This weekend, Max Reynolds from Social Bliss will end his Korean tour with Seoul gigs at Freebird in Hongdae on October 18 and Phillies Basement in Haebongchon on October 19.
Hailing from the United States, Reynolds’ visit to Korea was triggered by his friendship with local trippy garage rockers Galaxy Express. Galaxy Express played at a venue operated by Reynolds in Lufkin, Texas called The Factory during their 2012 and 2013 US tours. Reynolds’ punk band, Social Bliss, opened each of the concerts.
“I really enjoyed Galaxy Express’ music from the get-go and was very fascinated by how good Korean language rock ‘n’ roll sounded to my Western ears,” says Reynolds. “After seeing them play, I started checking out more Korean bands like Crying Nut, Rux, Yellow Monsters, No Brain, and lots of others.”
Galaxy Express released a documentary flick about their 2012 American jaunt called “Turn It Up to Eleven 2: Wild Days.” The movie featured footage of the group hanging out with Reynolds and performing in Lufkin.
“I remember the day that movie premiered, I got like 50 Facebook friend requests from musicians and music fans in Korea,” says Reynolds. “I knew then that I had to play in Hongdae.”
Social Bliss started back in 1999 when Reynolds was in his early teens. The band has gone through several different lineups over the years, but has been very much a family affair since its formation.
“We’ve had more bass players in the band then I can count,” says Reynolds. “My little brother Nick used to play guitar, but he got married and had a kid so his time is spent on raising a family at the moment. He will be back some day. Now I have my dad on bass on my mom on drums. It’s going really well.
“Our early gigs were mainly in Texas dive bars. We’d play old blues, classic rock, and surf music. It gave me a really solid foundation to build on and I’m grateful for that. Back then we would play several one-hour sets a night. It was good training for sure.”
Reynolds is the only member of Social Bliss that was able to make the trip to Korea. Not wanting to simply play by himself, he posted messages on Facebook looking for Korean players to handle bass and drum duties during his gigs. After two weeks of doing this, he found drummer Jo Songhyun and bassist Ju Sarang to help him form a special Korean version of Social Bliss. Jo and Ju also make up the rhythm section of the new Seoul punk act Hey Teddy.
The trio met each other on Wednesday, October 9. They played their first gig a mere four days later. The show was at Strange Fruit as part of Zandari Festa.
“They have been amazing,” says Reynolds. “What I’ve enjoyed the most about working with them is overcoming the language barrier. It’s been an interesting experience as I don’t speak much Korean and they only know a bit of English. But we’re having a great time together.”
I sadly had to miss the band’s debut on Sunday evening, but I ran into the president of Seoul indie imprint Love Rock, Ki Myoungshin, later that night and the first words that left his mouth were, “Max was awesome!”
“The Strange Fruit show was great,” says Reynolds. “The club’s owner made me feel really welcome. I tried not to have too many expectations going into this trip, just that I would work my hardest and have a great time.
“The audience was beautiful. It was my first time playing for a non-English speaking crowd, and it’s definitely an experience I will never forget. My favorite memory from the concert was jumping over a cameraman and landing on (Galaxy Express drummer) Kim Heekwon. Signing CDs for everyone after the show was really cool too.”
Both the Korean and American versions of Social Bliss are currently gigging in support of the band’s new “Will of Fire” EP. Released in September, the album’s six cuts were written over the last two years. Social Bliss recorded “Will of Fire” at The Factory between May and August.
“My friends really helped me with the album and pushed me to get it done,” says Reynolds. “My friend Stephen Harbuck laid down his credit card to buy some recording equipment and my village brother Bill Reynolds fronted the money for duplication and packaging. My tattoo artist Caleb Due drew my portrait for the cover. I’m extremely grateful to all of them.”
During his visit, Reynolds has had the chance to watch a lot of local bands and to meet plenty of fellow musicians. He’s eager to book as many of them at The Factory in the future as possible. And of course, he’s looking forward to returning to Seoul in the future to see all his new friends and fans again.
“I hope to have Galaxy Express come back to The Factory every year,” he says. “And I’d love to put on shows for Crying Nut, Goonam, Core Magazine, Bad Black Bones, No Brain, E-Visor, The Geeks, Kwon Milk and The Greatest Voyage, The Strikers, Apollo 18, and lots of others.
“I definitely want to come back next year. Next time I plan to bring my whole band. Hell, I might even bring my whole town.”
Now that Reynolds and his Korean bandmates have a week-and-a-half’s worth of practices and one proper concert under their belts, what can folks expect from the final gigs of his Korean visit at Freebird and Phillies Basement?
“Well the band is getting tighter and we are more confident now,” says Reynolds. “These last two shows are going to be high-energy affairs. Ju Sarang and Jo Songhyun are hungry newcomers to Hongdae’s indie scene and are ready to prove themselves. Songhyun is a wild man so anything could happen onstage.”
Max Reynolds and the Korean edition of Social Bliss will play on Friday night at Freebird. Doors open at 11 pm, and Reynolds is scheduled to perform at 11:20 pm. Tickets cost 10,000 won and include one free drink. On Saturday night, the band will play at Phillies Basement in Haebongchon as part of HBC Fest. They play at 9:30 p.m, and HBC Fest is free to attend.