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 12th installment of a series of interviews with Korean rock, acoustic and alternative bands. ― Ed.
While its name may imply to some a man named Harry who likes to wear large, tacky buttons, the hard-rockers of HarryBigButton are anything but buttoned-down John Q. Public types.
Lead vocalist and guitarist Lee Sung-soo, former member of popular Korean metal band Crash, was educated in the U.K. and explained the name of the band actually comes from Cockney slang.
“Harry-big-button is like a cheap-looking car stereo with chunky big buttons,” Lee said during an interview with the bandmates at a cafe in Mapo, Seoul. “Nowadays it’s just used as a slang term for something rare. I think it really encompasses the image and the music style that we strive for; we are bringing old-school hard rock and recreating it into modern hard rock.”
The heavy-metal band debuted three years ago with the EP “Hard ‘N’ Loud” and introduced itself as a band full of hardcore rockers with an uproarious, dense sound. The members refreshingly brought a much-needed air of confidence to the local rock scene, where they did not seem pressured to tone down their more vulgar side ― as most local bands tend to do ― as shown by HarryBigButton’s debut lead single “Fxxk You Very Much.”
|HarryBigButton. (Ludi Company)|
With the band’s concise and straightforward lyrics coupled with Lee’s dark voice that just screams rock ’n’ roll, the band quickly made a name for themselves in the underground rock scene. Aside from being one of the country’s few true heavy metal bands, HarryBigButton also stands out as being one of the only native Korean bands that writes almost all of its songs in English.
“There is no particular reason why I write songs in English,” said Lee, who learned English while studying overseas. “When I’m writing lyrics, I find that sometimes the lyrics just pop up in English and sometimes in Korean. I’m the type of person who listens to other people’s conversations around me, so I get a lot of inspiration for my songs by listening to what other people, strangers, are talking about.”
Despite Lee’s bilingual approach to his songs, which are of a simplistic, chaotic nature, most of the band’s lyrics are transparent enough that the band doesn’t worry about alienating and hindering local fans from enjoying its music. The group’s debut track was a basically a repetition of the chorus, “D’you wanna know who will get the last laugh? / D’you wanna know what will happen in the end? / F--k you very much.”
“I think what sets us apart from other bands is our simplicity,” Lee explained. “However, within that simplicity, with both our music and our lyrics, there is a big sound and a lot of other underlying factors so that when you listen, you don’t feel like there is a void.”
A year after its debut HarryBigButton unveiled its first studio album, “King’s Life”; however, shortly after its release, Lee was in a terrible car accident that rendered him unable to play or perform for seven months. During this time the band went through a number of changes, with several members choosing to leave the group. However, HarryBigButton was resurrected when Lee recruited two new members: veteran drummer Kang Dae-hui and Ireland native Neil Smith on bass.
Originally coming to Korea to travel and see Asia, Smith ― now in his fourth year here ― quickly found himself immersed in the Seoul music scene, even becoming part of the Korean-expat band Magna Fall before eventually joining HarryBigButton last year.
“I was kind of surprised at the level of activity in Hongdae for music and it was really fun,” said Smith. “My plan was to travel Asia then go back to some European city ― my eventual goal was always music. But things kept coming up in Korea with music and things got more and more interesting so I just ended up staying.”
On April 2 the new faces of HarryBigButton released their latest EP “Perfect Storm,” which includes the album’s lead track, “Coffee, Cigarettes and Rock ’n’ Roll.”
“It’s a song of appreciation for our three favorite things in life,” Lee said. “Coffee, Cigarettes and Rock ’n’ Roll. This EP in some ways represents the new HarryBigButton with our new members, and compared to the band’s previous releases, I think this new album shows how we have evolved.”
“The concept of our band is still real, straight hard rock,” Kang added.
True to their style of music, the rockers say they always strive to unleash all of their raw energy toward the audience during their live performances.
“When people are listening to our music, I just want them to go crazy,” Lee said. “As opposed to them thinking with their minds, I would rather have them thinking with their bodies, let loose, push each other around and just have a good time.”
“Nowadays all these young people at concerts have their phones in (the) air, taking pictures or recording us on stage; and to these people I just want to say, put your phones down and remember: It’s a concert, (so) you need to focus on enjoying yourselves,” Kang added.
HarryBigButton is slated to perform at the upcoming two-day EXIT Soundholic rock festival in Seoul on June 21 at the Sports Complex Stadium in Jamsil.
By Julie Jackson (firstname.lastname@example.org)