The Kimchibilly sounds of The Rock Tigers

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Rockabilly, the sound of 1950’s Americana. With its Teddy Boys, sassy girls and strong and rhythmic bass lines it swept America influencing fashion and making heartthrobs of its musicians.

Rockabilly didn’t die when the musical soundscape of a generation changed, it is alive and well. This time, it’s been given an eastern twist.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the Kimchibilly sounds of The Rock Tigers.

Based in Seoul this awesome group has been turning up the notches and the heat on the alternative music scene in Korea. Consisting of members, Tiger, Velvet Geena, Eddie Tarantula, Roy and new member Jeff this has been gaining not only press at home but have gathered a large expat following.

They have been featured on the LA Times, CNN International, Japan Times, Public Radio International and even the Korea.net website.

With strong rock sounds and swinging melodies this band are bringing something new and very unique to the musical landscape of Korea. I managed to get an in-depth conversation with vocalist Velvet Geena whose vocals are strong, sharp and demand attention.

M: Could you please provide us with a brief history of how the band was formed?

VG: The RockTigers aren’t our first band. A few friends (some still, some
not) were in different bands and shared the same rehearsal space. Each band had issues staying together and somehow we formed the RockTigers with five members and one session member from another well known Korean punk band. The first conception of the RockTigers was black leather jackets, exaggerated pompadours, motorcycles. It was around the first wave of Korean punk (“Chosun Punk”) in the early 2000s. Tiger and I (Velvet Geena) are the only original members.

As the other members changed, so did our sound. For one, with Roy joining, we switched from the electric bass to the upright bass for a more vintage and classic rockabilly sound. Our former guitarists played Les Pauls and Telecasters, but currently Eddie Tarantula plays an orange coloured Gretsch Hollowbody guitar for some gritty, twangy guitar work. Our current drummer Jeff is the newest member to join and we like him very much because he provides a much more stable drum beat (with less frantic drum fills, haha).

Over the years, we’ve had opportunities to play with several Japanese rock ‘n’ roll and neo rockabilly musicians, namely Guitar Wolf. We’ve released some albums in Japan (in Japanese!), too. Our 4th studio album is currently in the mastering stages and will be out soon.

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M: What made you want to become a rockabilly band?

VG: We were invited to the biggest Japanese rockabilly & psychobilly festival in 2004. We were invited solely on our appearance by the organizer of the festival. It was our first time playing abroad and it was quite an eye-opening experience for us. It was very different from the punk scene we were used to seeing in Korea, and we felt closer to this style of music to begin with and all of a sudden we formed camaraderie. We came back to Korea and went back to the drawing board.

M: You’ve gained a massive following from expats in Korea and abroad why do you think this is?

VG: For people outside of Korea, this music isn’t new. But once you’re in Korea you’re options for music and entertainment are quite limited. Sure, if you look hard enough you can find a “scene,” but it’s not that easy. Once the expats experience a RockTigers show, I think they go home thinking it as a serendipitous night. They come back with their other friends and co-workers. They go back and talk to their friend back home about seeing a Korean rockabilly band, and most of the time the reactions are positive and wanting to know more.

For Koreans, it’s a little different. Koreans kind of wait for someone else to tell them what’s good to listen to and what’s worthy of the latest buzz. Going to see a live band is very different from how foreigners experience it, so I think that plays into the demographics of our fan base as well.

M: How was the name Kimchibilly created and what does it mean to you?

VG: It started as a tongue-in-cheek term by some foreigner friends but it was catchy and we played along with it. It was just a fun word to use for our album and songs. Then we started to have monthly shows where we’d invite other similar rock ‘n’ roll bands and Japanese rockabilly bands, and we called it Kimchibilly Night Show. For Japanese fans and musicians, it was new and old at the same time and stirred fascination among rockabilly cats that thrived in the 80s. To me, it means carrying in the rockabilly style, not just music, but also fashion and lifestyle, into Korea and exporting it back out. It’s a challenge and it’s a lot of fun.

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M: In terms of the music scene in Korea we all know that K-pop is the main thing that is being pushed to an international audience, how does it make you feel?

VG: I’m happy for them. Next question.

M: What is like being an alternative music group at in Korea, what are your challenges?

VG: Less acceptance to diversity. For one, it’s not “rock music” to Koreans unless you play really fast with a lot of distortion and have long hair. It’s not music that’s about love and break ups. We don’t dance like other musicians or make lame jokes on stage that a lot of Korean audiences seem to like. Maybe we should incorporate the horse riding dance. That’d be a real challenge.

M: Is there an alternative culture in Korea, if so how would you describe it?

VG: Of course. It’s just a little harder to find. Some are secretive but not really, either. Tattoos are illegal in Korea but there are tattoo shops and tattoo conventions. There’s a lot of variety but very little apparent diversity. It’s a bit on the slow side for Koreans to break out of convention, but it’s there.

M: Do you think that ‘indie’ or alternative acts like yourself can make it big in Korea?

VG: Sure. We would just need a YouTube hit. But seriously, there are a lot of obstacles even among the “indie” scene. Some indie bands have corporate backing and then say that they went on a US tour on their own and public will believe it. Sure we’d like to make it bigger and get more recognition. We’d like to be the best live band but I don’t know about making it big and being the spokesperson for every product out there from beer, ramyun, cell phones and pig feet.

M: How do you feel about all this international fame that is coming your way?

VG: Firstly thank you very much for having us on London Korean Times. It’s amazing!!! How did you find this band who’s never been to London? It’s quite an honour when we receive interview requests from overseas. We’d like to do more.

M: What do you hope for the future for your band for the Korean music industry?

VG: We’re preparing for our 4th studio album by ourselves. Once the mastering work is finished next week, we’ll be very busy for photo shoots, album jacket design, and music video for promotion and so on. This is the first time for us to release the album by our own label. It means that this is the first Rockabilly label in Korean history and we can make the scene through this label with continuous Kimchibilly night show. We have some shows in Mongolia early next year. Who would’ve thought? Maybe we’ll have opportunities to play elsewhere.

M: Any plans to play in London?

VG: We’d love to play in London. UK has another important meaning for RockTigers. London always bring back the case of Stray Cats who were leading the Rockabilly revival in 80’s. They’re American but they could have a chance to be bigger band in UK. We really wanna meet the audiences in London including the people who came to see Stray cats then.

We organized the Korean tour for Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats and some members from the Pole Cats from UK last year. And I was a guest vocalist for their Japan tour. So I’m waiting for the calls from Phil (bassist of Pole Cats) and Tim (Guitar and Vocal) hahaha. Seriously if you who’s reading this article are the event organizer or know someone who can help RockTigers show in London, Please email me at
velvetgeena@gmail.com

M: Do you have a special message for fans in London?

VG: “You haven’t tasted Seoul until you’ve had a taste of Kimchibilly.”If you wanna taste of Korean rock, don’t forget there’s The RockTigers. If you cannot come to Korea, we’ll be there in London. We’re very far from each other physically but we can meet on the internet anytime. Let’s meet on Facebook, twitter and YouTube in advance. We’ll be there waiting for you. Please support RockTigers new album coming soon. See you in London.

This group are definitely worth checking out and seeing their live performances reinforces their charisma and ability to get a crowd rocking.

Check out their latest performance on Korean TV station EBS in August

The Rock Tigers are bringing a unique sound that is loud and guaranteed to get your feet moving.

To find out more about the band and get their latest updates check out their websites below:
www.rocktigers.com
www.reverbnation.com/therocktigers
http://www.facebook.com/therocktigers
www.twitter.com/velvetgeena

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