Five Questions for Velvet Geena
A native of Seoul, Velvet Geena has been lighting up stages around Asia and America since co-founding the rockabilly band the Rock Tigers in 2001. When asked her age, she replied she was “17 going on 18” noting that “seventeen is the perfect age to rock n’ roll. There’s something religious about that age.” We are guessing mid-twenties, but who cares anyway? Haps asked Geena about being a woman rock star in Korea, her feelings on “cookie cutter” K-pop and her favorite music to listen to.
You defy the common perception of the “typical” Korean woman. What do you think separates you from the norm? Who were your biggest influences growing up?
I don't try to be masculine or feminine on stage. I'm just being a rocker. I don't try to appeal to men or women. But by not trying to appeal to men in the way that "typical" Korean women put so much effort into perhaps separates me from the norm.
My biggest influences have been teachers from school, characters in novels, my parents and other musicians. Normally I am an introvert in my personal life, so the persona of Velvet Geena has her own set of influences from the “normal” me: Elvis Presley, Wanda Jackson, Janis Martin, the Stray Cats are on the top of that list.
It must be a challenge as a female rock singer to do what you do. Of all the challenges you've faced, what has been the hardest?
The challenge that I face as a musician is not gender based. I enjoy the music that my band makes and I love playing with them. The challenge of communicating that music goes beyond the challenges of being a female. But if you're asking about the challenges of being a female in Korea and doing what I want to do, that is a different question for another interview.
As for the band, the difficulty in maintaining a band of five individuals is always going to be problematic, making sure that everyone is on the same page. My band mates do not give me special treatment for being a girl, although they should give me special treatment because I am the lead singer (laughs).
You have toured in several different countries. Can you tell us about the differences in fans? Where have you been most enthusiastically received and what is your favorite country to play?
Every venue and every night is different and I would be hesitant to generalize about a certain fan base, although it's always fun to play in Japan, because rockabilly fans there consider rockabilly a lifestyle. You'll have children and old folks coming dressed up more authentically than us.
We are looking forward to playing cities in the U.S. at the end of this month. It's our first time to go the States. I don't expect the crowd to immediately like us, but we will do what we do best and hope that people enjoy the show. I hope that it will give them a different perspective on what they know as "Korea," if they had any presumptions at all. But ultimately, we hope that people understand that it's music and that it transcends borders and language.
What do you feel about the Korean music scene in general? As a rocker, does the K-pop scene make you cringe? Do you think that Korea is well represented internationally for its depth of talent by K-pop?
Nope, never. It distinguishes the rockers from just mainstream K-pop. I'm proud of not being a K-pop girl. But it's true that we don't have many chances to be exposed to the public because mass media focuses on K-pop. Only a few music programs on TV feature actual bands. What may make me cringe is the lack of diversity in the music scene, but it is to my advantage. I don't really follow it, but I don't dislike it. I guess you could say that I don't really care for it enough to cringe.
I feel that K-pop is a very temporary phenomenon. I respect the amount of time and effort they put in to become "stars" but most of them are not musicians. They become singers to do other things later in their lives. Some are very talented in what they do. A negative, but perhaps more appropriate way to put it, is that they aren't that different from mass produced products in a factory. There seems to be a cookie cutter formula to make someone famous in Korea, or at least receive the spotlight temporarily. There are a lot of factors contributing to this phenomenon, but Koreans tend to like a certain uniformity. Uniformity in looks, thoughts... it is rooted in something much deeper. People will get tired of the predictable trends sooner or later.
What’s your favorite album to listen to from start to finish? How do you like to listen to music?
There is so much wonderful music and so many great artists out there, that it's hard to pin point just one favorite. I've told you about the artists that I was influenced by, so those are some obvious ones. I still collect CDs! Some of them are very obscure, I guess. One of my recent favorites is Imelda May. When I'm in my car driving, I listen to CDs that I haven't had a chance to listen to in a long time, or I just tune into the American radio station AFN 102.7. When I'm traveling with the band, I listen to my iPod, but most of the time I just sleep!
Photos by Ben Weller
Hair and Make-up by Kim Sun-ju
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