[Herald Interview] Ever-evolving artist Han Kyung-rock spreads musical joy

By Hong Dam-young

Punk rock band Crying Nut bassist hares his music festival plan, faith in romanticism

  • Published : Jul 11, 2018 - 16:23
  • Updated : Jul 12, 2018 - 14:26

Han Kyung-rock’s signature look -- a rose-patterned red bandana, disheveled spiky hair and a matching red scarf -- is very telling of his personality.

Han, who has been a bassist in the legendary punk rock band Crying Nut for 23 years, is a jocular musician who has quite a penchant for alcohol, spending many nights drinking with fellow musicians. While his wild drinking led to a tumble down some stairs in his favorite bar, Han has his own reasons for adoring booze.

“I just love having fun. Great ideas pop up when I’m drunk, mostly, and I’m glad that my job doesn’t make me feel guilty about drinking. Actually, I drank a lot last night as well, the reason my eyes are bit swollen,” said Han, taking off his shades, during a recent interview with The Korea Herald. 

Han Kyung-rock poses during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)

It sounds like quite a disorderly life, but there’s always been another side to this 41-year-old. Last year, the bassist transformed himself into a vocalist for the first time in his life and dropped his fully-packed first solo album under the moniker “Captain Rock.” He said he stayed away from drinks for three months while preparing the album. This summer he added directing to his already vast portfolio by planning a music festival. Titled “Jongro Calling,” the upcoming event will feature 12 bands of various genres, all of whom are Han’s musical mates.

However, the festival is not only about the performances. In pursuit of the ultimate harmony between artists and fans, the musicians will throw their own exhibitions, cook festival food at the site, run a counseling center and even play games with visitors. In the end, with the slight help of booze, everybody will blend and be friends, Han hopes. It will take place at a cultural complex called “Emu Art Space” in Jongro-gu in Seoul on Saturday from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m.

“I’ve always liked creating a space where people can gather and have fun. This time I wanted musicians and fans to share things other than music, such as their hobbies and life stories. For example, our drummer Sang-hyuk is a huge fan of model figures, and he will exhibit his works and even sell them at ‘Jongro Calling,’” he explained. And of course, there will be free-flowing booze, thanks to corporate sponsors. 

Han Kyung-rock poses during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)

According to an urban lore, there are three big holidays in the bustling Hongdae area, home to Seoul‘s urban arts scene and where Han’s career began: Halloween, Christmas and Kyung-rock Day, Feb. 11, Han‘s birthday. It first started as a low-key private party with his acquaintances, but as Han started to earn street cred and invited more musicians, it developed into an annual concert that takes place in the area’s small underground club, where people enjoy free alcohol and performances. “Jongro Calling” is an expansion of Kyung-rock Day, said Han. “It’s just so much fun. Planning a festival is like composing, creating something out of nothing. And I’m grateful that so many people have helped me without guarantee,” said Han with a chuckle.

Just as his lifestyle defies easy classification, Han refuses to conform to people’s expectations. Han always stresses that he is a mix of a rebel and romanticist, with more weight on the latter. His favorite actor and film is Charlie Chaplin and his comedy classic “Modern Times,” while Crying Nut‘s biggest hits such as “Speed Up Losers” and “Isn’t That Good” still remain as people’s favorite stress-relieving karaoke songs. Most songs from his solo album also talk about hope and a bright future.

“I’m not a gloomy person at all. Some may think that we are way too anachronistic, or too idealistic, but I think such mindset suits me and Crying Nut,” he said. But the wicked humorist knows how to oscillate between romance and criticism, as his romance involves resistance as well. “As a punk rock band, we know how to raise the volume and criticize social ills when we have to.” 

Han Kyung-rock poses during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)

Single and young at heart, Han is having the time of his life. Recently, he had the honor of performing with Glen Matlock, a former member of the British punk rock band Sex Pistols and Han’s longtime role model, at a music festival near the Demilitarized Zone earlier in June. He has also been learning classic piano since last year to broaden his musical experience. The musician definitely didn’t seem to be in his best condition on the day of the interview -- he confessed that he has been drinking non-stop ever since meeting Matlock due to the lingering rapture --but his face lit up as he talked about his work.

“I know that I’m not young anymore, but it’s never too late for challenges. I still love my work, the energy I share with fans on the stage. Although I seem to live a life of debauchery, I always try to be my best self for the fans; I work out, practice and learn something new, as if preparing for a blind date,” he said. “I’ve been going for 23 years, but I’m unflappable. I always will be.”