[EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW] Who is Big Phony and Why Should You Care?

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In a world of glitter and hotshot idols, it can often be easy to overlook small time artists who deserve just as much praise. An example? Bobby Choy.

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Bobby Choy, or “Big Phony” is a Korean-American Indie artist based in Seoul who has recently overrun my phone’s music library. Having moved to Seoul just 4 years ago, Phony has managed to start making a name for himself there, as well as in New York, where he started out.

This track, coming from his self titled album “Bobby” was produced in his room using only a cheap mic and a $40 guitar. Impressive? I think so. Though, doing the impossible seems to be the norm for Big Phony, so I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise. I mean, he did manage to release two albums simultaneously without losing quality on either. Despite having proven that his talents shine through despite his means, it makes you wonder what it would sound like coming out of an actual production studio. Hopefully, we’ll soon get to find out.

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Phony’s sixth and newest album has recently begun a fund, and has, as of the 29th, met it’s goal, meaning we’ll get not only the lyrical quality we’ve come to expect from Phony, but a level of production that will take the sound to a whole new level.

Okay, so he’s great, that’s what happens when you’ve been doing something for 22 years, but why mention this now?

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Well, the fact of the matter is, despite his small time indie beginnings, Big Phony’s name is one that we see cropping up with increasing frequency just about everywhere. From small time venues, to music festivals like SXSW, where he can be found later this year, and even features on a number of Indie films, the man has been making a name for himself all over. With his tagline “I hate Big Phony”, it’s obvious he not only has the talent to make it big, but a uniquely cool feel that sets him apart from the rest; there’s no gimmicky themes to his image, no forced apathy or over emotion, just a man with his guitar making music he loves. Don’t take my word for it though, hear his thoughts down below, where I got a chance to interview him about his career, his performances, and even some interactions he’s had with some familiar groups!

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your type of music, for anyone who may not be familiar with it?

My name is Bobby Choy.  I’m an indie singer-songwriter from New York City but I currently live in Seoul, Korea. I sing sad songs.

You probably get asked this a lot, but tell us about your name. Where did it come from and what does it signify for you?

Big Phony is a moniker I plucked from Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. When I released my first album in 2005, unfortunately, at the time I was a little (more like a lot) uncomfortable in my skin.  I felt scared at the thought of having an Asian name be on the album cover.  I actually never even allowed any photos of me on album covers or posters. Might sound weird, but growing up, I didn’t have any musician role models that looked like me.  I actually kind of thought I wasn’t allowed to join the ranks in a way.  I’m definitely more comfortable in my own skin now as it were.  I still like the name Big Phony though.  It’s been fun, too.

Why did you decide to make the move to Seoul? Were there any big cultural differences that you had to get used to? What was the weirdest or most embarrassing moment you’ve had because of the cultural difference?

My parents met and married in New York City after leaving Korea in the mid 1960’s.  I always wondered about the place they left to find better lives as they put it.  I always felt somewhat of a void in my life and when I first visited here about 5 years ago I felt an immediate connection to this place.

The language was the biggest cultural difference I faced having to get used to.  I hardly spoke at all when first arriving.  I remember using a lot of hand gesturing and such.

Taking taxis was an ordeal every time in the beginning.  I would try and explain where I needed to go in my broken Korean.  Always an awkward situation.  I felt the need to even lie one time and tell the driver I was Taiwanese, to which he was delighted to hear I had taken up Korean. Moments before he was pretty pissed at me for not learning the language of my parents as he put it.

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How have you been influenced by your move to Korea; how is the Korean music scene different than what you experienced in NY?

I think I’ve come to grips with a lot of my personal identity by moving and living here.  It was quite a leap for me but in hindsight, I can say it was worth the struggles I faced.  The most obvious difference in the music scene here is the audience.  People here are way more attentive, I feel.  That could be a good thing but it’s also can be terribly nerve-racking.  I often at first couldn’t tell if people were bored or if they were just really into the performance.  In New York, it’s often that I’m singing over a talkative crowd.  That’s something that sounds unfortunate but over time I learned to actually appreciate and found comforting.  I often perform better when I’m battling the noise of a loud room.  But they say if you can make it in NY you can make it anywhere.  There’s a lot of truth in that statement I think.

Did you ever consider becoming a K-pop trainee? If yeah, what was the thinking behind it?

I’m 38 years old so I can comfortably say no to that question.  Haha.  Well, first off I don’t have the voice or range of a pop singer.  Second, I have 2 left feet so unless the band called for falling over all the time, I’d be pretty useless.  I was an English coach to K-pop band called B.A.P for a while.  If you ever have a chance to interview them, please tell them you asked me this question.  I’m sure you’ll get a great laugh out of them. Amazingly talented guys, by the way.

Seems that there’s a lot of controversy these days about indie and rock artists signing onto entertainment labels. Any thoughts on this? Would you ever consider something like that, or would you rather stay independent?

I think it’s fine as long as there’s an understanding of the artist having final or majority say in what they release.  I don’t really know how things are in entertainment labels so I don’t have a really well crafted opinion on the subject, to be honest.  I personally am open to all things as long as both parties can prove they are moving towards progress and growth in this industry.  I think I’d see red flags if I heard someone telling me they know what they’re doing and I need to trust them 100%.

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This is gonna be your third time at SXSW, right? How do like it? Were there any interesting moments you’d like to share?

SXSW is an amazing platform for artists like myself.  There’s an amazing energy that exists there which is undeniable. Performing on a SXSW showcase really challenges you and allows you to grow in many aspects. It’s been an honor every year to be able to perform there and interact with so many people in music. One of my favorite memories was getting to play guitar on a couple of songs at a few showcases last year with Korea’s punk rock veterans No Brain. Such an odd pairing but we made it work.

Over the years there’s been a lot of groups coming through SXSW, even some big names like f(x), Hyuna, Jay Park, etc. Having been to the event several times yourself, have you actually gotten a chance to interact with any of the “big name” groups, and if so, what was your experience with them? 

Yeah, they’ve all been really nice for the most part.  I met Jay Park on a number of occasions outside of SXSW.  He’s always been nice and very professional. Amber from f(x) is the sweetest person. She’s really cool and always seems to have meaningful things to say. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet YB Band on multiple occasions. I think it’s extremely nice of them to go out of their way to even say hello to someone like me. There’s also some K-pop names that have been somewhat unpleasant to be around but I’m saving that for my book, maybe 30 years down the line. Haha.

We hear there’s a lot of Korean artists performing this year, even some idols. Is there anyone you know? Does it feel weird performing somewhere with so many different genres from bands all over?

Yes, I’m friends with some of the bands like Love X Stereo, Victim Mentality, and Heo. It’s actually a great feeling to be a part of a huge melting pot of music. Different genres but in many ways the same struggles and similar goals.

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Can you tell us anything about your upcoming album? Do you think it will be harder to put together than previous albums?

I think with every album I release I’m a stronger artist than the last.  I really believe this.  There are a lot of insecurities you lose along the way that make more you more efficient in a recording situation.  I think I’m talking about experience.  It goes a long way though.  With that said I still have more to improve so I’ll be stretching myself I’m sure in new ways to try and create something really special.  This will be the first album I record directly to analog tape which I’m excited for but also extremely anxious about as well.  I’m also working with a great friend of mine who’s producing, Goh Nakamura.  I think he’s gonna bring a lot of great things to this project.  A super intelligent and creative artist.

Are there any music recommendations you can give our readers? Any songs you just haven’t been able to get out of your head recently? Could be anything, K-pop, indie, rap, etc.

Anything Dylan, Cash, or the Beatles is fine by me.  Big fan of Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson.  The latest Carly Rae Jepsen kind of blew me away.  I’m not really into pop music but I’m glad someone recommended it to me.  A couple of unfortunate late discoveries… Arthur Lee and his band Love!  Lloyd Cole!

Do you have any parting words for the readers or even potential musicians? 

Well, if you’re aspiring to be a musician I would say… There could be times where not a single person shows up to your shows.  I would say play your heart out anyway.  If you can’t handle those kinds of situations, I hate to say it but you should probably do something else.  If no one still shows up after 30+ shows, I’d say to get new friends that will be honest enough to tell you that you suck.  Just kidding, sort of.

So, what do you think, is Big Phony a name to be on the lookout for? Could he be the next Hyukoh? Let us know down below!

 
  • Pet sounds!!! Yes greatest album ever!!!