This special interview is with a band who are beginning to take the world by storm – Say Sue Me! Say Sue Me are a surf-inspired rock/pop band formed in 2012 and based in Busan. The members are currently Jaeyoung Ha, Byungkyu Kim, Sumi Choi, and Changwon Kim. Sadly, member Semin Kang is recovering from a fall that resulted in him being in a semi-comatose state.
This is a band that is comfortable in their own style and generally keep within familiar ideas of wistfulness and melancholia. However, some of their music can also be extremely varied, sometimes grimy, at times soothing, sometimes playful. We were drawn to Say Sue Me after the release of their album [Where We Were Together], a beautiful collection of songs that we highly recommend to our readers. There is a certain poignancy attached to the album since Semin was involved before his accident, and several other tracks refer to his absence in the lyrics. The result is a spectra of music that spans a range of emotions. If you like the sound of infectious rhythms, strong bass lines and enjoy the fun associated with the jangling noise of guitars, then Say Sue Me is definitely a band for you! We hope you explore their music.
2018 has been an amazing year for Say Sue Me. They have garnered much international attention and critical acclaim. They have had features in Billboard and Pitchfork and have performed in Japan, USA, UK and Europe. ‘Where We Were Together’ has been extremely well-received, with the vinyl versions being particularly popular! The band are touring this year so click this link to find out where your nearest show will be.
Thanks to Say Sue Me (particularly Sumi) for answering our questions, and George Gargan (Damnably Records) and Mingyu Kim (Electric Muse) for their help in the process.
Look out for music and albums on Say Sue Me’s Bandcamp page, Apple Music/iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify. We’ll include social media links at the end of this article so you can follow their activities too!
We’ll set the scene with this performance of Don’t let’s Say Anything. It’s a good one!
Can you introduce yourselves to our readers?
We are Say Sue Me, a four-piece indie rock band from Busan, South Korea. Our music is made for dancing, whatever way you wish!
When you first formed the band, did you experiment to determine your roles? Who became the natural leader and did anyone’s roles change with time?
We didn’t make a decision about roles at first. However, it seems that each of our responsibilities have been set naturally according to what we do well and our individual personalities. It just happened to be Byungkyu, who was able to set the musical direction as a leader of our team.
What sparked your love of music? And what is the best thing about being a musician?
Sumi: I don’t know what attracted me to music. I think we are all naturally drawn to it purely by our primitive instincts. The power of music is so great in that it connects people, makes them love each other, and enables good memories to last a long time. It is a great way of gathering people together. They listen to our music and create new memories. I think it is nice to be part of festivals with other musicians as well.
Were you actively encouraged to pursue a career in music or did you decide to rebel against the norm?
We didn’t intend to have careers in music initially so our motivations weren’t to rebel against the norm. We don’t do music just for self-satisfaction either. But wanting to be a little different from everyone else seemed to be a natural instinct for us. We created an archive of work and performed in pubs for fun. It’s a very small scene, but the response was pretty good. We now have the power to continue in this way with careers in music.
Some of your music on the ‘Where We Were Together’ album is filled with nostalgia and feels bittersweet. Do you find it cathartic to perform these tracks or does it remind you of those same feelings again?
Sumi: I seem to like looking back into the past. Things that happened in the past made me who I am now. Everyone knows that life is bittersweet, and whenever I remind myself of that, I become somewhat humble. Even if I have a hard time, I feel like I have the power to go forward.
Where We Were Together album artwork. Source: Say Sue Me’s Bandcamp page.
‘Let it Begin’ is one of our favourite songs on the album. Can you talk about the ideas behind the song, and how it was put together?
‘Let It Begin’ is a really old song. We finished it while we were working on our first album [We’ve Sobered Up]. It knocked around for a while with the title ‘new song 1’. At that time we’d figured out the sound and direction that we wanted for the new album and created the style we’ve had to this day: 60’s and 70’s pop, country-style emotional content, and an increasingly fuzzy sound have emerged as the main elements of our style. About halfway between the first album and this new release we thought that ‘Let It Begin’ was a song that expressed us well in pretty much any direction. We had worked with Semin (our former drummer) on this song but hadn’t had a chance to add lyrics, so it sat unfinished for a long time. We finally completed the entire track after the Semin Project was finished.
Being drunk and dancing to loud music is a ritual of the weekend and sometimes trying to make a beautiful and happy night last right through to the end is a way of keeping the worries of the day hidden for a while. Although in hindsight it seems that these efforts are worrisome and pitiful, the completed song embodies a wish that our beautiful weekend ritual can start again.
Do you consider yourselves pioneers of indie surf rock in Korea or are there others also championing the genre?
Sumi: The reason why people call our music ‘surf rock’ is probably due to the characteristics of our sound. There are not many surf songs in the genre, which makes people wonder why we make this type of music. Many musicians make good use of reverb, and surf music is inseparable from spring reverb. We are using reverb in a completely wrong way to make the sound of old spring reverb better. I think that was an important point in the creation of our style. In the early 2000s, there was also a band called ‘Oh! Brothers’ who played authentic surf music like the Ventures and Beach Boys, and they were centred on Hongdae’s indie music scene.
How have you dealt with the international attention that you have been receiving this year? Has it changed anything in your routines?
Our band was made for fun, and we didn’t even consider garnering any kind of international interest. From the outside looking in, the attention may seem sudden but we have done it all through a natural and gradual process. As for change, we plan our schedule more carefully now and quit our other jobs.
What was playing at SXSW like? Do you have any memorable moments that make you smile?
It’s one of the biggest and most famous festivals on the planet so it was a pleasure just to be there together. We saw Ethan Hawke on the street as soon as we arrived in Austin; Sumi was so excited that she screamed in the street!
Sumi, where does the inspiration for your lyrics come from? Do you find it easy to write in English?
My lyrics come from mainly two places: I like complaining about myself and my daily problems, but I also like to praise the things I love. In saying that, half of our second album is about our former drummer Semin actually.
I find material from my diary. I’m not very good at English but it is hard to change a habit that has been set from the beginning (Editor’s note: she is referring to a routine of writing in English). When I write in Korean, it is hard to bear the feeling that I am exposing aspects of myself.
Byungkyu, how do you approach songwriting and rearranging?
Just like other composers, I always play an acoustic guitar while humming a melody. Sometimes I will discover a good one and write a song around that melody (this formed Say Sue Me’s early songwriting style), but nowadays I will begin with a certain concept, such as genre, rhythm, vocals, whether the song will be bright or dark, fast or slow, or centering around a specific instrument. Therefore the arranging process is done from the beginning too. The colour of the rhythmic parts from different instruments often represents the genre of the song, so I spend more time on the drum part than the melody during the initial stages. After the rhythmic colour has been determined, the melody imparted by the vocals tends to attach naturally. When the basic framework is completed, Sumi adds lyrics and we do one more round of modifications (arrangements and details) based on the lyrics to complete the song.
Are Say Sue Me songs as well received in Korea as they are elsewhere? Do Korean audiences connect well with your English lyrics?
Sumi: We don’t use difficult words and sentences in English so it seems to be accepted somewhat. However, I think that it is less accepted compared to writing in Korean.
Are the contrasting feelings in your song Old Town (“I just wanna leave here, but I wanna stay here”) something that you have experienced yourselves? This could have been a very slow and melancholic track but instead it is so upbeat – did you wish to spread optimism to people who felt similarly to the lyrics?
When we finish composing, we complete the songs by putting lyrics to it. There was no intention to convey optimism as such. Rather, we feel that it contains some thoughts of confusion by giving the song a quicker pace.
Did you listen to a lot of 90’s rock while growing up? Which bands are your favourites now?
We seem to mainly like 90’s and ~ 2000’s music from America. Among our all time favourites are Yo La Tengo and Pavement.
What is the best way to enjoy a Say Sue Me performance? Will you perform any covers? We really like your take on ‘Dreaming’ by Blondie!
There is no special way or attitude, we just want you to enjoy our performances without any thought. We have a lot of fun covering the music of other musicians. Maybe we will continue to do more. Of course our cover songs will be played on stage.
Are you looking forward to touring this year? In the past, you said you didn’t feel ready to tour. What has changed since then? Are there any places you would like to visit and play at in future?
We’re still not accustomed to touring. We wonder if it will ever be possible to get used to moving away from home. But the pleasure of meeting new audiences in new places is so great that we hope to continue to tour. We want to go where we’ve never been. It may be a city that we’ve never heard of before. New places always excite us.
What are you looking forward to the most in the near future? Are there any exciting projects lined up for Say Sue Me in 2019?
We started making a Christmas album as soon as we returned from our UK/EU tour last spring. You will be able to listen to it during the forthcoming winter. We just came back from a tour in Japan. We plan to tour more Asian countries in 2019.
(Responses have been partially edited for clarity)
Many thanks again to the members of Say Sue Me, Damnably Records and Electric Muse for helping facilitate this interview! Remember to check out their music and keep an eye out for tour dates near you!
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Featured image and in-article images source: © Say Sue Me. 02.08.2018. Images were provided by Damnably Records for use in this interview. Featured image credit: Jeongran Park. For in-article image credits/sources, see descriptions. All rights reserved. No reproduction without permission.
© Say Sue Me interview. 08.09.2018. Inspire Me Korea