Story by: Sophie Boladeras, Photos by:
On an intensely humid and rainy Sunday in Hongdae, I met with the three members of blues-based rock ‘n’ roll band Wasted Johnny’s. We sipped iced Americanos while I delved into their aspirations, anger and their experience of playing at Ansan Rock Music Festival. Wasted Johnny’s got together after French guitarist Nils Germain came across a wanted poster on the street back in 2011. Wasted Johnny’s fiery vocalist Angie and a former member who used to play drums were looking for a bass player, and Nils was it. After their first gig, Kim Young-jin joined the group as the new drummer.
Initially, Angie and Young-jin were keen to play mainly blues, but Nils wanted more of a rock ’n’ roll sound so they mixed the styles, and in January 2012 they played their first gig as Wasted Johnny’s. The band was stoked to open for famous Korean rockabilly musicians The Rock Tigers. The show was packed and Wasted Johnny’s were feeling the pressure; they thought it didn’t go too badly. However, now that they see what they are capable of, they look back on their first show together as being pretty terrible. Today Wasted Johnny’s are gaining attention in Seoul’s live indie music scene.
How did the name Wasted Johnny’s come about?
Angie: In blues, rockabilly and rock ’n’ roll songs, many musicians use the name Johnny, so I wanted to use Johnny’s to convey our sound. Then the first time I met Nils we had a lot of makgeolli and we were pretty drunk, so I was like how about Wasted? He was like yeah, so it was like okay, good, Wasted Johnny’s it is! Our band name can give people an idea about our blues-based rock ’n’ roll style.
What do you sing about?
Angie: My songs are always angry. Sometimes I sing about break-ups, sometimes it’s like, “Ah sheebal!” But sometimes they’re sad lyrics, because there are so many different kinds of anger. When I was younger my mother would always tell me to be moderate, to not be so crazy. She would restrict me and tell me not to do things, but I wanted to be more expressive. So I am very expressive in my songs. The song “Loud and Headache Girl” is about how sometimes I can’t understand anything and people can’t understand me. Lyrics are important, but sometimes it’s all about the feeling.
What do you guys do to support your music?
Angie: My dream is to be a full-time musician, but right now I am teaching guitar at a hagwon and to middle-school students. The middle schoolers are fucking crazy. They’re like oh teacher sex, sex, I wanna see a sex video. I’m like fuck you, shut up and give me your phone.
Kim: I teach drums at a music hagwon.
Germain: I originally came to Korea when I was 17 because of my father’s job. At the moment, I am learning Korean so I can enter a university here. I’m at level three now and have to get to level four. Maybe I will go to Hongik or Kookmin University and will major in graphic design.
You haven’t been together for too long. What have you been up to?
Germain: In 2012, we played at Green Plugged Seoul at Nanji Hangang Park. There were four stages; people had to pay to see the acts at the three big stages, but we were on a free stage in the middle. The stage was so small and there were heaps of people coming by. It turned out to be a really good spot, except for the rain, and there was an artists’ lounge with free beer and food, which was really nice.
PSCORE has invited our band to play at a few of their shows, and it’s always a pleasure helping the North Korean cause and being able to get a lot of people to come and see us play.
We also tried out for “Top Talent,” which was a project that wanted to be huge; they spent heaps of money to make it big, but it just didn’t seem to work out too well. It was supposed to be on TV but something didn’t go to plan and there were a lot of organizational problems. It was very “American Idol” style and when the camera came around, we always had to put on a big smile and say “Top Talent!” We didn’t realize that the audience voted for the winner, so it was kind of like whoever brought the most friends along got the most votes. We were really proud to do it though, and got into the top six.
Do you do anything in particular before you go on stage?
Angie: I always drink a can of beer before the show since I often feel nervous. I also stretch. I often wear a polka-dotted dress when we play because it reminds me of the late Buddy Guy.
Germain: We don’t really have any rituals, but just things we do to get relaxed. YJ (Young-jin) usually plays games on his phone, I clean my strings, Angie plays some chords and we all smoke cigs and drink some beer to get in the mood.
Have you ever tried to impress a girl or a guy with your musical talents?
Germain: Before I met my girlfriend I definitely did. But now I just want to create a good image for our band so people can enjoy our shows.
Angie: Guys maybe think about me in terms of just how I am on the stage, like how I move and act all crazy. This is me, but I also have different sides. I’m happy with that, but that’s not what I am always like. On stage it’s good to have an image that the audience can be interested in.
Kim: No, I don’t think so…
You got to play at Ansan Valley Rock Festival in July. How did it go?
Germain: It was amazing! We all felt great and got crazy on stage and as we played more and more people were gathering. I’d say it was comparable to a full club audience, but more dispersed.
Kim: We were crazy on stage and as soon as we started people came in from everywhere like zombies. We could see people moving and dancing, and we were glad our music could make them move, even in an open space. We are more used to the intimacy of a club, so it was a positive experience for us on a big festival stage.
What were the highlights of the festival for you?
Germain: The festival was really well organized; I loved the fireworks on Sunday night, like a closing ceremony. I saw all the headline acts. Foals were as great as I expected, but my favorite was The Cure. It’s my mother’s favorite band and she saw them two times 30 years ago, so I was proud to be able to see them too. Regardless of their age, they kept the whole crowd crazy for a full three-hour show. I was smiling with bright eyes and had chills all over my body during the whole set. There was something magical that night.
Kim: Steve Vai!
Angie: I was really happy to see Romantica, Steve Vai, WHOwho and especially Nine Inch Nails. I got to meet Steve Vai backstage this year. We took a picture together and I give him a Wasted Johnny’s CD! It was a great honor and a monumental moment for me.
Who gets wasted the most out of you three? What is your beverage of choice?
Germain: Angie is definitely the most wasted of us! She is even crazier when she drinks!
Kim: I’m the worst drinker!
Germain: Yea, YJ tends to get wasted quickly and falls asleep easily. I’m not wasted a lot but when I am I tend to lose my phone, wallet and other goods, so in that way I can say I might be the worst one. I mainly drink beer and when money allows I love to have jägerbombs.
Angie: I’m the best drinker of the three. My drinking habits have become better these days. I feel good when I drink alcohol; you can call me when you want some beer. Don’t be afraid of me.
Wasted Johnnyís are: (in their own words)
A strong cocktail of blues based rock íní roll with a grunge grit. Drink with (out) caution.
Kim Young-jin – Drums
Nils Germain – Bass
Angie – Guitar and vocals
Wasted Johnny’s have been selected by PSCORE to play in New York City from Oct. 28 to Nov. 7.