[Band Uprising] Expat rock band New Blue Death looking to break into underground scene

By Korea Herald
  • Published : May 11, 2014 - 19:58
  • Updated : May 12, 2014 - 11:19
As the Korean music market begins 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 11th installment of a series of interviews with Korean rock, acoustic and alternative bands. ― Ed.

Six strangers from different walks of life, hailing from across the globe and all with different occupational backgrounds, found themselves in Korea on a temporary void-filling search for something new and exciting. Little did they know their lustful quest for music would bring them together and turn what was initially a brief stay in Korea into a long-term commitment.

“I just saw an ad on Craigslist, it said ‘Teach in Korea’ and I was like ‘Alright.’ I had no other reasons than that,” said drummer and newest member Tony Clavelli. This was three years ago.

What started out for some as a simple traveling venture, new career move or spontaneous change of scenery ended up leading to the formation of New Blue Death, a local expat indie rock band of six members from Canada, the U.S., Northern Ireland and Spain.

After the members of his band On Sparrow Hills decided to part ways, bandleader Adam Brennan found himself looking for his next project. Brennan had met many of his bandmates through the local underground music community and New Blue Death was eventually formed in 2012.

“He (Brennan) said, ‘I want this band to be aggressive, and loud, and I don’t want anyone to like it,’” said bass player Adam Hickey as the members burst into laughter. 

New Blue Death (Courtesy of New Blue Death)
New Blue Death released its eponymous, nine-track first album last summer, and despite having a hardcore, heavy-metal sounding name, the music is actually quite the opposite. Rather, the rockers produce an all-encompassing sound that is difficult to pin down and sum up with one word or genre. Their music style could be described through a hypothetical scenario ― if the vocal characteristics of Modest Mouse and Franz Ferdinand had an affair with progressive rock and created a love child, it would be New Blue Death.

“It is still confounding to people because some people say they thought they were coming to a heavy metal show,” Brennan explained. “But we’re not like that at all. Metal people love the name but they don’t like us.”

“Well they might like it a little,” Clavelli added with a smile.

“My favorite artists, things that I personally enjoy, I always find them hard to describe,” said Hickey. “Music that sits in between really inspires me ... I don’t really know what Blue Death is, but when we’re doing it, it sounds right.”

It goes without saying that any indie band will undoubtedly struggle to makes ends meet as it tries to increase its audience pool without cowing down to mainstream music conformity. Being a non-Korean band trying to make it in Korea simply adds to the group’s ongoing challenges.

“It’s definitely a double-edged sword,” said vocalist Maggie Devlin. “Like being able to play at Pentaport was a coup for us ... but then pay is less. Korean bands can apply for grants from the government but we are not in the position, so there are pros and cons.”

“Because what we do here is kind of a gray area, we never get paid, ever,” Brennan added.

The band’s lack of financial gains forces all the members to have day jobs that allow them to use their own funds to keep the band together and continue getting their music out to the public as much as possible.

“It’s more than just a hobby for us,” said Hickey. “We take what we are doing seriously ... we want to take things as far as we can. All we have is passion and man power.”

As a group of foreigners, the bandmates also find themselves in a much harder position trying to land record deals or contracts with managing labels because of the assumption of many that, as non-Koreans, their presence in the country is temporary. However, the members are looking to break that stereotype that being foreign means one’s endeavors in the country should not be taken seriously.

“We have all been here for a number of years and we have all been involved within the music community, Korean and foreigner, for years,” Brennan responded. “I think that kind of stands for itself ... We are much more trying to contribute to a community that we see and appreciate and respect and would feel honored to be a part of.”

“Being an indie rock band is a hard choice to make and a ridiculous life to live and a ridiculous proposition whether you live in Seoul, South Korea, or New York City or wherever,” Hickey explained. “You always have to ask yourself, ‘Why do I keep doing this? Where is it going?’ ... as long as we are all still able to do this, we are going to do it as well and as hard and as committed as we all possibly can.”

“You just got to have an intrinsic love for the music and the art of it,” Brennan added.

While there are bands out there that try to alter their original sound to satisfy local tastes and infiltrate the music scene, the members of New Blue Death consider this the worst form of selling out and vow to never manipulate their songs just to meet popular demand, even though their intended local audience speaks a different language and is unfamiliar with their style of music.

“Never. This is what we do. We are not adjusting for the culture,” said Brennan. “It would be a sham and who would want to hear that?”

“I would even go as far to say as we do the opposite,” guitarist Ethan Waddell added. “There’s never been a time where we thought, ‘Since we are in Korea, let’s do it this way.’”

New Blue Death will be releasing a new EP that is expected to come out next month as well as a full studio album that the bandmates hope to drop sometime this fall.

“We do exist,” Brennan added as his last remarks.

By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com)