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Local band celebrates release of debut album

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John Patrick Starling & Drownin' River perform at Cinder Bar in Songdo, Incheon, early this year. <br />/ Courtesy of Dave Bartlett
John Patrick Starling & Drownin' River perform at Cinder Bar in Songdo, Incheon, early this year.
/ Courtesy of Dave Bartlett

By John Redmond

Incheon-based band John Patrick Starling & Drownin' River, comprised of American and Korean musicians, released its debut CD "Tell My Boss I'm Dead" on local record label Ruby Records last week.

Formed in early winter of 2014, the lineup of the band includes songwriter John Patrick Starling from Baltimore on rhythm guitar and harmonica, Sojin Kaya Park on vocals and ukulele, South Carolina native Vincent Schachner playing lead guitar, Tim Henkels from Colorado on mandolin, Patrick Cho playing lead mandolin, Andy Yi on double bass, Alex Lim on dobro and Youngran Lim on banjo.

With a launch at Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival and a warm-up show at Cinder Bar on Songdo, band leader Starling spoke to The Korea Times about the record deal and his inspiration to form a band in Korea.

Q: What inspired you to form a band?

A: I'm a songwriter and lucky for me the folks that joined the band like the songs. I guess my inspiration falls into two categories: good times and hard times and I've had my share of both.

Q: Could you explain your sound?

A: Well, genre-wise we play original roots music, cutting across blues, country, bluegrass, rockabilly and folk ― and a couple of our songs bring some of those genre together... heading towards Americana. Soundwise I'd say "roughhewn" is a good way to describe us. The musicianship is solid.

We have one of the best double-bass players in the country and one of the best mandolin players anywhere. My voices are pretty raw and Sojin has that high mountain Appalachian sound, which is pretty awesome. We bring it all together though and Tim and I jokingly call it "Koreacana."

Q: How did the record deal come about?

A: The very first show I played in Korea was the summer of 2014 when I moved back here (I had lived here a long time ago). It was in front of a couple thousand people at the Incheon International Beer Festival's backstage and was (unknown to us until afterwards) broadcast on the radio to a lot of people. That night I met the owner of Ruby Records and we hit it off immediately.

We talked about doing something together but we both knew we weren't ready. Heck... at that time it was just me and Sojin anyway, but over the last two years we built a good band and he had been tracking our progress and reached out to us when we completed the first album "Tell My Boss I'm Dead."

Q: Do you find it difficult being in a band in Korea? (People leaving the country to work abroad, going home etc.)

A: We've been very lucky in that we've had roughly the same core group for going on two years. We haven't lost anyone due to relocation. Half of the members are Korean and the foreigners (including me) all like it here and we plan to be here for a while.

John Patrick Starling & Drownin' River will play at Cinder Bar Aug. 6 and at the Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival Aug. 13.

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