Just a few weeks after I was bounced through the crowd during their Busan International Rock Festival set, I was sitting down for a coffee with Galaxy Express vocalist/guitarist Park Jonghyun to discuss the band’s new album, rock ‘n’ roll antics, and upcoming album release show. “Hi, I’m Jonghyun, the most handsome guy from my band,” he jokes by way of introduction.
Beginning his rock career in a Ramones cover band named Mowgli, Park was first inspired to pick up the guitar as a high school student after hearing Nirvana’s seminal album, “Nevermind.” Soon after he was drawn into the sweaty world of punk rock.
“I saw Crying Nut on television and I was really shocked,” he recalls. “Then I went to their club called Drug and I was even more shocked. I couldn’t believe it. I was like a virgin in there. People were packed in the space and everyone was sweating so much. Everyone was going crazy! The electricity went out. It was a sh*t hole, but it felt so alive.”
Park has come a long way since then, but it’s that same infectious rock ‘n’ roll spirit that has inspired Galaxy Express’ own attitude. “Our first album was a DIY album. We recorded it using a small mic and an MD [MiniDisc recorder],” he told me. In fact, he can’t even remember what they called it and no longer has a copy.
Since such humble beginnings, Galaxy Express has gone on to share the stage with Crying Nut countless times, eventually releasing a split EP together in 2011 called “Naughty Boy.”
Now a rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse in their own right, Galaxy Express are a musical tour de force that have earned their reputation as one of the most exciting live acts in the country. Aside from their chant along melodies, the band is famous for their trademark “stacking” in which Park performs while straddling bassist Lee Juhyun’s shoulders like a human totem pole.
Having performed their stage antics around the world, I wondered what their craziest experience was? “Vladivostok at last year’s V-Rox festival,” Park explained. “Juhyun drank so much vodka the night before. When we came to sound check, he couldn’t move at all. We gave him a chair, but he couldn’t play anything. He was like a zombie. He vomited on the stage during sound check.”
But somehow the show went on. “He was amazing,” Park continued. “When we started the show, he was so normal. Right after finishing the show, he started going down the steps and he vomited on them!”
Turning to more sober matters, the band’s latest offering, “Walking on Empty” took a year and a half to record, and is a labor of love. While the initial recording was done in Chuncheon, the final mastering was done by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios in London.
Park says it reflects the amount of thought and time that went into making it. Having completed their 2010 album, “Wild Days,” in just 30 days, this time they opted to take things slowly.
Being less restrained for time allowed them produce a more sophisticated work that Park describes as a “calmer, more relaxed, and more detailed” album. “We could focus our bodies and our playing.”
The band views the result as their best album to date. From the raucous “Running on Empty” which packs a familiar raw punch to the more psychedelic “Booster,” the album refuses to be bound by a single style. “All 10 tracks are different from each other. They all have their own character,” Park adds.
In addition to the Busan International Rock Festival, the band recently played at the Ansan Valley Rock Festival too. While Park enjoys playing outside with an open sky, he remains attached to the more intimate experience of playing club shows: “Small clubs are more fun because people get sweaty and it’s more sticky.”
You will have a chance to get sticky with Galaxy Express on September 5 when they perform at their official album release show for “Walking on Empty” at Sangsang Madang. They’ll be performing their new offering in its entirety with a session guitarist plus a number of old favorites as a three piece. “So you can enjoy the old school and the 2015 version of Galaxy Express,” Park says. Expect a set that will last at least an hour and a half.
Galaxy Express’ September 5 show at Sangsang Madang starts at 7 pm. Tickets are 30,000 won in advance and 35,000 won at the door. Goonam, The Veggers, and Fling will open the concert. For more information, check out the show’s Facebook event page here.