The Koxx is a rock band composed of Lee Hyun-song (vocals, 23), Park Sung-bin (bass, 25), Shin Saron (drums, 23), Lee Soo-ryun (guitar, 23) and Shaun (synthesizer, 21), all majoring in applied music at Howon University, who decided to form at a year-end party in 2008. And just a year after debuting in the indie scene and barely four months after the release of their first EP album "Enter," they are grabbing attention as one of the hottest indie bands, being rushed to and fro between rock festivals, radio shows and interviews. It cannot be easy for a band used to parties and club performances to suddenly release an album and work on a tight schedule. So although when signing with their current agency Happy Robot Records, they were immediately denied their request to have a party held under their name once every two months, it is hard to separate them from such parties -- they said they plan to throw a party under their name after their first full-length album is released. 10Asia spoke to the five-member band to see how they are coping with the changes to their lives.
10: Your band wasn't included in the lineup for this year's Grand Mint Festival (GMF). Did you enjoy it comfortably this time as a member of the audience?
Lee Hyun-song: This year's lineup was amazing. And even incredible artists had to perform at 2 o'clock in the afternoon so our company said 'Let's take a break this year. (laugh)
Park Sun-bin: But we really like festivals so went to a lot even before we formed Koxx.
Shaun: We went back to being the audience right after our own performances at this year's Jisan Valley Rock Festival and Pentaport Rock Festival. We even got a place to stay nearby. (laugh)
Lee HS: I personally enjoyed Hot Potato's performance the most at this year's GMF.
Park: I watched No Reply's performance at the main stage then went to that (Hot Potato's) stage but there was such a long line that I thought, 'What's this line?' And I [pointing to Shaun] liked DJ Shaun's performance the most. (laugh)
10: Shaun, you and Daybreak vocalist Lee Won-suk both deejayed at the Ghost Dancing stage but the atmosphere was completely different. Lee Won-suk's deejay time was more like a fan meeting while you said very few words and just completely concentrated on deejaying. I think that's why a lot of manias gathered when you deejayed.
Shaun: I did play GMF's theme song and music by GOD and SpaceA at parts in between. (laugh) Some DJs have this sort of pride where they play music they like and hope the audience will like it. And I respect that about them but I personally think you need to play a certain amount of music people can recognize at parties for everyone to have a good time. The response was great when I played GOD's "Where You Should Be" during my time.
10: How did Koxx form?
Shin Saron: It's not there anymore but we held a party at a place called Monghwan in the Shinchon area. And at the time, we partied while playing music by Cazals, The Strokes, Foals and Franz Ferdinand. Shaun deejayed. We also actually wanted to invite people different from us, people not in our major, so we asked around before handing out the invitations.
Lee Soo-ryun: But it ended up being a class party.
Shaun: It was like a orientation on the first day of school. (laugh) But we did a countdown as well -- I shouted out 3, 2, 1 and then threw cups in the air for everyone to drink out of.
Lee HS: Some people put the drinks in water guns and were shooting each other. (laugh)
Park: I was in the bathroom when Shaun did the countdown. Then I checked my cellphone but I saw that it hadn't turned midnight. (laugh)
Shaun: Well, it could've been that your mobile phone was a bit off.
Lee HS: We decided to form Koxx after that party because it just seemed like a great combination. Of course, although there was a change in one of the members in between.
Park: Shaun and I were in a different team back then. I got to join Koxx naturally in July 2009 while helping out the group when one of the members of the group was away in the United States for about a month. Shaun joined around November.
10: So you settled in during that month-long gap. (laugh)
Park: Back then, the five of us all slept over at one person's house after another after performing at clubs so I didn't go home for almost a month. So I was able to become very close with them in a short time.
Shin: We called it the Koxx tour. (laugh)
Park: And everyone apologized to the member who came back from the States.
10: So the daily schedule of drinking-performing-drinking-going home that you showed in your music video for "Trouble Maker" is true? (laugh)
Park: We were actually worse off than what you see in the music video before we joined the company. (laugh)
10: You made yourselves known and signed with a label through EBS' "Hello Rookie." What memories do you have of back then?
Lee HS: We signed up for it because Saron asked what we should do about it, it being the last audition of the year. And we said, "Well, okay." We actually didn't have a song to audition with before that. (laugh) They were going to judge us based on two songs and we had finished making exactly two songs. "Acdc" and "Trouble Maker." We had no idea that we'd be chosen as the "Hello Rookie" for November though. Of course we yearned for it and prayed we'd get it. But we really did!
Lee SR: We auditioned thinking, it's the last audition of the year. And we had decided to somehow complete our demos and distribute it to labels at the end of last year. But we won the "Hello Rookie." We had our hopes up so we went crazy when we heard the results.
All: We all jumped up and down.
Lee Soo-ryun: People who were there to perform or watch, they all gave us a weird look.
Lee Hyun-song: It's because our name was the first to be called. If the first winners had gone out quietly, we would've done so too. But regardless, it was just such a huge prize for us and we were called first. We were screaming and jumping up and down, then feeling a bit awkward once we actually went up on stage. (laugh)
Lee SR: The auditions were tough in particular that month. To the extent that I didn't dare think 'How did these guys get picked?' To think what it would've been like if we didn't make it or didn't sign up for it. We got really lucky.
Shaun: We got picked for "Hello Rookie," then released our first EP in June... It feels like things moved forward easily. And thanks to that, the public has responded very quickly to us within the short time.
10: What was the audition itself like? You went for it because the audience signed you guys up for it but they must've been unfamiliar with your performance.
Lee HS: About 100 people came which is the largest number of audience we had seen. (laugh)
Lee SR: About 60 to 70 people usually turn up when we perform at clubs. They didn't stand up and jump about or anything but they're eyes were saying, 'Oh my, oh my.'
10: It was actually surprising to see that a group which originated from a party would release an album. Wouldn't it have been enough for you guys to just have fun by performing at clubs and throwing parties?
Lee HS: When we first formed Koxx, our ultimate goal was to release an album. Of course, in the beginning, it was to become an indie band that performs regularly at clubs in the Hongik University area. But even if we perform at a set tempo everytime, it's bound to change. So it felt good to release an album because it felt like we finally had a sound source which would serve as the standard. Of course, it wasn't easy turning music for performances into a single sound source, but it didn't take long. Maybe about one or two months?
Shin: You may think it's difficult to release an album after having only having performed but it was rather easy working on the album because we had done so many performances.
Lee HS: It's just that we didn't know anything about recording so the producer taught us about that.
Park: When the five of us talk about different things, the producer would mediate in between and sneak in his opinion as well, saying 'What do you think about this?' (laugh) Sometimes we'd follow his opinion or he's go with ours.
10: How have things been for you Shaun, having joined the group the latest? You're also the youngest and work with the synthesizer so you must've had a lot to think about in terms of tuning it with rock sounds.
Shaun: The reason I contemplated on whether I should join Koxx or not at first was because I was worried I would ruin Koxx's character. But once I joined, I realized things are the same with or without me. (laugh) I'm just kidding. In the beginning, I was very worried because I was under the notion that I have to 'coat' the rock sound with the synthesizer. Then I tried avoiding the rock sound and thankfully, both sounds came out well. It's something I need to keep thinking about.
Shin: He's a junior we'd been eyeing because we were thinking it would be nice to have an electronic sound join our group since the rest of us are based on garage rock. We do electro rock now but like Shaun said, we thought we would be coating garage rock with the synthesizer and the two ended up clashing a lot. But tuning the sounds is one thing. I think even that became a bit easier to do after becoming comfortable with each other on a personal level.
10: When do you think Shaun and the rest of you started feeling comfortable around each other?
Shaun: Well, the thing is, hmm... I think we were very comfortable around each other.
Shin: Starting two days ago? (laugh) I'm joking.
Lee HS: At the end of last year? No. I thought, 'Oh? I didn't know he cares for me this much' while working on our EP album together this year.
10: Your title song "Over And Over" definitely seems easier to listen to than your other songs. Did you work on it keeping in mind the fact that it would be the title track?
Lee SR: For the first time, we made music for a reason. After making all our other songs, we realized everything contained too much character. And garage rock is actually a genre that the public isn't familiar with. That's why it's major.
Lee HS: And here, by major, he doesn't mean indie versus the major music market but the genre. It's a genre that's cheerful and mellow and easy to listen to.
Shin: We wanted to make a song that people could jump to. That's why when we set the tempo to the drum in the first part of "Over and Over," we stood up and tried jumping to it ourselves.
Park: We had already finished working on the other songs.
10: You've become very busy after releasing your EP album including having to go to festivals, go on televisions and do interviews with media outlets. I'm curious to know what you guys were like back when your activities were surrounded around club performances.
Park: Back then we thought all we would have to do is not feel any pressure and just have fun.
Lee SR: That's why we used to go on stage even after a bit of drinking. (laugh) And the audience has been drinking so we drank just enough to get us excited.
Park: And then we caused trouble. We were supposed to perform at 2:30 a.m. but our performance got pushed back by an hour. So we were sipping on our drinks while waiting for our turn and then... We totally screwed up the show.
Lee HS: I lent a helping hand in it as well.
Lee SR: I was the only one who hadn't drank that day because I had taken some cold medicine. Had I drank as well, our performance would have not been able to take place at all.
10: Garage rock is actually a genre that Koreans aren't familiar with. In that sense, I think foreigners may have responded to your music more than Koreans.
Lee HS: What made us known publicly was the "Hello Rookie" but we were able to go from performing on weekdays to weekends thanks to our foreign listeners. At clubs, you get moved to performing on Fridays and Saturdays if the response is good. And foreigners were raving over our performances on weekdays so I think we went straight to performing on weekends after playing on weekdays just twice. (laugh) It's not like they help us promote online through fan clubs or anything but they respond great offline.
10: What has changed now compared to back then?
Shaun: We used pick songs in a 'this song, that song, then that song' sort of way for performances but these days we draw up proper lists, talk about them in meetings and even review ourselves afterwards.
Park Sun-bin: I guess you could say we feel more responsibility now. Responsibility over making sure the audience has fun, not just us.
10: And after going through such changes, do you think you miss the old days or do you want to keep going on the road that you're on right now?
Lee Hyun-song: Now that we move on a systematic schedule, I do slightly miss the days we used to party and perform at clubs.
Lee Soo-ryun: Rather than miss it, I think having such a tight schedule is hard for us psychologically in a way. After performing twice or three times a week, we don't get to rest on the remaining days but rather each have things to do individually. And we have to keep repeating the pattern of performing, then doing interviews, then going to television recordings...
Lee HS: But I think Koxx is gradually maturing as much as it is having to pull off such a systematic schedule. It's as if something is accumulating.
10: You might be able to come out of that mannerism at least a bit if you went back to holding a party with the mindset you had in the beginning. If you could hold a party under Koxx's name, what concept would you each want it to be in?
Park: We're a group that originated from parties so we demanded for a clause in our contract that says we can hold a party under our name once every two months. Of course, the response we got was 'Don't be ridiculous.' (laugh) So we won't be holding parties regularly but we're planning on throwing one after our full-length album comes out.
Lee HS: The party will be similar whoever plans it. And it'll probably be like the one on the last day of 2008 where we poured punch everyway and just ate and drank.
Park: The only difference would probably be the order of the songs? (laugh)
Lee HS: Or where the instruments are located. (laugh)
Lee SR: It'll probably be a bit more refined than the party from 2008.
Park: We actually want to have fun amongst ourselves comfortably so I'd like to invite people around me rather than our fans.
10: Speaking of fans, your fans are famous for actively promoting you guys online. (laugh)
Park: It's probably because of the event where we've promised to give out our most prized possessions. (laugh)
10: Oh, like the one where Lee Soo-ryun, you put out your acoustic guitar?
Lee HS: We got a parcel delivered one day by Soo-ryun's parents and it was the acoustic guitar.
Lee SR: I used it when I was in middle school and they told me to take it if I wasn't going to use it. But I couldn't really use it as well so I put it out for the event.
Park: That was the most popular.
10: What prized possessions did the rest of you put out?
Lee HS: Mine was a small keyholding wallet.
Park: He lacks a conscience.
Lee HS: No, I had it since I was young. Isn't it the heart and sincerity that is the most important?
Shaun: Mine was a bowtie.
Park: That's more like it.
Shin Saron: Mine was a dress I wore for a performance.
10: A dress?
Lee HS: Are you thinking of pretty dresses that girls wear? Not those but the really comfortable ones that middle-aged ladies wear.
Shin: I wear those kind of clothes quite often for performances. (laugh)
10: You've had a lot of experience on stage. I guess all you have left is to appear on a live music program on a major network, I think. Is there a particular show you would like to go on?
All: We want to go on all of them.
Lee HS: I personally would really like to go on "Lalala." Shows like "Yoo Hee-yeol's Sketchbook" and "Kim Jung-eun's Chocolate" have a vibe of thier own that has been there since "Lee Sora's Propose," but the sound is really good on "Lalala" and you could also go inside a booth to sing. (laugh)
10: But on those kind of shows, the audience usually stays put in their seats until told to stand up by the musicians. And with your music, the atmosphere can only come alive when everyone is jumping up and down so you must be a bit worried about that.
Park: Oh, that's a very sharp question.
Lee SR: I once went to watch "Yoo Hee-yeol's Sketchbook" as a member of the audience and Mr. Yoo was so funny that everyone kept bursting out into laughter. And people almost died when Park Ji-sun came out. (laugh) Those people remained seated in their seats even for performances that I thought would be impossible to stay put for.
Shaun: I once saw a posting that an audience member had said saying, "Why didn't you ask us to stand up?" But don't people just naturally jump up and down at festivals? Why's that the case?
Shin: Because they think they should get their money's worth since they've paid for it? (laugh)
10: Last question. When will we be able to see your full-length album?
Park: I'm getting knee cartilage surgery on November 17 so this is when we'll wrap up promotions for our EP and start preparing for the full-length release. I got injured when I was young but this will be the fourth and last surgery. There's a 25 percent chance it'll succeed so if anything goes wrong...
Lee HS: Our bassist will change. We give preference to holders of a drivers license. (laugh)
Lee SR: No, he can play while sitting in the back. Then the audience would probably say, "Huh? I can't see the bassist although I can hear him" (laugh)
Reporter : Lee Ga-on
Photographer : Lee Jin-hyuk eleven@
Editor : Jessica Kim jesskim@, Lee Ji-Hye seven@
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