When I had heard the news that Envy On The Coast had decided to call it quits I was really bummed. Especially considering that I had missed their last show in SLC. I followed the band’s social media pretty religiously waiting to see if by some miracle they would re-form or we would get to hear some sort or individual effort. What eventually came down the pipeline was a four song EP by North Korea, which consisted of EOTC’s Ryan Hunter and Brian Byrne. North Korea was started as a project of Dillinger Escape Plan’s Billy Rymer (drums) and bassist Mike Sadis with Hunter and Byrne coming into the picture later on. Basement Tapes: Vol. I was followed very shortly after by a second EP, Vol. II and long wait to an LP. During that time, North Korea would see Byrne depart due to creative differences. The band decided to change their name from North Korea to NK to better match the invigorated and diverse music that they were creating. NK’s newly released LP Nothing To Be Gained Here, is a brilliant and extremely diverse rhythm driven record that has already started to pull in a ton of great buzz. I was fortunate enough to ask singer and guitarist Ryan Hunter some questions about it.
BG: NK just released Nothing To Be Gained Here, it is a a really dynamic, unique, and groove driven record. If you were tasked with describing it to someone, what would you say to pique their interest?
RH: I dread this question, though I’ve been giving the same answer for years: just go listen to it. People’s perception of music is based on what they’ve heard. I have this friend who grew up strictly on 90’s rock. He still spins the same 5 records. So, upon hearing anything with piano in it, he always says “it sounds like Jamiroquoi.” I’m pretty sure that’s the only thing he’s ever liked that has piano in it. So, just go listen to the record. That’s what I’d say. I talk too much to begin with, and I’m biased…’cause I made the thing.
BG: While the the album is very well rounded and cohesive it definitely has moments where different influences and styles shine through. I personally love how flat out groovy some of the last few tracks are. Any personal favorite songs from the record?
RH: I’m really happy with “X it Out”. It came together in the strangest way, which I love. The bass and drums are actually a loop taken from another demo. We scrapped that song, but salvaged the bass/drums by slowing down the loop to half speed. From there, I just had fun over it and made a song out of it. That, in itself, I love, but I also really wanted to do it live and re-conceive it for that platform. It was one of those things I heard in my head but wasn’t sure if it would work, and Bill just completely murdered it. The first day we went to jam on it, he started finishing my sentences and just went at it and it was great. It was so much fun playing that one live.
BG: The band is quite the collaborative force. I have to say that I am huge fan of both The Dillinger Escape Plan and your former band Envy On The Coast. How did NK come about?
RH: Bill and Mike have been playing together for years and were sitting on a catalog of demos. After Mike and I ran into one another here on L.I., they sent me the demos. I dug ’em, I sang on ’em, we started writing together, blah blah blah blah. You get it.
BG: I read that Brian (Byrne, also formerly of EOTC) left due to creative differences. His influence was felt heavily in NK’s (then North Korea) first two EP’s. Did NK’s sound start to grow away from his interests or was it somewhat of a clash from the beginning?
RH: Yeah, I’d say we started to grow away from his interests. He had trouble finding his place within the material we were writing. It took me a little while to figure out how I wanted the guitars to work with this material, so I could understand that. There was no bad blood. He’s still our boy.
BG: With Brian leaving you picked up the duties on the guitar in addition to singing. You did the same with the drums on the last Envy record. Is playing these instruments something that comes as naturally to you as being a vocalist?
RH: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve always had more confidence in saying I’m a utility knife than saying, “I’m a singer” or “I’m a drummer.” I pick up whatever I need to in order to execute what is in my head, if that makes sense.
RH: We’re definitely very happy with what we have accomplished just the 3 of us as far as honing our sound, but with Matt and Isaac joining us for the live show, there’s definitely been conversation of how to incorporate other people.
BG: I feel that your lyrics on past efforts in all bands have been very strong and seemed to have a stance on some sort of issue. Describe if you could what the inspiration for the lyrical content on Nothing To Be Gained Here was?
RH: There wasn’t one particular inspiration. I wrote a lot about suburbia on this record. I also wrote a lot about love and sex on this record. I’d have to say that I was more inspired by visual artists than I was lyricists when making this record. I know that sounds like some artsy shit, but it’s the truth. There’s evidence of it if you look into it. Album title, album artwork…all of it.
BG: Changing the name from North Korea to NK definitely signifies changes and growth and being able to separate the two identities. There have been a couple other bands I know who have changed their name due to trying not to be publicly offensive. Did this have anything to do with the change?
RH: It was a ton of things. Bri named the band, and then he bailed. So that was weird, to continue with such a pungent name like that when the guy who came up with it wasn’t in the picture. On top of that, the music no longer reflected the name. You can’t be putting out these slow jams or these soulful songs with a name like that. Doesn’t make an ounce of sense. We still have tracks that people may find offensive in some way, or are darker or heavier than the others, but as a whole, the name did not reflect what we were about, and it wasn’t the type of name where you’re like, “oh well just live with it.” It was like, “well, we could change this and be able to potentially play outside of the states one day. Wouldn’t that be nice…”
BG: On the same hand I have to ask about your dreads. I have friends who have had dreadlocks and it was a very emotional experience to cut them off. What brought about the decision to get rid of them?
RH: It was time. Simple as that.
BG: You recently toured with Fall Out Boy, NK has quite a different sound from them. How did that tour come about? How were you received by the crowd?
RH: Patrick Stump new of our band through my buddy Will Noon. He’s always been great about supporting projects I’ve been a part of. He’s the one that made that tour happen. The crowds were surprisingly good to us. It didn’t hurt that Joe Trohman from FOB dug our shit and ended up joining us on stage for half our set every night. So we got the super cool guy co-sign.
BG: We recently had an interview with Ben from Dillinger Escape Plan where he let us know that they currently have a bunch of shows scheduled. With Billy being an active member of Dillinger is there any chance of NK shows in the near future?
RH: Yeah absolutely. We’re in the process of planning some stuff out now.
BG: I have followed a couple of your blogs and have to say I admire how open and well spoken you are with your opinions on multiple issues. As well as issues relating to the break up of EOTC. You have a strong presence yet you also seem to want be able to be out of the spotlight at the same time. Is that a hard balance to maintain?
RH: Thanks man. I really appreciate that, because I actually do have a weird relationship with social media. It’s weird. I find myself putting myself out there and then pulling back. I do that over and over again. I say something, and then I want to disappear. I admire a lot of people who are very, very active with the online presence (?uestlove, Bobby Hundreds) and then I also admire a lot of people who are very quiet on those fronts (most recently, James Blake). I fall somewhere in the middle I guess.
BG: Do you have any other projects you are working on at the moment?
RH: Yes. I’m working on more material as Quiett Dog, I’m about to begin scoring a film that I can’t say much about yet, I have a third project that’s in the baby stages which is with this dude Bronze out of Toronto who is CRAZY talented, and then I have some other secret shit I shouldn’t talk about.
BG: Lastly, where do you see or hope to see NK in a year or two from now? What is next on the horizon?
RH: It’s a really boring response, but I’d be content if we could continue making records and playing shows. We all want to project to be more active than it is right now. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to achieve that with everything going on in our individual worlds.