Interview with PIA

interview - 26.06.2009 09:00

In an exclusive interview, rock band PIA gives us an in-depth look about their style, the music scene in Korea, their alliance with Seo Taiji and their future.

Most of our readers are probably already familiar with PIA, so can you introduce one of your fellow band members and tell us something about them?

PIA: The band name, PIA, is a combination of two Chinese letters, PI (meaning “You”) and A (meaning “I”), and is pronounced “PI-A” and written as "PIA". PIA started with only three members, guitarist Hullang, bassist Kibum and vocalist Yohan from Busan in 1998. We had several member changes on drums and are maintaining the current lineup (fx/piano SimZ, drummer Hyeseung) ever since. We have released 4 albums, several omnibus albums and 1 EP, starting in 2001 with our debut album,

What were your dreams when you first formed the band? Have you managed to accomplish your goals?

PIA: We did not have a specific goal at first. We started this band as a gathering of close friends and that was all for us at the time, like a lot of bands have been at the start. We just wanted to express more of ourselves and try many different things as a band. I believe we have accomplished this.

Coming from Busan, a typical coastal city, did you find it difficult to break into the music scene, which seems to be based mainly in Seoul?

PIA: We started to make demo tapes after a year of gathering songs. (I think we were super lazy) The demo was not for PR distribution, it was actually for sale. We believed that we could make it happen on our own, in terms of making albums and performing on stage, but we believed that it was only possible in Seoul. It was like a protest against reality and we definitely thought we could make it happen. But we didn’t have enough money and we lacked passion. We couldn’t sell a single album (of course we’d given them out free to our close friends and families). From 2000, we had some opportunities to perform in Seoul with other Busan-originating bands and our name has spread a bit. We realized that we needed to swim into the bigger ocean, so we all moved to a studio in Seoul. It was tough, but now it means so much to us that we did it.

Your latest release, Urban Explorer, contained some synth pop sounds. What inspired you to incorporate this style of music with PIA’s rock sound?

PIA: Actually, it started from our 4th album, waterfalls. There was no “special” inspiration for the album, it was just another way of trying to create a different PIA. Urban Explorer is an EP, you could think of it as a stepping stone between our 4th and 5th albums.

You change your style from album to album. Does this come naturally or are there outside effects that influence you to do so?

PIA: There is absolutely no outside pressure affecting our music. Some say that it’s the label; if it were like that we would not have extended our contract with them.

On the album waterfalls, you recorded Black fish swim in both English and Korean. Why did you decide to do this? Did the meaning of the song change at all during the translation process?

PIA: We started to write the Black fish swim lyrics in English to start with. Normally we use humming for the melody, and these English lyrics perfectly matched and rhymed from the early stages. So, we wanted to keep it and made it into two different versions. We also considered performing abroad with an English song.

The meaning’s similar, but the content is different. Hmm. The Korean version feels like it’s been made more beautiful, while the English version is more desperate.

In your opinion, which song from PIA’s discography best represents the band as a whole?

PIA: Hmm... that’s a very tricky question. I can think of a few but if you want me to choose only one, I would say that it is impossible. It’s extremely hard to find one consistent style among URBAN EXPLORER, SILVER, Masquerade Parade, Black fish swim, cassandra and cause. PIA is colored in a combination of little pieces and nuances from each.

Can we expect any new releases from the band soon?

PIA: We are working on it and are expecting to play some of it in 2009. The album will be released before we hang the 2010 calendar on the wall.

You’re signed to Seo Taiji’s label, who is one of the most recognisable faces in Korean music both domestically and abroad. How did you feel when you first met him? How did you come to be signed to his label?

PIA: A lot of people who have already met Seo Taiji will agree with this. When you meet him, he’s not the funny-kind. He’s way better looking in person than on TV. He takes good care of PIA as a label-owner and, overall, he’s a good guy.
We’d sent out few demos to other labels and we got some positive feedback from them. We joined the ETP festival with Seo’s support. That was a great opportunity.

The music scene has changed a lot since PIA’s debut, with digital forms of music and music distribution becoming more and more popular and important. Did you first see this as an opportunity or threat? Have you changed your mind since then?

PIA: It’s definitely a threat to us. It’s the market system in Korea with no alternative. Every interested party’s busy criticizing; I think they should come up with some ultimate solution to this. People who love and listen are directly facing the damage. It’s unfair.

You’ve already performed in Russia in the past. Are there any plans to go further into the West and perform in Europe or the USA?

PIA: Of course we would love to. Well, we “dream” of it, though we do not have any specific plans for it yet. But we will.

Having performed overseas in Russia and other parts of Asia, what is the difference in audience reaction to your music compared to Korea?

PIA: People are similar, they are the same people anyhow. Of course there are differences in concert halls and in atmosphere. People in Korea show more movement during concerts, but it seems, in other places, people just enjoy the music in their own way.

If you could go on tour with a European or US band, which one would you like to go with?

PIA: Hmm… there are so many great bands in the world; it’s hard to pick out only one among them. But, to pick, it would definitely be our acquaintance Linkin Park.

You have supported Linkin Park, one of the biggest modern rock acts, twice. How did you feel when you were asked to work with them and how was touring with them?

PIA: It was unbelievable when we first heard the news. We were so excited that we couldn’t even sleep.

Of course it was awesome. We noticed some advantages of being a big band. Linkin Park's members and staff are awesome as expected.

You’ve performed at the ETPFEST several times now. How did it feel to be performing at one of Korea’s most famous rock festivals?

PIA: ETP festival’s is now settled, and it’s heading towards perfection in every way. There are awesome bands, awesome staff and an awesome audience at the festivals.

Since the Korean scene is mostly dominated by pop artists, what is the public reaction to your music? How do you think you’ve managed to gain such popularity in this scene?

PIA: Well, I don’t know. It’s always great to get attention from a lot of people who love our music and us playing the music but, as you know, we admit that it’s very hard to be loved by all “the public.” It will cause the reverse effect if we gather public attention with something else other than our music. Fortunately or not, I think we are still on our way to reaching the “responses from the public.”

We were aired several times, and attended music festivals and events. We are doing as much as we can as a band that performs music.

Do you have any anecdotes from touring that you want to share with us?

PIA: One time, we were on a tour with Seo (on the Zero tour). It was right after our tour with Linkin Park and all of us were all jumping and into the music that we were performing on stage. Kibum hit his nose with his bass guitar while jumping around and his nose started to bleed. One of our members noticed and pointed at his nose to tell him that he was bleeding, but Kibum did not have any idea that this was happening and gave him a thumbs up and kept playing. Later, he told us that he thought it was just his nose running during the entire concert!

What are your plans for the future?

PIA: We will be performing at several music festivals over the summer including the Japanese Shonan otomatsuri festival in July. It’s our first time performing in Japan, so we are all excited. Oh, and we are going to have our own concert sometime around summer.

Do you have final messages for our readers?

PIA: Music comes in a lot of different kinds: music for your sleep, music for dinner, music for hanging out, music for happy times and music for sad times. PIA’s music is the pill to make you visit concert halls and exchange energy with others like a magnet that attracts energy and helps to feel that energy. Hope to share it with more people in the world.

KoME would like to thank PIA and Seo Taiji Company for making this interview possible.
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