Seam's Korea Move
In November rarely seen Chicago rock mainstays Seam traveled to Seoul to play at a small indie-rock and punk festival called Soran--the name translates as "big sound." The gig fulfilled a longtime goal for the band's Korean-American founder and front man Sooyoung Park: fans who've followed the band's trajectory over the years have watched him take an increasingly active interest in his heritage, working with journalist Ben Kim and bassist William Shin on the 1995 Asian-American rock compilation Ear of the Dragon and in presenting annual showcases of music, art, and film by Asian-Americans. But it was also something of a historic event. Though American chart-toppers have visited Seoul--Rage Against the Machine was in town shortly before them, Park says--Seam was apparently the first American indie band ever to play South Korea.
"We've all pretty much wanted to play over there, but we hadn't been very aggressive about it and it wasn't until we had some kind of personal connection that it would even seem possible," says Park. An American friend who works for MTV Korea laid the groundwork, spreading the buzz and making it known that the band would come if asked. A personnel change also made the planning easier: Guitarist Reg Shrader left in August because "he doesn't have a very flexible work schedule and he didn't want to spend all of his spare time traveling," says Park. His replacement was John Lee, a recent transplant from San Diego, where he fronted the angular indie band aMiniature. Drummer Chris Manfrin is now the only non-Korean-American member of Seam.
The music industry in South Korea is small compared to that of the U.S. or Japan, and the government still views it with some suspicion. "South Korea is definitely struggling with the transition to democracy from being pretty much a military dictatorship," Park observes. Seam had to wade through "tons of paperwork" to get permission to play, and after their set at Soran, they met a fan who said he'd spent a month in jail for coming home from a trip with an album by Cannibal Corpse. The guy had formerly held a job with the South Korean government, translating foreign lyrics so that they could be inspected prior to licensing; he told the band he had often edited the lyrics to American releases, including Nirvana's In Utero, so they could pass.
Seam's records had never been licensed in South Korea, though some were available as imports in international chain stores like Tower. When the band's plans to play Soran looked firm, organizers found a South Korean label, Gang A.G., to pick up their latest album, last year's The Pace Is Glacial. Though the lyrics passed inspection, the Korean edition of the record didn't come out until after the band had left the country. Still, the people who saw Seam play at Soran--about 200 the first night, about 400 the second--were apparently familiar with the music, and with other Korean-American musicians as well. "[Former Tortoise member] Bundy Brown is kind of like a big rock hero over there with some people we met," Park says.
Seam is now in the midst of writing new songs with Lee, whose style differs significantly from his predecessor's, favoring melodic spools of individual notes over muscular chords. The new lineup will tour the Pacific Northwest next month with Silkworm and plans to begin recording a new album for Touch and Go in late winter or early spring. Park hopes to debut new songs locally when they get back from the tour.
Channel surfing with the sound off a few weekends ago, I lingered for a moment on a bunch of toughs in whiteface and devil locks being interviewed on a pro wrestling program. Weird, I thought, those wrestlers look like the Misfits. Well, turns out those wrestlers were the Misfits. Last month the seminal goth-punk band signed a one-year contract with World Championship Wrestling (which along with the World Wrestling Federation dominates the "sport" in the U.S.) as a tag team with the ghoulish wrestler Vampiro.
"We're not doing this for the money," says bassist Jerry Only, one of two original members left in the band, though he didn't say how much the band was getting paid. "I want to take the championship belt home to my kid." Now 40, Only says he grew up watching pro wrestling and became obsessed with it all over again about 11 years ago, when his son (then three) took an interest. A few years ago Vampiro, a longtime fan of the Misfits, recognized members at the Hard Rock Cafe in Mexico City--the Canadian got his start in Mexican wrestling--and approached them about recording some theme music to help him break into the WCW. Nothing came of the proposal, and Vampiro made the cut without their aid. But after teaming up briefly with the Insane Clown Posse earlier this year, Vampiro got back in touch, asking if the Misfits would like to get in the ring with him. They made their debut in Minneapolis on November 1, appearing but not actually fighting at a WCW event at the Target Center and then running down the street to play a gig at First Avenue.
Only doesn't think the Misfits' new duties will interfere with the band's touring schedule, even though this month alone they'll cram in 13 concerts and eight wrestling matches. "We only do it on Mondays and some Tuesdays, which are bad nights for playing shows anyway," he says. The musicians now actually get into the action--"We've got some of the greatest wrestlers ever, like Dr. Death, showing us what we need to do"--but admits that years of watching on TV hadn't prepared him for the "real" thing. The Misfits' next WCW appearance is Monday night at the Milwaukee Arena; it airs at 7 PM on TNT.
But the weirdness doesn't stop there: according to Only, one of the people making sure the Misfits and the rest of the gang follow the script in Milwaukee will be Bob Mould--yes, the Bob Mould. The guitar legend who made an unholy racket with Husker Du and later Sugar was pictured on November 22 in the business section of the New York Times, in a photo accompanying an article about sought-after wrestling writers Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara. The caption identified him as a WCW director; WCW spokesperson Alan Sharp says his official title is "creative consultant."