[ATK Magazine] In Love and Stereo: Korean Indie-Pop Songstress, Annie Ko (2013.9.30)
In Love and Stereo: Korean Indie-Pop Songstress, Annie Ko
Over the past few years a growing number of South Korean indie bands have been breaking into international waters and making a name for themselves touring North America. Indie-pop darlings ‘Love X Stereo’ will be joining those ranks shortly. With their first North American tour coming up in October, frontwoman ‘Annie’ Ko spoke to us.
Annie was born in Chuncheon City, in the cold northeastern province of Gangwon-do, South Korea, in 1981. Gangwon-do is a province that, until recently named the host of the 2018 Winter Olympics, was best known for its now-defunct mining industry and its proximity to the communist North. Her family relocated to LA soon after her birth, where she lived until she was 6 or 7 before moving back to Korea, first living in Pohang and then moving to Seoul for University when she was 19.
‘Annie’ is not her given name, but it is the name she is best known by friends, fans and even family. “My real name is Ko Yeun-Kyung, but my parents still call me ‘Annie’” she says. “At some point, I thought it was kind of embarrassing because it was my childhood name (from when I lived in LA) and people here in Korea were questioning why my parents would call me that? But when we made ‘Love X Stereo’ I thought that it wasn’t so bad after all.”
While it’s not uncommon for Korean parents to push their children into music, this usually takes the form of violin or piano. “My mom didn’t like the idea that I was so into pop music” she says, “but I was a very brave kid. I wanted to try it all.”
As musical influences she cites Michael Jackson, 90’s Alternative Music and most importantly, Cyndi Lauper. “She (Cyndi Lauper) was and is still my hero, although today things are a little different, I want to be a more of a ‘musician’ than just a singer. Making music, the whole process, that’s what I’m into,” she says
After leaving for Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul to study physics and then astronomy at Grad school at the prestigious Seoul National University, she left to pursue a career in music. “Honestly, I hate studying. I found that out too late.”
Her first big chance was as an ‘R&B’ singer shortly after, “The word ‘R&B” is really different here in Korea. Most of them think ‘if you can sing like Mariah Carey, then you are an R&B singer. Which is so wrong. I auditioned to be a singer, and I signed a contract with a new company associated to a major entertainment company here. But I don’t think I achieved that much during that time. What I really achieved was that I finally realized that I really wanted to pursue rock music, be creative, and stop being just a singing songbird.”
It was in 2005 in the underground Korean art and music mecca of Hongdae, the area surrounding Hongik University, that Annie joined her first band – ‘Skrew Attack’.
Formed in 1998, Skrew Attack were one of the best known pop-punk bands at the height of the punk scene in Seoul – a full 7 years before lead guitarist and founder ‘Toby’ decided he was interested in having someone else carrying the fronting duties – which is when the band found Annie.
But as time went on, the members of Skrew Attack decided that after more than a decade it was time to do something else, and as their sound began incorporating a more diverse range of elements it was time to make it official: ‘Skrew Attack was no more.
“At some point we thought we thought that the name ‘Skrew Attack’ was holding us back. We needed to create something new, something that we haven’t done before, but always wanted to try. We figured out that we had great interests in 90’s alternative music, so we started from there. Tried to be as creative as possible, and update those sounds for the 21st century”.
With only about three years under their belt, Love X Stereo have already released 3 EPs and a single. The most recent release, “Glow” which was put out on Sept 26th, was praised by I Am Entertainment Magazine for its “rainbow of sounds and styles” and of which Annie says “it has a lot more synth-pop elements than our other albums. On our other albums we didn’t think that thoroughly about the arrangements; we just did whatever we wanted to do. This album is ‘smarter’ than the others, I think”. The new EP includes several different remixes of a song which helped bring them a lot of attention over the last year, “Soul City”, a 360 degree look at Seoul in all its vibrancy and also, despair.
“It’s about Seoul City, but it’s not like we wanted to promote the city. It’s not like that at all. It’s our true feelings about the city. All the good and bad is in it. When I first heard Toby’s guitar riff, I instantly thought of Seoul. The way the song never seems to end, that was intentional too. We felt like Seoul never really ends, like a psychedelic song.”
“Seoul has the fastest Internet services in the world, and there are so many great eateries, day or night. I love the Hangang river, I love the cycling, the Chimaek (chicken and beer shops). But I really don’t like all the negatives, the sense of failure in people’s daily lives, people working so hard for nothing, the drinking problems.”
One of the things that’s fuelling this tour is that LXS have become indie darlings among the increasing number of young North Americans who have been moving to Seoul for work (mainly in the English as Second Language industry). Being able to ‘play-test’ their music to a foreign audience has been a great ‘rehearsal’ for this tour; “It’s what made us want to go in the first place!” she says.
And while the entire tour is something she is proud of, Annie singles out two events in particular: “I am most excited for CMJ Music Marathon (New York City’s largest music event). It’s such an honour to be there. I’m also really excited about our studio live session for Viva Radio. The first time we tried to reach out to American audiences, those guys were really generous to us. They have been supporting us ever since. Can’t believe we’re actually going to meet them and perform for them.”
The entire run-up to the tour has been exhausting. In addition to having to quit her day job to make time, Annie’s also had to give up her passion for cycling, “Just don’t have time for it any more. Lol.”
Annie and Love X Stereo have no intention of relaxing once they return home -“Our ultimate goal is to go to Europe. We would like to perform at festivals like Glastonbury. But really we just want to create music every day. And if we can ‘just do music only’, I’d be super happy with my life, seriously.”
Love X Stereo will be in Toronto on October 19th as part of the 2013 Indie Week Canada festival at The Peacock on King Street.