There’s no shortage of bands formed out of friendships. I don’t have the data in front of me, but if I had to take an educated guess I’d say that it’s a common narrative for good buds to want to jam and make music together. But there’s something different about the bonds between the members of Say Sue Me.
Hailing from Busan, South Korea, the band’s guitarist Kim Byungkyu and bassist Jae Young have known each other since the fifth grade with Kang Semin coming into the fold in high school. They’d later invite in Sumi Choi to join the group just after hearing her talk while they all drank at a local tea shop. Regardless of the time the members came together, the bonds between the members play strongly into their upcoming sophomore album, Where We Were Together, out on April 13 via Damnably/Electric Muse.
The flipside of being so close to someone isn’t just the good times, but the empathy you feel when something bad happens to them. During the recording of their latest record, drummer Semin suffered a terrible fall and had to take leave from the band. Drummer Chang Won was able to come in and help the band finish the record, but the band kept Semin’s presence by writing the remaining songs with him in mind. Even the title pays homage to the unfortunate and trying situation they’ve found themselves in, opting to remember the times the friends were all together and looking fondly to when they’ll be together again. The results are a deeply moving record, filled with the jangle-pop hooks, stunning vocal melodies, and intricate guitarwork that stands up proudly against some of their influences like Yo La Tengo and Pavement. The ladder might be best exemplified with the album’s heart-swelling final track, “Coming To The End,” which you can stream below.
The title alone makes it an appropriate way to close the record, let alone the finality that oozes from Choi’s whispering vocals gliding along the hypnotic glow of Byungkyu’s dreamy guitar playing. “Coming To The End” is also one of the songs that Semin was able to finish with the band before the accident. Running over seven-minutes, the song feels like it could carry on forever. It captures those lingering moments of not wanting to leave the people you love, trying to draw out those final moments as long as you can before you split ways. The intensity builds with Semin’s drums and Young’s bass lines keep a steady pulse beneath their friends, holding them up as the song devolves into a frenzy of fuzz and tangled notes. It’s the type of song that can only be made when the people in the room are totally in sync, operating on their own wavelength.
We caught up with the band over email as they prepare to release the record, digging into the bonds that tie them, the music scene in Busan, and their experiences taking their songs around the world.
KEXP: Friendship and the bonds between the members seem to be a key part of Say Sue Me. What made you first want to start playing music together? Do you find being close friends makes writing music together easier or more difficult?
Sumi: Guitarist Byunggyu, bassist Jaeyoung, and drummer Semin had been playing music together for a long time, and were running low on motivation. They decided to look for new fun out of a new band: Say Sue Me. The band started as friends, so we avoided hurting feelings in the practice room, but while preparing for our first album we had to become more honest. Fortunately, we’ve known one another for a long time, so we both can and want to make our music reflect our individual tastes without hurting anyone in the process. Our friendship has been a big help.
I read that Sumi’s speaking voice was part of what made you ask her to be a part of the band. Had she sung much previously? What qualities of her voice stuck out to you when you met?
Byunggyu & Jaeyoung : When I was talking to her, I simply felt that she had this energy to her voice that made me want to hear more of her. Frankly, I didn’t know if she could play guitar or even sing well as she was just a friend hanging out, but as we started this band with no serious aspirations, we took a chance. She’s turned out to be a great addition and always getting better!
You’ve mentioned that Busan has a smaller but devoted scene compared to Seoul. Other than size, how would you describe the music scene in your hometown? Has touring around the world given you any perspective on your home scene or how you perform in general?
Sumi: Busan musicians don’t play to gain popularity. The crowds are small anyways, so we just love music and try to find the best ways to enjoy ourselves through it. What amazed me about the audiences in the UK and US was that they were so big and enthusiastic. These are strong performance cultures that have been developed over a long period of time. Busan, on the other hand, hasn’t had the time or right soil yet to grow something similar. We think that if we and bands like Genius, keep making music diligently, people will naturally become more interested in the music scene as they learn more about it. Ultimately, we’re still musicians of Busan, so we’ll continue to do what we like.
Your drummer Kang Semin suffered an accident while you were working on the album, with some of the songs recorded with him and the other songs written with him in mind. Was it difficult finishing the album without him? How do you feel the songs written before and after his accident differ?
Sumi: For a while after the accident, we felt like we couldn’t move on. The next thing we knew, we felt like we had to. We couldn’t make music with him, but we were able to complete the album because we were together in spirit and will be together again. We don’t feel that the songs written before and after his accident are very different, besides the addition of lyrics here and there that remind us of him, so his cute face and the time we spent together come to mind whenever we play those songs.
How did you decide on “Coming To The End” as the closing track for your album? The track is one of the most expansive and dreamy songs on the record, featuring lengthy guitar solos and lush arrangements. How did you start constructing the track and what ideas were you trying to channel in your performance? What headspace were you in when you were writing the song?
Byunggyu: It was originally written long ago as a fast instrumental track. However, Sumi wanted to add lyrics, so we changed the direction of the arrangement to make something slower and more heartfelt. We wanted to draw on the stand-out tracks of avant-garde performers like The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, and Yo La Tengo.
What’s next for you after Where We Were Together comes out? Beyond continuing your tour, are there any plans to record new music or other projects in the works?
Sumi: Since this is our first full-scale tour abroad, we wanted to focus on the shows and haven’t thought much beyond them. We expect this tour to be one of the most beautiful times of our lives, so we’d love to write new songs throughout it. We think they’d have a great energy. However, we like an atmosphere that’s created naturally rather than trying to force it, so we’ll just enjoy the flow of what’s happening for us right now.
Where We Were Together comes out on April 13 via Damnably/Electric Muse. Pre-orders are available now.
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