Interview: The Barberettes

The Barberettes at Lee's Palace
The Barberettes at Lee’s Palace

While The Barberettes were in Toronto, I met with them and asked them about their trio, their music and what it’s like to be musicians. They were lovely and gracious, despite a slightly rushed interview (not their fault, just the timing of it). And their shows were even more delightful, if that’s possible.

Hello, can you please introduce yourselves?

Shinae: Hi, we’re The Barberettes. I’m Shinae.

Grace: I’m Grace

Sohee: I’m Sohee.

How did you start The Barberettes? How did the group come to be?

Shinae: Well, I’ve been very interested in 1960s and 50s style of music and I always wanted to have a vocal group like this. Then one day, two and a half years ago, I thought this was the time, I should really try. Sohee was my vocal trainee for a year at a music school and I met Grace at a jazz band where we both were guest singers. So I called the two girls that I wanted to have a vocal group with and here we are.

If someone wasn’t familiar with your music, how would you describe it? And what song would you recommend they listen to?

Shinae: Well basically, we’re a 1950s/60s do wop band, both American classic pop and Korean classic pop in the 21st century. But we started by doing cover songs but our first album, The Barberettes Vol. 1 is mostly originals in that style. Mainly it’s based on harmony of three female vocal singers but not only do we blend into a harmony, each of us have our own voices and we try to keep that in our music. Yeah, so what song should we recommend first? Our title song of our debut album is called 가시내들, the English title is “Little Gals”. I think that songs lyrics are about our experience when we started the band and started to have shows. We experienced many people giving us really good reactions like smiling and some guys talked to us because we’re all girls and that’s kind of what the lyrics are about in the old style. Here in Canada we translated our song into English so you can also hear the English version too.

This leads into my nest question, the look and style of your music has a nostalgic feel because it’s influenced by the 50s and 60s. You’ve talked about it a little bit but what really drew you to choose that style of music for The Barberettes?

Shinae: I would say that style of music, it’s never out of style no matter when you listen to it, you know what I mean. When it was played a lot in the 90s, 80s and 70s, trends changed but people always listened to that type of music. Many people still love that sound from that era. So I guess that’s the genuine thing about it, that’s what keeps us interested in it. It’s always good to listen to it and to sing it, you never get sick of it. It fits any time, really, any time of the year and any year. It doesn’t matter what mood you’re in, it soothes you and keeps you happy, I think.

Can you tell us a story of something interesting or funny that happened to you on stage?  

Shinae: Do you mind if these girls talk in Korean and I translate?

(Of course)

Grace: Once we had a concert at a university last year and Shinae plays guitar in the band and was too excited during the show and just slid on the stage on her knee. (Answer translated by Shinae)

Shinae: She said that was funny but I remember a lot more funny stories than that but I guess we’re cool with that.

Where do you usually get your musical inspiration when you write your own music?

Shinae: I would say that we have the style and theme but I think what bring us to our own colour is just ourselves as individuals. How Grace is, how I am, and how Sohee is and the three of us, our different personalities collide together. That’s pretty much it, that’s our influence. And we listen to a lot of music from back then, like groups such as The McGuire Sisters orThe Kim Sisters. And these groups, they have videos on YouTube that we always try to watch and get influenced and impressed. That gives us another new idea to do our own stuff.

This is your first time performing in Canada. Is there anything you’re looking forward to doing or seeing while you’re here (in addition to performing).

Sohee: Lots of shopping. (Answer translated by Shinae)

You are also playing shows in Austin at South by Southwest (SXSW). What made you decide to do shows in North America, here and in Austin?

Shinae: Actually we didn’t decide. Well, the decision was made but those bringing us to the festivals and concerts. Which we love. Why would we say no to these great opportunities, you know. We are just three young girls singing in South Korea. We’re not even a mainstream K-pop girl group. We started out by ourselves for fun in a basement practice studio and then we were doing small gigs, we were doing club gig and then here we are. It’s so crazy. It doesn’t feel real still, it doesn’t feel like we are in a different country. We are up for anything. Being a musician, being singers, I think it’s the greatest thing in life that could ever happen. Not only do we get to sing and do what we like but we get to travel and get invited to festivals. This is what we’ve been dreaming of, we wanted to travel and this is the first time it’s happening, and we’re very happy.

Do you have any other plans for 2015?

Grace: I want to come back again, like this. (Answer translated by Shinae)

Shinae: Thank you so much [for the interview]!

Huge thanks to The Barberettes for taking the time to chat with us in Toronto prior to their show. They were absolutely lovely and when I ran into Shinae at South by Southwest (SXSW) we chatted further (she’s super friendly and it was always nice chatting with her). After seeing them perform five (5) times in just over a week, I can confidently agree with Shinae that their music has a wide appeal – and from the looks of the various crowds that attended their shows, it’s being well received. Check them out if you haven’t already.

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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