Hong is one of the most chilled out guys you will meet; friendly, polite, extremely laid-back. The eccentrically-coiffured (and colorfully-attired) frontman of Blue Turtle Land looks like someone who stepped out of a 1960s counter-culture documentary. Speaking to him and his bandmates after a gig at Club Freebird late last year, you couldn’t help but get the feeling that this is a musician who plays as he would like to live; a person who truly feels that you can find out who you are by “being one with music.” It may not have always been this way though, as he remembers always feeling tied down in his school-days, like somebody he wasn’t supposed to be. “Rock and roll had always been with me and it made me feel free.” He takes that desire for freedom onstage every time he plays as well as when he composes.
The escape that rock offered Hong led him to embrace music more fully and led to his taking up blues piano. From there, a step back in time to the music of the 60s and 70s led to psychedelic rock influences and an interest in Korean groups such as He 6, whose go-go instrumentals have had a huge influence on Hong and his bandmates. And then of course there is Jimi. Hong has always felt a connection to Hendrix and his music. “His playing and the style of song writing has been a great influence on mine,” explains Hong. “I can tell he was 100% free while he was playing.” It’s an influence that plays strongly in both Blue Turtle Land’s performances and recordings, especially when you consider that bassist (and brother) Young also namechecks Hendrix as one of his favorites. Most of [the bands I like] are psychedelic rock, blues rock bands.” Young pauses to think for a moment. “I think I was just born to love this sound.”
How this translates into the band’s performances is one of the most important parts of enjoying Blue Turtle land’s particular oeuvre; something which seeks to channel the vibe flowing around them to help them express their ideas musically. Asked about what inspires him when writing, Hong points to how people live and act as part of society as one of things that fascinates him most. “We like to recommend our music to people who like to free their mind and explore the journey of life.” Taken together, it’s a concoction that can lead to heavy improvisation on-stage as the band seeks to push the envelope every time they play. For the audience, this can mean that no two Blue Turtle Band performances are quite the same and that imaginative leaps and creativity are encouraged from both sides of the microphone.
While playing in front of audiences at any venue is fantastic, Hong highlights the Happy Hippy events as massive fixtures in the band’s development. Playing at these psychedelic rock events feels like home to him and gives him a chance to feel connected to other performers and fans as part of a family. Young also remembers the Woodstock-themed Korean rock festival Lovecamp as it offered an experience he had never encountered before. Such festivals, Young feels, will be vital for the development of the band over the next few years so that more people can hear the band’s sound.
Looking to the next twelve months, the band hope to build on being chosen as the 16th CJ Tune Up artist in the coming year. It’s a massive boon for an indie band considering how much independent music in Korea can struggle for exposure within the K-pop tide. The accolade comes with mentoring, introductions to record companies and assistance with album production; the goal being to release a debut album in mid-2016. The band are also excited about touring beyond Seoul, having developed the taste for it after performing in Tokyo in June last year, and there are plans ahead for performing at some of Korea’s outdoor festivals this year as well as a tour of Japan. This desire to tour, despite the challenges that scheduling can create, is perhaps encapsulated best by drummer De, who identifies music as responsible for his travels, friends and experiences “My life,” he insists, “would not be anything like it is now without music.”
Whether at a Happy Hippy event or elsewhere, an evening spent in the land of the blue turtle offers a blend of retro music and modern sounds that create something thoroughly unique. Harking back to times spent listening to Hendrix, Cream and Iron Butterfly, the band is looking for all genders, ages and musical tastes to join them on their next psychedelic journey on the back of a giant blue turtle.
Check out Blue Turtle Land on Soundcloud at soundcloud.com/blueturtleland
or at their next performance at Hongdae Freebird (a.k.a Big Bird) on Sat April 9th.