Bursters, a post-alternative hardcore rock band from South Korea, comprising of Roh Dae-gun (vocal), Lee Gye-jin (guitar, synths), Jo Hwan-hee (bass), Ahn Jun-yong (guitar) and Jo Tae-hee (drums), first gained popularity when they reached the finals of one of the most popular Korean talent shows, Superstar K; their appearance undoubtedly contributed to their success as a band. In 2015, they released Independent EP consisting of six songs, including Scandal, a powerful collaboration with rapper Wutan. With this EP, the band showcased their extraordinary musical talent. After Independent, the group recorded Lost Child, a digital single, and two years later, Bursters amazed their fans with the release of their first full-length album Live in Hope. With its high-powered vocals, striking guitar riffs and heavy sound, the album was critically and commercially acclaimed and recognised by Burrn, a Japanese publication for heavy metal and rock music fans, as one of the most promising albums of the year.
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In May 2019, Bursters returned with a new single called Barriers, in which they tackle topics such as discrimination and capitalism, but they also sing about barriers/walls we all have to tackle in order to live a better life. And as the world is starting to pay proper attention to their music, the band is about to embark on their first UK tour – they will perform in Norwich, Birmingham, Brighton, London and Manchester. Bursters are also set to release their second full-length album soon.
It is vital to point out that South Korea has more than just K-pop to offer – their music scene is also blessed with hip-hop, metal and rock bands who make music of incredible quality. Let’s hope that they will rise in popularity as fast as K-pop conquered the world.
Ahead of their UK tour, we caught up with Bursters and talked about their career as musicians and their expectations for the tour.
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Prior to your appearance on Superstar K, a television talent show, you were already a band. How much did your lives and you as a band change since the show?
We are definitely focusing on our music with a more professional and serious mindset than before we were on Superstar K.
Looking at your repertoire from 2015 with Independent EP, Lost Child digital single, then 2017’s debut album Live in Hope and now 2019’s new single Barriers, your music palette has changed; not drastically, but one can easily hear the difference. How would you describe your music genre in general?
We certainly do not let ourselves be tied to genres. Music that only we as Bursters can do, that is our genre. Just as there are countless genres in music, the members of Bursters also have countless ways of thought and personal values that all vary. So we only put in our albums the songs that every member agreed on, through many group discussions and compromises.
(Question for Roh Dae-gun) What kind of approach do you use to write your lyrics and how much of input does the rest of the group have when it comes to writing and composing the music?
Roh Dae-gun: I begin the first draft with just my gut feeling. I use the feelings and experiences I’m going through at the time of writing. I don’t calculate it out or think out anything. Then I share the result with my members, and we go through the feedbacks with each other. After that, I start the editing work.
In May 2019, you released your new single called Barriers, which includes the title song as well as Hero. The English lyrics of Barriers are powerful; you sing about discrimination and there is even a hint of criticism against capitalism itself. What message did you try to send to the audience with the lyrics and what or who inspired you to write this particular song?
Barriers, or walls – those obstacles always exist in our realities and lives. At the most basic level, once we are born, all of us race towards the final barrier that we all must face eventually, which is death. Within life, built on that fundamental fact, there are so many barriers that all of us must break down.
We made this song in the hopes that those who listen to our music would hear this song and break down the barrier they must face today.
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Your repertoire is full of songs with meaningful lyrics. Do you believe that your surroundings shaped you as a band in a creative sense and if so, in what way?
We all play and sing using past experiences and situations we went through, as well as reality and truth that we are facing right now.
If our lives became suddenly only full of happiness and joy, perhaps our fans can one day hearing some sweet music from our band, made in Bursters’ style!
When you look at your careers as musicians, may it be playing the drums, the bass, the electric guitar or singing – what would you say are currently your main artistic challenges?
Roh Dae-gun: As the band’s vocalist and front man, I live while feeling a constant challenge and somewhat of a problem that I give myself to solve. It is to give those who love music my vocal skills, performances, and my music that are better than what I created and performed before.
Lee Gye-jin: Once I began to learn programming through self-study, I grafted synth sounds into our music, starting with our 1st official album. I think that’s a formidable task and a challenge for me, aside from performing my role as a guitarist.
Ahn Jun-yong: In the current music world, packed with countless genres, I believe the most important goal is to create a genuinely unique playing style and, in that same line of thought, a unique chord selection. While common chord progressions are approachable and comfortable, they are boring, you know? The upside is that it’s familiar, but the downside is that you feel like you already heard it in another song. That’s why I think the greatest challenge is to create what is actually “your own music”.
Jo Tae-hee: As a band, the goal is for us Bursters to rock it out on as big and as many different stages as possible. I want to show everyone that K-ROCK is just as much worth one’s time as K-POP. My own goals are to become as famous a drummer as Mike Mangini (Dream Theater), John Bonham (Led Zeppelin), and Travis Barker (Blink-182), and to grow my drumming expertise along with my career.
Jo Hwan-hee: My wish is to create more unique and more, well… fun rhythms. With that end in mind, I listen to many different kinds of music and am continually doing research.
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There is so much going on the technical level of your music – how important are practice and instrumental techniques to you?
Roh Dae-gun: My priority is always how our band fits together as a whole. For our band’s sake, it is a must for me to practice thoroughly on my own, so that I don’t cause harm to my members during a practice or a performance.
Jo Tae-hee: Technicality mandates training, period. Without training, the techniques in our recent single, for instance, simply can’t be pulled off. Since I am in charge of the rhythm, I feel especially responsible to be infallible in technique, and I practice accordingly.
The music you play is hardcore – does your musical inspiration lie in the same genre or do you like to venture out when you switch the side from being performers to being the audience?
Roh Dae-gun: I don’t have a preference for just one type of music. If I listen to it and like it, that style enters my repertoire as a genre I’d like to express on stage one day.
Lee Gye-jin: I listen to a lot of EDM music. That’s why I began studying programming, and it has a huge influence on not just me, but our band’s music as a whole.
Ahn Jun-yong: It may seem like I’d only listen to hardcore music since we play rock music. But I actually listen to K-POP and dance songs frequently too. When I’m working on a song, I tend to seek for inspiration from music genres that are totally different from ours. As genres become more and more varied, I listen to just as much of a variety. That’s my method of expanding my musical spectrum.
Jo Tae-hee: I don’t listen to just one genre. The genre I’m most confident in is Bursters’ genre, but we have no limits. I think listeners will be able to sense the variety of member’s viewpoints towards music when they listen to our upcoming full-length album.
Jo Hwan-hee: I do enjoy other music genres. I listen to pop a lot, and I often look into K-POP as well as music from Japan. It’s become fun to listen to many different kinds of music and then mix them into Bursters’ music.
Music Video © Evermore Music
Being in the band, composing music, practicing and touring must take a lot of your time, how do you balance it all out?
We prioritize the band. For that to be possible, we negotiate and work it out together in terms of the personal schedule of each member.
Bursters are about to embark on a UK tour; any expectations?
Jo Tae-hee: We’re looking forward to performances that we’ll make together with people of the UK. We’re looking forward to dominating our stage even at a place so new to us. We are looking forward to seeing how people at the heart of the arts, the UK, react to Bursters. We are ready to give Bursters’ all-time best performances at the tour.
When can the audience expect your 2nd full-length album?
Our next full-length album is set to be released after the UK tour. Stay tuned!
Photo © Evermore Music
We’d like to thank Evermore Music for their assistance with the interview and Bursters who kindly took the time to answer our questions.
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna