Since making their official debut in 2018, genre-bending band SURL has been crafting beautiful soundscapes that envelop listeners in warmth and comfort. The band was formed by high school friends Hoseung (vocals/guitar), Hanbin (bass), Myeongseok (drummer), and Doyeon (guitar), who all shared a deep passion for music. The band’s name is derived from the Korean word “설” [seol], which translates to “telling a story,” and carries their desire to candidly share their thoughts and feelings with the world through their music.
Their journey began with “Stay Here,” their debut title track from their 2018 compilation album, bright #7. After winning the grand prize at the 2018 Shinhan Card Rookie Project and the “Excellence Award” at EBS Hello Rookie with KOCCA, the band began etching themselves as “super rookies” of the K-indie scene. Most recently, the four-piece band participated in Mnet’s band survival program “Great Seoul Invasion,” where they ranked second place and garnered a growing fan following both domestically and abroad.
SURL’s music and growing popularity sent the band overseas, performing at festivals such as the Reeperbahn Festival in Germany and the Big Mountain Music Festival in Thailand. Just last year, the band was even invited to perform at the famed SXSW in Texas. Although they are no strangers to global stages, the band was both excited and nervous when they embarked on their first North American tour. “Actually, I was really worried before the tour,” Hoseung confessed to Kpopconcerts.com. “I had the experience of performing abroad, but it was my first time touring for a month, and I was worried about the distance and time. I was also worried about how many North American fans would come.” Named after their recently released first full-length album of us, the month-long review of us tour kicked off in April and brought the band across the United States and Canada.
On April 12, SURL arrived at the Lodge Room Highland Park in Los Angeles. The 400-person venue was nestled on the second story of a charming, historic building adorned with cherry wood paneling and paintings and even came with an attached restaurant and bar. Fans arrived early to snag their exclusive tour merch, leave messages on the city’s tour banner, and secure a decent spot on the standing-room-only venue. The crowd was filled with both longtime K-indie fans as well as casual listeners who came purely to be immersed in the good vibes that the artists offered.
Before SURL took the stage, the audience was treated to an opening set by indie pop artist, Kaz Moon. During his performance, the Brooklyn-based musician teased the audience with a laidback set filled with songs such as, “April Fools,” “Furious,” and “Annie just blocked me again.” His song “Twice” in particular drew a strong response after he confirmed it was named after the nine-member K-Pop group. His stage set the tone for the rest of the night as he soothed everyone with his calming music.
The dreamy single, “Cilla,” eased everyone into SURL’s headlining set. The first minute of the song welcomed listeners into their soundscape as the instruments slowly came together until reaching the climactic opening verse. The lyrics evoked the feeling of leaving your worries behind and enjoying what the night has to offer. The following track, “Dead Man,” which is about a person who falls into the mundane routine of a relationship, was filled with cheerful melodies that enticed fans to raise their hands and clap to the beat. Another highlight of the night included a moving performance of “Every Day,” a sonic metaphor about stepping forward into something new despite the past still chasing after you. Whether the concert was held in a small club or a larger venue, there’s a sense of intimacy and connection between the band and the audience that makes for a memorable and exciting experience.
“The response was hot!” Myeongseok reflected. “I think North American audiences are more active [than Korean audiences]. So, I think there were a lot of performances where I tried to play more exciting songs in cities with that kind of atmosphere!” Before the start of the tour, the band posted a Spotify playlist with 20 songs from their “expected setlist.” Not every song on the playlist was performed live, however, but that didn’t deter fans from hyping the band up and enjoying the night’s festivities. According to Myeongseok, the setlist’s framework was structured and organized with the concert venues’ atmosphere in mind. “The audience’s feeling of watching the performance was also very different from city to city, so we often put exciting songs at the end of the performance.” After giving their final farewell at their L.A. concert, SURL tapped into their rock n’ roll core by closing out with “Rope,” “9Subway,” “No Jam,” and “What Time Is It Now.” By the end of the set, the room buzzed with adrenaline as Hoseung took off his guitar and smashed it into pieces onstage, generating a chorus of screams and cheers from the audience.
Every new city and show brought new adventures and fun experiences for the band and quickly eased any remaining worries that they had. Hoseung clarified, “After a month, there were many more fun things than I was worried about, and I felt that it was shorter than I thought. Aside from music, I felt different cultures from Korea, so I think my perspective has widened, and I learned a lot. I was especially grateful to Kaz Moon, who was on tour with us, and I really want to meet him again.”
Being on the road for over a month can be taxing for any artist, so the bandmates ensured to find every opportunity to relax and unwind. When they weren’t rocking out on stage, they spent time exploring places of interest that each new city had to offer. Hoseung shared, “I think we took the time to relax by stopping by places like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and looking around and eating delicious food. I think the time we had for a while helped us recover our condition.”
Although they were on a tight schedule and couldn’t see everything, Hanbin thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “The most interesting part was that every time we moved to another state, each city had a different charm. So I felt a lot of new things every time I performed,” Hanbin commented.
The tour exposed the band to new cultures, unlike anything they have ever experienced in Korea. From the change in scenery to the newly forged friendships and thoughtful exchanges with fellow musicians Kaz Moon, The Smut, and Virutte, Hoseung found a burst of inspiration everywhere he looked. “I got to know more songs. It was a style that I hadn’t heard before I went to North America, and it was shocking.” As the members are now back in Korea, Hoseung is confident that these newfound experiences and memories will have a direct impact on their upcoming album.
Aside from their upcoming album plans, each member had his own goal for the remainder of 2023. Hoseung shared his desire to improve his English skills, “I personally thought that I wanted to study English more properly. I talked a lot with English speakers during this tour, but I think it would have been nice if I could speak my thoughts freely.”
“I want to have a healthy mindset,” said Doyeon, acknowledging the need to take care of himself for the band’s creativity to flow freely.
Myeongseok commented, “I personally want to plan various performances! I think a lot of audiences will feel good if they come to my performance!”
Lastly, Hanbin shared his hopes to travel again and create more memories along the way, “I want to go on a trip to more diverse countries, maybe because it was so nice after visiting North America.”
As the interview came to a close, Hoseung wanted to express the band’s heartfelt gratitude to all the fans they met on their month-long adventure across North America. “Hello, everyone! We came back to Korea safely! During the month of the tour, we were with many people for 13 performances, and thanks to you, we were able to cheer up without getting tired. I will never forget the moment when you sang with me in Korean. I’ll visit again next time, so see you then! Thank you!”
SURL’s love for music and storytelling is palpable throughout the band’s discography, and their live performances are a testament to their craft. Until next time, follow SURL on all of their social media platforms and continue to support them in their future endeavors!