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 22nd installment of a series of interviews with Korean rock, acoustic and alternative bands. ― Ed.
Upon first hearing the band name No. 1 Korean, one may have the false impression that the music tends toward nationalistic chanting.
Is it egotistical? Is it patriotic? Is it cultural? Despite their name, the members of the local band No. 1 Korean said that they are in no way trying to glorify their nation or exclude other nationalities from enjoying their music; it was all just a dream.
“The band name actually just came to me in a dream. Someone had selected that name for us (in the dream) and I saw that as a sign,” said Kwon Milk, during an interview with bandmates at a fast food joint in Seocho-gu.
“It wasn’t until years later that we decided to add some secondary meaning to it,” he continued. “So now we think of it as wanting to give strength to Koreans and to raise more awareness of Korea abroad through our music.”
In a rapidly changing music scene in which everything starts to sound the same after a while, the five members of No. 1 Korean have managed to steer clear from mainstream trends.
The bulk of the band’s music actually falls along the lines of modern-day ska with a local twist. With lead vocalist Kwon Milk’s raspy reggae-inspired vocal style and a full band that includes trumpet, trombone and saxophone players, the bandmates describe their music as their own take on rock and roll.
“We first started out as a ska band ... but now over the years we have incorporated a number of different genres like garage, jazz and funk,” said bassist Bang Zoo. “But regardless of all this, at our core we still just consider ourselves as a rock band.”
“Our music may be a bit chaotic but at the heart of it, it’s still very humanistic,” Kwon Milk added as he munched on a handful of french fries.
No. 1 Korean debuted with the studio album “Singing Number One” in July 2007 and has since released a string of albums including recent EP “My Small Calendar.” The band’s latest EP was released in April and features two lead singles, the eponymous “My Small Calendar” and “Should I, or Should I Not?”
Unlike the group’s past releases, the songs on this recent EP are much softer and more poignant compared to the group’s signature fast-tempo beats and quirky lyrics.
“The album ‘My Small Calendar’ is all about the concept of time and how despite it being a constant thing, everyone’s feeling of time differs,” Kwon Milk explained. “The focus of the song is love and how we all love at different speeds.”
Needless to say one of the aspects that makes No. 1 Korean different from more traditional rock bands is their inclusion of bass instruments. However, aside from their ska approach, the bandmates said that one of the main things that sets them apart from other acts is their “simplicity.”
“It may sound like there is a lot going on with our music but the base of it is actually quite simple,” said Bang Zoo. “Most of the riffs are basic and I think that’s what makes our music so catchy and easy to follow along with ... when people listen to us, I want the melodies from our songs to be continually humming in their heads a week later.”
“While on one hand we want people to be able to listen to our music with a sense of ease, we don’t want listeners to take what we are doing with our music lightly,” Kwon Milk added.
No. 1 Korean is slated to perform at the upcoming three-day Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival on Aug. 2 at the Dream Stage.
“We are bursting with energy and I think just listening to our albums doesn’t really do our band justice,” Kwon Milk said in his final remarks. “Listening to us live in concert is just an entirely different experience. We have actually been told by a lot of our fans that our albums tend not to really showcase the energy and the dynamics of our live shows, and we want people to know that we are keeping this in mind and will do what we can to remedy the issue in the future.”
By Julie Jackson (firstname.lastname@example.org