[Band Uprising] The undone story of 3rd Line Butterfly

By Korea Herald

After more than 14 years in the industry, 3rd Line Butterfly continues to flutter

  • Published : Mar 2, 2014 - 19:27
  • Updated : May 12, 2014 - 17:34
Alternative rock band 3rd Line Butterfly. (Courtesy of 3rd Line Butterfly)
As the Korean music market is beginning to receive more international recognition, the local band scene is looking to rise up and represent the next generation of Korean music. This is the first installment of a series of interviews with Korean rock, acoustic and alternative bands. ― Ed.

There is nothing garish about the members of 3rd Line Butterfly. No frantic gallivanting across the stage, no smashing guitars, no outlandish stage outfits; just their music coupled with a very mystical voice.

Nahm Sang-ah (lead vocals, guitar), Sung Ki-wan (guitar), Kim Nam-yoon (bass) and Seo Hyun-jung (drums) are members of the long-time local alternative rock band 3rd Line Butterfly. The band released its debut album “Self Titled Obsession” in 2000 and has since grown to become one of the most recognized and respected groups of musicians in Korean rock.

Last year 3rd Line Butterfly participated in Mnet’s “Must Era of the Band” competition show ― the first time the band had ever appeared on any mainstream TV program ― and made it all the way to the semifinals, battling it out against some of the nation’s top rock bands. The band’s performance of “Today is the Day we Split” from its latest 2012 studio album “Dream Talk” managed to bestow an unexpected sea of silence across the rowdy rock-loving crowd, dispersing chills throughout the venue as the audience watched in motionless awe as Nahm began to sing. The sheer gut-wrenching pain in her voice, accented by her timely vibrato, could be felt straight from the first note right down to the very last.

“Her voice really does have this depressing aura, but we actually look at this as being one of our band’s greatest advantages,” said Sung during an interview with the quartet at the members’ recording studio in Seoul.

With lead singer Nahm possessing one of the most distinctively deep and engrossingly desolate voices in the local rock music scene today, this petite and outwardly demure woman can unearth a singing voice that is as unexpected as it is memorizing with her ability to bellow out such poetic screams in such hard-to-reach octaves. Although her sound is next to impossible to thoroughly describe, it can be said with almost uncontroverted ease that Nahm’s voice is truly made for rock & roll.

“I am just one of those people who loved music ever since I was a little kid,” she said. “It has always been my dream to be a part of a band. I’ve bounced around among a number of different groups in the past, but I’m glad to say that I was able to find a home with 3rd Line Butterfly.”

With the band always eager to perform live on stage, the group has in the past performed everywhere from small-time Hongdae clubs to large-scale international summer rock festivals. 3rd Line Butterfly has also been invited to numerous local college music festivals. The members claim that because of the overall melancholy nature of their songs, their music tends to bring about a certain trance-like ambience that differs in many aspects from the stereotypical head-banging rock concerts performed on campuses.

“We never get calls from the schools asking us to return the next year,” Sung said with a smile as the rest of the band bursts into laughter.

“We don’t really have a lot of light or cheerful songs,” said Kim. “This is not something that we do deliberately. Every time we tried to write something bright in the past, we quickly came to realize that it just didn’t match well with the vocals.”

With the four members ranging in age from their 20s to 40s, 3rd Line Butterfly is able to touch a more diverse subset of listeners through both the melodies of its songs and their lyrics.

“We’ve got a lot of layers,” said Sung. “There is a big age gap between us and I think that gives us a special edge. We are always open to each other’s ideas in terms of the creative direction of our music and this allows us to express all of our different perspectives.”

“We have been together for a long time and we really understand each other and mesh well and I think that really benefits our music,” said Kim.

“We are not friends,” Nahm added. “We are a close family. We fight, we share, we love.”

Aside from being regular performers at most local rock music festivals, 3rd Line Butterfly has really flourished over the past couple of years, taking its music beyond the borders of Korea including a monthlong North American tour in 2012. That same year the band released its first all-English four-track EP titled “Ice Cube” featuring the lead song “Story Undone.”

The rockers were also invited to perform at the annual South By Southwest music festival in 2012 and 2013 as well as previously appearing at Music Matters Asia in San Francisco, Canadian Music Week and the Monocle Winter Series in the United Kingdom.

“I don’t really feel a huge difference performing in front of an international audience than I do in front of a local audience,” said Nahm. “What I do feel is more excitement and also more anxious being in a strange new place, but this really adds to the thrill and the enjoyment of sharing our music. I really hope that we have more opportunities in the future to perform overseas again.”

The band members also stated that they are currently working on a new EP that they expect to drop sometime this month.

By Julie Jackson