Interview with Punk Rockers No Brain at SXSW

It’s always fun catching up with No Brain and this time at South by Southwest (SXSW) was no different. I’ve had the honour of interviewing them three times now and each time I learn new things about the band (which I get to share with you all), all the while having fun chatting with them.

For those of you that are new to No Brain, they are an amazing punk rock band from Korea that I definitely recommend checking out (links below). I’ve been listening to them for more than 10 years and they keep putting out great music. No Brain is Sungwoo (vocals), Dolly (drums), Vovo (guitar), and Wooyong (bass). This interview happened the afternoon of Friday, March 17th, before the K-pop Night Out showcase at SXSW this year. Keep reading to hear about their 20th anniversary album, the inspiration behind last year’s Brainless, and so much more.

No Brain at Maggie Mae’s at SXSW

The Interview

Hi everyone

Sungwoo: Hi Cindy

It’s good to see you all again. Since I’ve interviewed you before, instead of introducing yourself, can you introduce the person sitting to your left and tell our readers something interesting about them?

Sungwoo: Vovo is a kind of a survivor. He came here before we landed, he spent the time with his family, his family is in Seattle. He just came here to Austin and he spent the time with his friends. We just met two times, he never spends time with No Brain, he spends his time separate. He’s kind of a great survivor. I think so.

Vovo: Thank you, yeah, I’m a survivor. He is the drummer, Hyunsung. He is the most kind person when not on the stage. One the stage, he’s the most psychedelic, crazy guy. When he’s drumming, I thought about that, he’s the world’s best drummer but he’s still crazy and dirty.

Dolly: Wow! He’s crazy, an idiot. He’s the bassist of No Brain and he’s very kind, very nice guy. We’re very, especially we are very close. But recently he lent some money to a friend but there’s no response. So we are very down so we drink a lot together these days.

Sungwoo: Wow, good one. How interesting.

Wooyong: Sungwoo is so powerful vocalist and a great guy, very kind. I think so. A really good man. [laughter]

Recently you celebrated your 20th anniversary as No Brain. Congratulations!

Sungwoo: Thank you.

How has your music changed over the years?

Sungwoo: Well, actually we started as a punk rock band but we just mixed with other kinds of music, other genres so now No Brain sounds like more popular than before. We sound like we’re getting old. But it’s a great sound too. So if you’ve just listened to No Brain’s new songs, please check out the old stuff too. It will be fun.

Speaking of your 20th anniversary, the album has new versions of some of your hits. How did you choose the songs? What did it feel like to re-record it?

Dolly: Actually we were planning to re-record at least 30 songs, 30 old songs, but we didn’t have much time. So we chose special tracks that we especially loved on the stage and ended up with eight, eight songs that we loved and recorded them.

Sungwoo: No, nine songs.

Dolly: We’re pretty satisfied with them.

It’s a good album.

Dolly: Thank you.

Sungwoo: How did you feel about our 20 year anniversary album?

I liked it. It was interesting hearing songs I’ve liked in a different way.

Sungwoo: Yeah right. How was the arrangement of it? Did you like it?

Yeah, it was good, I liked it. I liked both it and Brainless. Brainless is really good.

Sungwoo: Which song is your favourite?

From Brainless or from all of your music?

Sungwoo: Any.

Well, from Brainless, “My Leather Jacket” – I really enjoyed it and the video is very interesting. And all-time favourite is “My Crush on You”. Speaking of Brainless, what was the inspiration for the album?

Sungwoo: F*cking Korea.

Vovo: The Korean government.

Sungwoo: We have a lot of problems in our country. That drives us crazy. Every country has some problems but especially Korea at that time have a lot of problems. We feel like young mad guys, we changed to young mad guys, like 20 years old. We were f*cking mad and we just wanted to say ‘F*ck you old men, f*ck you old women.’ We wanted to say ‘F*ck you old generation.’ We are also not a young generation but we feel so disappointed with our generation and the older generation too. That album is full of hate. Sometimes we think about whisky or something like that but most of the energy is from hate. I think so.

Dolly: The first track, what was the name of the first track, “Brainless”. In the track, in “Brainless”, we are talking about our generation. Are we old or are we young? We are stuck and I’m always thinking about that but there is no answer. That is the answer of the album. Our answer is there is no answer, we couldn’t find out the answer. The album is not talking about the specific governments, specific environment, specific circumstances. We are just talking about society and our generation. And finally we couldn’t find out the right answer so we are going to keep fighting and looking for the answers.

Sungwoo: It felt like we can back to the young generation of No Brain. Before that, we were just singing about hope and having fun, about love. But in Brainless, there is a lot of fear and hopelessness and hate.

Two of the music videos for songs from Brainless – “My Leather Jacket” and “Living Paycheck to Paycheck” – go together. How did you come up with the concept for the videos? It’s really interesting.

Dolly: That album is not a positive album, it’s very negative. But the track you like, “My Leather Jacket”, that song is the most positive song on that album. So we picked that song, ‘okay, this is the positive track’. And the other song, “하루살이” – what is that in English? 하루살이 is a bug, a bug that can live just one day. And our life is like that, we earn money and spend money through one day so we can have a very tough time.

Sungwoo: Especially Korean young generation, they don’t have money and they don’t have a job. When we were young, it was not so difficult to find a job, better than now, but for the young generation now, they try to find a job but there’s no job, not a lot. So they make the money from a part-time job and spend the money and wonder where is my money. Just no future.

Dolly: The biggest problem is not about the money. The biggest problem is we can not dream about the future, we can not plan for the future – that is the biggest problem. So the other track is about that, so we picked that song and thought let’s do the two of them.

As a viewer, it was intriguing to see them together and how they matched but had a different tone.

Dolly: Oh really.

Vovo: Thank you.

What are the challenges of being a band for 20 years? Any advice to young bands on how to stay together?

Vovo: Good looking, handsome face. [laughter]

Sungwoo: It feels short but it was such a long time. We shot a movie and two members changed. Well, the big challenge of the band is to stick together because No Brain had a lot of problems so actually me and Dolly are the only two original members. The other two guys they joined about 10 years ago for Vovo, over 10 years and seven years for Wooyong. So it was a big challenge to stick together. But now we play together for so many years so it was a big challenge. Sometimes he get hurt so he can’t play drums and suddenly the guitarist wants to quit the band, oh f*ck you, so every time that kind of problem happened it was a big problem to stay together and stick together.

Some of you recently acted in the upcoming film, Fiction & Other Realities. How was that experience?

Dolly: Oh, it was wonderful. [laughter] At the beginning, he [meaning Big Phony] suggested to me to act in one scene or two scenes, maybe three scenes. But I said, ‘I can’t, I’m not an actor.’ He said ‘Oh, you can do it, it’s very easy. Just be you. Behave as you.’ [laughter]

Sungwoo: Because he needed an asshole. Bobby did. [laughter]

Dolly: So I said ‘okay, I’ll try it.’ And then he suggested all of us. And while we were filming it there were a lot of things I can help him with, not only about the acting, so we helped each other so it was very great experience.

No Brain at Maggie Mae’s at SXSW

What’s your favourite thing about performing?

Vovo: Making people’s faces happy. When we start the show, people don’t have expression but after the show, people look so happy. That’s the point of our shows and a good thing about it.

Cool. So, of all of your songs, which song is your favourite to perform?

Vovo: Favourite song. “Come on! Come on! Masan Street”, I love that song. Best song of No Brain I think.

Wooyong: From our 7th album, “Anyway”, that song makes me…

Sungwoo: He wrote that song.

Wooyong: Yeah, I write that song.

Sungwoo: So his favourite.

Okay

Sungwoo: Interesting. [laughter]

When you are writing new songs, what is your songwriting process?

Sungwoo: For me, I just write the melody and lyrics and just have a cut. So I just play the songs to all the guys and these guys arrangement is f*ucking awesome, so always they made it better. I make flaws and they… no, no… I have meat and they cook a very good steak, yeah.

Vovo: Originally our songs’ root sucks, so wasted style [demonstrates] like this. But we believe that song will grown up so powerful because we believe our power chemistry, like that.

Sungwoo: That means like make up, like make up. [laughter]

Dolly: So sometimes we lose fear when we’re together, we’re the most powerful like that.

My last question, what’s next for No Brain?

Sungwoo: Playing songs with K-pop Night Out. [laughter] Then we’ll go back to Seoul and maybe write some songs. I’m not sure but this year we’ll release some single or EP album, maybe we will do that.

I’ll look forward to that.

Sungwoo: Thank you

Thank you very much for the interview.

Sungwoo: Thank you.

The members of No Brain (from top left, clockwise) – Wooyong, Sungwoo, Dolly, Vovo

Final Thoughts

As always, it was fabulous chatting with No Brain (it’s our third time interviewing them, you can read our 2013 interview here and our 2015 interview here). I loved all the additional insight that they gave about their album, Brainless, which you should definitely check out if you haven’t already. It’s a very good album!

And of course, follow them on social media to stay up-to-date on what No Brain is doing.

Editor’s note: The interview was edited slightly for clarity. Any errors are mine.

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 on the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival. 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.

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