Ever since hip-hop took off in the South Bronx in the 1970s, rappers around the world have embraced the music and culture, with many carving out their own identities and establishing themselves as mainstream stars.
But what about Asian American rappers? Though several have stomped onto the scene, from pioneers such as the Mountain Brothers, Jin and Lyrics Born, to stars of today including Far East Movement and Jay Park, these aren’t the names that we immediately associate with hip-hop in mainstream American culture.
Why not? Is it a lack of support? Their appearance? Not having that breakout hit? Filmmakers Salima Koroma (director/producer) and Jaeki Cho (producer) are looking to explore that question with Bad Rap, a new documentary about the Asian American presence in hip hop.
Bad Rap focuses on the perspectives of four Asian American rappers: Dumbfoundead, Awkwafina, Rekstizzy and Lyricks. Each has their own story, style and attitude, but they all share the same goal: to make it big. Yet they all encounter challenges in a culture that still expects them to fit the model minority stereotype.
With insight and appearances from Far East Movement, Jay Park, Jin, Traphik, Decipher, Kero One, The Fung Bros, Ted Chung and Oliver Wang, Bad Rap looks to shed light on the Asian American hip-hop culture and highlight the up-and-coming stars.
Salima Koroma (left) and Jaeki Cho
As of now, Koroma and Cho are looking to add on their 40-minute film, and they are asking for support via Indiegogo. All proceeds will go towards adding more content to complete a 70-minute feature, as well as finalizing the film for its eventual premiere.
The idea for Bad Rap began with a “mutual obsession” with hip-hop. Koroma first reached out to Cho, who had written a piece on K-pop star G-Dragon when she was searching for a subject to cover for her thesis at Columbia University. Cho’s journey with hip-hop began with listening to Drunken Tiger when he was 10 years old, and that led to a career in music journalism.
Hey music fans, did you miss your chance to see indie rock group Run River North live during the first leg of their tour? Fear not, the band will back at it this summer, kicking off the month of June with four dates in California.
The band will be all over the country throughout the rest of June, July and the beginning of August, playing in Portland, Chicago, Nashville, New York City, St. Louis, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City, to name a few. You can see the full list of tour dates on their website and follow them on their Facebook page.
Read KoreAm‘s March cover story on Run River North here.
Seoul Sausage Company, founded by (from left) Chris Oh and brothers Ted and Yong Kim, is serving as the official food truck curator for the inaugural K-town Night Market.
by RUTH KIM
“Hi, my name is [insert your name here], and I’m a food truck addict.”
Admit it, we all get a little excited when one of these nomadic gastronomical mobiles parks itself around the corner and offers gourmet foods at a reasonable price. But what happens when the best of these trucks all gather together in a glorious, mouthwatering union?
The K-town Night Market is what happens. Taking place at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles this Friday and Saturday, April 18-19, this inaugural event will feature some of the best food truck fare this city has to offer, headlined by Seoul Sausage Company, the Season 3 winners of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race.
“We’re trying to bring that old night market to L.A., you know?” said Danny Park, one of the founders of the K-town Night Market. “We want to celebrate the diversity of Koreatown, but also celebrate Korean culture, too.”
As the night market’s official food truck curator, Seoul Sausage, led by Korean Americans Chris Oh and Yong and Ted Kim, has lined up an impressive and eclectic list of food truck participants, including the seasons 1 and 2 winners of The Great Food Truck Race: Grill ’Em All and The Lime Truck, respectively. They will be joined by Jogasaki, Bowled and Beautiful, East L.A. Tacos, India Jones, White Rabbit Truck, Belly Bombz, Fluff Ice, Coolhaus and Carb&Nation. Food vendors Ramen Burger and Korean American Brian Huskey’s Table 13 (Huskey was featured on Bravo’s Top Chef) will also offer their culinary fare.
Appealing to more than just the sense of taste, the event organizers are also working together with Kollaboration and ElektroPR to present a variety of K-pop workshops and live music. Organizers said that the two-day event will be split to showcase more of the Korean performers on Friday, while Saturday’s stage will feature multicultural artists. The performance line-up includes Korean American rappers Parker (Dumbfoundead) and DANakadDAN, YouTube star Lydia Paek, hip-hop artist Scoop Deville and Detroit-born K-pop singer Chad Future, among others. There will also be merchandisevendors featuring L.A. clothing brands, art exhibits and a carnival area for guests of all ages.
Friday’s market begins at 4 p.m. and ends at midnight; Saturday’s market runs from 2 p.m. to midnight. For more information, visit ktownnightmarket.com or facebook.com/ktownnightmarket. The Robert F. Kennedy campus is located at 701 S. Catalina St., Los Angeles, CA 90005.
Crayon Pop in a music video for the group’s single, “Uh-ee.” Image via Chrome Entertainment
When it comes to Korean music, it doesn’t get any more traditional than “trot.” But as girl group Crayon Pop found out, it can take just one word to get a song banned from broadcast.
Last Thursday, South Korean network KBS confirmed it had banned “Uh-ee,” Crayon Pop’s latest single, for the use of a Japanese word, “ppikka,” which means “shiny” in Japanese.
There is nothing inappropriate about the word, except for that it is Japanese in origin, according to the executives at KBS, which is well-known for being a conservative network.
“KBS notified us that ‘ppikka‘ is a vestige of Japanese imperialism and needs to be refined,” said Lee Sung-soo, an official at Chrome Entertainment. All other Korean television networks, however, approved the song.
The chorus of the catchy electro-pop song begins with “ppikka” and “bbunjjuk,” which is the Korean equivalent to “shiny,” as the girls sing about making sure they live their lives to the fullest, with shiny things. There is no reference to anything Japanese, and “ppikka bbunjjuk” is a commonly used term to describe something shiny—or someone who likes shiny things.
According to Chrome Entertainment, the company has since changed the word to “bbunjjuk” and the band has re-recorded the song for KBS. Because Korea was under Japanese occupation between 1910 and 1945, the South Korean government used to have a policy of banning imports of Japanese culture, but no longer has such a policy. KBS, however, has a track record of banning songs and videos that it deems inappropriate, as it did last year with Psy’s “Gentleman” music video, which depicts the singer kicking a traffic cone.
Park unveils proposals to N. Korea to lay groundwork for unification GlobalPost
South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Friday unveiled a package of proposals calling for bolstering exchanges with North Korea as first steps toward building trust between the two sides to lay the groundwork for unification.
Park made the announcement during a speech at the Dresden University of Technology in the former East German city of Dresden. The address was watched closely and televised live amid expectations that she would unveil a new vision for unification of the divided Korean Peninsula.
“Now more than ever, South and North Korea must broaden their exchange and cooperation,” Park said in the address. “What we need is not one-off or promotional events, but the kind of interaction and cooperation that enables ordinary South Koreans and North Koreans to recover a sense of common identity as they help each other out.”
South Korea sends back stray North Korean fishing boat Reuters
South Korea on Friday sent back a North Koreanfishing boat that had drifted across a disputed maritime border off the west coast, the defense ministry said, defusing tensions in an area which has been the scene of deadly clashes in recent years.
South Korea’s military had seized the boat after it ignored warnings to retreat, but later confirmed the vessel had experienced engine failure and the three crewmen had no wish to defect to the South, a ministry official said.
The incident came as the North faced renewed pressure from the international community after it fired two mid-range missiles on Wednesday just as the leaders of the South, Japanand the United States pledged to curb its arms ambitions.
South Korea Returns Bodies of Hundreds of Chinese Soldiers New York Times
South Korea on Friday repatriated the remains of 437 Chinese soldiers killed during the Korean War six decades ago, making a gesture symbolic of warming ties between the two nations.
China sent a flood of soldiers to help its Communist ally North Korea, which invaded South Korea in June 1950. Its intervention saved the North, whose forces had been pushed back toward the country’s northern corner by American-led United Nations forces later that year. The three-year war ended in a cease-fire, leaving the divided Korean Peninsula technically in a state of war.
Over the years, when South Korea discovered the remains of hundreds of Communist soldiers in old battle sites, it kept them tucked away in a little-known temporary burial ground north of Seoul, until recently known as “the enemy cemetery.”
Newly minted Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Mary Landrieu(D., La.) pushed through a controversial Interior Department nominee Thursday over the united opposition of Republicans.
The committee voted along party lines, 12-10, to approve the nominee, Rhea Suh, to be assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Interior Department. Ms. Suh now advances to the full Senate where she needs 51 votes for confirmation. It was the first nomination meeting presided over by Ms. Landrieu.
“I am sorry we are starting this new era of the Committee on such a troubling note,” Senate Energy and Natural Resources Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) told her usual ally Ms. Landrieu. “I expect that we will be able to work together on many issues that come before us—but this particular nomination is simply not one of them.”
So: On Wednesday night Stephen Colbert made sport of Washington football team owner Dan Snyder and his plan to undercut criticism of the team name by founding an organization for the uplift of “original Americans.” Colbert ran though all the reasons why this was funny, then called back to a skit from one of the show’s first episodes, way back from the fall of 2005—a joke about the host being caught on a “live feed” playing a racist Asian stereotype (Ching Chong Ding Dong, from Guanduong), then not understanding why it was racist. Colbert would make amends with his new “Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” He’d played versions of the game since then, dressing up in a sombrero for “Hispanic heritage month.” It’s one of the Colbert character’s oldest gags—he “doesn’t see color,” so he can’t ever be blamed if he accidentally does something horribly racist.
Most of a day later, the official Twitter account of The Colbert Report tweeted a short version of the joke: “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” Bad move. This attracted the ire of a 23-year-old freelance writer and hashtag activist named Suey Park, who gained prominence last year with the #NotYourAsianSidekick micromovement.
Anti-Colbert activist, HuffPost Live host grapple over racism, satire Washington Post
Josh Zepps is a host on HuffPost Live. He presides over many interesting and civil conversations with guests on a wide variety of topics. Generally they end in a civil manner.
Not so much today, because of the issue: On the other end of the video link was Suey Park, the Korean-American Twitter hashtag activist who drew recognition from her campaign #NotYourAsianSidekick.
This week, she roared again, this time in response to a tweet that came from the account of Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert show:
“I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever”
Like most things that emerge from the Colbert universe, that (as the context of the joke made clear) was satire — satire intended to skewer Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who recently launched the Original Americans Foundation at a time when the name of his squad is under fire for being racist.
The satire wasn’t working for Park, who launched #CancelColbert, not to mention a massive discussion about how we mix race and humor, and whether we should at all.
Texas executes man who killed food delivery woman with bat Reuters
Texas executed convicted murderer Anthony Doyle on Thursday as it kept the pace of executions steady while other states have had to postpone capital punishments because they cannot obtain drugs used in lethal injections.
Doyle, 29, was convicted of beating food delivery woman Hyun Cho, a South Korean native, to death in 2003 with a baseball bat, putting her body in a trash can and stealing her car.
Doyle was pronounced dead at 6:49 p.m. CDT (2349 GMT) at the state’s death chamber in Huntsville after receiving a lethal injection. He did not make a last statement, a Department of Criminal Justice spokesman said.
Knife Threat Failed to Halt Korea’s First Female Bank CEO Bloomberg
Facing a desperate, knife-brandishing customer, Kwon Seon Joo knew the value of staying cool under pressure more than two decades before being picked to become the first woman to head a South Korean bank.
In 1992, the now 57-year-old chief executive officer of the country’s fourth-largest lender byassets, Industrial Bank of Korea, was deputy manager of trade finance at a branch in an upscale district of Seoul. Kwon said she agreed to meet a customer presenting forged shipping documents who was demanding a loan because he risked financial ruin after exporting artificial flowers that had been rejected by the recipient. When she refused, he lifted his trouser leg to reveal something tucked in his sock: a knife.
“I was shocked at first, but deep down I was confident that I could resolve the situation with conversation,” Kwon said in an interview at IBK’s headquarters in Seoul last month. She spoke calmly with the man for more than an hour before he walked out with his demands unmet and no one harmed, she said.
South Korea’s announced more incentives for working women to help boost female employment and improve low birth rates, but it’s unclear if the policies will overcome cultural norms in the workplace.
President Park Geun-hye’s been trying to keep her campaign promise of lifting the total employment rate to 70% by 2017 from 65% currently.
A key to this is getting women to stay in the work force after they start families and have children and on Monday, the Labor Ministry announced that women in their first 12 weeks and the last four weeks of pregnancy may work two hours less, fully paid, starting September.
K-POP PHENOMENON GIRLS’ GENERATION WANT TO MAKE INSECURE MEN FEEL BETTER Vice
We all know Psy. You’ve probably heard G-Dragon and CL before—on a Diplo or Skrillex beat at the least—and some hundred thousand Lady GaGa fans are about to meet Crayon Pop in stadiums across Middle America and Canada this summer. But there’s no K-pop phenomenon bigger than Girls’ Generation. They remain Korea’s all-time best-selling girl group, their YouTube prowess has trouncedthat of even some of the brightest Western stars, and their tour attendance is astounding. If Korean music is something that’s been brought to your attention sometime in the past half decade, there’s a good chance that had something to do with “Gee,” the undisputed classic of K-pop (watch it above).
After an uncharacteristically long break since their last release—all of two months—and almost a straight year of Japanese records and tours, Girls’ Generation returned late last month with the Mr.Mr. mini-album. We broke bread with all nine (very polite) girls to talk new music, bolstering the flagging confidence of insecure boys, and Korea’s super intense trainee pop regime. Apparently of the 10,000 K-Pop wannabes, only one becomes a star. Steep odds for sure.
Instead of following a tried-and-true formula of slowly rolling out individual songs and their characteristically flashy videos, the all-female Korean pop supergroup 2NE1 went the opposite direction with their new album, Crush. Announced in January—no advance snippets were available—and released digitally in February, 2NE1 dropped two singles simultaneously (the uptempo pair “Come Back Home” and “Gotta Be You”). Though both unsurpisingly lit up the Korean charts, the excitement—as well as an appearance in a January episode of ABC’s The Bachelor—buoyed an entrance into Billboard 200, where 2NE1 sold more copies in the first week than any Korean outfit in history. The only semi-micro-plotted movement in the whole campaign happened when YG Entertainment bumped the digital release three days—meaning that they broke the record in four days, instead of a full seven—so it would come out on the February 27 birthday of CL, 2NE1’s ascendant star. Hold that thought.
Tickets for the Free LA K-Pop Festival Available Online this Saturday Soompi
With the LA K-Pop Festival a little more than two weeks away, it has been revealed that tickets will be distributed through Ticketmaster this Saturday at 10am PST on a first come, first serve basis (limit: 2 per person). While the concert is free, a small service fee for Ticketmaster is added.
Physical Ticket Distribution will occur on Saturday March 29 at 10:00am PST at the HwaGae Traditional Market (940 S. Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90006) on a first come first serve basis, with up to 5,000 tickets being distributed that day (limit: 2 per person).
Hosted by KBS America and the Los Angeles Korean Association, the event is set for April 12 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The event will start with a day long festival at 10am, followed by a concert at 5:30pm.
Shin-Soo Choo on Thursday started a crash course in the art of playing left field at Globe Life Park.
Choo, entering his first season with the Rangers, tried to familiarize himself with the nuances of his new position during an afternoon workout. He also started in left field in the park for the first time in nearly eight years during the exhibition game against Quintana Roo of the Mexican League.
Choo played center field with Cincinnati last season and has fewer career starts in left
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field (60) than the other outfield spots. Choo can apply his experience as a right fielder in that balls will hook and slice toward the left-field line.
“It’s something I’ll have to get used to,” Choo said. “The more I play out there, the more comfortable I’ll be.”
Japan’s Mao Asada breaks Yuna Kim’s world record in women’s short Fox Sports
Mao Asada of Japan set a world record on Thursday to finish first in the short program at the World Figure Skating Championships.
Skating to Chopin’s Nocturne, Asada hit her trademark triple axel at the start of her routine and completed all her remaining jumps to finish with 78.66 points, surpassing the previous record of 78.50 set by Yuna Kim at the Vancouver Olympics.
“As the last competition of this season, I am happy to skate the best short program,” said Asada, a two-time world champion. “My mission here is to perform both programs perfect so already half is done and tomorrow I want to focus on showing everything I have practiced.”
Quirky girl group Crayon Pop, which burst onto the scene last year with their weirdly infectious hit, “Bar Bar Bar,” will be the opening act for pop superstar diva Lady Gaga this summer in the United States.
Gaga announced the news via Twitter, saying the winsome quintet will be joining her “Artrave: The Artpop Ball” tour from June 26 to July 22, which includes dates in Boston, Chicago, Houston and ends with two concerts in Los Angeles at the Staples Center.
The group unexpectedly became popular after a long period of grassroots marketing and do-it-yourself public performances. Their initial fan base was middle-aged men.
This all changed, however, after the video of their single, “Bar Bar Bar” — in which the girls wore nerdy helmets and colorful tracksuits with choreography described by some as bizarre — went viral.
Lady Gaga’s tour starts on May 4 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Below are the venues currently scheduledfor the June 26 to July 22 leg:
June 26: Milwaukee, WI (Summerfest at Marcus Amphitheater)
June 28: Atlantic City, NJ (Boardwalk Hall)
June 30: Boston, MA (TD Garden)
July 2: Montreal, QC (Bell Centre)
July 7: Buffalo, NY (First Niagara Center)
July 9: Toronto, ON (Air Canada Centre)
July 11: Chicago, IL (United Center)
July 14: San Antonio, TX (AT&T Center)
July 16: Houston, TX (Toyota Center)
July 17: Dallas, TX (American Airlines)
July 19: Las Vegas, NV (MGM Grand Garden)
July 21: Los Angeles, CA (Staples Center)
July 22: Los Angeles, CA (Staples Center)
Rumors of an impending breakup of once wildly popular girl group The Wonder Girls hit a fever pitch this week as leader Sun-ye said she plans to serve as a missionary to Haiti for five years.
“My husband and I have decided to spend the next five years in Haiti from this July conducting missionary outreach projects,” she said, in a statement.
Sun-ye said her fellow group members as well as her label, JYP Entertainment, “understand my decision and have given me their full support.” She added, “I hope I can pay them back for all the trust they’ve put in me.”
The announcement sparked speculation that the group would break up but JYP Entertainment said this was not the case.
“We will coordinate the members’ schedules or arrange other activities so that Sun-ye can remain with the band, even though she will be staying in Haiti,” the statement said.
Sun-ye met her husband, Korean Canadian James Park, while serving on a weeklong missionary trip to Haiti in 2011. The couple married in January 2013 and had a daughter in October 2013.
The indie rock band’s music and identity find inspiration in its immigrant heritage.
by STEVE HAN
Photos by Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
As Daniel Chae tells it, he and his bandmates often liked to jam inside their cars while on their way somewhere. They all lived in the suburbs of Los Angeles, meaning these could be long drives. Lead singer Alex Hwang would start strumming his guitar from the backseat, while the others would start singing and harmonizing. So as they prepared to release their first single in 2012 and were brainstorming of unorthodox—and low-budget—ways to shoot a music video, the idea of performing their song, “Fight to Keep,” inside lead singer-songwriter Hwang’s Honda Fit naturally came up. That’s when Chae said, “Let’s just put drums in the car and actually record it.”
The resulting video shows the musicians, sometimes in the backseat, sometimes in the front, headphones on, Chae and Hwang playing guitar, Sally Kang on tambourine. John Chong, over 6 feet tall, is hunched over in the compact trunk playing the drums, with a small camera strapped to his head. They take turns at the mic, as the car is seen driving around town, including through a McDonald’s drive-thru, and their sound gradually builds—and builds. “Fight to keep the fire burning,” their voices boom to the up-tempo chorus.
Without a label or an album at the time, the band uploaded the video to YouTube, and it also found its way to some unlikely fans: Honda executives. So impressed by the video, they invited the band to perform for hundreds of Honda employees, only to tell the band members when they arrived that the concert had just been canceled.
Though their faces clearly show they are dumbfounded and disappointed, the musicians accommodate one of the Honda representative’s request to play a song before they go. As they start to play, he abruptly stops them.
“Truthfully, there never really was supposed to be a concert here,” he tells them, as the scene is being filmed secretly. “Honda has a better gig for you guys. You are booked as the musical guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live. We picked this location, because Jimmy Kimmel is across the street, and that’s where you’re going right now!”
Just two hours after the Honda executive broke the shocking news, the six young members of this nascent band called Monsters Calling Home performed their song, “Fight to Keep,” on national television.
“We got punked, basically,” said Chae, 25, remembering that unforgettable day in September of 2012. “We were very shocked. None of us were prepared. If we had more time, we would’ve all freaked out, but because it happened so fast, we got through it. That was our explosion in terms of publicity.”
Performing on national TV not only boosted the indie rock band’s confidence and exposure, it also played a major role in winning over some of their toughest critics: their immigrant parents.
“A lot of our parents didn’t want us to pursue music, or they were questioning it,” said Chong, 27. “So it allowed us to give them a little bit of encouragement.”
Hwang added, “It gave us another year before our parents asked why we weren’t in law school. It gave a little bit of a guarantee, like, ‘Oh, wow, they’re actually getting paid to do this.’ So getting on TV made sure that this isn’t just a hobby that we’re doing. It meant our music is resonating with people beyond the Korean community.”
Further proof of that resonance would come later that year, when the band sold out a show at West Hollywood’s legendary Troubadour. Last spring, the artists, now going by Run River North, signed with Nettwerk Music Group, a label known for attracting “non-traditional artists” and launching the careers of Sarah McLachlan, Skinny Puppy and, most recently, Fun. The band changed its name last year at the urging of its management, which didn’t want it to be confused with Of Monsters and Men.
When KoreAm met up with the musicians in L.A. last month, they were just weeks away from releasing their self-titled debut album on Feb. 25. The artists spent last fall in Seattle recording the songs with respected producer Phil Ek. A fan of the band’s “large builds in their music” and “intriguing” vocal melodies, he has also produced albums for Fleet Foxes and The Shins.
Run River North was also looking forward to returning to the Troubadour on March 3 for another sold-out show celebrating the album’s release. After that, the group hits the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, followed by a tour with the Goo Goo Dolls in April that will take the artists to cities like Syracuse, Albany, Nashville and Chicago.
It’s clearly an exciting time for the band, whose members range in age from 20 to 28.
“As a kid, I loved singing for fun, but I never thought I’d do it publicly for people outside my living room,” said Kang, the 22-year-old vocalist and keyboardist. “I only liked singing for fun on my parents’ karaoke machine.”
Joe Chun, the band’s 22-year-old bassist, was making wedding videos and tutoring schoolchildren to pay the bills before the music career began to take off. “I only played music in church,” he said. Though Run River North has only been around since 2011, its name has a recognition quotient that seems much higher than what one would expect for a relatively young indie group. They have been featured on NPR and, more recently, in the Wall Street Journal. Even prior to the Kimmel appearance, Asian American audiences got an early glimpse of the group, after a performance in 2011 at Kollaboration L.A., a popular Asian American talent show.
Hwang, the most senior member of the band at age 28, actually signed up for the show on his own, but wanted to “fill up the stage with a lot of people I vibe with musically and personally.” So he invited the other five musicians—whom he knew through church or friends—to play with him.
Like Hwang, the others are also second-generation Korean Americans. That wasn’t by design, but rather a function of being Korean, living in the Valley, playing music and being Christian—some of them attend the same church. “If you’re Korean and you play music, it’s not that big of a net,” said Hwang. “You kind of know who the players are.”
When the band needed a name to submit for Kollaboration, they tapped one of the songs Hwang had written. “Monsters Calling Home,” which is the first track on the new album, is a deeply personal anthem for the band and, in a way, speaks to the roots of its very identity. Hwang said he wrote the song after he and bassist Chun, who were already friends, were talking about common family problems, during a road trip in 2010.
“We found out that we share similar kinds of monsters,” Hwang said. The “monsters” metaphorically refer to immigrant fathers, struggling to achieve the American dream for their families, said Hwang.
Like many of their second-generation peers, members of Run River North grew up in homes where immigrant parents and their American-raised children confronted language and cultural barriers that sometimes led to rifts between them. Acknowledging that many Korean American families contend with issues like domestic violence and alcoholism, often as a related consequence of their immigrant struggle, the musicians decided to take up and explore those themes in their music.
“Immigrant fathers come to this foreign land and end up with families here with kids who speak a different language,” said Hwang. “What ended up happening is, because they’re humans just like anybody else, they’re at fault at times. But at the same time, [behind] all of that is the same desire that anybody has, regardless of whether you’re an immigrant. You just want a place to call home.”
Those struggles translated into the lyrics: “They’re walking heavy to the beat of a broken drum / Digging for worth in a land under a foreign sun / Their children call, bitter words of a strange tongue / Hearts down, they’re walking heavy till the dying’s done.”
Because Monsters Calling Home held such a deeply personal resonance for the band, the name change suggested by their manager last year was not an easy decision. At the same time, the artists didn’t want to jeopardize their future over a name.
“Eventually, we let it go because we wanted to see how far this band could go without being too protective,” said Chong. “So we thought of Run River North. It stands for the kind of music that we play, where water could be very graceful, very soft and then get very dangerous and loud. Water is that kind of element. That visual of constantly moving forward with this idea of the band.”
Although the band didn’t win the Kollaboration contest back in 2011 (they famously lost to the “yo-yo
guy”), the opportunity allowed its members to set up roots, gel and grow together. They also won early fans, like Phil Yu, the blogger behind the influential Angry Asian Man blog.
“All these steps of making a band is kind of like dating,” explained Hwang, who sports hipster frames and facial hair. “You kind of have to go on a date and then see if the chemistry keeps going, see what’s stopping the chemistry. Trials and errors. I just said, ‘Let’s see how long we can last and how far we can go.’”
“When we first played,” added Chong, “the feeling I got was, ‘This feels really good.’ When we play music with each other, there’s definitely another level of connection. And I think we all felt that, and we wanted to keep it going. It was a really good start.”
But, during the pre-Kimmel and pre-label days, the depth of that connection was often tested, as the artists
would have to balance their music pursuit with outside jobs, and, for the two women of the group, school. As they played gigs at small venues in other cities, they would often have no place to stay and, halfway through their show, would ask if anyone in the audience could put them up for the night.
“My mom wasn’t exactly thrilled seeing her 18-year-old daughter playing music at bars at night,” said Rim, 20, who plays violin. Even though she majored in music at California State University at Long Beach, her parents didn’t at all foresee their daughter becoming a violinist for a rock band.
Kang, who was majoring in journalism at California State University at Northridge, shocked her parents as well with her decision to delay finishing her education in favor of her music career. “My dad really wanted me to do business and graduate on time,” said Kang.
Chae gave up his job as a trader in the finance industry for what he calls their American Dream.
Of course, the tale of second-generation Korean Americans defying their immigrant parents’ wishes for them is nothing new. But, with Run River North, this conflict seems so central to their art.
“It’s not just our music that our parents’ struggles influenced, it’s our lives,” explained a passionate Hwang, whose father held a statistics degree from Korea, but ran a liquor store in the States. “My dad wanted to own a home here in America. He did that, but the mortgage crisis happened. So he lost one thing that showed to himself and his family that he was the man of the family. Trying to wrestle with that on top of having two brattish American kids, that can get hefty in the household.
“You can’t even put it into words, the struggles you face without even a retirement plan and having a kid wanting to be in a music group,” he continued. “It’s something I realized a little too late, but it’s timely enough to see the sacrifices that they did put in and how they do love their kids. And [we want] to appropriately honor them by making people hear them in our songs.”
With members who play acoustic and electric guitar, violins, bass, keyboards and drums, the folk-influenced Run River North is known for its big sound, though as Chong suggested earlier, there are often soft moments that later swell into this rousing and melodic crescendo of instruments and vocals. Comparisons range from Simon & Garfunkel to Jefferson Airplane and The Lumineers, though perhaps what excites audiences so much about this band is that it is different from the rest.
Run River North’s songs and lyrics are what got the attention of Terry McBride, CEO of Nettwerk, which actually started scouting the band about a month before its appearance on Kimmel. “I see songs and lyrics as emotions,” he said. “Their songs to me are like bookmarks inside your life. They remind you of a time and place at certain points in your life.”
Band members are pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic reception they have received in cities and towns where there aren’t a large number of Asians.
“It’s an interesting sight watching a bunch of Asians on stage in Nashville,” Chong said. “You first see a lot of crossed arms [in the audience]. But by the end of the first or second song, you see them very open and enthusiastic. It’s very surprising. It’s very fun to see that happening. When they warm to us, we’re able to vibe back with them that way.”
They’ll have plenty of chances to share that vibe again this spring, as they play venues in the Southwest, Midwest, parts of the South and all along the East Coast.
The long-term dream is to be able to work on music full-time, which five of the six are doing now, and “be able to support the family,” said Hwang. “We want to travel around the world and share our songs,” he said.
They have one particular destination in mind: South Korea.
“We’re going as Korean Americans,” said Hwang. “To be able to go back to the country [our parents] left, and to be successful there, I feel like that’s a way in which second-generation kids can honor their parents—and to allow our parents to brag about it, too. There must be a lot of stories about how all these parents are proud of their doctor sons and lawyer sons. And so what’s wrong with being proud of musician children? And the best way to do it, I think, is to go back to the place they left to honor them. To play our music, and say, ‘Thank you, Mom and Dad. If it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t be able to do this in the way we’re doing it, as this group of Korean American musicians.”
“I want to show my dad’s side of the family [in Korea] why he came to America,” Chong said. “I want to let them know that my dad made an awesome choice, and that one of the decisions he made resulted in me playing music.”
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This article was published in the March 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today!To purchase a single issue copy of the March issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).