Soft, melodious, full of soul. Korean-American singer-songwriter Bobby Choi, also known as Big Phony, is making himself known to ever greater audience at SXSW. The Korean met him at the venue for Seoulsonic, shortly before the concert began.
TK: Can you describe yourself for those who don't know you yet?
Big Phony: I'm Big Phony. I'm a singer-songwriter. I'm based in Seoul now, but I was born and raised in New York. I write sad songs.
TK: Were you doing music before you moved out to Seoul?
BP: Yes. I moved to Seoul three years ago, but I have been writing songs for 22 years and I have been pursuing music as a career for about nine years before I moved to Seoul.
TK: How did that decision come about?
BP: I have been active in LA and New York, and I was actually thinking about relocating to Portland. Then three years ago, I visited Korea just to see the country. Once I was there, I met so many indie musicians. I didn't even know there was a scene like that!
And it was not just about music. I became so curious about the country that my parents came from. I feel connection to the place as well. Plus, I was at a good time in my life to make a big move like that. I wasn't married, and there was nothing holding me back.
TK: Who were some of the indie bands you met in Korea?
BP: I met Galaxy Express, Idiotape and Vidulgi OoyoO. They were all really great. They were getting ready for the first Seoulsonic tour, and the Seoulsonic organizer asked if I wanted to open the show for them. Since then, a lot of doors opened for me.
TK: This is your first SXSW. How are you liking it?
BP: I am blown away. I feel exhausted too. It's like Disneyland for musicians. At first, I didn't think I got into SXSW because I mistakenly read an old rejection email for a different showcase. I was going around telling everyone that I didn't get into SXSW, but I got another email a few weeks later from SXSW about how to register for the festival. I was so happy! It felt like getting into college again, and SXSW is the Ivy League.
SXSW is like college in a different way too. Musicians behave like freshmen who just arrived. They are all nice to each other, but they also size each other up.
TK: Is there any act that you really want to check out at SXSW?
BP: I'm friends with [Korean American band] Run River North, so I'm definitely going to go see them. I'm so glad to see them succeed. It's a success just to be here.
TK: Who would you call your musical influence?
BP: I began writing songs when I was 14 years old. Back then, I listened to a lot of Christian contemporary music, like Michael W. Smith. I think Sting was a big influence too. What I learned is that when I write music, I should focus on the lyrics because my voice is not great and my guitar skill is a bit sloppy.
TK: I think your voice and guitar are just fine. Do you think you were influenced by any Korean band since you moved there? You remind me of a softer, more refined Kim Gwang-seok.
BP: I'm sure I have been influenced by Korean bands, because I'm surrounded by them. There are so many inspiring bands. They are all disciplined and skillful. And I feel a connection with them. I love seeing them succeed.
TK: Any parting words for AAK! readers?
BP: Stick with your passions. I am 36 years old, but I am just getting started.
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