Story by: Sophie Boladeras, Photos by: Dylan Goldby
Shinae An Wheeler / 안신애
I am the bossy Barberette. I play guitar and write songs. Being bossy is my role. I choke the other girls.
Grace Kim / 김은혜
I usually sing the main melody, and I am the playful one with a big smile — because I have a big mouth.
So Hee Park / 박소희
I am the baby Barberette. I sing the low harmony and keep the harmony stable.
Their matching ‘60s-inspired outfits and hairstyles, crisp yet sultry voices and beautiful harmonies ensure that The Barberettes stand out in Korea as a girl group with an edge. The trio came together when So Hee began taking vocal lessons from Shinae, who was already singing in a jazz band with Grace. Shinae then got the wonderful idea of creating a retro-inspired girl group.
Initially they just wanted to have fun with it, but their friends started asking them to play at gigs. Their first was at a fundraiser held by their close friend Roh Young-shim, a hit songwriter/pianist, but the girls spent too long creating their elaborate retro hairdos and had to hurry to get to the venue. They were a little late and unprepared for their first show, but times have changed and now their gorgeous look is put together in a flash.
Groove Korea: Has the group undergone many changes since you got together?
The Barberettes: Yeah, we have experienced so many changes. In the beginning it was more about just reenacting the band’s theme, but lately we’ve been focusing on finding our own style. As our bond grew stronger we could feel things around us changing. Our musical tastes expanded and we learned the importance of listening to each other’s voices when we sing. Our respect, love and understanding as a band have grown so much since our beginnings.
How would you describe your sound and style?
We are inspired by doo-wop, Motown, barbershop and pop music that was created prior to the 1960s. We have interpreted these genres and sounds in the spirit of the 21st century, with our own Korean twist.
What groups and musicians inspire your sound?
The Kim Sisters, the Andrews Sisters, the Chordettes, the Ronettes and most of the harmony-based girl groups from that era — especially the Kim Sisters, because they were three talented Korean singers who didn’t have much recognition in Korea until recently. They were signed with Motown before the Supremes and they performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show” over 22 times. We discovered them on YouTube and we were stunned by their performances. They have had a huge effect on us and are our biggest idols.
You have just finished recording an album. Tell us about it.
This album introduces us to the audience for the first time, so we tried to be true to ourselves and our sound. It was a fascinating experience to make the album. Through the process of recording the songs one by one, we felt a different sense of achievement that we couldn’t get from playing shows. It was an awesome thing to see the incredible session musicians elevating our album’s sound to a new level. Also, we cannot miss mentioning our two great sound engineers, B.A. Wheeler and BK! of Astro Bits. We were so honored and blessed to have them work with us because they’re such talented and passionate musicians. They helped to make our sound so much richer and fuller.
What has been your most memorable moment as a group?
At the end of last summer, we went on a “woodshed” trip by ourselves to get away in nature. We stayed in a cabin at a flower farm where we practiced, cooked, wrote songs and sang for the local people. It became an unforgettable memory.
On the last night of the trip, there was a local festival going on. When we spontaneously went on stage, all of the local people gathered to sing along and dance with us. We were the only young people in the whole town, but age didn’t matter at all. It was so much fun.
Have you faced any challenges as an all-girl group in Seoul?
Kim: There are definitely some challenges and expectations being a girl group in Korea. There are some people who expect the same thing from us that they see from typical K-pop girl groups at first, and then they get disappointed because we’re different. But some people do like us for that same reason. It is pretty interesting for us to see people’s reactions in contrast. But we’re having fun with it mostly.
An Wheeler: Too much male attention! WE LOVE IT.
What types of things do you sing about? Are there any recurring themes?
We have many different things to sing about, such as love, seasons, loneliness, comfort, harmony and friendship. Recently we’ve been singing songs about spring quite a lot, because we love the spring season. We usually like to make the song set list right before the gig, depending on the occasion, the audience and the weather that day.
Do you get nervous before performing?
If we practice enough before the gig, we feel very comfortable before the show. But if we feel like we didn’t practice enough or if there’s a new number in our repertoire, we get nervous. Since teamwork is really important in our style of music, we really have to focus on our personal parts to ensure we don’t break the balance. The harmony only sounds the way it should when the individual parts are right. So it takes a lot of work.
What do you have planned for the future?
We want to keep the joy of harmony in every part of our lives, by helping and loving each other. We truly believe that the energy that we share in everyday life goes straight into our music and people can hear it directly. Good feelings are contagious. We want to be “happy germs” to our music fans — in a hygienic way.