Kim Nam-yoon, Nahm Sang-ah, Seo Hyun-jung, and Sung Kiwan make up the Korean indie rock band 3rd Line Butterfly.
What comes to your head when you hear the words 3rd Line Butterfly? Most likely, you’ll think something associated with elegance and beauty. You’re correct, but if you are unfamiliar with them, 3rd Line Butterfly is more than just a pretty name—they’re a band that packs a punch and leaves you in its trance.
The South Korean rock quartet—consisting of lead vocalist and guitarist Nahm Sang-ah, guitarist Sung Kiwan, bassist Kim Nam-Yoon, and drummer Seo Hyun-jung—has been an indie music mainstay since their debut in 2000. They formed the year before when friends and musical collaborators Nahm and Sung were dismissed from their former bands and Sung called up Nahm to make some new music. Since then, 3rd Line Butterfly has released four full-length studio albums, an English-language album, and one EP and has toured North America as part of the Seoulsonic tour, which included performances at SXSW.
In support of their latest studio album Dreamtalk, which was released in October and won multiple 2013 Korean Music Awards including Album of the Year, 3rd Line Butterfly performed in front of international audiences, including the second night of San Francisco Music Matters Asia where we caught up with them.
The band’s musical style, laden with rocking guitars and drums, electronic elements, and sultry vocals, is difficult to describe, as Nahm acknowledged. “It’s always hard to describe music,” she said. “Sometimes ours is quite melancholy, blue, and sad, but it also has power. We have strong, psychedelic color. I hope you enjoy it, but you decide what it is.”
That color, along with others that are either brighter or more muted, is also reflected in the band name alone. The 3rd Line in 3rd Line Butterfly comes from the orange or third line in Seoul’s subway system. “The number three, we wanted to put some meaning into it. It’s not first or second, it’s an alternative option,” said Nahm. Butterfly, however, is a contrast to that “city-like, modern” description. Nahm continued, “Butterfly’ is like a dream, not in the present but more of the past. We decided to mix those words together.”
To evolve like true artists, the band isn’t afraid to take risks. “We’re continuously experimenting things, not staying at the same place,” said Nahm. “We move around and try new things.” But it’s also the little everyday things that make its way into 3rd Line Butterfly’s music. “A lot of things inspire me, but the most important thing is ordinary life,” said Sung. “We pull out some lyrics and sounds from our ordinary lives, like soundscapes, and a lot of music that you hear—American music, Korean music, Asian music, African music, everything. I enjoy all kinds of music and music from all of the regions.”
Speaking of regions, crossing over into America is exciting for any act from abroad. The band sees and appreciates a couple of major differences between playing in front of American fans and playing in front of Korean fans. “I think US fans get into the music and get into the atmosphere more easily and quickly, compared to Korean people who are shy and hold back,” said Nahm. “I like playing [in America]. I see the reaction right away. It’s fun to play with that kind of audience.” Sung added, “We meet new people. They don’t know us, so we can be freer.”
As 3rd Line Butterfly continues to make friends and fans across the US and back home in Korea, keep in mind that this is a band that has been together for over a decade. So what gives them staying power? It’s a simple concept: respect. It’s also about appreciating the unique qualities each band member brings to the table. “[Kiwan] doesn’t have what [Nam-yoon] has, but Nam-yoon has something Kiwan doesn’t have, and so on,” said Nahm. “We’re different people but that compensates for each other. Also, we don’t push each other—we don’t ask each other to do something we don’t want to do. It’s like when you’re part of a couple or with your friends, but we’re more like family because of the big age differences and we’ve been together for so long.”
3rd Line Butterfly will continue touring until the summer and head back to the studio to record new tracks shortly afterwards. To find out more about 3rd Line Butterfly, find them on Facebook and listen to their tunes on YouTube and SoundCloud.