This is the eighth in a series highlighting women and their accomplishments in the various facets of the Korean entertainment industry. ― Ed.
Velvet Geena was never a trained musician. In fact, before she started rockabilly band the RockTigers in 2001, she was a writer for a music cable channel and event organizer. The only experience she had was a short stint as a vocalist in a punk band as a student.
She said she had just simply wondered what it would be like to be on stage.
“Some people have the privilege to be exposed to musical training at an early age but I wasn’t one of them,” she said in an email interview with The Korea Herald. “And that was great about rock ’n’ roll. You didn’t have to be a well-trained musician, of course that would help, but it was about the attitude and the energy.”
And attitude and energy are definitely two things Velvet Geena possesses, whether she’s in leather or sporting a pompadour. Onstage, she is all high energy and talented vocals.
She said she was influenced by Japanese rock band Guitar Wolf, a garage rock trio, in the early days of her band. She was attracted to their “noisy sound and stage attitude,” which she still loves to this day. But it wasn’t until the RockTigers were invited to play at one of the biggest rockabilly and psychobilly music events in Japan in 2004 that she was able to experience the rockabilly scene full on.
|Velvet Geena (Conny’s Company)|
She said they were mostly invited based on their look, since the organizers admitted they were surprised to see a Korean band with pompadours and leather jackets.
“It was the first time for me to experience the rockabilly scene and I was shocked by this culture. I was fascinated by the rockabilly rhythm, sound with slapping upright bass, standing drums, gretsch guitar and slap back vocal and even their fashion style,” she said.
“Rockabilly is very pure and rootsy music, which is raw, and I like it.”
Velvet Geena said she enjoyed the challenge of moving the audience or surprising them with something they didn’t expect. Beyond their success in Korea and tours in Japan, in 2012 the RockTigers were invited by Guitar Wolf to join their U.S. tour.
Seperately, Velvet Geena has performed as a guest vocalist with the project band formed by fellow rockabilly artists Slim Jim of American group the Stray Cats and Phil Bloomberg, the bassist of British band the Polecats. She later lent her voice to a Stray Cats tribute album produced by Slim Jim.
Velvet Geena said she hopes to continue showing that there is a place for women in rock music. She said that rock shouldn’t be male-dominated, but that she used to feel she had to compete with male musicians by sweating more and jumping higher on stage.
Male centric attitudes persist, she says. She sees bands that are more focused on the after-party with their female fans than the actual show, and has heard that some bands believe they can’t be rock stars in Korea if they have women as members. She admitted that even members of her own band eventually became more focused on being popular with the ladies rather than making good music.
“I’m curious if I can destroy all of these prejudices with real, great music. We will see,” she said.
She hopes to see women be more ambitious ― rather than focusing only on men’s expectations ― and that it would be great to see more women being respected as artists and seen as more than just products of an entertainment company.
“I’d like to see more women challenging the status quo and not accepting rock ’n’ roll as something guys do while girls watch from the audience,” she said.
She added that many in the rock scene see it as a stepping stone for other purposes, mostly for recognition so they can get commercial deals or regular spots on TV shows.
“I’d really like to see more people recognized for the music and that opportunities to play overseas aren’t because of other reasons.”
At the moment, the RockTigers are on a break. Velvet Geena said that after several lineup changes, the band lost focus and each member had their own personal agenda. She wanted to evolve as a musician and felt trapped.
“I was trying to play rockabilly music with people who didn’t really appreciate or understand rockabilly music. I’d like to take that influence and make something more of my own,” she said.
Currently, she is working with a project band in Japan and is planning another in Korea. She hopes to come back soon with new music for her fans. As for the future?
“A Grammy award or nomination, of course!” she said. “But what’s really important is to inspire other people and be inspired with good music.”
By Emma Kalka (email@example.com