Audra Connolly performing at C Cloud in Hongdae

Audra Connolly performing at C Cloud in Hongdae

Ask an expat why they haven’t gone home yet, and you’re likely to hear something about “community.” It’s an important word to independent musicians too. Strong bonds form in between open mic nights, coffee shop gigs, small venue lineups and even street corner busking. Audra Connolly moved to Ilsan (Gyeonggi province) to teach English, but she was a musician first. Her experiences playing at home and her recent foray into playing around Seoul have taught her that it’s more about the community and bonding than about competition.

“I wanted to start performing to get my chops back before I start touring at home,” said Connolly. She recorded and produced her first album, “Dear Friend” and toured around the West Coast prior to coming to Korea. Part of her being here is in hopes to finance a second album. “I have a rigorous work schedule here, but now I’ve kind of adapted to the Korean lifestyle and I can go straight from work to performing. You just do it.”

The question for many solo musicians non-native to Korea is: how to go about doing it? Where to start?

Connolly and Willow Lyou met performing at Hondae’s Café Unplugged which holds “closed” mic nights, or a casual performance you need to sign up for in advance. Right away they had mutual respect for each other’s talents. Both are primarily acoustic musicians who sing and play guitar.

Interested to dig further into the folk and singer-songwriter scene in Seoul, Connolly sought Lyou’s guidance. “Being someone with limited time to learn [Korean], my bond with Willow really helped me break onto the scene here. Without the language…communicating with club owners and translating messages… it’s something that’s really difficult to do.”

He helped her translate her resume into Korean and gave her advice on venues to target in Hongdae like C Cloud and Badabie. Lyou’s most valuable advice was that she go after newer venues without existing queues of hopeful musicians. This is what led the pair to JY Hall, a new venue in Mapo. Connolly and Lyou will be .

Willow performing

Willow Lyou (left) and bandmate Jinhee Woo

“JY Hall isn’t a bar, so it’s really focused on the music,” said Connolly. An atmosphere like JY Hall, one that is centered around the live music and not selling coffee or drinks, is especially conducive to the kind of music Lyou and Connolly play.

“The scene in Hongdae is changing,” Lyou said. “Audiences are smaller than they were.” Both are hoping to find a new regular haunt at JY Hall.

Lyou started his group, also called Willow, in 2011 shortly after going through a difficult breakup. His colleague at the time, Jinhee Woo, a drummer and a singer, approached him and asked if he wanted to start to pursue music seriously. Together they formed Willow, where Lyou adopted the nickname (in Korean) “Willow Boy” and Woo took the moniker “Willow’s Sister.” Lyou had early success in 2009 when he was a finalist in the MBC Campus Music Festival. Since then, he has always had a desire to play for big audiences and for his music to reach the masses.

Wary of shrinking Hongdae audiences, and acknowledging that the scene in Korea is heavily weighted toward pop, rock and electronic music as opposed to folk, Willow are hoping to grow their audience by putting out music through YouTube.

Connolly will be opening at JY Hall with a new song she penned while in Korea. The song, titled “South Korea” is both critical and reflective of her time in the country. On the one hand it was a significant divergence from the career she as building at home, while on the other it was a chance to grow–creatively as well as internationally.

Lyou will also be playing a new song this Saturday. Most of Willow’s material are breakup songs, but he is hoping to make happier music going forward.

Written by Charlotte Hammond
Images courtesy of Audra and Willow