Punk rock has always been a medium for rebellion and change, a unique blend of music and social commentary filled with emotion. South Korean band Patients embodies the core of punk rock especially with their do-it-yourself attitude; when the label they were signed to closed in 2009, Patients took the bull by its horns and created their own label, Steel Face Records, figuring that if they wanted something that worked for them, they had to make it themselves. And although the group now defines their sound as “hybrid punk” — accentuating their music with bits of new wave and pop — their punk roots are still evident when listening to their latest album, 18.
Patients formed in 2005 and played a leading role in the creation of the underground punk scene in South Korea. Changing from a quartet to a trio in 2007, the group continued releasing music including their second EP All the Patients Let’s Go. They released their first full-length album Kitsch Space in 2011, spawning their hybrid punk sound and culminating in an invitation to participate in Korea’s 2011 Hello Rookie finals, a competition which highlights Korea’s best up-and-coming bands.
Since then, they have played at one of Korea’s largest summer festivals (the Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival), undergone a member switch (guitarist Baek Jun-myoung was replaced by keyboardist Kwon Hyuck-jang) and toured in Taiwan and the UK. Patients will be returning this month to the UK to join the Liverpool Sound City Music Festival again and are scheduled to play at South Korea’s Soundholic Festival 2015 Exit this summer as well.
Seoulbeats recently got the chance to sit down with bassist and vocalist Jo Sumin to learn a little more about the band.
What is the meaning behind the name Patients?
Sumin: ‘Patients’ in Korean is a homonym in that it can mean both patients as in hospital patients but also people having fun (the word 환자 means patient but can be interpreted as 환 — to have fun and 자 — people). By having the band name as Patients, we wanted to have both meanings – people in pain and in happiness.
Listening to Patients’ music took me back to my days of listening to late 90s punk. Is there an era of rock that makes you nostalgic? Do you have a favorite era of rock?
Sumin: My favorite era is the 70s. But I also like 90s punk rock bands like Rancid and Green Day. In Korea, music licenses were not obtained until later so a lot of the 70s music did not reach Korea until the late 90s. So I listened to both 70s and 90s at the same time.
The Sex Pistols and The Cure.
Dive and Galaxy Express.
Having gotten a chance to tour in the UK, what are some of the differences between the Korean rock scene and the UK rock scene?
In Korea, people know who’s playing at the concert so they go there specifically for that band. In UK, they don’t know who is coming and they just enjoy whoever shows up. The UK is more spontaneous that way.
You played some shows in Taiwan too. How did that experience compare to your UK and Korean experiences?
It was similar to Korean fans. They [the crowd] came specifically for us.
What has been your favorite venue to play at so far?
My favorite is our club, Steel Face Rooftop. We manage our own venue on a rooftop. Patients’ practice studio is on the 6th floor and the top floor is where we play and party on the rooftop. I also liked Liverpool Sound City.
Is there anywhere you wish you could play?
South by Southwest [Laughs].
What is the age of your fans?
I write my music based on what stage I am in in life. When I was younger, teens really supported my music and nowadays people closer to my age support our music.
You mentioned that Patients manages Steel Face Records. What are some of the challenges that you face being artists and running a label?
Some of the advantages that come by managing our own label is that we get less outside interference and we can continuously play music the way we want to. One of the harder things we go through is that it’s harder for us to get well-known. There are also many components that we need to take care of ourselves so sometimes we get less time to play music.
Do you regret not making your music more mainstream?
It’s not that we gave up on mainstream but rather that we wanted to play the music we wanted to make. And instead of going from one label to another, following their orders and being told what kind of music to play, we wanted Patients to be the focus and play what we wanted to play.
What is your writing and composition process like? Does everyone get involved?
I usually come up with ideas and I write songs about things I want to talk about. Sometimes the members come up with the melody and we all participate in finishing up the song.
When I was younger I used to criticize the things I didn’t like. These days because the mood in Korea is unhappy, I’ve been trying to write more upbeat music. We wanted this album to represent the state of Korea because Korea is going through tough times. Even though the lyrics can be blunt and sad, we intended the melody to sound bright and exciting so that those listening to the album would be happy while listening to our music.
With the addition of the keyboards, Patients’ sound shifted further from punk to hybrid punk. Are there any other instruments that you would like to incorporate into your music in the future?
I don’t put too much emphasis on instruments these days. I don’t really mind whatever instrument comes in. We don’t have a specific instrument in mind to incorporate into our music. We’re trying to focus on coming up with more variations with the three instruments we have right now but we definitely have an open mind and are willing to add instruments if we wish to.
Was the album written by the members or was there outside producing?
We wrote the lyrics for 18 and also did all the composing.
My favorite song on 18, partly due to the fun keyboard solo, is “R.I.P.” What is your favorite song off the album?
My favorite is “Sipalsegi.” Kwon Hyuck-jang (keyboardist) likes “High Level Darling” and Lee Jae-hyuk (drummer) likes “Spanking Jenny.”
For 18 in Korean, we say ‘sipal’ which means “fuck.” So if somebody feels very good they say “oh fuck” and if someone is angry, “fuck.” I used ‘sipal’ for both meanings.
(The name of the song is titled “18세기” or “Sipalsegi.” 18세기 means 18th century but the pronunciation of 18세기 sounds similar to 18새끼 which is a curse word. Thus it is a play on words by pronunciation but not by spelling.)
That’s pretty clever! Do you do something similar in any other song titles?
“Messed Up Room” (“어질러진 방”) represents our head and how we can be unstable or chaotic inside our minds. But we don’t have another play on words like “Sipalsegi.”
Since Seoulbeats covers a lot of K-pop, I can’t not ask, what are your thoughts on idol bands?
They are cute and hardworking, and its nice to see them. What I worry about with idol bands is that since they easily become role models to teenagers, the fact that they are swayed by their agencies limits their creativity and opinions. Other than that, I think they’re really hardworking.
What is your main goal for Patients?
The thing that is most important for us is making music that can truly be enjoyable to our audiences. Other than that, we are a band of three friends and we want to continue making good music.
My last question is if you had to choose a song to introduce new listeners to, what would it be?
If you haven’t already listened to Patients, now is the time to do so! Patients will be touring in the UK and you can catch a show at the following venues:
May 23 Liverpool, England @ The Heineken Tall Ship Stage (Kaskelot) – Liverpool Sound City
May 24 Liverpool, England @ The Cavern Stage – Liverpool Sound City
If you can’t see them live, Seoulbeats will be giving away a signed copy of their latest album, 18. Comment below and tell us what your favorite Patients song is and why you should get the signed CD! Deadline to enter is June 15th, 2015.