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Meet Always Be Grateful: your local Korean Indie collective

By Nam Woon Kim (he/him)

Friends, food, and having a supportive team are just some of the things the new music collective are grateful for as they reflect on the start of their journey together.

“It feels like it’s been longer,” Taebz remarks as I put together a quick timeline. Joining me over Zoom on the eve of their second band camp are the three artists that make up Always Be Grateful: Taebz, Hanbee, and hans., who also manages the team. The group has been together now from just the start of this year, but everyone feels like they’re on the same page with the same type of sincere, yet tongue-in-cheek energy you would expect from a group that goes by Always Be Grateful, or ABG for short.

“We were thinking of collective names for so long. And with [my single] ‘Be Grateful’, I was like… what if we were just be grateful,” says hans.

Further workshopping with ABG’s producer, Owen, and a friend assisting with the single, Joon, resulted in the final name. “ABG is like ABG, but it's also ABG. You know?” is how hans. sagely puts it as I nod along.

“Joon was there for a lot of it, and [Joon] just dipped and absolved themselves from the mess that he created,” hans. laughs. “He’s my homie who does fashion - he went back to the army like two months ago.”

Korean indie may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear their name, but it’s what defines this collective backed by a team of friends, family, and fellow creatives. As well as the artists themselves, the full team also encompasses DJs, designers, and more. From high school mates to Taebz’ own brother, Luke, aka woo!, ABG is a close-knit crew that’s keeping busy. It’s been an eventful year for the Korean trio who are set to complete their respective roll-outs by the end of this month.

Taebz, who navigates a blend of hip-hop and alternative R&B as a vocalist and producer, just released his debut EP, Gloss, last week - the second ABG project after de-facto group leader hans., released kimyuntak earlier in March. Perhaps the veteran of the group, hans. continues to find new ways to make the hip-hop he creates uniquely his own with the introduction of Korean electronic influences. Rounding out the lineup is Hanbee, the singer/songwriter of the group who just released ‘Odd’, in anticipation of her upcoming album: Odd One Out - a project she says is a departure from her bedroom pop roots.

2022 is by no means their first step into music, but it does represent a new chapter. Hanbee, having graduated from Yonsei University, returned to New Zealand earlier this year with her eye set on making more music which ABG provided an apparatus for. Meanwhile, over last year’s August lockdown, the rest of the collective had begun to work on the records that would become ABG’s first step into the world. From what hans. describes, kimyuntak was something of ground zero for ABG - and not just for its name.

“Owen bought a MIDI keyboard because it was on sale at the Rock Shop; he’s always been making beats but never really committed to it. Ableton came with the keyboard, and he knew that the trial version was going to run out in like two months. So it was just this onus of like now or never, like there was literally nothing else to do. We never planned for it to happen.”

Nevertheless, hans. emphasises that ABG wasn’t ABG until all three came together.“It’s like when Earl was in Samoa for Odd Future, that missing link.”The rest of our conversation, edited and abridged, follows below.

Debate: What’s the story behind how everyone actually met?

hans.: I met Hanbee first and I became a fan of her music and just thought it was cool. Pretty shortly after I met Taebz and his brother, Luke. I guess us three knew each other, but there wasn’t that seed to make the collective until a few more months down the line. Even though Hanbee was in Korea it just made sense as well to be a part of it because we all fucked with her music. I kind of wanted to get into artist management regardless.

Taebz: hans. saw a video that my brother, Luke, directed, and hit him up for his own video. He didn't have a car at the time so he was like “can you please drop me off?” I drove him over, but then there was a protest going on the bridge that day. I think it was like a cyclist protest or something like that. Because we’re in central Auckland whereas hans. is on the shore, I was like, fuck, I don't want to go back so I just ended up chilling at Hanju’s house while they were doing the video. That's how I met hans. properly. And then later on while I was working on [my single] ‘Vices’, I sent him the beat and hans. hopped on it straightaway. When we were filming the actual video we just became homies and then it blossomed from there. And Hanbee we knew her first via online.

Hanbee: The timing was really lucky ‘cause my sister goes to uni here; I was gonna move back to New Zealand to live with her anyway. I was talking to Hanju and one day he said, “I've got this plan and would you like to be part of it?” I thought because I hadn't met them in person it might be a little awkward [laughs] but we get along so.

I noticed in the credits, Taebz, that each video is co-directed between your brother and yourself. Could you go into what that process is like?

Taebz: Each project is pretty different, so we've always tried different approaches. ‘Retro’ was very guerilla style, just improv everything. Find cool locations, create an aesthetic, and figure out the anchor scenes that we wanted and then just flesh it out from there. But for ‘Shadows’, it was more of a loose narrative. I wanted to have each scene written out and scripted, so that approach was more like [using] Google Docs; me and my brother would put in ideas and just completely flesh that out and then go into what kind of shots we want to actually do. My brother, because he was a film student, he knows all the technical shit so it was just about, “Oh, can we do this?” For ‘Retro’, there was that Stanley Kubrick movie 2001: A Space Odyssey [homage] with that pencil shot. Luke referenced that.

Is there anything that inspires you both creatively, Taebz?

Taebz: Me and my brother, when we produce beats and stuff, [although] we don't intend to, the sound design ends up being very similar. We attribute it to Pokémon and RuneScape and all these other games that we played growing up.

It’s certainly not just the music that stands out - I notice your cover art always have a lot of personality in them, Hanbee, who does them?

Hanbee: Some of them I made, but some of them my friend drew for me. A very old friend! My upcoming ones, Chris, who does the visuals in our group, took the photos. I'm really excited with those as well.

Could you tell us a little about what that next project is like?

Hanbee: There’s lots of different new producers from overseas, and some just like, within ABG like, Luke, Taebz’ brother. I think I'm really excited for it because it transitions from the whole very bright, happy, upbeat [style] to something different.

As a highlight of your EP last year, in and out, the sequencing is one thing I’m looking forward to as well. How do you approach tracklisting?

Hanbee: I like to make a tracklist quite early in the process. There are certain songs that I feel should be really at the end. Some of them just seem to be a second song and one of them, like the middle. It does come together at the end, I like to think.

So what does an ABG band camp look like anyway?

hans.: I like the concept of [where] in the music industry in general, the way that they do A&R is they're always chucking artists together in rooms who you’d think don't work together. I like that at camp we can work together with no boundaries, like all we have is each other. We do a lot of interchange at camp where we work in different combinations to see what we can make. At the end of the day, it's all just for the creation of it, just seeing what we can make. I think that's the coolest part especially when you're thrown into settings that you're not familiar with as well. I feel like the environment does play a huge role in creation.

Since this is our music issue, what is everyone listening to at the moment?

hans.: His name’s 이오공 250, like the number. He's a dance producer/DJ but shit's crazy, it’s experimental house music. And Vince Staples’ new album, I think it might be album of the year contender - I just can't stop talking about it.

Hanbee: I listen to a lot of stuff at the same time, but then I’ll start digging into one album and then keep that on repeat. Recently I’ve been listening to Rex Orange County’s new album.

Taebz: I've been listening to JMSN and The Blaze a lot. And hans. and Hanbee actually, I've been listening to Hanbee a lot lately because we're covering each other’s songs at band camp. We're trying to get out of our comfort zone so we've matched each other with like, completely different styles. I'm doing ‘Buttercup’ so I’ve been listening to that a lot.

This camp does sound real methodical.

hans.: Oh we got timetables.

Are you camp mum, hans.?

hans.: Nah not really, we’re not like 군대 gundae [army] level. Everyone kinda manages themselves anyway.

To wrap it up on a cheesy note, any advice for people wanting to give music a go? Or anything creative really.

Taebz: Just do it. [Hanbee and hans. laugh] Nah but I mean it holds true, because I only just started doing it, like actually releasing it out into the world last year. If I didn't do that, I wouldn't have met Hanju or Hanbee. I never thought that I would have made these friends - it just takes you to different paths and branches out into different avenues.

Hanbee: Kind of on the same note, but, start early. Sometimes I think it would have been cool if I had started doing more earlier. I think I spent a lot of time trying to do other things - just thinking that this was kind of unattainable. If you really like to do it, just start.

hans.: If you're gonna do it, you should be devoted to taking care of your health, like in terms of eating right, but also mentally, making sure that you're feeling right. There's that whole tortured artist [concept] and maybe it holds true that if you're, you know, feeling depressed and shit, you might make better music. But at the end of the day, people won't care that much.

kimyuntak and Gloss are out now available to stream.

Hanbee’s album Odd One Out drops May 13 🐰


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