I recently learned that there is a considerable gap between the music that my parents grew up on and the music that I, as a teenager, listen to. One day, however, I found a song that my parents were listening to that instantly caught my attention: “Sea Man (Badasanai)” by No Brain. That song got me hooked on their music, and I even planned to see them perform live, but the concert was cancelled because of the COVID-19 situation. I was disappointed. Fortunately, however, I had the opportunity to meet the members of No Brain in person: I was delighted to learn that my father is actually a longtime friend (my father being just a few years older!) of the drummer, Hyun Sung Hwang. They grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same Catholic church, where they both served as altar boys. I jumped at the opportunity to be able to meet this amazing band in person.
|[Profile picture of No Brain / Photo courtesy of ROXTAMUZIK&LIVE]|
I met Sung Woo Lee, Hyun Sung Hwang, Min Joon Jung, and Woo Yong Jung in their recording studio, “ROXTAMUZIK&LIVE” in Mapo-gu, Seoul. I was somewhat starstruck to meet them in person, but their warm welcome and approachable friendliness broke the ice, after which I was able to conduct the interview comfortably. No Brain is a first-generation Korean punk rock band that was formed in 1996 in a small club in the Hongdae area. They have performed over 4,000 live stages and released eight studio albums, of which “Go Straight (Jikjin)” is their latest album. They have several Korean Music Awards under their belt and have appeared in the movie “Radio Star” and the reality show “I Live Alone”.
I first asked them what it feels like to have so much free time on their hands now that all concerts and stage performances have been cancelled indefinitely due to COVID-19. Lee said that at first, he felt upset and disappointed, but at the same time he believes that it is better to be safe than sorry and so is trying to make the best of this situation. Hwang said that they are treating this opportunity as a time for capability development and also sketching songs for their next project.
I asked them how they have managed to keep the band together for more than 20 years. Lee immediately answered, “Our love for the stage.” Guitarist Jung said that once you taste the energy that you get from the stage, you are hooked. Bassist Jung said that although they all have different tastes in music, their understanding of each other keep them together. Hwang said that the fact that they are making money from making music is also an important factor in keeping them together. No Brain did have their fair share of struggle the first ten years of their career without making much money from their music. Fortunately, however, the members have never yet argued about who takes how much of their joint profit.
No Brain is well known for their live performances, and I was curious how many concerts and performances they do each year. “Normally, we do about 100 shows a year. In the past we did as many as 300 shows in a year.” Hwang remembers that during the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, they performed five shows per day, and they had to be transported from one show to the next on delivery motorcycles to avoid being late.
I got the impression that the members were all strong characters and wanted to know how they resolve their differences while making music. Lee jokingly said “Oh, we just fight. We fight over the littlest things because everyone participates in the music production. Sometimes it takes days for us to come to an agreement.” Bassist Jung added “The editing process can take a very long time. Lee once took a few years to complete one song when another song was completed in a whiz.” Lee laughingly said, “It doesn’t necessarily mean that the song that took a few years to complete is a masterpiece.” Guitarist Jung joked “Yes, I liked the first version best.”
[The author interviewing No Brain (from left: Min Joon Jung (guitar),
I wanted to know if the bassist and guitarist plan to record solo songs on No Brain’s upcoming albums, and they both said that they do not intend to sing because they believe that it is best to stick to what they do best. Guitarist Jung thinks that from what he has seen, the vocal is the toughest position. He added that that one time he sang a No Brain song in a karaoke and his friends promptly turned it off because they could not bear to hear him sing. Lee commented, “But [Guitarist and Bassist Jungs] actually have good vocals, and I think it would be fun to ask them to sing someday.”
Lee has a unique husky voice which seems hard to maintain, and I asked him how he takes care of his voice. Lee said that all he does is to eat well, sleep well, drink whiskey sometimes, exercise and do yoga. He tries to stay physically fit because many of their songs are “laborious” to perform. Guitarist Jung jokingly added, “Lee exercises more than he practices singing, and I think that is better for the band”
Based on how I saw Lee on the reality show “I Live Alone”, I told him that I thought he was a good entertainment (ye-neung) material. He said that he did not feel that the show was “entertainment,” but rather simply a program where he could be himself. He did not have to pretend to be anything or to make people laugh. Guitarist Jung said that no member is entertainment material at all. “We are all camera-shy.” Lee explained that they are very different on and off-stage.
Hwang is the only member, who is married and I wanted to know if being married has changed his life as a band member. Hwang said that being married has actually helped him grow as a musician because he is more motivated, and raising a child has taught him that to make music is to share it with others so he has become more open.
I closed the interview by asking No Brain if there was anything more they wish to say. Lee said that he wishes for everyone to stay safe and to remember to wash our hands in order to stay safe from the corona virus.
|[Picture of the author and No Brain / Photo Credit: Sewon Han]|
I wish I was able to better convey the fun atmosphere of the interview on paper, because the members were very sincere about their answers and oftentimes very funny throughout the interview. They told me that they liked my interview questions because they were not generic or predictable. Each member of No Brain was as humble and down-to-earth as I imagined, and I cannot wait for concerts to start being held again so that I can see No Brain live.
Sophomore (Grade 10)
Shepherd International Education
Sewon Han firstname.lastname@example.org
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