HarryBigButton ready to unleash K-rock

Hongdae band eyes Western rock market

Lee Sung-soo roars through the lyrics with his deep voice and stomps on the stage, his shaggy hair flies rhythmically to the powerful guitar sound.

As the performance heats up, his hair clings to his sweaty face and the audience of some 300 as go wild as the band, making it a giant ball of energy and passion.

The post-hard rock band HarryBigButton ― comprised of lead vocalist and guitarist Lee Sung-soo, Irish bassist Neil Smith and drummer Kang Dae-hui ― released their new album “Perfect Storm” on April 2. Based on its local popularity, it is expected to rock more audiences overseas.

“The biggest asset to our band is Lee’s voice,” said Kang.

Just like Kang said, Lee’s vocals, which go effortlessly from classic hard rock to heavy metal, and his flawless British accent almost like a British Punk snarl are everywhere on their freshly released five track EP, leaving no trace of its Korean root.

All five songs are composed and written by Lee, who was educated in the United Kingdom. Its recording has been mastered by Joe LaPorta, who collaborated with the Foo Fighters, at Sterling Sound, in New York.

“From the time I made the band in 2011, I was planning to go overseas,” said metal/rock veteran Lee, who was a former member of legendary Korean metal band “Crash.”

“Regardless of nationality, in terms of energy and power, our band stands shoulder to shoulder with other world renowned rock bands,” he added.

“We sent our demos to overseas labels and columnists for reviews. Most of them at first were surprised that there is rock music in Korea. And later, they were awed at the uniqueness of our music. Some even said that we are better than today’s American rock bands.”

“HarryBigButton has been successful with Korean audience because its a damn good rock n’ roll band. There are already many foreign fans and when we go to play in other countries I’m sure the reception will be the same,” said Smith.

If the band’s previous album “King’s Life” sought for external strength with a classic heavy metal sound, this time it focused more on inner strength.

The main track “Coffee, Cigarettes and Rock ’n’ Roll,” which pays tribute to three of the things central to his influences, is a rhythmical rock song that evokes the ’70s and ’80s western heavy metal sound. “Control” is a song like a Guns N’ Roses number with a dash of punk rock.

George Washburn of Metal Disciple described it as a rarity within the fairly young Korean indie scene and their music, “a cross between traditional hard rock/metal and ’90s alternative with a twist.”

The band, named after a slang word for a cheap, vintage car stereo, made its name widely known to the audience by appearing in a nation-wide music show “Top Band 2” in 2012.

Since its debut in late 2011 with the acclaimed, self-produced debut EP, “Hard ‘n’ Loud,” the testosterone-fueled guitar play and powerful vocals made the band the talk of town, exposing it to large audiences and almost cult-like fandom.

Lee, who entered the local rock music scene in 1990s, said that over time many things have changed. “Nowadays, the local rock scene is diverse and we see many music bands and clubs as well,” he said.

In the past, the music scene was divided by genre within rock music. For instance, there were some venues devoted to punk rock, while others put modern rock bands on stage, according to Lee.

“Since the late 90’s clubs have taken the place of live venues and they began to give space to rock bands of diverse genres.”

Ironically, however, Lee said that the channel to unveil diverse rock music has decreased. “In the past, we had local bands and local music halls scattered across the country. And there were music programs where rock bands could perform,” he said.

“There are many talented rock musicians who perform near Hongdae, the enclave of indie music bands. But they are famous only within the area. When the musician walks out of Hongdae, there is lesser place to let our music be known to the audiences.”

The band also faced its own ordeal, when its leader Lee was injured in a car accident about two years ago. “I had to temporarily stop performing. It was a very difficult time for me, my fans as well as my friends who had to watch me suffer emotionally and physically.

Previously, before forming the band, Lee had to spend some 10 years trying to find the right band members, since there are not many musicians doing hard rock.

“We are planning to go to SXSW for starters. A number of rock musicians get supported by organizations like Korea Creative Content Agency and showcase their music overseas. Although it is premature to talk about its results, I think it gives a great opportunities to the local rock musicians like us,” said drummer Kang.

“I would like to define our music as sturdy and everlasting as a rock. I’d like to leave the rest to the listeners of our work,” said Lee. By Park Jin-hai The korea times

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