My Soapbox: Eddy Kwon of The Happy Maladies

The Happy Maladies make music with diverse influences peppered throughout each song so subtly it makes you struggle to define their sound without serious pontification. At first glance of the quartet before a string has plucked, one would expect The Happy Maladies to be some newfangled Bluegrass band, judging by their acoustic instrumental lineup, but that doesn't even come close to capturing their sound.

All the members are professionally trained musicians from the University of Cincinnati's College Conservatory of Music. They seemlessly integrate Classical movements with jazzy runs and choir-grade harmonizing, without sounding like it's been rehearsed to the point of exhaustion.

Six years as a band has given The Happy Maladies time to understand what works without losing their spontanaeity. Eddy Kwon, the band's violinist and vocalist, spoke with Soapbox Media about the band's current endeavors to support their new LP and collaborative project, "Must Love Cats."

Your new LP, comprised of two years worth of material, will be recorded at Sputnik Sound in Nashville. What is the LP titled? 
Tragically and comically, we are terrible with names. So, at the moment, the LP is nameless. In fact, of the songs that will be on the new record, half of them have names like "New Song," "Old Song" and "Old New Song." Which is maybe a step up from our last record, which was mostly "Seinfeld" references.
Is this the band's first time recording an album outside of Ohio? 
Yes, this will be our first serious, large-scale recording endeavor out of state. We recorded a live album at Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago earlier this year (which is available as an exclusive Kickstarter reward) and have done smaller recording projects here and there, but nothing this fancy.
What drew you to Ed Spear at Sputnik Sound? 
We met Ed a few years ago on tour in Nashville, and he was immediately very enthusiastic about our music, brimming with ideas and energy. He's also worked closely with our friends Humming House, and they have nothing but wonderful things to say about his work and his person. Understandably, we're very excited to work with him. It's also very inspiring and energizing to record in a different city, away from what we know. I think it inspires a kind of survival mode, and we'll be able to focus in a new way.
"Must Love Cats" is basically a call to composers for original scores to be played by The Happy Maladies. How many submissions have you received so far? Are there any particularly intriguing entries you'd like to mention? 
We've been so happy with the response to Must Love Cats. The submissions range from acoustic grindcore, to performance art, to historical dramas. … We've received about 10 pieces, with a couple months to go before the deadline. So far, it's been the most exciting thing to talk to young composers about the project. Some have been very inspired to write out of their comfort zone, which is very inspiring to us. 

Do you have any tips for aspiring songwriters that will guarantee preference over the competition—genres you'd rather not touch, etc.?
The only songs we will not touch are the ones that were originally written for another band, or an existing song that was minimally adapted. We're most excited by brand new compositions with a unique artistic vision, and also something that challenges us in a new way. We try to not be genre-biased—of course we each have our own tastes, but far more important is the quality of the work. We want to encourage composers to confidently express their individuality, and we want to be a vessel for their work.
Who are you considering to handle the band's PR when that time comes? 
Presently, we're still doing our research and talking to as many people as we can. PR can be a rabbit hole, so we're trying our best to get educated before jumping in. We have some strong leads and recommendations from trusted friends, but we'll have to be 100 percent confident and comfortable before signing on with anyone. Then again, I'm not sure anyone would want us on their roster, so maybe we'll have to take what we can get.
How many copies of the "new again" EP were in the first run? Any indication of how many will be pressed next time?
The first pressing was for 500, and the next will be the same. 500 is a good, ambitious number for us. We pressed 1,000 copies of our very first album, "Sun Shines The Little Children," and we're still trying to get rid of them! Just when we think we're done with them, we'll find a full box in our basement. We're convinced they are just materializing.
The Happy Maladies is a band that's had time to experiment with its sound. How would you describe your newest work?
I've noticed that as we get older and dig deeper into our music, we become less tolerant of musical excess. We're constantly taking out, removing, playing less, playing more intentionally and intensely. In the past, we had a lot of angst that manifested itself in noiser, disjointed, more chaotic music. We like to think we still have the memory of that punk energy in our bones, but that raw, physical energy is now being channeled more efficiently into a more colorful musical language. We still play with intensity, but the ideas are more streamlined, the songs more focused and direct. 
I think there is so much pressure for bands—particularly young bands—to have a "sound." Everything has to be immediately packaged, presentable, digestible. Even worse, the more popular you get, the more you're expected to have a "look" too. But to get to the real stuff takes time, it's the result of a serious commitment to the people you're working with, and that kind of musical lifestyle doesn't get too much mainstream support. That's why we've always been so grateful for the people who've encouraged us to keep exploring, to keep fermenting. … Now, because of the consistent support from our community, we feel secure enough to challenge our musical identity, to take risks and take on ambitious projects.
Is there anything we really, really need to know about what the band is up to?
Probably not. 
There are lots of projects we'd like to do, given the time and resources, one being a record of string quartet arrangements. We've been very inspired working on the Bartok quartet (the fourth movement from Quartet No. 4 will be on the LP) and are excited to dig into more amazing music (Rite of Spring …). 
We'd also like to collaborate with a video artist to make a music video. If you are reading this and you're interested, please get in touch!

Interview by Sean M. Peters
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