Story by Emma Kalka / Photos by Blair Kitchener
“Global win opens next chapter for Street Guns”
Big things are happening for Korean rockabilly band Street Guns.
While it’s been over six months since it was crowned the global winner of the Hard Rock Rising contest, beating out 10,000 entrants from around the world, it’s only been recently that the band has been able to reap some of the benefits.
They used part of their $50,000 cash prize to fund their new EP Summer Time Machine Blues, which dropped on February 2. They also released a music video funded by Hard Rock and directed by Kim Se-myung, “너란여자” on January 31.
And they held a showcase in Panama at the end of January, the first time the band has been to South America. They performed with the regional Hard Rock Rising winners for South America/Caribbean/Mexico, a band called Les Indigents who hail from Panama.
The show itself was mostly for Hard Rock staff and workers; however, guitarist Tiger said they had a lot fun. Not to mention, they were able to hand out about 200 promotional packets and signed autographs after the show. The lively band also received a warm reception, according Roy, who plays the upright bass.
“We’re an indie band in Korea; however, we were treated very nicely. Like rock stars. We felt really good and it was an overwhelming experience,” he recalled.
“There was actually a funny experience where the wife of someone in the crowd, she liked it so much that her husband had to drag her out at the end,” he joked.
While there was potential for a language barrier, the band didn’t let it stand in their way. “The crowd seemed really engaged in our music and having a lot of fun,” said singer Cheol-su. “Overall it was good.”
Outside of performing, all the members said they enjoyed their time in Panama and hope to go back someday. The weather was immediately their favorite thing about the country. Outside that, they each walked away with various memories from the trip.
“It was nice to see all these animals and nature outside of a zoo,” Tiger said, before cheekily adding that his second favorite thing about Panama was the women. “South American women are very beautiful and attractive,” he admitted as the entire band dissolved into laughter.
And while the band was enjoying their impressions of the country, it seemed as though the locals were enjoying the band. Bassist Roy surmised that there must not be many Asians in Panama as they would attract a lot of attention while out in public. Granted it could have also been the fact the band dons a rockabilly style which is heavily reminiscent of the 1950s – including pompadours, leather jackets, bowling shirts, and neckerchiefs.
“When we dressed up and walked down the streets, people were amused by us,” he said, smiling. “They kept asking if we were Chinese and were really surprised to find out we were Korean.”
Guitarist Kyu-kyu said there was one man on the trip who kept recommending a certain restaurant to the band. He assumed it was because the man must have really liked it.
“Turned out he was the owner,” he exclaimed while the band laughed. “He pulled out a menu and it had a Chinese section. We were surprised.”
If anything, the band hopes to go back to experience the local music scene more, something that unfortunately wasn’t on the books this trip.
Since getting back, Street Guns has kept busy preparing for the release of Summer Time Machine Blues and a showcase that took place on February 6. Singer Cheol-su said they put a lot of time and preparation into the show, hoping to make it something exciting. They included some old songs and new, and invited members of punk band Crying Nut on stage to perform together on the song “Rose Motel.”
The band brought their trademark energy and liveliness, performing music that harkens back to another time, yet is perfectly married with Korean music and contemporary lyrics. Tiger, who wrote the songs for the EP, said they wanted to experiment more with their latest release.
“This album we are experimenting a bit more outside of the traditional rockabilly music we had been doing. Often when we describe our music, we say this is Korean rockabilly or kimchibilly. I think this album shows that sound – what we’ve been talking about. We carry a lot of messages in a Korean way,” he explained.
“Instead of playing traditional rockabilly, usually the Korean music is melted in,” continued Roy.
Tiger said the lyrics – which he wrote first and later went back to write the music – are mostly just based off feelings he has about life in general.
From here out, the band has more to look forward to. To congratulate them on their win, Fred Gretsch, the president of instrument maker Gretsch, sent a personal letter, guitars, and a banjo to the band.
Street Guns was also invited to perform at the HUSH Full Beach Concert in Macau. It’s the first time for the band to play there and unlike some other Korean indie bands, they received full sponsorship for the trip.
Outside that, the band members say they just want to spend the year improving their music and live performances.
“I hope we play a lot of venues and shows and do a lot of promotion. We’re going to try and do as much as possible. Be on the radio or TV,” Kyu-kyu said.
Tiger said that, originally, the band was concerned about how they would promote their music and find commercial success. However, that has become a thing of the past.
“Now, we’re more concerned about how we are going to make our music better and how we are going to perform better in our shows. So, doing it that way, I think success and everything will naturally come,” he said.
They also hope that they can attract more fans, especially foreigners.
“I know that people hope to know more about underground music in Korea. We can make you happy. We play music from your home,” Tiger said. The other members echoed this sentiment, urging folks to check out their music.
They also encouraged other rockabilly bands to reach out to them through social media.
“Like ska, punk, and other genres have their own specific shows, we’d like to have one too for rockabilly,” Cheol-su said.