Indie band Audrey No’s members ask ‘So What’s My Prize?’

Bomi Yoon

Four of the five members of Audrey No in 2019, from left, Jay Marie, Shin Gyeong-ho, Park Yeong-sin and Ha Yang-su (not pictured: Kim Myung-hwan) / Courtesy of Kim Myeong-sun

Four of the five members of Audrey No in 2019, from left, Jay Marie, Shin Gyeong-ho, Park Yeong-sin and Ha Yang-su (not pictured: Kim Myung-hwan) / Courtesy of Kim Myeong-sun

By Jamie Finn

With their atmospheric and emotionally charged music, indie rock band Audrey No has been captivating audiences since 2018. After a two-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, the band returned in 2023 with a string of live dates and their first EP, “Somewhere You Can See Me.” This weekend, they’ll be playing again with a stellar lineup that includes Hyangni and Soombee. Ahead of that, they talked to The Korea Times about their journey so far.

Audrey No were never supposed to be a band. Founding members Jay Marie (vocals) and Ha Yang-su (guitar) met at a club for artists, where they connected over their shared passion for music. “We got talking,” Jay explained, “and I mentioned that I was interested in trying to record something for the experience. I had always loved to sing but never had the confidence to give it a real try before.”

After deciding to work together, Yang-su, who had some success with ska band Witches, recruited musician friends Park Yeong-sin (bass), Kim Myung-hwan (keyboard) and Sohn Gyeong-ho (drums). And just like that, Audrey No was born. Sort of.

“We started to arrange songs together and record under the name Dayless,” Jay said. “We changed our name after it sounded similar to a lot of other band names in Korea. Around that time, I also found out that a German metal band had started releasing music under the same name. We’d only released two singles, so I thought it would be better to change it. Audrey No may or may not be more memorable, but I resonate with it more than our first name.”

Audrey No brings together five different musicians, all working in music but in very different ways. They do, however, share how working with this band is a unique experience for them. Gyeong-ho, who has drummed with bands such as Wonder Bird and The Moonshiners, explains that in the simplicity of Audrey No’s music lies a unique challenge.

“Audrey No’s drum parts are often simple and based on repetition. It looks easy, but because of its simplicity, even a small mistake can seem like a big one. I was nervous in the beginning, but now I’m alright,” he said.

Bassist Yeong-sin revels in the creative freedom that being part of Audrey No allows her. “I usually perform and record with K-pop artists, which means I often play in support of their songs. I have to play just as they ask me to, and they usually want me to get it done quickly,” she said. “But when I make music with Audrey No, I can think about it more. So I can make basslines how I want. It’s fun, and I really care about the sound of our bass. I hope people who listen to our music can notice that.”

Since the big name change, the band has released a series of well-loved singles, culminating in the release of their first EP, “Somewhere You Can See Me,” last year. While the band’s sophisticated pop-rock is ever-present here, the five-track EP features some of the most varied and effective songwriting so far.

“Somewhere You Can See Me” opens with their rockiest song to date, “White Coat.” This bluesy track is a broody exploration of deception in relationships. It was released as a single, along with an awesome animated video. “I made that video,” Jay said. “I was planning to make a really simple animation and got carried away. It took about a month of nearly nonstop work. I didn’t sleep much. I don’t recommend it. But I’m very happy with the way it came out.”

 

The EP also features the track “So What’s My Prize?” which has become the band’s most popular song.

“I think no matter where you are in life, everyone can relate to wanting more of something,” Jay said. “I wrote that when I was seriously considering giving up. I’m not a competitive person but I think I had been in denial about being an ambitious person. I had been sacrificing a lot to chase my ambitions — a close relationship with my family, a steady income, a social circle that didn’t up and leave every few years. I felt miserable because I felt like I was giving up so much and not getting what I wanted in return, and it made me confront my own ego.

“The truth was that even though I wasn’t reaching the goals I had for myself, I had actually accomplished more than I would’ve imagined possible 10 years ago. Yet, it didn’t feel like enough now. When I really thought about it, I knew that it would never feel like enough. There would be another higher bar that I would be striving for and falling short of, and I would still be miserable.

“I’ve come to realize that the prize has to be in the process and the ordinary moments, or it’s nowhere at all. It has to be something you give yourself every day because nothing you get from anywhere else lasts for long.”

With a varied approach to music in mind, Yang-su describes the Audrey No sound as “like an amusement park on a laid-back night.” Many of their songs, however, don’t feel so much like rollercoasters but instead are heartfelt and delicate, led by Jay’s stirring vocals. This is something that Yang-su is quick to highlight as being the key to the band’s style.

“Even if the genre changes,” he explained, “Jay’s tone and nuance are the same. Because Jay’s voice plays a big part in Audrey No’s sound, I wanted to add some genre variation to make our music more diverse.”

While each member brings important ingredients to the group, Jay’s role as lead songwriter and frontperson elevates Audrey No to the level of must-see.

Jay Marie shot on Polaroid at a practice studio in 2017 / Courtesy of Audrey No

Jay Marie shot on Polaroid at a practice studio in 2017 / Courtesy of Audrey No

“I grew up in a small town,” Jay, originally from the U.S., said, “and I hadn’t been allowed to entertain before. I wanted to try everything if only to see what I could do. All of us did a test recording, and we seemed like a good match. Initially, we just started making songs with no real expectations. Over time, I became more and more invested in songwriting, and at some point, we started to take it more seriously as a project, though it’s hard to say exactly when. I think I had some sort of romanticized idea of being in a band in my head, and I felt like I wanted to belong to something. Living as a foreigner here, you can feel isolated; I think I was always looking for a way to feel a little less alone.”

Being a band with a foreign frontperson has brought positives and negatives to the band, says Jay. “Maybe it has helped us to stand out, which could definitely be an advantage. And maybe some people might be interested in our story because it’s not that common here,” she said.

“But there are disadvantages too — sometimes it feels like there is not really a place for us. Some local distributors have told us that we can’t be playlisted on certain playlists because I’m American and singing in English. So even though we’re based in Korea, and most of our members are Korean, we do miss out on some opportunities.”

Jay further elaborated on her experience as a foreigner, especially as a foreign woman working in Korea’s music scene. “It has been a real mixed bag. I’ve been extremely lucky to have met some people in the music scene who have been nothing but kind, generous, understanding and have treated me far better than I could ever deserve,” she said.

“But I’ve dealt with pretty terrible treatment, too. I’ve had people do and say things I thought only happened in the movies. I’ve been pushed around by people who never would’ve acted that way if I had family here. For a long time it made me afraid to even put myself out there. I felt like I was playing a game I didn’t know the rules to. But, as dark as it might sound, I don’t think anyone knows the rules, and everyone is probably a bit scared. Maybe everyone’s brand of fear is a little different, but everyone struggles in life, so I try not to focus too much on the harder parts these days — they’ll always be there. There’re also so many better things to think about.”

Audrey No performs at Hippytokki in Hongdae, under a banner for Echo and the Machine.  Courtesy of Heo Cheol-joo

Audrey No performs at Hippytokki in Hongdae, under a banner for Echo and the Machine. Courtesy of Heo Cheol-joo

This weekend, Audrey No plays a show at Gongsangondo with two other equally exciting artists — electro-funk band Hyangni and rock singer Soombee.

“Hyangni has been one of our personal favorite bands to listen to, so we’re really excited to play with them,” Jay said. “The only thing I was worried about was that we have very different styles and energy levels on stage; if Audrey No is an amusement park on a laid-back night, Hyangni is an amusement park after several drinks with all the lights turned up all the way. Luckily, Soombee was recommended to fill the lineup, and I think she’s a great addition that will balance out the show and make it one people won’t want to miss.”

The show will be in favor of revitalizing Gongsangondo, a Hongdae-based cafe-cinema-venue that is celebrated for supporting the independent music scene in Seoul. “It’s a great space that helps independent creatives by allowing them to sell their CDs, books and more there,” explained Choi Han-saem, the event organizer. “I wanted to help keep the venue going by inviting some of my favorite artists there to perform.”

The show starts at 8 p.m. this Friday. Tickets are available on Gongsangondo’s website. For more information on Audrey No, follow @audreynoband on Instagram or @AudreyNo on YouTube.

Jamie Finn is chief editor of Platform Magazine.

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