L to R: Gyung-moon Kang, Seung-jae Yoo, Jong-min Lee, Gye-hyun Shin
Photo: Martin B. Leroy

Daydream: From the Banks of the Muddy Anyang

Interview by Joseph Kim, 2/1/2008
Translated by Sung Shin and Joseph Kim

Daydream have been making uncompromising guitar-based rock in Korea from way beneath the radar since 1998. Taking their name from Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation album, the band writes music with alternate guitar tunings, feedback and dense fuzz tones. Daydream clearly has deep roots in the Hongdae indie scene, and you will find an extensive history below. However, we suspect even this is an abridged version. Unfortunately, the band is also criminally underdocumented. As of the time of writing, there are only two compilation appearances, and their first album, while reported to be complete, has yet to be released. In early January 2008, the band announced that it would be taking a hiatus for the members to pursue various projects. We eagerly await news of their return, but here is their story thus far...

Your website says Seung-jae and Gye-hyun first formed the band in 1998. How did you meet each other and the other members? What was it like when you first started out? How has the line-up changed since 1998?

Seung-jae Yoo: When I first got into high school in 1997, I sat right next to Gye-hyun. At the time, I was completely crazy about Nirvana's live album and Pearl Jam's No Code album. Gye-hyun and I would hang out at the public library or the Anyang River, reading books (Haruki Murakami at the time), listening to punk or Radiohead, and drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Naturally, we started a band. The first lineup was me, Gye-hyun, and another classmate Duck-hwan Jang, and we started out by copying Nirvana or the Club Drug bands. In 2001, Gyung-moon Kang, who was from a neighboring high school and also a friend of mine through the "Nirvana Appreciation Club" on Nownuri (a PC Tongshin service), joined the band. Lastly, in 2004, after going through numerous drummers, Jong-min Lee, who used to play in another band, joined completing our current lineup.

Gye-hyun Shin: I met Seung-jae not long after I started high school. At the time Seung-jae was the temporary class president, and when the seats were assigned I ended up as his "jjack" (classroom partner). I thought, "It's an honor to sit right next to the class president," but then I thought, "Well, he's just the temporary president, so whatever." We exchanged corny jokes and became tight. I began to learn to play guitar from him and got introduced to various kinds of music. The positions in the band were Seung-jae on guitar, me on bass, and Duck-hwan on drums. At first, we were at the level of copying punk rock bands mostly. We were only absorbing other people's music rather than thinking about our own music. We grew more serious about our own songs and started playing out in 2001. Starting in the year 2000, I switched to guitar, and when my friend Hun-gee Kim's band disbanded, their bassist Kuh-nyong (Seung-yun Cho) joined us. One day in 2001, Duck-hwan quit, and we started going through many different drummers. Chang-bum Jung, the drummer from another one of Hun-gee's previous bands (called Jamkosik HandPlay) joined and played with us until 2003. In 2001, Kuh-nyong bought a synthesizer, and she wanted to play that in the band instead.

So we recruited a new member to play bass, Gyung-moon Kang, whom I met through the Nirvana Appreciation Club on Nownuri (PC Tongshin). Fortunately, we found out that he was living in the same city as us, Gwang-myung, and also graduated from a high school next to ours. In 2003, Chang-bum quit after our first recording session, and Gyung-moon went to the military. The band was on hiatus for a while, and whenever Gyung-moon was on vacation, we'd sporadically play shows using session drummers. In 2004, Jong-min Lee (of Pigeon Milk) joined us on drums and completed our current line-up. At the end of 2004, Kuh-nyong quit and formed a chamber-pop band called Pirigwa. However, Jong-min also went into the military, and Daydream was on hiatus again. In 2005, Jong-min completed his military service, and so we have our current line-up.

Jong-min Lee: I started in the spring of 2004…I was in another band. I joined them to play on recording and live sessions. Later on I became a formal member.

I had asked Gyung-moon in passing whether the name Daydream came from Sonic Youth's landmark album "Daydream Nation", and he was surprised that I had guessed correctly! How did you guys first hear of Sonic Youth's music? How did you first find out about underground music from outside of Korea?

Seung-jae Lee: Around 1998, there was an explosion of interest in indie music. At that time several magazines dealing with national and international rock and indie music were published and circulated, including Rock It. In Rock It, I read about the Velvet Underground, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Sex Pistols, Sonic Youth, etc. It was then that we decided on Daydream as our band name. In 1995, Club Drug in Hongdae released the first Korean indie album ever, called Our Nation 1. I liked Yellow Kitchen from that album (at the time they were a Sonic Youth-esque noise rock band, although now they do electronic music).

[ed. Our Nation 1 was a split CD between Crying Nut and Yellow Kitchen.]

Jong-min Lee: I came to know about and was introduced to foreign underground music through a website called Audio Galaxy.

What are your observations of the Korean independent music scene since 1998? Is the variety of music increasing? What about the audience for independent music?

Seung-jae Lee: In 1998, we weren't playing shows yet. Mostly we went to catch shows at Club Drug or Spangle. At the time punk rock and so-called Alternative Rock ruled the scene, and it's difficult to say that there was much diversity in the music. However, in general there may have been more of, shall we call it, innocence in our attitude towards music. Since the year 2000, it seems like the initial interest in indie music has cooled down a bit. At the same time though, a greater variety of music has been emerging. Also, looking at the 2002 World Cup as a reference point, dance clubs grew in number more than live music clubs in Hongdae. Ever since then, Hongdae has become a famous spot in Seoul. However, it's more difficult to find live music clubs and for less popular bands to find their audience. I don't know much about the indie music audience itself. I am also an indie music fan, but I tend to listen to one or two bands for several years... Well, to each his own.

Jong-min Lee: It's no exaggeration to say that the Korean indie scene is solely the Hongdae club scene. It's a small scene in one neighborhood, but within itself, it branches out into different genres and tastes. While there are scenes that cooperate with each other and evolve and develop continually, there are also scenes that back-stab each other and are locked into a narrow view, thinking only of themselves and considering themselves superior. This tendency applies to both indie musicians and listeners.

When we interviewed Cocore recently, we asked them about the experimental side of their music. The response we got seemed to imply that the word "experimental" has negative connotations, both for audiences and for musicians. How do you feel about experimentation within rock music? Are experimentation and musicality in opposition to one another?

Seung-jae Yoo: I don't think experimentalism and musicality oppose each other. I think experimentation must be grounded in self-confidence in order to be effective. When I make music, I'm just trying to express my feelings about something as best as I can. I don't consciously try to make the music wondrous or different, but I'm even more sick of commonplace music. If I could really think about something intensely and express my thoughts exactly, I think music that is both experimental and strong artistically could come out if it. This goes not only for music, but for literature and fine art as well. Musically… Let's see… Nirvana's "Aneurysm" comes to mind.

Gye-hyun Shin: I agree with Seung-jae.

Jong-min Lee: Experimentation is the best way to develop oneself as a musician. I think one must constantly strive for the experimental, while staying grounded in one's fundamental skills. Therefore, you can't be experimental without sufficient practice and basic skills. It's nonsense to pursue experimentation with only sensitivity and emotion, which can't result in more than superficial imitation or mere noise. In conclusion, I think only musicians with sufficient practice and fundamental skills can be successful in experimentation. I'm thinking of Pink Floyd's "Have a Cigar".

What's it like going to college and being in the band about the same time? What about working and being in a band? Which lifestyle did you find to be more difficult?

Seung-jae Yoo: Doing the band while attending school is more difficult than doing the band while working. First, you can make money while working and can have your own private time after 6. Sure, I like the classes I choose to take and they are interesting. But since I should be studying all day, doing music is kind of difficult. Actually the biggest problem is probably that I got lazy these days.

Jong-min Lee: Objectively speaking, it depends on one's environment and circumstances. But if you have passion for doing something you want, you can do it either while going to school or working. Even if you have to work in some other field in order to make ends meet, you can still do well if you have the passion to pursue music and a band. If things don't work out, it's from a lack of passion. It's not about which lifestyle is more difficult, but rather about how passionate you are about what you do.

Gye-hyun Shin: During my undergraduate years, doing the band while going to school was possible to a certain degree, but during my graduate years, since I'm an engineering student, it's difficult to spare as much time as I want. Once I start working at a company, I think there will be more time.

Daydream started recording its album in 2003 and has just recently announced its completion. I would guess that over such a span of time, many factors could change such as the recording studio, the members, even the songs themselves... Could you tell us about the process of recording your album? What types of difficulties did you face during the making? Did you end up keeping any of the earliest recordings?

Seung-jae Yoo: In June 2003 we paid to go into a studio to record and we were only able to write two songs. It may have been because this was our first experience with recording, but the results were totally different from what we were imagining. So Gye-hyun took it on himself to start recording the band. It's not that we've been recording and mixing continuously for 4 years. There have been many periods of hiatus. I'll leave the details to Gye-hyun...

Gye-hyun Shin: I wasted about four months shopping and learning how to use the equipment. When we got signed to the Ping Pong Sound label, we started re-recording all the songs we weren't happy with. I entered the military in January 2004, but I got discharged from the reserve because of my back pain, and I got back into the recording. We re-recorded most of the tracks that were recorded before I got into the military, and every song was re-recorded about 10 times over. There were also accidents where masters got destroyed, so we decided to include only 6 songs, instead of the original 10. The best thing we got out of the re-recording sessions was the reconstruction of "A Land of April".

We went into Ping Pong Sound's studio as a three-piece of Seung-jae, Kuh-nyong, and myself, and we completely re-arranged all of the songs. We were happy with the results for a while. However, we exhausted ourselves by endlessly re-recording and re-remixing. We kept thinking "maybe we can get it just a little bit better" while time was passing us by. In that period, we recorded our drums in three different studios as Ping Pong Sound moved locations twice, first from Ahyeon-dong to Hongje-dong, and then to Hapjeong. By September 2005 most of the recording and mixing was completed. However, I had to take a break to focus on graduating from college. Seung-jae also took a break from the band while I got into grad school, so we had even less time and the band went on hiatus for another two years. During this time Ping Pong Sound disappeared, and Daydream participated in two compilation albums, one from Pastel Music and another from Club Bbang. What I learned from these sessions is that the difficulty of recording lies not so much in using the equipment, but in applying basic knowledge of recording. Also, it was exceedingly frustrating to lack the equipment and budget necessary to get a satisfactory sound. Our early recordings are sleeping on my desktop. I'm sick of even opening that folder!

We noticed many independent music festivals have popped-up in Korea in recent years. Daydream has performed in many of these events. Can you tell us about some of your experiences playing in festivals? What were some of your favorite moments?

Seung-jae Yoo: I remember most pleasantly our show at the Jeon-joo International Film Festival. Our former label Ping Pong Sound participated in it. We rented a 12-seat van and drove down (it's about three to four hours away from Seoul) in the rain. Just playing a show outside of Seoul itself was exciting. And I recall playing the song "Garden Full of Pansy Flowers" with much spontaneous feedback.

Gye-hyun Shin: Me, too, Jeon-joo!

Jong-min Lee: The show at Club Aura right before I entered the military in September 2004. We all drank so much I don't know how we played a show. I can only recall a vague and hazy sensation.

We are sorry to hear the news that Daydream is going on hiatus again, and we hope that you guys will be inspired to get back into action soon! However it seems like for now you all will be busy with various interesting side projects. Can you tell us more about some of these projects?

Seung-jae Yoo: Well, I have some songs that I made strumming my acoustic guitar at home for the past couple of years (only a few songs). Those songs came out when I was getting into Leonard Cohen. I'd be at home drinking soju, listening to music, writing poetry, and strumming my guitar and so on when the songs came to me. As the songs accumulated one by one, I started thinking "Well, why not play a show?" It was with that spirit that I started performing solo. But I'm not very good. There are so many things I want to do in a given day. From electronica to Nirvana-esque punk rock to Leonard Cohen-like folk music. That's what my heart wants, but I also can't write songs anymore where I feel like I'm about to vomit. It's quite the dilemma. I don't know if life sucks because I can't create songs, or I can't create songs because life sucks. I just want to do music that comes naturally out of my heart. I don't think I like myself very much lately. Maybe that's why I can't seem to make music right now.

Gye-hyun Shin: Presently I am working on Pigeon Milk's first album as an engineer and mixer. I'm also helping out Min-kyu Kim and his Electric Muse label over at their office. Pigeon Milk is a Korean shoe-gaze band influenced by Slowdive that uses drone to powerful effect. I recommend checking out their song "Murmur's Room". We're done recording now and in the mixing phase, so the plan is for a late March 2008 release. I am also starting a new band, but there are no songs yet and no concrete plan. I'm hoping the band will not try to fit any particular format, but will play whatever we feel like.

Jong-min Lee: I've admired electronic music for a long time. And I have always listened to and dug numerous genres of music. After completing the military service and rejoining the band, I've been working on my own music on the side, little by little. I do a type of electronic music called psytrance DJing. It's great to be in a band, but I also want to try doing music as a solo artist.

Thank you, Daydream!

VIDEO: Daydream "Byungshin Gatchi" 2007-02-25

Seung-jae Yoo

Gye-hyun Shin

Gyung-moon Kang

Jong-min Lee

Recording at Ping Pong Sound

Performing at Jeonjoo 2004-04-27

VIDEO: Daydream @ Bbang 2007-10-04

K.O.A. Zine