Korean indie band SURL will be holding their first North American tour in April. The quartet’s 2023 review of us tour follows a busy year, filled with a performance at the famed SXSW music festival in Austin, TX, the release of their first full album, of us, participation in Mnet’s band survival show, Great Seoul Invasion, and more.
Hoseung, Doyeon, Hanbin, and Myeongsuk were high school friends, creating the band to tell stories based on their own experiences in hopes that listeners would be able to relate. They debuted in September 2018 with “Stay Here,” before releasing their first EP, Aren’t You?, in December of the same year. They won a grand prize at the 2018 Shinhan Card Rookie Project, and since then, they’ve released an EP and five digital singles, as well as OST tracks for dramas such as Inspector Koo. Ahead of their debut North American tour, APA asked the band about their career journey, debut album, and what fans can look forward to on their tour.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
APA: Congratulations on embarking on your first North American tour! What made April the right time to go on tour?
Hoseung: There was a desire to tour even before COVID-19. When we saw people singing along to our songs last year at SXSW, we knew we wanted to meet our fans as soon as possible. In Korea, March is the start of a new semester, so April is good timing to announce a fresh start. We’re very glad to tour America with the spirit of Spring.
APA: As the North American tour is titled “review of us,” can you tell us what the name of the tour means to you?
Hoseung: After our album release, our first national tour was also titled review of us. It’ll be an excellent opportunity to tour North America, and we wanted to show our best performances, including [performances from] our first full length album, of us. That’s why we decided to use the title review of us.
Hanbin: At festivals, many people who come are unaware of who we are, so we create our set list to demonstrate our style and leave a strong impact.
Doyeon: For our North America tour, many fans who already know about us will attend, so we will perform songs that they would prefer more.
APA: What’s something each of you hope to accomplish, experience, or take away from your North American tour?
Hoseung: I’m so glad we can meet SURL’s fans in North America throughout the month, and I also look forward to making more North American fans than [we already have] now. As K-pop is famous around the world, Korea is also paying attention to people around the globe. We wish for people to say “Korea also has great band musicians,” too, so many Korean bands can receive more attention. Not only performing overseas, but also feeling and enjoying being in North America during this one-month tour will be great.
Doyeon: Holding a tour here is already an extensive experience, and that’s enough for me.
Hanbin: It’s not easy to go to various regions of North America at once, so it’ll be a memorable experience. I want to try all the delicious foods in each area.
Myeongsuk: I want to understand music and gain a broader perspective.
Hoseung: It took us two years to prepare the album. While listening to more than one hundred demo songs, some were chosen to be completed, and some were written completely new. After listening to those completed songs, we wanted them to be unpredictable and fresh, and also be able to express SURL as well.
Hanbin: We worked hard, repeatedly recording, mixing, and mastering every single song so that they could show their own strengths.
Myeongsuk: It was quite a different work from our EP or singles we released previously. To us, the first full album was like preparing a first business card for us as artists.
APA: When writing music, what is your process like? Do you come up with the instrumental music first, or the lyrics first?
Doyeon: Usually, most are made while just jamming out. We re-record it and discuss the song form or details if something good comes out. Then, we make our lyrics together.
APA: Your lyrics are well known for telling stories with emotion and honesty. Why do you think this is important when making music?
Hoseung: We wanted our listeners to be able to empathize and throw themselves into the music. Our lyrics are the messages we want to deliver, so we write them as sincerely and honestly as possible.
Doyeon: “WHAT TIME IS IT NOW?” is one of the songs that came out from the aforementioned jamming, but something was different than usual that time.
Myeongsuk: Something came bursting out as if the four of us had become one. Of course, there was a trimming process, but the song felt like it was already complete after [making it] once or twice. When writing the lyrics, we discussed the mood and theme of the song, and thought it felt like being chased by something.
Hoseung: We wrote the lyrics based on that situation and feeling.
APA: You prepared a guerilla one-take performance of “WHAT TIME IS IT NOW?” on the back of a truck across Seoul, showing that anything can be a stage. What inspired that performance? Where else would you like to perform?
Hoseung: If we have a chance to do another geurilla concert, we hope to do it in other regions. It would be great if we could hold one in the U.S.!
Hanbin: We had the idea while we were suffering anguish with our company to promote the album, of us. We saw a scene from a video of a concert that started with a truck’s hatch opened, and that kind of guerilla concert was on our wishlist. It was a lot of fun, like Mad Max.
APA: You participated in the competition show Great Seoul Invasion last year, and even finished in the top three! What was your experience on the show like? Do you have any favorite moments?
Hoseung: [Through the show] we learned that we can write many songs in a short time period. For every round, we needed our pieces to be prepared, so we somehow wrote the songs between shoots. Our favorite moment was during the fourth round’s stages, when our song “No Jam” won.
APA: For listeners who are looking to learn more about Korean indie music, what do you think is SURL’s distinctive trait that sets the band apart from others?
Hoseung: Our distinctive trait is the unique atmosphere of our music. Not only the music itself, but our performances in live concerts are also our strength.