Over the many years that we’ve been running this website, we have received so many wonderful messages of support and encouragement. Every once in a while we’ll even receive a message of gratitude for what we do and for simply existing to provide a platform for bands from our community. These types of messages go such a long way as we’re 7 and a half years into running this site and continue to remain steadfast in what we’re about. Sometimes we do wonder if the posts we put up just go out into the ether with no one really paying attention, but then once in a while, we get such an emotional message that fully energizes us to keep doing what we do no matter what.
A few days ago we (I) received one such message that absolutely floored me.
A US-raised Korean adoptee named Jeff who currently sings in a hardcore band out in Ohio called Sour sent the following message to us:
Even reading it back now we get all emotional. Knowing that people all over the world ARE indeed accessing this site and are actually finding some sort of comfort and solace to be more and more comfortable in their skin through what we do? INSANE.
We hit up Jeff to get some more info about his life experience…read on below to find out more about his journey and then hit him up to say hello!
Yo Jeff! Thanks for hitting us up! We are fully supportive of our fellow Asian brethren regardless of where they live on the planet. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Aye! Thanks so much for speaking with me. I’m a Korean Adoptee living around the Columbus Ohio area. I sing in a band called SOUR. I was adopted at 6 months old and have lived in the USA ever since.
What was your upbringing like in Columbus? Was there a lot of representation in your neck of the woods?
So I actually grew up in Central Illinois in a town of about two thousand people called Farmington. My brother and I were the representation for Asians in the area. There wasn’t anyone else that looked like us. Farmington is a rural farm town surrounded by corn fields. Not exactly a place for diversity or subculture at all.
Growing up in a white area you are always very aware of how different you are, how other. White Supremacy was always entwined within every part of the area. I remember for years biking out to the edge of town and seeing this dummy dressed up in the uniform of a Confederate soldier holding the rebel flag by this one house’s mailbox. My father recently told me the story of right after they first brought me home from the airport as a baby that they found a swastika spray painted on the sidewalk in front of our house. I recall finding a White Power rally flier attached to the door of our porch as well when I was a kid. This coupled with knowing that just a few towns over there was a school whose mascot was the “Pekin Chinks” until the 80’s always sat in the back of my head. All this to say the only time I saw someone that looked like me was in an occasional martial arts film. I was my own role model.
That’s insane! While you were growing up in Illinois and being one of only TWO people representing Asians is crazy. Do you remember any early experiences that could paint a picture for people of some of the things you had to deal with firsthand?
Sure. I never had anything happen that was overtly aggressive or violent growing up thankfully. I count myself as very fortunate knowing the stories of violence some of my Asian friends have dealt with where they’re from. Most of the things I encountered were micro-aggressions and discrimination.
I recall as a kid I played basketball on our jr. high team and the coach made me prove to him that I deserved to start. Anytime I held the ball the way he didn’t like he told me to “Stop the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon crap”. I was sitting on the bench during games and it got to the point where the kid starting over me as well as the parents of my teammates told me they knew I deserved to be a starter.
The other story I can think of off the top of my head is about kids pressing me in my fifth-grade class if I was from North Korea since they had just threatened the US. They made it very clear if I had been from North Korea I wouldn’t have been their friend anymore.
Then, of course, to make sure the world knows that obviously, not all Americans are racist that would be an absolutely idiotic statement, but do you recall any time that people did come to you or your brother’s aid when shit was popping off with racists, etc?
Definitely, not all Americans are crazy. I suppose I still hold some hope for us as a whole. Honestly, I can’t recall a particular instance. But this isn’t to say I don’t have friends I deeply trust to have my back. I think due to the nature of where/how I grew up I’ve been very conscious of how I move. I make sure the people I’m around and close with don’t steal my peace and can be trusted. I also now live in Central Ohio which has a decent amount of diversity which helps as well. I think by being intentional about the circles I find myself in has minimized the chances of any occurrences popping off that could be compromising to me like what happened when I was growing up.
What was your path to hardcore? What was in the scene, community, and music that spoke to you? As a minority myself in Hong Kong I wonder if we have similar reasons that brought me to this.
So as a kid I always gravitated toward rap music(still do to this day) but the older I got I started to realize I wanted something with more energy and aggression. By the time I was in high school I started hanging out with kids that didn’t care what other people thought of them and weren’t afraid to be themselves. These friends were the first straight-edge people I met and introduced me to alternative music. This sent me down a path of going to this Christian festival called Cornerstone where I was introduced to tons of bands like Zao, Seventh Star, MewithoutYou, etc… After going to Cornerstone I started attending as many local shows as I could. I realized that at these local shows that no one looked at me twice for being a minority. As a teenager, I figured if I get punched in the head at a show at least I knew it wasn’t because of my race. Kind of a fucked up way of looking at it I guess but it brought me comfort at the time. Hardcore and alternative music was the first place I felt like I belonged to a greater whole in some way.
Were there any particular bands that spoke to you at the time? Like maybe lyrically, etc? And once you got into this, were you able to find more connections to people that looked beyond race, ethnicity, etc,? Did you feel (at first) welcome in the scene/community? When I lived in Western Massachusetts for college in the mid-90’s it was definitely mainly a white scene but no one made me feel like I didn’t belong.
There definitely were bands that spoke to me. Growing up in Peoria, IL we had a local hardcore band called Waster. They were the first band I heard speak out about the racism in the area and that struck deeply with me. It made me think maybe I should stick around hardcore. Also this same show Waster spoke against racism some kid hit himself in the head as hard as he could with a folding chair and that shit was hilarious.
Have Heart and Modern Life Is War were both huge bands for me growing up. Hearing Have Heart speak about the injustices of the world in their lyrics and the honesty of a young man searching for his place and contribution in the midst of others’ pain was powerful. Modern Life Is War to me fully embodied the existential angst and sadness of growing up in the Midwest. It was like a soundtrack to all the deafeningly quiet moments of hopelessness you feel being surrounded by cornfields and rundown buildings. They made me feel less alone.
I’ll be honest growing up going to shows I didn’t feel welcome for the first few years. But this had more to do with paying dues than anything else. Our scene didn’t really take you seriously unless you kept coming around for a few years during that time. But the close friends I did have in those years were great and we just loved talking about music and what show we were going to next. No scene I’ve ever been a part of made me worried about being judged for my ethnicity.
This brings me to the scene in Ohio I’m in now. Ohio hardcore is family to me. I’m so grateful for the space and opportunity they’ve given me to not only be who I am but to tell my story the way I want to with SOUR. I can’t thank them enough.
With Sour, you mentioned that you are infusing some of your life’s struggles into the music and lyrics. Can you talk about some of the lyrics or specific songs and how you hope it connects with people maybe in similar circumstances? How they’ve been going across now that you have music out for people to check out?
Definitely. All the songs off our EP called “Songz” pertain to my struggles. But what I really focused on was trying to make songs that could bring empowerment to not only myself but those that look like me. I tried to think of what I needed when I was growing up. And what I needed was a role model that told me I could take up space and that my story fucking matters. If I were to pick a song to highlight it would be “Winter Cactus”. I named the song in honor of my fiancee. She has this beautiful Christmas Cactus that blooms in the winter and is notoriously hard to nurture. This song is about living free and thriving and how doing so brings harm upon those that wish you ill. The enemy I’m talking about in this song that harms themselves with their own knife and gun is White Supremacy and American society. I’ve always thought about this image of someone that swings their ax so hard that it gets buried deep within their own body. That’s how I see White Supremacy in this country. Just a stupid thing with nothing but dumb force that will cut its own legs out from under it. All I have to do is grow and bloom for it to die.
And to answer your last part it’s been really overwhelming. For us to have played just a handful of shows and for people to connect and sing along with the lyrics has been a lot to take in. I just want to thank anyone that has read the lyrics or sang along. It’s more than I could have hoped. I think the biggest highlight when it comes to lyrics for me has been connecting with my friend Sehun (Please check out his label Kill Yellow Fever Records) who is also a Korean Adoptee in hardcore. This band and the lyrics have been a vehicle to get to know someone that shares a similar story and then because of him, I’ve connected with so many more Asians in hardcore. That’s all I ever wanted in a band.
Thanks so much for your time Jeff and the honesty in your answers! To say your responses have been insanely enlightening is such an understatement. As we wrap this up, the last thing I guess I’m curious about is why is connecting to the Asian important to you?
As a Korean Adoptee many times it’s hard to relate to the world around you. I mean to give perspective there are only about 200,000 Korean Adoptees worldwide. We’re only a fraction of a fraction of the number of many minority groups. Connecting to fellow Asians is huge for me. To feel not only a sense of belonging with ones that look like me but also with those that share the same values and interests. I’ve always felt that part of my birthright was taken away from me as an adoptee. The right to my culture. The right to my identity. I think the only way I can take that back for myself is to find community. To not only pursue it for myself but to also help empower others like me. We only have each other.