The American Symphony of Seoul, winner of Battle of the Bands, is fresh off their Spring Fling performance from this past weekend. A reward for getting first place, ASS (as they like to be abbreviated) was given the opportunity to open for RJD2 and The Roots and perform in front of hundreds of Tufts students.
Her Campus sat down with the band to discuss their big performance, the origins of their name, and the inspiration behind their music. Having a conversation with the American Symphony of Seoul can be a bit daunting – composed of 12 members (4 singers, 4 horns, and 4 rhythm sections), we assumed it would be difficult organizing a meeting, and even more difficult for them to organize a whole hour length performance for Spring Fling. But meeting with the band was surprisingly simple, and ASS clearly enjoys a cohesiveness that is rare for a group so large. We spoke with 7 of the 12 members about their experiences being part of the band: Eleni Arapoglou (vocals), Dan Fortunato (drums), Nate Kerbin (trumpet), Andrew Kluger (vocals), Zach Meyer (baritone saxophone), Andrew Summerfield (alto saxophone), and the youngest member at only 17, Louie Zong (keyboard).
When asked about their name “American Symphony of Seoul” the members explain that they were required to come up with a name for Battle of the Bands, and were forced to act rather quickly. They began brainstorming on the wall of their Facebook group, basing their discussion on the premise that the name should at least have “America” in it. “I’ve always believed that when you create a name for a group, you should make it sound like there are as many people as possible,” says Senior Andrew Kluger, although in this case, ASS really does have the numbers to back up their name. When asked about ‘Seoul,’ they explain that it was mostly just a pun on ‘Soul.’ “We should really make up a funnier story for it,” Kluger jokes, “so this one time, we were touring in Korea…”
When asked about how they managed to form such a large, successful group, they explain that the majority of them were already members in the Tufts Jazz orchestra as well as in Joel LaRue Smith’s smaller jazz ensemble. They proceeded to begin their own Jazz ensemble two semesters ago. Although they mostly do covers, the band has written a number of original songs including “Galapagos Island” (started by Alex Mijailovic, additional music added by the band), “Sunshine and Candi” (started by Kluger, Zong, and Fortunato), and “Dada dada da” (started by Summerfield and Kerbin). For the covers, Arapoglou assures that “we play around a lot with the form of songs. When we do a cover, we make sure to put our own twist on it.” Their most successful covers include “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, “Fu*k You” by Cee-Lo Green, and “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley. They cite Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Soulive, and Joel LaRue Smith, director of the Tufts Jazz Orchestra and Music professor, as influences for their music. Smith has been a significant part of American Symphony of Seoul, going as far as to help with arranging their music.
As far as their performance at Spring Fling, the members of The American Symphony of Seoul sound happy and enthusiastic about their show. “The crowd was incredibly receptive,” says Kluger, “it was fun having a hundred people scream ‘Fu*k you’ to me when we sang Cee-Lo Green.”
“The sound equipment was great. It’s rare to have professional sound people micing a college band.” Fortunato adds.
“We were playing to a big audience, but a lot of them were our friends, and familiar faces.” says Arapoglou, “It’s very hard to be able to bring them all to our smaller shows, but everyone was able to go to this. It was a great experience to have before we graduate. It’s very moving to finally have a chance to perform for all these people who weren’t necessarily interested in the jazz scene before.”
As far as the future of American Symphony of Seoul, matters have yet to be decided. 5 of the members will be graduating in the next few weeks, and heading off in their own separate directions. “We’re trying to squeeze as much physical fun out of the band before we disband,” says Kluger.
Information on upcoming shows and updates on the band can be found on their facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-American-Symphony-of-Seoul/160371820686952?sk=wall&filter=2
To download a 5-track album, click below:
Although we were only able to talk with 7 of the members, the full group is listed below:
Andrew Kluger – vox
Eleni Arapoglou – vox
Andrew Summerfield – alto sax
Zach Meyer – bari sax
Joe Gummer – tenor sax
Nate Kerbin – trumpet
Alex Mijailovic – guitar
Chris Albano – bass
Louie Zong – piano/keyboards
Dan Fortunato – drums/percussion
Juan Carlos – backup vox/percussion
Hyomi Carty – backup vox
Photo of Eleni Arapoglou by Justin McCallum