Being an outcast is never easy to deal with. Whether you’re the odd one out in your family or at work, but this is especially true when you’re in those fragile years when you’re a mere teenager.
JUNE dARK was a metal loving teen in Korea when that music was more than looked down upon, it was downright banned. With classmates not getting her and making life less than great to deal with she quit school, packed her bags and left. Brave is an understatement and over the course of the next few years she set goals, achieved them and continued to do so whether it was learning a new language, starting a band or going solo – where her journey is today. Come September 2 she’ll drop her debut EP, Playing with Fire, and she sat down with Coming Up to talk about the album, leaving home so young and more….
Kendra: Growing up, school was not easy for you. Do you think you would be the artist you are today if you had grown up in a more accepting school setting?
JUNE dARK: I wonder what would have happened if I was taught in an environment that encouraged individuality and creativity. I think I would have done the same thing that I’m doing today, but with more ease – less perfectionism, self-criticism, and doubt. It was absurd that even art classes graded students with numbers and letters. That kind of system is too limiting and can’t teach us how to appreciate art for its true value.
Kendra: Your music is said to “empower the meek” Is that because of the things you faced in your teens?
JUNE dARK: I think empowerment starts from the willingness to know and own every aspect of ourselves, including the sides we don’t want to accept. For example, I had a vulnerability and shame issue that made me incredibly defensive against some people until my early 20’s. I couldn’t even take little jokes if I deemed they were ignorant to who I was or what I’m trying to be. Nobody was supposed to “mess with me,” because I worked so hard to preserve my identity as a creative individual. Through a lot of self-work, I realized how fragile my ego has been, and that I was standing in my way of connecting with others. I was afraid of feeling shameful like my teenage days when kids told me I was unattractive and nothing special. When I was younger, I didn’t know how to shield myself from others’ projections, so I absorbed all of it and took it to heart.
I wish all schools had art therapy and counseling sessions as a part of the curriculum. Since I don’t know when or if that will ever happen, I’m going to keep spreading words about the value of art-making, self-expression, and creativity as a way of life, healing, and self-growth. My lyrics don’t necessarily say “Empower yourselves!” because preaching is the last thing I want to do especially when writing songs. Instead, I’d like to suggest and hope that the very act of creating and sharing despite what I went through can serve as an inspiration to others who would like to do the same.
Kendra: When you decided to leave school and head to the states, how scared were you to begin this new chapter in your life by yourself?
JUNE dARK: I still can’t believe I left Korea when I was 17! Before I came to the States, I lived in Canada briefly to attend a language school. I couldn’t even order food without pointing at photos on the menu for at least a year. Everything was way out of my comfort zone, and my sensitive nature certainly didn’t help adapt to the new environment. I didn’t tell anyone about this, but one night I came home and bawled alone for hours on the floor while holding photos of my family and dog in Korea. But I didn’t quit. I went to a college in the States and graduated magna cum laude. I started the band of my dreams, and toured all over the States. And I’m still here, doing my thing.
Kendra: Some years later, what was the big life lesson that came from that move?
JUNE dARK: There’s nothing I can’t do if I dedicate myself long enough. At the same time, I learned that I shouldn’t expect a specific outcome because that would be setting myself up for disappointment. Things didn’t always turn out the way I expected here, but wouldn’t life be kind of boring if everything happened in ways we imagined? Unless you’re talking about riding a dragon to work or something – that would never get old.
Kendra: When you first started out in music in the US you were the lead singer of a metal band. What bands did you secretly get your hands on growing up that would go on to influence you musically in that way?
JUNE dARK: My taste in music took strange turns throughout my teenage years. No wonder kids thought I was the devil. When I was 12, I saw a Korean rocker on TV and madly fell in love with his music. I listened to the bands he recommended in interviews; Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Judas Priest, etc. Then, I got my hands on J-rock which was banned in Korea at that time due to political reasons. I obtained bootlegs or original CDs through dubious connections I made through pen palling and at local shows. Next, I got into some goth metal (i.e. Theatre of Tragedy), black metal (Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Arcturus, etc.) and then finally progressive metal (Dream Theater). When I was in a music school in LA, I walked up to a guitarist I had been eyeing and suggested we form a “symphonic goth metal band.” I’ll never forget the dumbfounded look on his face when I said that. That’s how Clandestine started. Although it didn’t turn out to be “symphonic goth metal” like I imagined, I’m happy to know that a lot of progressive metal fans loved our 2011 album, The Invalid.
Kendra: The next single fans will get from you is “Gasoline Tears.” When that song was coming to life, where were you out in your life personally? Did that play a part in the creation of this track at all?
JUNE dARK: The song’s about feeling emotions that are so intense that you feel like you’re about to explode. Someone in my past told me that he could never figure out what I was feeling. The more emotions he expressed, the more I froze, not because I didn’t feel anything but I didn’t know what to do with all the intense feelings that bubbled up inside. I felt like if I shed one drop of tear in front of him, I might have a spontaneous combustion. While ruminating about that experience, I imagined maybe my tears are made of gasoline, and I’m just afraid of burning everything down. Then I wrote down the title, “Gasoline Tears,” on my notepad.
Kendra: Pretty soon you’ll drop your EP, Playing with Fire. Judging from your past and the title – it’s obvious you’re not one to play is safe. Other than heading to the US on your own, what’s the most riskiest thing you’ve done to date?
JUNE dARK: Five years ago, I adopted a so-called “problem horse.” Her owner said she has a trust issue and might have been abused in the past. She trembled in fear when people tried to touch her. What a mess she was! But there was something special about her, and I wanted her to feel safe with me. We did great together for a while, but three years ago, she spooked when I was off-guard. I fell off her and hurt my back quite badly. I couldn’t ride for a year, but eventually got back in the saddle (literally). Horse care is a lot of work. It can be dangerous and surely keeps my wallet light. But in return, she gives me 800 pounds of love.
Kendra: Other than dropping the record, what else can we expect from you this fall?
JUNE dARK: Besides working on new music, I’m going to keep communicating with listeners through social media and my website junedark.com about music, creativity, love, or anything that matters in our lives. I’m going to work on more personal blog posts to share my stories and insights, hoping they will reach people in need of inspirations.
Kendra: Going back to your metal roots, are there any up and coming metal bands you’ve been listening to that you can share with our readers?
JUNE dARK: Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to research up and coming bands these days. The most recent metal band I’ve listened to was Ghost which I think is great, and Arcturus’s reunion album that came out last year was really cool. It amazed me how they kept the integrity of their sounds all these years while experimenting with a more modern approach.