Opening shows can be difficult for bands. Most audience members aren't usually there to see openers and have little interest, if any, in becoming actual fans. The majority of folks won't even show up to the venue in time to catch early sets -- and the ones that do, physically radiate with the glow of hope that every song they play will be the last song they play.
Of course, that's not always the case. As a musician, I've played plenty of shows where folks stop praying for your sonic assault to end, and end up actively enjoy the music. That's the dream, right there. For what it's worth, GRMLN -- the Orange County-based garage pop punk band who headline the House of Blues Voodoo Room on Friday, July 25 -- seem to have a knack for doing just that.
After seeing the quartet open for Tijuana Panthers at Soda Bar last year, they frankly stole the show. I was immediately turned and gave in to the summery, energetic wall of catchy hooks and '90s-era melodies, the passionate onstage swagger -- heck, even the name (as a child of the '80s, the 1984 film "Gremlins" will always hold a particularly soft, furry spot in my nostalgic heart).
"I was running around my neighborhood one day and just thought that the name was cool," GRMLN guitarist/singer Yoodoo Park told me. "And it reminded me of a nasty creature that was shunned from people and society -- and I felt like that ironically during the time I was writing and recording the songs, so I kept it."
The band's 2010 debut EP, "Explore," was more of a solo project for Park and his brother, Tae San Park, and decidedly more dreamy than their 2013 full-length follow up, "Empire." That record bobbed along with a fun yet nervous energy; angst-riddled anthems about disparate youth, girls and uncertain futures married the melodic pop worship of early Weezer, and Ty Segall's reckless fuzz fits.
"I’ve been getting a lot of comparisons to bands from the 90’s like Dinosaur Jr.," Park explained. "But I usually flip around with my musical influences because I have gnarly A.D.D. when it comes to stuff like that."
The comparisons will surely keep coming, as the band's new album, "Soon Away," is scheduled for release via Carpark Records on Sept. 5 (pre-order it here). Leadoff single "Jaded" sounds as heavy as anything they've dropped to date, with subtle nods to Hot Rod Circuit and the Get Up Kids (listen to it here).
"This album that I wrote is a lot heavier and darker compared to the stuff that I put out before -- both lyrically and sonically -- and that was just a natural shift I went through the past few months while writing. My [songwriting] is usually 'free-write,' so if I have a chord progression that I like or a melody that I like, one or the other dictates the direction of the song depending on my mood."
Even though success seems to have had the band's name from the get-go, it hasn't always been very easy for Park.
"Being born in Japan while having a Korean background, I have this whole cultural identity crisis thing all the time. Especially having Asian public figures in media today being portrayed in movies and entertainment as the 'second-rate' actors (meaning, rarely seen in leading roles in movies -- unless they’re the 'comedic/nerdy Asian') prevents the new generation of Asian-Americans to have role models that they can personally identify with, or look up to. Growing up, I didn’t have any actors, musicians, or public figures that could help me culturally identify with myself (at least in America). Because of the lack of these public figures with Asian backgrounds, it is hard for the newer generation to look up to and follow in the steps of predecessors in 'American' entertainment and music. People these days see bands like the Strokes, or every other band, fronted by a 'white' singer -- so hopefully people can be inspired seeing a 6’5" Asian dude yelling his voice out on a stage for a change. After all, race has nothing to do with success -- only if you let the judging get the better of you."
Thankfully, he doesn't seem to let it faze him. GRMLN is on a furious upward trajectory, and even though everyone around him seems to know it, Park's not about to kick back and chill out: "I feel like there's way more to be accomplished, so I can’t really slack off."