With BURSTERS’ 2nd album, Once and for All, being released in March of this year, the Korean hard rockers have recently focused on producing something different. While keeping their heavy sound, the band embraced different genres as well, making their new album explosive and musically ambitious. Once and for All, fully written in English, showed that the group was not only able to deliver a fresh sound, but was also able to express their emotions and frustrations in a very transparent way. With dynamic riffs, drums thundering away and significant lyrics, BURSTERS are surely set to take over foreign markets soon. After wrapping up their UK tour last year, they have now focused on promoting their new album, which – undoubtedly – is worth checking out as it will make you greedy for more of BURSTERS’ music.
BURSTERS have always been a great pleasure to do interviews with; they are articulate, intelligent and truly know where they stand as artists. We interviewed the band a few days ago and spoke about their new album, their favourites from Once and for All, the perception of sound influenced by cultural differences, and how they see the role of the listener in the musical communication process.
Photo © Evermore Music
The last time we spoke was almost a year ago when you were promoting your music while touring the UK. Since then, it seems like you have kept yourself very busy! How have you been?
Jun-yong: It’s true – we’ve been very busy working on our second full-length album released this March. We put a lot of effort into raising the quality to be the best possible. But while working on the full-length album, we also released our ‘Savage’ single last November and our ‘Colors’ single this February, so I’d say we’ve been on a non-stop working stream. Just in terms of music videos alone, we’ve filmed three since our world tour last year! We’ve also been performing. In particular, we had our concert <BURSTERS Live in Seoul: Save the Savage> in Seoul last December. BURSTERS have to perform to feel alive, that’s for sure.
After the UK tour, you promised to give your fans a 2nd full-length album, and now, the time has come, as you have released Once and for All. It took several months to record the album, what was the creative process behind it, and were there any challenges you faced while making it?
Dae-gun: We had a clear goal for ourselves with this album. Like the album title, Once and for All, our goal was to show BURSTERS’ everything once and for all – to have this album contain all of BURSTERS’ musical spectrum and sensibilities. We wanted listeners to get a complete picture of who we, BURSTERS, are. So, we had a ton of candidate tracks and listened and re-listened to very carefully put together the final track list. I think what kept running through our minds was ‘How can we capture BURSTERS perfectly?’ Also, a few tracks among the 14 tracks are not brand new, but re-recorded and re-mixed works of our previous releases. Re-working on those made us keen to show how we grew and improved since then. It allowed us to imbue nuanced emotions we didn’t get to the first time around. It was great that we also got to make edits we’d been wanting to for a long time. I can confidently say the songs are upgraded from before. Also, on top of all this, the whole album is in English, so we paid a lot of attention to retaining all subtleties and feelings in our lyrics going from Korean to English.
Tae-hee © Evermore Music
Before releasing your 2nd album, you primarily sang in Korean. Now, however, you recorded the entire album in English. What prompted you to do so?
Dae-gun: Ever since we first started in rock music, we looked up to bands from epicentres of rock music like the UK and the U.S. They gave us motivation as we chased our dream. Eventually, we thought, ‘Why not give back music the way they gave us music that we enjoyed?’ So actually, we’ve had this dream of making an all-English album for a long time.
‘Once and for All’ consists of 14 songs. How did you pick those songs for the album and do each of you have personal favourites?
(All Members) Again, we had a huge number of candidate songs. There were so many more compared to our past albums. It’s because we spent a long time on this album, and have been working on it for three years. We listened to each candidate’s song over and over and discussed with each other constantly. Our goal was to show who we are, but not do what we’ve already done. We wanted to try a lot of different genres we hadn’t tried before. So, we chose songs that accomplished both.
Hwan-hee: Remind You is a song I like a lot. I created the bass line with a lot of pop elements and the result was so satisfying. I remember coming out of the recording booth on cloud nine.
Gye-jin: Savage for me. I’m the one in charge of synths for BURSTERS, and Savage is a song with synths as the centrepiece, so to speak, whereas synths usually take the back seat and stay in the background for our other songs. So Savage is personally meaningful to me.
Jun-yong: Colors has a special place in my heart because it’s the first song that all five members sing together from start to finish. I like that the five of us come together as one in this song. I also like that the audience can sing along when we perform this.
Dae-gun: Therapy is my favourite because this one song alone has a wide range of musical colours within. I think of it as an archetype of BURSTERS’ musical spectrum. To boot, the vocals also came out close to the ideal that I personally pursue.
Tae-hee: Barriers – simply because I think it’s a genuinely good song. That’s what I thought as soon as I heard it. I also get pumped up whenever we perform it.
Hwan-hee © Evermore Music
In addition to the album release, you have a documentary coming up. Could you tell us more about it?
Jun-yong: It’s a lot of ‘firsts’ – our first-ever documentary about our first-ever UK tour which was the first time we toured abroad. I remember the tour as one unforgettable memory after another. We were finally meeting UK fans whom we’ve only been able to meet through social media all this time. That’s why we wanted to make a documentary, to capture it all. We also wanted to share our thoughts about music in a deeper way as we journeyed from the Norwich gig to the Manchester gig. I think you’ll get a complete picture of who BURSTERS are and see our real side. It’s going to be fun, so keep an eye out.
Currently, you have two full-length albums, TV performances, the UK tour, and various concerts in Seoul under your belt, what do you personally consider to be the most memorable moment to date?
Jun-yong: Every one of our performances is a moment we can’t forget. But if I must choose one, I guess it’d be the UK tour because it is part one of our first-ever world tour, and thus the starting step. Actually, it’s not just our first tour abroad, but our first performance outside of Korea ever. We finally met our overseas fans face-to-face, and were moved every day that they would come out to hear our music. I want to keep this going, continue the world tour.
Dae-gun © Evermore Music
Looking at your career so far, what are some of your main compositional and production challenges right now?
Hwan-hee: Our band’s identity is to constantly change, to create new combinations of varying elements. There is no fixed and defined ‘BURSTERS’ sound’. So, I feel this is a task that will never end for us. We’ll always push beyond our pre-existing sounds into new musical territories. Just as we experimented with a lot of new sounds for this album distinct from our previous albums, we won’t stop showing another ‘new BURSTERS’ in our future albums.
Many artists say that improvisation is a large part of the creative process. How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
Gye-jin: Our songwriting begins with me and Jun-yong first. Us two create the core riff and then all five put our heads together and get down all the instruments. Then, we create the vocal melody.
For live improvising, we typically focus more on re-arranging songs for all parts of the band so that we offer our audience something different from what’s in the album. So, it’s more about the entire band doing a new thing together than solo adlibs. But of course, from time to time, members go into adlibs that put the spotlight on the member.
Jun-yong © Evermore Music
How much, do you feel, are your creative decisions shaped by cultural differences – and how much, vice versa, is the perception of sound influenced by cultural differences?
Tae-hee: I believe cultural differences do create subtle differences between listeners in how a song’s taken in. But BURSTERS’ sound and message are universal, so I think anyone around the world would identify with our music regardless of country. At the end of the day, if the message of the song is common to us all, it will make everyone and anyone feel and be touched. Also, it’s inevitable that our music would have sentiments of Korean culture that only Koreans can produce. When you take that Korean sentiment and bring it together with other culture’s music, there’s a positive synergy. We aim to stay true to our music, but will always welcome great external influences.
The role of an artist is always subject to change. What’s your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of artists today, and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
Tae-hee: I believe the artists’ responsibility is to reflect the era they are living in and deliver a word of hope and various messages others would identify with. BURSTERS’ music isn’t detached from the world. Our music tells stories of people sharing the same era, stories we’d all identify with. So, we do look up current issues a lot and discuss them with each other.
How do you think non-mainstream music can reach a wider audience?
Hwan-hee: There should be a steady flow of places that bring together artists and audiences. Performances are a given, but in a way, social media and video content would be such ‘places’ too. So, I think it’s a case of the more the better. And we’re working to make that happen.
Gye-jin © Evermore Music
Usually, it is considered that it is the job of the artist to win over an audience. But listening is also an active, rather than just a passive, process. How do you see the role of the listener in the musical communication process?
Dae-gun: As a musician, my life is to express my thoughts through music, but I’m also a listener. I think all songs contain the specific individual artist’s own thoughts and messages. But people listening to the song feel and interpret differently. It’s the same as how we’d react differently to a movie regardless of the director’s intentions. That’s what’s fun about it, that there’s no correct answer. I’d say the listener’s role is to take in a piece of music just as that listener feels uniquely in response to it, as they personally prefer. It’s wonderful how everyone under the same sky leads such different lives, but still has the universal thing of music.
What are your upcoming plans? Apart from promoting your new album, are there any other projects that you have planned for the future?
Jun-yong: Last year’s tour in the UK was only part 1 of our world tour, so we had been planning our U.S./UK/Europe tour for this year. Unfortunately, COVID-19 forced us to push it back. But health is a top priority, so please stay safe, everyone. We hope we can meet you soon after all of this is over. Meanwhile, we are continuing to work on new songs. We have other plans that will enable us to meet you frequently and reveal new sides of us. Watch out for us.
Music Videos © Evermore Music
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Julia Litwinowicz