rock band. Back then, he was close friends with band No Brain. Toby did punk rock since the late 90s, so he knew No Brain very well. They hooked us up like that, and we did music together ever since.

What made you and Toby decide on changing direction as Love X Stereo?

It was about time. Our drummer left the band, and it was the perfect time to start something new, fresh, and most importantly, FUN. We loved punk rock, and always will be, but we all knew that we needed to change. And if change was inevitable, we decided not to be obsessed with drummers anymore.

Was it difficult for you to re-launch the band in this new direction? What were the specific challenges faced and how did you manage to overcome them?

It wasn’t difficult at all. Because all of our members just clicked! We all wanted to create something that we’ve never done before. We changed our name, style, and the way of thinking – DIY. The only challenge we had and still have, is MONEY. A lot of artists might relate to this: we need to maintain our lives, go on tours, buy new gears and what not. This will be a non stop challenge I think.

What is it like in the Korean indie music scene?

Small, but young, vibrant, and developing.

Considering how ubiquitous K-pop is, how supportive are Koreans about indie music?

Compared to K-pop? Not supportive at all. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of K-indie fans out there, but most of the people in Korea? I’m pretty sure that they don’t even know Korean indie music exists. But that’s about to change…

What is the writing process like for the band? Who are your influences?

Mostly, Toby and I write songs together. He produces the sound and rhythm, I write the lyrics, we co-arrange together. We’re very much influenced by the 90s. Alternative music is the reason why we started this band. We also love 80s synth pop as well.

Can you run through for us a typical songwriting/recording process for a Love X Stereo, say for “Soul City (Seoul City)” – which we absolutely love!

Toby started this guitar riff. I instantly thought that this could be a great city song. We decided not to overthink. Be honest about our thoughts about Seoul. We wanted this song to look like, sound like, feel exactly like our city. That’s why this song is so long. The city that never sleeps.

You have played in quite a few overseas festivals (like SXSW) – what was the experience like and what did you learn?

CMJ was very tight. I liked it. We saw a lot of great bands, had great shows, and met a lot of people. I can see a lot of business opportunities there. On the other hand, SXSW is CRAZY. Expected a little, but way crazier than I ever imagined. Great exposure for bands. Had a great time!

Why did you apply to play at Music Matters Live?

Korea can be very isolated in the musical world. I simply wanted to meet people from Asia and Australia – and I did :)

What did you take away from this latest festival?

Met a lot of fans, made lots of friends. HP and Music Matters were so supportive! Thanks to everyone. We had a lovely time!

Are there any plans to play a proper gig in Singapore in the immediate future?

If we have flight tickets and a place to stay, why not? :)

What’s upcoming for Love X Stereo? Can we expect more recordings soon?

We’re going to perform at Ultra Music Festival Korea on June 13. It’s gonna be fun! We’re also going to release a new single during June-July. And hopefully we could do another US tour in this fall. Keep up with us!

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