Sally Kang from Run River North on Growing Up in an Asian Household, How Her Band Is Her Support System, and...Farts?
The opal club x SXSW
The Asian American Community has only recently begun to receive recognition in the entertainment industry as more than just a stereotype. Women such as Lana Condor and Constance Wu have been dominating the cinema field as female Asian leading ladies, while JinJoo Lee, and Hayley Kiyoko have been dominating the music industry, diversifying the world’s image of entertainment and paving the way for smaller Asian female artists, such as Sally Kang, the Leo lead singer, pianist, and only female in Folk-Rock band, Run River North.
Raised in the Valley, Sally Kang grew up in a traditional Korean household, and felt that her main goal as a woman was to be submissive. She was taught that a perfect woman was being able to “honor being quiet and not question authority. Not in a way of screw everyone, but just not asking questions and doing as you are told. You have to live quietly.” She felt that she never had a voice growing up, being told that she has to respect and listen to those who are older than her. This subconscious mindset of trying to be what Korean tradition defines as a “good kid” translated into her career, where she found herself acting this way during disputes with the band.
“You're putting yourself out there, which is totally the opposite of what society wants a woman to be doing. I think there's a lot of Korean authors I've been reading that really reference a lot of their childhoods feeling misunderstood or broken within that. I just want to be me, but you see it as i'm a bad person.”
Kang found herself constantly lost trying to find herself, until she joined the band on a whim in college, mainly thanks to her Korean heritage. “The Valley is kind of small, especially if you're Korean. We all kind of knew each other.” The band helped her tap into her creative side and express herself in a way she never thought she was allowed to before.
However, with the action of breaking barriers comes with lots of criticism. For Kang, it was very easy for the critics to get to her head in the beginning, especially if it came from someone she respected. Her trick, however, to deal with this is rooted in a strong support system. “You would go crazy going through that alone.” She continues to praise her current bandmates for always encouraging her to do as she wants, and not listen to others who are trying to put her in a box of constraints of what society wants. “In the beginning of the band I felt a lot of the times different people would say ‘you shouldn't do that, it makes us look stupid’ to things I did. Being wide-eyed and not knowing what I was getting myself into, I just agreed. It wasn't until a few years ago when I was voicing these comments to Alex and Daniel when they were like ‘What who said that to you?’ ‘Do you, if you want to dance around do it!" I was like ‘You are right! Why am i holding onto these memories?’”
Her bandmates, though they are men, respect the fact that she can express her femininity and be comfortable with who she is. She finds herself with many opportunities to put her own creativity into their music, and instead of putting her down, or making her feel inferior, they actually encourage her to express herself more and more. “I just sat there and came up with a whole verse by myself and the guys were like "Okay why don't you try singing it." And that was the point where for me I thought I don't have to just be the girl in the band that harmonizes.” It’s refreshing seeing men stand up for women, making them feel like they belong and are an asset to their success, rather than just standing and looking pretty.
“You need to put on armour to push yourself forward, but luckily I have the armour of my band. We discuss and protect each other.”
Kang and Run River North have definitely evolved since their early days as Monsters Calling Home, recording their song “Run Or Hide” in the back of a Honda. Their music is the perfect soundtrack to the best road trip vlog of all time. Another must-listen is their cover of Mr. Brightside, which gives the indie-rock anthem a melancholy new perspective, perfect for those days when you just want to cry to your favorite banger. Their latest single Rearview gives a new take on a love that once was that you’re chasing but you can no longer catch up to. Sally’s verse, and echoing chorus illuminates her smooth, soothing voice in contrast to her bandmate, Alex Hwang’s powerful voice in the introduction.
Guilty pleasure music
For me, it has to be, in middle school I really loved evanescence. I was one of those girls who would put on a cd in my boombox, turn off the lights, close the door and bust it up to max and just lay there. amy lee would sing me to sleep. My sister would say "are you okay?" and I would just say "this is my time. I have a lot to process. These middle school classes and teachers just don't speak to me like Amy does" is what was going through my head.
On her dream superpower:
I've been really thinking about this and talking about it with the band, they don't understand, but for me my super power would be to fart really loudly and let it out but only being able to hear and smell it for myself. So it wouldn't affect anyone except me. Being invisible and stopping time, flying, have so many potential conflicts and take out the spontaneity of life. You won't get to go on road trips or figure out what a person is thinking of you. You don't need to know everything you know. My superpower would just be purely for my own self. The guys in the band just lay it all out there and I don't know if I could do that. The guys were like I don't know if that's a good answer but I'm going to stick to it I'm really passionate about this.
On her idols:
Musically I really felt like Romy from the XX and Alison from The Kills. She did a lot of stuff with Jack White, she's just a badass signer. she doesn't need to play anything she just really takes the mic. her fashion sense, whenever i see her hair is a different color i think maybe I should change mine. its so big and she just doesn't care, and i'll think maybe i just shouldn't brush my hair today. Romy is so soft seeming but can capture a crowd, that really spoke to me. I can really see myself in that.
On her first recorded song:
We recorded in Seattle with Phil Epp who did Fleet Foxes. At that point we had just signed with network and they asked us for a list of dream producers, so we decided to shoot for the stars and we got the phone call. We were so shocked when we got the phone call like, "You know us? You like our songs?" and Phil was like yeah come up to Seattle and we drove up in a van.
On her favorite music:
I'm into all music. I'm realizing more and more I’m not just into indie and alternative. I love country, pop, I'm learning to appreciate the simplicity of country music and it’s strong melodies that get stuck in your head.
On the perfect woman:
The perfect woman for me is my mom. I totally am a mini version of her where I'm learning more and more that I am my mom. She can totally buckle down and get down to business, but she's so goofy and cutesy and weird. Sometimes I'm like wow are you my mom? I identify with her so much. I want to be like her. I get it done but I can also let myself be.
On the audience she’s writing for:
For me personally, I'm always writing to myself. In the band everyone's style is so different. I'm a big feeler, I feel a lot emotionally. I'm always tapping into a memory or a feeling, or a specific setting. I always want to say things to myself.
Alex can talk and make such detailed story lines that i'm like "how did your mind get there" but I think we can balance each other. He's so good at wordplay and clever references but I just write about how I feel. We balance out and our writing is both our styles melded together. Daniel is just good at everything production wise, playing every instrument. He's the musician.
On high school:
In high school I was a butterfly, in terms of I was trying to go everywhere flying from group to group and not knowing what I liked or how I wanted to be perceived. I was trying to adapt. That process was very draining. I am different now. I know what I like now. I like to read fiction. Right now I'm doing a challenge where I'm trying to read non-fiction. My sister is a vegetarian and she told me to read The Omnivore's dilemma, so I'm trying to read that. I'm a huge Murakami reader. I just read his latest book, it was so good. Every book I have a deep sigh, and think I don't know if I'll get this experience again. Every chapter was another sigh. It can seem traditional but have some out of the box moments.
On advice to her younger self:
I think I would say "you're fine the way you are" whatever part of 16 I was trying to think about where I was during high school. I went to Korea the first time and I was really upset I couldn't do anything I wanted and was really selfish and felt so bored. But in that time of feeling things, I would tell myself it's ok to feel things instead of flying around looking to fit in. When you're in a place just stay there and feel it.