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Why Rolling Quartz Deserves Your Attention

We sat down with the rising Korean rock band to discuss their first EP ‘Fighting,’ muses and what rock means to them

Divyansha Dongre May 15, 2022

Rolling Quartz. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

This story appears in Rolling Stone India’s K-Music Special Issue, on sale now. Buy your copy here.

For K-pop, the years 2020 and 2021 were all about the feel-good grooves of the Eighties and Nineties. As dreamy synth and dance-pop basked the glory under the spotlight, the strident sounds of the world falling to its knees became bearable for a moment or two. Yet, something was missing. While dance-pop possessed the mystical powers of momentarily numbing the surrounding darkness, the world needed music that reflected their newly altered perspective and emotional landscape. With days growing longer within the four walls of residences, our dependency on nostalgia-inducing tracks grew stronger, and before we knew it, the industry had already welcomed the global renaissance of rock. 

Rock is not particularly an unheard sound in the Korean music industry. With K-pop’s tendency to mesh multiple sounds into one track, at some point, we’ve all grooved to a song with rock influences. Yet, the genre remains an underdog, overshadowed by the outstanding success of pop music. Despite the lucrative space K-Pop offers, a handful of artists such as LØREN, DAY6, The Rose, N.Flying, CNBLUE, and K-pop rock group Dreamcatcher are earnestly working towards popularizing the genre–now newer bands like Rolling Quartz are joining the quest. 

“There are so many places I want to perform, but among them are the Grammy Awards! It’s really a dream stage.”- Hyunjung. Photo:Courtesy of the artist

Composed of Arem (bassist), Iree (lead guitarist), Yeongeun (Drummer), Jayoung (main vocalist), and Hyunjung (rhythm guitarist), Rolling Quartz debuted on December 30th, 2020 with the single “Blaze.” “Jayoung, Hyunjung and I were initially performing in a band called Rose Quartz and Arem and Iree were performing as the Rolling Girls,” explains Yeongeun. “We combined the names of both the groups when we got together.” Iree draws a parallel between Rolling Quartz and American rock band Guns ‘N’ Roses, further explaining the idea behind combining the names of the bands they previously produced music under. Hyunjung adds, “Someone said, ‘You could have been Rose Girls, right?’ But aside from Rolling Quartz, there was no other name that was shortlisted.”

Between 2019 and the onset of the COVID-19 restrictions, the quintet created momentum through several live performances at clubs in Hongdae, Seoul— a lively neighborhood known for its arts, culture and club scene. However, the pandemic was quick to halt their performances. “I remember playing “Delight” [a demo version of their original compositions] on stage. I was so surprised when the audience sang along to the chorus– I still remember it vividly!” recalls Hyunjung. “Before we could officially make our debut, COVID-19 broke out, which is why this memory is more precious than ever. I look forward to meeting many people through offline performances in the future!”

The band was quick to adapt to the new normal and utilize this time to build their digital footprint through social media. “Since we were unable to perform live, we spent more time practicing and had the opportunity to upload YouTube content,” states Iree. “This was also an opportunity to learn as we got to know about our international fans and their cultures.” For Jayoung and Hyunjung, this period allowed them to create meaningful friendships, both with their fans and industry peers.

Rolling Quartz has been raising the eyebrows of many with the heavy Nineties grunge rock influences lingering across their discography. The members’ commitment to refining their artistry and boosting the genre’s popularity continues to be seamlessly conveyed through their rock covers of chart-topping tracks such as BTS’ “Dynamite,” Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” and of course, their original compositions.

In February of this year, the group stirred quite the buzz with their cover of Dreamcatcher’s 2017 single “Good Night.” Leading the group’s debut EP Fighting, the cover spotlighted Rolling Quartz’s iridescent musical flair with Jayoung’s deep, robust vocalizations complementing the dark rock arrangement of the track. Loaded with intense guitar riffs and strong percussion sounds, “Good Night” takes a wicked interpretation of love and relationship, describing the mindset of a protagonist unable to let go of their love interest. The almost overwhelming sense of romance drives them to the brim of insanity, pushing them to control every move in the relationship: No matter how much you try, oh/ In the endlessly repeating nightmare/ Stay trapped like this forever/ Like my very own doll/ Baby, good night.”

This project was more than just a cover for Rolling Quartz. With Dreamcatcher being one of their inspirations, “Good Night” was the quintet’s way of paying homage to their idols. “In the era of hip-hop & EDM, it was rock music that touched the hearts of Rolling Quartz,” reads the descriptor under the music video. “One of the artists that powerfully lingered in Rolling Quartz’s ears through all the trends was Dreamcatcher.”

The following month saw the group make their comeback with their B-side single “Azalea.” Originally performed by Maya– a South Korean pop-rock singer who contributed to popularizing rock in Korea in the early 2000s– “Azalea”’s lyricism samples South Korean poet Kim So-wol’s work of the same title. While the original poem leaves readers pondering whether the verses discuss the start or end of a relationship, the lyricists of the track (Ji-min Woo and Lucia) weave in their unique perspectives, interpreting love as “being both weak and strong; sad and beautiful.” 

Visually, the music video pays homage to the azalea– a popular flower found in South Korea. According to the track’s description, the flower blooms in the mountains and fields of Korea when spring arrives. Like the flower, the band expresses their desire to stay beside their fans and listeners. Despite the flower holding no symbolic ties to any royal family, the music video is filmed at the royal palace of Baekje – an ancient kingdom of Korea. “In order to express the precious and beautiful meaning of this flower, we filmed the music video at the royal palace of Baekje,” states the video’s description. 

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With the Korean rock scene primarily dominated by male acts, it’s refreshing to see women get behind the instruments of their choice to weave stories into powerful melodies and in turn, make the first move to popularize rock in an industry starved of girl bands. 

In an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India, Rolling Quartz discuss their relationship with rock music, their debut EP Fighting and their goals for the future. 

What inspired you to start playing and making music and how did the band come together?

Jayoung: I have loved singing since elementary school and after I got into an arts high school, I learned it more professionally! Here I also met Yeongeun and wanted to be in a band with her. After recruiting Hyunjung, we started our YouTube career as a trio! While I was looking for other members, my high school teacher introduced me to met Rolling Girls and that’s how we came together. 

Iree: I happened to watch a festival video of the British band Oasis on YouTube and got goosebumps when I saw so many people singing together. After watching that, I wanted to communicate with many people with the song I made. I used to like rock, but I never thought of working with a band. I tried to improve my skills while practicing alone and broaden my horizons by listening to various music. Our CEO and manager helped me join the band. 

Hyunjung: It’s all thanks to my parents who told me to try out everything since I was young. Growing up, I was exposed to many kinds of instruments, so naturally, music was always by my side. The first time I formed a band was when I was in the band club in middle school. It was clumsy and messy, of course (laughs)

Yeongeun: When I was in middle school when I happened to watch a band’s performance and became interested in musical instruments. At first, I started having an interest in guitar and bass, but following the recommendation of my high school teacher, I started playing drums. I got to know Hyunjung through social media and got along so well with Jayoung in the arts high school. Eventually, I got to know Arem of Rolling Girls and Iree through the introduction of my high school teacher and formed Rolling Quartz.

Arem: I saw an unknown band performance in middle school, and decided to join a band.

Iree: It’s the British band Oasis and the Korean punk band Crying Nut.

“I want to perform overseas and really want to see the fans in person. The company is coordinating overseas performances, so I think I can see them within this year!”- Arem. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Who are some of your major artistic influences? 

Hyunjung: I am influenced a lot by the members. Since we are currently making music together, I think we are coloring it [music] by sharing many of our opinions. 

Jayoung: When I was young, I liked R&B singers and have been influenced a lot by other bands and animations.

Arem: It’s hard to say because it keeps changing, but I’ve been listening to music by Muse lately. 

Yeongeun: I like Dreamcatcher, Bring Me The Horizon and One Ok Rock

What are the kind of stories and sonic styles you want to convey through your story?

Hyunjung: For now, I want to deliver positive energy to many people through our music and want to talk about various things in various ways (laughs)

Jayoung: Through our music, I want listeners to know that rock is not a difficult genre of music to listen to!

Areum: I want to create music that is fun to watch and listen to. 

Iree: Just like Oasis and Crying Nut, I too want to create songs that resonate with the public- songs that they can sing along to. I love the nuance of their(Oasis and Crying Nuts) performances. It may seem easy, but it’s pretty hard to express music the way they do, you know. 

Yeongeun: I hope that rock music will become popular and look forward to seeing it being enjoyed by many people.

“Many people assume that rock/metal is a difficult genre to understand, but I wanted to show the public that understanding the rock genre is not as hard as they think with this EP. “- Iree. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

What is the band’s creative process? How do you generally approach new musical projects?

Hyunjung: It’s a typical way of working. So far, our main vocalist Jayoung has made the overall framework of the songs through rounds of discussion and revision. The final arrangement is made with the music producer and CEO. We decide on the cover song after discussing it amongst ourselves and the crew. Subsequent tasks are the same as self-composed tasks.

Let’s talk about your EP! How was your experience recording it? What were some of the things you learned about your artistry and each other throughout the process?.

Iree: I borrowed a Soldano amplifier from Bobo who plays the guitar in Korea’s famous punk band No Brain and recorded two songs with him. It was my first time recording with an amp with such an amazing sound, but I enjoyed recording with a powerful sound. As I focused on many songs, I realized how precious each member is. I don’t think I can ever do it alone.

Hyunjung: The recording went smoothly because the music producer and the CEO directed it well. After the recording, I thought that “ah, I should have practiced a little more” (laughs). I think I learned how to be considerate of each other while recording this album. It was a fun experience!

Jayoung: I think I put more effort into recording the EP As it had been a while since the demo was completed. I thought I should make up for the shortcomings and present more perfect and mature results! Our members usually record two to three songs a day and would record them again if they didn’t like them. It was an amazing experience (laughs)

Yeongeun: We worked hard to release better quality sound and kept re-recording it if it wasn’t enough. We did our best in our parts to prepare this mini-album.

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Arem: The atmosphere of the songs in the album is very different. The recording of “Good Night” was so hard that I hit the highs with all my strength. While recording “Azalea” I felt “Oh, I can play this kind of music.” It was new.

“We worked hard to release better quality sound and kept re-recording it if it wasn’t enough. We did our best in our parts to prepare this mini-album.”- Yeongeum. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

What was your inspiration behind the EP? What stories did you want to convey?

Hyunjung: I tried to show the diversity within the genre of rock. Bright or dark atmosphere, touching, positive energy, cool appearance, etc. I plan on showing various sides of me in the future too.

Jayoung: I wanted to put positive energy into it! There are songs that we made together for the first time and songs that we remade. I wanted to give out joy with a variety of vibes.

Arem: Rolling Quartz started by uploading several cover songs and self-composed songs on YouTube. Many things happened [during the EP recording process], including the creation of a lovely fandom called Diadem. This EP is about organizing the music that Rolling Quartz has uploaded to YouTube and other video platforms.

Iree: This EP had been in planning for a while, but was delayed due to various schedules. I wanted to add more songs but if it [EP] took too long, I thought people who’ve been waiting would get tired; hence I was in a hurry to prepare. I wanted to correctly record and play our songs, which I’ve only played for the demos. Many people assume that rock/metal is a difficult genre to understand, but with this EP I wanted to show the public that understanding the rock genre is not as hard as they think. 

Yeongeun: We made Fighting to send a message of support to everyone in difficult times.

How did you arrive at the EP name? Were there any other titles shortlisted?

Iree: I wanted to give strength to the fans who have been waiting for our mini-album for a long time and to those who are tired of COVID-19, hence we chose the name Fighting. In the second half of last year, more than 20 Korean languages were listed in the Oxford Dictionary, and one of them was ‘fighting.’ On our social media accounts, a lot of foreign fans are using ‘fighting’ to cheer for us- we get a lot of good energy from that.

Which tracks from the EP were the most challenging to record on a compositional front and the lyrical front? 

Jayoung: There were no difficult songs, as such. It went all smoothly

Yeongeun: Working on songs and putting all your heart and soul into them is never easy 

Hyunjung: There’s a guitar solo in “Higher’” which was tough to record– especially the fast parts (laughs). Usually, It’s a next to an impossible tempo that doesn’t work, but while arranging it I got greedy and somehow made it (guitar solo) in that process! I really practiced that part a lot!

Iree: “Holler” was the hardest. It is very different from the way we used to make songs. With the orchestra, there were more tracks and unfortunately, there were many melodies that I had to give up. I didn’t want the song to sound too complicated.

Arem: All the songs were difficult.

“My dream is to make rock a little more of a major genre! We’ll work hard to make good songs so that our hearts can be delivered!”- Jayoung. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

What is it about rock music that makes you feel passionate? Who are some of your rock influences?

Jayoung: The aggressive and colorful part. I was influenced by the music of One Ok Rock.

Arem: I’ve been listening to a lot of Muse and Nothing But Thieves lately.

Iree: I think listening to music that I listened to when I was young gives me strength. Bon Jovi, Oasis, Crying Nut, etc. Especially the Korean punk band Crying Nut! When you’re exhausted, listening to Crying Nut songs gives you strength. A few years ago, I was taking care of my grandmother and cheered up by listening to Crying Nut songs every day. There are times when the melody and lyrics can be more simple than the fancy.

Hyunjung: Hard drive sound, guitar sound, heavy base, strong drum beat, and refreshing vocals are what makes me passionate about rock!

There has been a resurgence of rock in the K-pop realm. As a rock band, what are your thoughts on this trend and why do you think more artists are including rock influences in their songs?

Yeongeun: I like that rock music, a non-mainstream genre in Korea, seems to be more friendly to the public as it mixes with K-pop. With the addition of rock music to K-pop, you can feel the charms of K-pop and rock music. Thanks to the fans who like that kind of music, I think more and more of those kinds of songs are getting released.

Iree: As the trend of composition changed, the traditional rock music became increasingly distant from the public as they felt it was getting old, but I don’t think the desire for rock sound has disappeared. I can’t forget the intense feeling I felt when I heard rock music for the first time.

I tried to show the diversity within the genre of rock. Bright or dark atmosphere, touching, positive energy, cool appearance, etc. I plan on showing various sides of me in the future too.”- Hyunjung. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

What are the larger artistic goals you’ve set for yourself? How do you plan on achieving them? Have you mapped out an action plan?

Jayoung: My dream is to make rock a little more of a major genre! We’ll work hard to make good songs so that our hearts can be delivered!

Arem: I want to perform overseas and really want to see the fans in person. The company is coordinating overseas performances, so I think I can see them within this year!

Does the band have a dream venue they’d like to perform at?

Hyunjung: There are so many places I want to perform, but among them are the Grammy Awards! It’s really a dream stage.

Iree: Glastonbury? I really want to be on the festival stage where many bands that I liked stood. Olympic Hall in Korea?

Jayoung: Olympic Stadium and Tokyo Dome. I want to perform at a big venue with a rocking stage.

What are you currently working on? What can we expect from Rolling Quartz this year?

Yeongeun: I’m preparing for an offline (face-to-face) solo performance, and I’m also working on a new song. 

Arem: We are also preparing for overseas performances.

Do you have a message for your fans?

Rolling Quartz: Thanks to Diadem who are always by our side. We’re gaining a lot of strength- thank you so much! I hope we can meet in person this year! We can’t wait to see you! Let’s be happy together for a long time!

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