The global pandemic known as COVID-19 has now affected nearly every country in the world but the response amongst governments and communities has varied dramatically. Right now, South Korea is being praised as a model for quickly and seriously handling the situation. With over 600 testing sites across the nation that can deliver results in just hours, apps that let you know if someone in your community has been infected, and dutiful cooperation of the citizens, the country has effectively flattened their curve.
That doesn’t mean things are any easier for musicians in South Korea, or anywhere, for that matter. To get an inside scoop on how they’re holding up and handling the situation, we spoke to beloved Busan indie rockers Say Sue Me. 2019 was an incredibly impactful year for the band, who kicked it off at the 2019 Korean Music Awards, in which they were nominated in five categories and won two, lost their drummer and close friend Semin Kang in the fall, and capped the year off in Seattle, playing their last show for the foreseeable future (unbeknownst to them).
Below, KEXP speaks to Say Sue Me's singer and lyricist Sumi Choi about how they’re spending their time during COVID-19, the importance of staying home during this time, and how the global pandemic has helped them realize how everything in the world is connected.
KEXP: How have you been coping with COVID-19? What has your experience been like?
Sumi Choi: It has started around the end of January here. I just didn’t go outside at all around a week in the beginning. After that, I just take a little walk around my neighborhood (of course wearing masks) and didn’t go anywhere I had to go by public transportation. And then I felt like starting to go crazy. I had a virtual party with some friends and started to look up recipes on the internet. Shopping at a supermarket and cooking new dishes are the most recent joy I've found. Oh, there's no such thing as running out of things (panic-buying) or long queuing at shops here. And our band hasn’t met and practiced together since then.
From what I've read, it appears South Korea has been one of the most effective countries dealing with COVID-19 and flattening the curve. What advice do you have for people in other countries, in dealing with COVID-19 on a personal, day-to-day level?
I think the advice I can give you is what you already know. Distance. You probably already know that this is the most important thing. But attitudes to face masks seemed a little different from country to country. In Korea, people with symptoms or not should wear masks no matter what. It spreads through saliva, so everyone wears masks when they leave the house. There’ve been some setbacks in the supply of masks, but the government has quickly set up countermeasures against them, and now almost everyone is wearing masks. If you go out, make sure to wear a mask!
What does the music industry in South Korea look like right now? Have there been a lot of artists using live streams or merch discounts to support themselves?
As you expected, most of the gigs were canceled and postponed. Not so much, but some musicians seem to use live streams.
What are you doing to support yourselves financially right now?
Actually nothing specific. We’re just worried about it every single day. But not long ago, our label Damnably joined in a campaign at Bandcamp and we were able to get all the profits for two days. It was a great help! I think we will make some special activities to survive.
On Facebook it looks like the last show you played was here in Seattle at the Sunset in December, before any of this was even on America's radar. Was that the last show you played? Are you booking any shows for the future right now or waiting until we know more about how long this might last?
Yes, it was our last show. Only three months ago, but it feels like three years ago. We were supposed to play at [the] Korean Music Awards at the end of February, but it was canceled. There’s nothing waiting for us right now, but maybe some live streams? And we’re thinking of having a Korea tour around September, but nothing is sure.
Have you found the downtime during social distancing to be a musically creative time for you all? What have you been doing to fill the time?
We actually started making new songs for our third album after the US tour. In fact, it wasn't because of COVID-19, but we were trying to reduce shows/tours and focus on our new work. But it's all [a] mess and hard to concentrate. This is something unnatural and not free.
Do you think you'll be referencing COVID-19 and the experience of the pandemic in future music?
It's been a time for me to realize that everything in the world is connected and how much power each individual has, so I think those ideas will have some effect.
Below, watch Say Sue Me's KEXP in-studio performance from December. Support the band by buying their music and merch on Bandcamp.
The South Korean surf-rock band contemplates the joy of the holiday season with the title track from their upcoming Christmas EP.
The Busan, South Korea indie rock act shares an outtake from their When We Were Together sessions on new 7-inch
Busan, South Korea indie rock outfit Say Sue Me shares a new offering from their new album Where We Were Together, out April 13 via Damnably/Electric Muse