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[Herald Interview] Lively duo behind ‘Dead Buttons’ music

“Rough” band prepares to take on Europe with first album “Some Kind of Youth”

Dead Buttons has launched just one official album but the rock and roll duo is not your typical rookie group. 

Grungy, carefree and playful, drummer Lee Kang-hee and guitarist Hong Ji-hyun exuded the ease of seasoned musicians when they spoke to the The Korea Herald at a cafe in Seoul’s Hongdae area.

Although “Some Kind of Youth” is the band’s first official album, the band has already established a reputation for itself over the past few years. 

Dead Buttons (Love Rock Company)
Dead Buttons (Love Rock Company)

Formed in 2012, Dead Buttons has already performed at festivals in Korea, Japan, the U.K., Italy and Russia. In Korea, the band raised its profile through a strong performance on the third season of KBS’ competition program “Top Band.”

Still, the rockers said that they had been apprehensive about their first record.

“Like anyone else, releasing an album was like getting a big homework out of the way,” said Lee when asked about his feelings towards the record. While he said there were some spots where he felt the arrangements could have been better, he added with a laugh, “Bands fail when they’re too greedy.”

“I think it was the best album we could have created at this point,” agreed Hong.

“Some Kind of Youth” is an unusual album for the Korean rock scene. First of all, there are only two tracks (lead track “Stranger” and “Useless Generation”) that feature lyrics in Korean. Its sound is also clearly influenced by American or British rock bands, infusing psychedelic and punk elements into tracks that span the emotional spectrum from young angst to happy-go-lucky optimism.

“It’s not an album with a story or message,” Lee said. “We just pulled out everything we had. We wanted to find our color after our EP (‘Whoever You Are’ from 2014) and our performances. We thought about garage rock, punk, and psychedelic, and decided that doing everything would be our color.”

“We have a punk song, and songs that change genre in the middle. Those experiments gave us our style. As a creator, I don’t think it’s good to lock yourself into a genre,” said Hong.

“Everything’s rough. There’s a lot of genres, but none of them are developed in-depth,” he added.

“The lyrics are like that too. We didn’t like poetic phrases, and just scribbled out the lyrics as we thought of them. ‘16-22,’ for example, is just a timeline. It doesn’t have special meaning. It’s just how it was.”

That raw spirit caught the eye of a festival scout from the U.K. who saw them perform, and led them to sign with Baltic Records to release “Some Kind of Youth” in the U.K. as well. 

“At first, he told Ji-hyun that he looked like Elvis,” Lee said with a shake of his head. “It’s completely ridiculous, so we were just joking around. Later, he told us that he liked our young energy.”

“I think he saw potential. He was curious,” Hong said.

It was perhaps the same potential the two members saw in each other, when they were introduced by a mutual friend. After a night of heavy drinking -- “We only remember about 20 minutes from that night,” Hong said -- they decided to play together.

According to Lee, their first time playing together was terrible -- Lee had very little experience playing in a band while Hong had been playing with bands since he dropped out of high school. “I didn’t understand how he didn’t kick me out. I was so bad,” said Lee. 

But they stuck together, even after their bassist’s departure left them as a duo. 

“We didn’t even think we were good as a trio. When it was just the two of us, we kept looking for a bassist, especially because I wasn’t a good drummer. But Ji-hyun kept saying it was OK, and our first performance was surprisingly all right.”

After releasing “Some Kind of Youth” in Korea, the band is gearing up for a European tour starting in May, it will perform in the U.K., France, Germany, among other countries. The album will be released in the U.K. in April or May.

“We’re planning to perform in a lot of clubs, like local bands,” said Hong. 

“We think everything up to this point was like a training period for idol stars,” said Lee. “Now, we’re beginning in earnest. We’ve performed a lot and have some name recognition, but this is our official debut.”

By Won Ho-jung (