[Interview] DICKPUNKS: From Hongdae Idol to Veterans of Korean Rock
DICKPUNKS are a South Korean rock band, formed in November 2006. With their unique style and funny name, the members are veterans of rock music in South Korea and their trademark is that they are piano driven, rather than guitar. The members are Kim Taehyun (vocalist), Kim Hyonwoo (piano), Kim Jaeheung (bass), and Park Garam (drums). Starting off in Hongdae and being the best known band there, they earned the title ‘Hongdae Idol’ and have been making music to this day. They recently came out with a mini album, Ordinary Days, after a 5 year semi-hiatus. Their title track, ‘Man on the Moon’, is described as a start of their second chapter by the band.
To start off, could you please introduce yourselves to our readers?
DICKPUNKS: Hello we’re DICKPUNKS. We’re made up of Kim Taehyun on vocals, Kim Hyonwoo on piano, Kim Jaeheung on bass and Park Garam on drums. The four of us have been making music together for 13 years now.
Could you tell us the meaning behind your group’s stage name?
DICKPUNKS: Our band name’s kind of unusual, isn’t it? There are folks out there who when they just hear the name wonder what the hell kind of music we’d play. But honestly there isn’t some deep meaning behind the name. We all met in college and when we were putting the band together we looked and saw that we were four guys, which is where DICK comes from. The style of music we were inspired to make was punk, so that’s where the PUNK came in. It’ll sound totally odd because the sense doesn’t translate easily into English but guy friends are sometimes called balls buddies or nuts mates in Korea. That’s sort of captured in the band name. Anyway we all majored in music and started the band for fun and had no idea that we’d keep DICKPUNKS going for so long. We actually wondered whether we’d need to change the name but then by that point we’d already become sort of well-known on the Hongdae scene and so it was too late.
Congratulations on your first mini album in 5 years with Ordinary Days! This EP has a diverse but strong sound in each song. It leaves quite an impact. Could you walk us through the recording process?
DICKPUNKS: Oh thanks for the congrats! It didn’t really sink in that it’d been so long since our last album, partly because we’d kept releasing singles over that time. This mini album is meant to mark the start of DICKPUNKS’ second chapter. Our timeline was pushed back because of the COVID-19 pandemic and we even wondered whether we should hold off on the release until it ended. However, it had been so long since we’d put out a physical album and we’d made our fans wait long enough so we couldn’t put it off any longer.
Now onto the title track, ‘Man in the Moon’. What exactly does it mean? What’s the inspiration behind it?
DICKPUNKS: The song was partly inspired by the film, “Man on the Moon.” The Jim Carrey character does all sorts of crazy things for love and attention but a lot of it backfires on him and he ends up alienating people. The song lyrics aimed to capture his feelings. We originally planned to release the album this past spring or summer but faced some setbacks with the COVID-19 situation. We had no clue that the pandemic would stretch out for this long and only released three singles along the way. But then we decided we couldn’t put it off any longer and so went with the mini-album now. “Man on the Moon” feels like a winter song so we decided to go with it.
The video for ‘Man in the Moon’ was pretty different. What was the story and inspiration to do such a different music video?
DICKPUNKS: The story for the music video was developed 100% by our video director. He read the lyrics and put together the story and we all loved it. So yes while the video’s sort of different we never once had a thought about changing it.
How did it feel to make a comeback with a mini-album after 5 years? What was your approach to this new release?
DICKPUNKS: 5 years is a pretty long time but it’s not like we got stuck or anything. All four of us did our mandatory 2-year military service at the same time. And we’d been releasing singles since coming back to civilian life. But on the other hand, doing an album did feel a little daunting. The kind of music we made in our 20s and the kind of music we make and are going for in our 30s is very different and we think that’s pretty well reflected in this album.
What’s the usual songwriting and production process? How has the dynamic between members changed over the years?
DICKPUNKS: All four of us write music and lyrics. In the past, when we were developing songs we’d often do so separately and then come together to play them for each other. But now we do things together. We meet almost every day outside of weekends, almost like a regular 9 to 5. We meet up at the studio, share the music we’ve made, trade opinions on it and try to work those back into the music.
Speaking of lyrics and composition, how does that creative freedom benefit you? How has that helped in shaping your own style?
DICKPUNKS: For us, making our own music affords a kind of freedom but it also gives us a greater sense of responsibility. Because it’s not like we can just make whatever we think sounds good to us—the people who listen to our music obviously need to like it too. DICKPUNKS doesn’t have a fixed style yet. And actually, we wouldn’t really want to put ourselves in a box anyway. We want to keep making different kinds of music.
Could you talk about the importance of maintaining a social media presence? While the band was on hiatus, you still released singles on YouTube and soundtracks.
DICKPUNKS: Actually, even before we really started working on the YouTube channel, our bassist Kim Jaeheung was into making and editing videos. Even now that our management is producing the channel, Jaeheung is still posting content to his own private YouTube channel. For us, the YouTube channel is a nice way to close the gap between us and our fans, so we put a lot of energy into it. And it’s fun too.
DICKPUNKS has always been a piano focused band and known to not have a lead guitarist. What are the challenges that come with this and also the benefits, as this does shape your style?
DICKPUNKS: It’s honestly sort of challenging not to have a guitarist in our band. We’ve often worried that our sound might be a little weak or less than full by having the piano fill in for the guitar. And there’s the kind of flamboyance that a guitarist can bring to a performance. That’s why Kim Hyonwoo is so physically active when he’s on stage playing the piano. When we first started playing he used to really smash the keyboard when he played. He even kicked it once. Not having a guitar has lent our band a sort of distinctiveness and may have even helped us along the way. But it’s also presented us with a lot of challenges.
Taking the COVID-19 pandemic into consideration, did you experience any lack of motivation and creative blocks? Now that the band is active again, how does this affect your schedule?
DICKPUNKS: Well of course it’s not just us but everyone is facing this unprecedented disaster at the same time. No one could have predicted the situation would have come to this and anyway no amount of preparation would have made a return to normality possible. For us, all the festivals we’d always play in the summers were canceled and so was the concert we’d been planning. It’s been postponed to January but it’s not clear whether even that will be possible.
Any stories from when you formed initially, as a part of the Hongdae live music scene all those years ago? How did it prepare you to form a proper band?
DICKPUNKS: If it weren’t for the Hongdae live music scene there wouldn’t have been a DICKPUNKS at all. When we were in college we all wanted to do something fun. We started by busking in the Hongdae area. It was our dream to play in Hongdae. It’s when we first made it onto the club stage and the club owner saw us and took a liking to us that we were able to perform regularly. And it’s also then that we started picking up fans one by one. That first thrill of fans singing along with our songs—it’s that thrill that’s been the biggest force driving us to this day.
How has your music changed since debut? You have been active for almost 15 years, what are your goals, in terms of music per se?
DICKPUNKS: As we suggested before, the album Man on the Moon is meant to introduce the second chapter for DICKPUNKS. Our music has changed a lot since we debuted. Back then, our songs were all bright and punk. And now we’ve tried to take the force out of our singing and playing as a way to make the music even more robust.
How has the music scene in Korea changed from 2006 to now? Any aspect that you particularly miss?
DICKPUNKS: When we first started out, Korean music wasn’t all that well known in the world. The change since then, with people around the world following and loving K-pop, has been enormous. But if we’re thinking about bands, the music of the Hongdae era was more dynamic. There were so many stages for bands to play back then. Now, you can count the clubs on one hand. And even those are closing. It’s quite sad.
What piece of advice would you like to give to fellow Korean bands and aspiring, training musicians?
DICKPUNKS: We’re still not quite ready to be offering advice. So, more than advice, we’d offer encouragement. Good music isn’t a single thing. Good music is whatever music you’re really driven to make.
Coming back to the COVID-19 pandemic, have you learnt anything new now that there’s more free time per say?
DICKPUNKS: Taehyun is learning to play guitar. He’s really putting a lot of passion into and it may very well be that that has a big impact on the DICKPUNKS sound. And Hyonwoo is learning Japanese. When he was serving in the military, he thought learning another language might help the band to reach out further and so he started studying then. He didn’t pass the certification test though. He’s going to try again.
Any song recommendations to the readers of this interview?
DICKPUNKS: It’s probably obvious but that would be title track, ‘Man on the Moon.‘ It’s winter here in Korea and the song somehow fits with the season. And listeners might just be intrigued by the very title of the song.
Thank you for talking with Hallyure! Lastly, anything you wish to say to the fans?
DICKPUNKS: First and foremost thanks to everyone for the love and support. We’re counting down the days to the end of the pandemic and to when we can go offline and get on a stage and rock out for everyone in person. And it would be amazing to be able to play overseas for our fans around the world. Keep listening and stay tuned and stay healthy everyone!
Thank you for reading our interview with DICKPUNKS! We hope it encourages you to give the band a try or if you’ve been a fan, we hope we did justice to them! Lastly, thank you to the members of DICKPUNKS and Happy New Year from Hallyure!
Listen to their ever dynamic singles here on Spotify –
All credits belong to GIG Entertainment