Seoul-based melodic punk group …Whatever That Means has carved out a permanent place in the Hongdae scene over the past six years. Originally started as a one-off act put together to celebrate their own wedding back in 2009, guitarist and vocalist Jeff Moses and his wife – and …Whatever That Means bassist – Trash were later convinced by friends to make it a proper band. Thus …Whatever That Means was born and has been crafting their own style of melodic punk ever since. Their current lineup includes drummer Mizno, who took over from long-term band member Hong Gu last year, and new guitarist Bialy.
…Whatever That Means’ sound is energetic and uncomplicated but with enough depth to pull you in. The catchy vocal melodies layered over simple guitar riffs are reminiscent of the So-Cal style of punk that gained popularity in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
“Our biggest influences are probably Bad Religion, Face To Face, The Descendents, and Social Distortion” says Jeff.
In 2011, the band took their show on the road stateside. A career highlight for Jeff was getting to play at 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley, California. Growing up listening to punk rock, he’d wanted to watch a show there since he was 15.
“It’s the club where Operation Ivy, Green Day, and Rancid all got their starts,” Jeff says. “It had a huge impact on the US punk scene of the ‘90s so playing on the stage where so many of my favorite musicians had played really was amazing.”
The band recently released a cover of the Chinkees’ “Asian Prodigy” as a digital single to add to their catalogue of two EPs and two full-length albums. While their style has inevitably evolved since their first release, they have retained their trademark sound.
“Things are still simple, but I think the song writing in general is better,” says Jeff. “We’ve also become a lot more aggressive over the years.”
You can hear this new energy on their latest album, “Sixty-Eight, Twenty-Two.” Recorded at Trash and Jeff’s home studio, it is named after the distance (6,822 miles) between their old apartment in Pennsylvania and Hongdae Playground. The pair spent a year there in 2012 while Jeff attended grad school in the US. A longing to return “home” to Korea and its punk scene inspired the lyrics.
“It’s all about finding that place where you feel like you can be yourself and really making it your own,” says Jeff.
Back home in Korea, the band was fortunate enough to recruit Hongdae punk legend Jonghee Won of Rux to perform on the album’s title track.
“We were running through it at practice, and I kept hearing Jonghee’s voice singing it in my head,” Jeff explains. “It just had that Rux street punk kind of rhythm during the verse. I’ve known Jonghee for years, and we’d worked on a few other projects together so I shot him a text message to ask if he’d be interested in singing on our album, and he responded positively almost immediately.”
Another standout track on the album is “The Goodbye Note,” whose sobering lyrics take the form of a lover’s farewell. They came from Jeff one day thinking about dying and what the most important things to tell Trash would be if he had to say goodbye to her. His wife understandably had a very emotional response when she read the finished lyrics.
“They made her cry, and she swore she’d never be able to sing that song,” he shares “It actually took quite a while before she could get through it, but now it’s a regular part of our set.”
So how does the band go about writing its music?
“Usually, a line or two of melody or a lyric will pop into my head, and it all just builds from there,” Jeff says. “I’ll come up with more melody and lyrics. Then, I start building the rhythm guitar and main riffs around that. Next I’ll record a demo at home with the song basically complete and send it to everyone else in the band.”
The punk scene in Korea has also seen its share of change over the years. While there is a thriving community of musicians and concert goers which has kept the culture and the music alive, many are concerned that the scene is currently on the decline. However, Jeff is more optimistic.
“Some people say that the scene is dying here. I disagree. It sucks that there’s no central club here that we can all rally around like in the past, but there are a lot of really great bands and a lot of people coming out to shows. I hope that more people start to realize the quality of Korean bands and things grow even more, but in general, I think things are good right now.”
Aside from …Whatever That Means having a regular spot on the bill at Hongdae’s now defunct Club Spot, Jeff worked the bar there right up until the iconic basement club closed its doors for good in October last year. He laments its closure but is upbeat about the future.
“It sucks. I hate not having ‘my place’ to go hangout at. Someone just opened a noraebang there. What a waste! In the short term, I think it’s harder for punk and hardcore bands to find a place to easily put on shows in a good-sized club. In the long term, I think the scene will naturally gravitate towards somewhere else. It won’t be the same as Spot, but it’ll be awesome in its own way. Where that will be, I don’t really know. Maybe it’ll be Ruailrock. Maybe somewhere new will open.”
This month will see … Whatever That Means gigging in Malaysia and Singapore as part of their 2015 winter tour. They previously toured in Malaysia in 2010 when the band was in its infancy and well before their new rhythm section got on board.
“We’re all so excited to get back down to Malaysia,” Jeff says. “This time, we have an even more solid lineup and better songs to play. We had only been a band for about eight or nine months when we did that first tour. We’re obviously a lot more experienced now so I’m looking forward to showing how we’ve grown.”
… Whatever That Means will kick off their winter tour in Seoul on Saturday (January 17) with a gig at Ruailrock in Hongdae. The show starts at 9 pm and tickets are 10,000 won. The Veggers, 21 Scott, and Startline will be opening. For more information, check out the Facebook event page for the concert here.
And here are the rest of the dates for the band’s 2015 winter tour:
January 24 Singapore @ Aliwal Arts Centre
January 25 Batu Pahat, Malaysia @ The Wall
January 27 Melaka, Malaysia @ UTC 8th Floor
January 28 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia @ ALT+HQ
January 30 Kuantan, Malaysia @ Darksky Lounge
January 31 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia @ Black Box (Publika)
February 14 @ Freebird 2