Korean rock act Galaxy Express released their fourth full length album Walking on Empty last year to critical acclaim. Hello Asia editor Johnny Au sat down with Galaxy Express members Lee Ju Hyun, Park Jong Hyun and Kim Hee Kwon in Seoul and spoke about the recording process and the touring of the album around Korea.
What was producing the album like?
Jong Hyun – The way we wrote songs was different from the way we worked on our previous albums. This time around we played our instruments the way we wanted to first and then put the lyrics in later.
How was the process of making the album?
Ju Hyun – The song writing was different to the previous style we have shown in our 1st 2nd and 3rd album. It was more like we played the instrument in a way we wanted first and then put the lyrics in later.
Let’s talk about the album’s name Walking On Empty. How did you guys come up with the name?
Jong Hyun – Ju Hyun actually suggested Running On Empty first. But we decided that we wanted to make things more relaxed on the album and not take things too fast so we ended up naming the album Walking On Empty instead.
This album is different paced compared to your previous songs – would you agree?
Ju Hyun – Yes, we tried to make the songs simpler and more relaxed this time around which is how the album ended up sounding softer than our previous releases.
Hee Kwon – It was out first time making an album with a producer and we had a lot of conversations with him. We only decided on the basic outline of the songs and he told us to play them however we wanted. If things sounded too rigid, we kept playing until things were more loose and relaxed. And that’s how the more relaxed atmosphere was created on the album.
Where did the idea for the music video came from?
Jong Hyun – The director for this album’s music video is the same director that made our video for the song ‘Horongbul’ off of our 2012 self-titled release. We left everything up to the director to decide, so the entire music video was his idea.
How long did it take you to write the album?
Jong Hyun – It took us 2 years to write this album. The instrumental parts were recorded within a month, but the vocal parts took about a year because the melodies and lyrics had not been decided on yet when we recorded the instrumental parts. Recording the vocals to fit with the music took a long time.
What was it like to have a Western producer? Were there many differences?
Ju Hyun – The difference this time was that rather than listening to our previous songs for inspirations the producer was more keen on creating something new. He wanted to try a new style in producing our album.
Jong Hyun – There was an ongoing project at Sansangmadang and they were interested in producing with Galaxy Express. They suggested working with a foreign producer and sent us a list of names, asking us to choose who we want to work with. Looking at their profiles everyone had outstanding experiences so we thought all of them will be great to work with. But out of all of the producers Andrea Hall gave us the best feedback so we decided to go with him.
Hee Kwon –We talked a lot about the things we wanted to do the most on the album, and then tried to incorporate them into it. Our producer told us not to try so hard. We followed his advice and the results were great. We talked about how to make our songs more listenable and how to play in a more comfortable manner. We also talked about how to sing more like we normally speak. I think we learned a lot through this experience.
How was the experience of mixing at the Abbey Road Studios?
Ju Hyun – In terms of the mixing, there was nothing to complain about or to fix as everyone there was very professional. They understood our music so well.
You did a tour last November to promote Walking On Empty. How many dates and how many cities was the tour?
Jong Hyun – We played in about a dozen cities on that tour.
I heard it’s unusual for a Korean band to tour for so long. Why did you decided to do such a long tour?
Ju Hyun – After releasing an album, it’s not like we expose ourselves much to the media so we always concentrate on live performances. We play in Hongdae often, so visiting other cities to meet people who understand and like our music is all we can do.
After the Korean tour, do you have any plans for international tour?
Jong Hyun – We don’t have any plans for an international tour, but if we are given the opportunity we will always like to visit other countries to perform.
Ju Hyun – After producing a good album we want as many people to hear it as possible. And performing live is the best way to promote ourselves. But touring overseas is expensive which is why we have to be careful when planning. We definitely want to play overseas!
You played at Zandari Festa and you are a regular line-up for the festival. How was your showcase at Zandari ? Have you noticed how it’s getting bigger every year?
Hee Kwon – There isn’t any other festival like Zandari Festa in Korea and what I like the most is the party atmosphere at the event. When we have played showcases overseas, it felt more like the bands were all performing individually, but Zandari brings people together to party and make friends. So I wish for the festival to get bigger.
Ju Hyun – I think the purpose of Zandari is to show people how bands can get along and play together. So I think us having fun with others and enjoying the party atmosphere is the best part.
Jong Hyun – At most major Korean rock festivals popular foreign artists are invited to come and perform. But Zandari allows people to listen to various underground musicians from around the world. Opportunities to engage with underground music in Korea are decreasing, so Zandari has a big advantage in providing this kind of opportunity.
Galaxy Express,photogrpaher Manchul Kim, Korea
What was the experience of playing at South by Southwest in 2013? And also the K-Pop Night Out?
Jong Hyun – Performing in the US itself was a complete new experience for us which we enjoyed, so we didn’t really think too deeply about it. We just really enjoyed the opportunity to play in another country.
Ju Hyun – It was very surprising to see all the people so stunned seeing us perform. Even in Korea we get that kind of reaction a lot as well, but seeing people in other countries react that way was an interesting experience. That moment is what we remember the most from the overall experience.
Did you get to meet any other bands at SXSW?
Jong Hyun – I remember Blind Pets the most. They played likes animals – throwing guitars, screaming and moving a lot – they were very energetic. We became friends so they came to watch us perform as well. We also made friends with Duke and one of the members actually invited us to his house. The bands that were in a similar situation with us rather than the big bands were easier for us to relate to. Honestly we don’t really remember that much because we partied so much!
Do you have any plans to go to SXSW again?
Jong Hyun – We want to go back every year but we need the right circumstances and the finances to do so.
If there were any band you can collaborate with, who would that be?
Ju Hyun – Right now we would love to collaborate with female artists like The Runaways.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Jong Hyun – In January of this year, we did a month-long residency at a venue named Strange Fruit in Seoul. Monday was our only day off and from Tuesday to Sunday we were performing continuously. We changed the set list every day. On Sunday we played unplugged versions of our songs as well.
Whose idea was it to plan the residency?
Ju Hyun – We got into the idea of doing a residency when we were talking about how we want to perform continuously throughout the year. And this is part of what we have planned. We just wanted to perform like we did in the old days.
I heard the performances are going to be filmed?
Jong Hyun – Yes we will document the performances from the same angle everyday. And we will be leaving Korea in February to go on a holiday.
What are your holiday destinations?
Ju Hyun – I want to go to Nepal for a holiday, maybe climb the mountain. Now is a good time to go because there are less tourists.
Hee Kwon – I really want to go to Australia. I was thinking of going there for my honeymoon but haven’t gotten the chance yet. But I still really want to visit Australia when I have the chance.
Jong Hyun – I don’t really know where I want to go. Hawaii maybe?