New EP a Collaboration between Seoul and LA
By Hollin Jones
Love X Stereo are Toby Hwang and Annie Ko, a Seoul-based songwriting and production duo who started as punk rockers and graduated to lush electronic pop. Following the release of their EP “ÄNɎƏŊ” in collaboration with LA vocalist Da1sy Døøm, they shared their thoughts on songwriting, production and blending the real and the virtual.
What are your backgrounds in music, and how did you meet?
Annie Ko: Toby was a first-generation punk rock kid in the ’90s so he started music in high school. He was in a band called 18 Cruk, one of the first Korean punk bands. I was supposed to be an R’n’B singer in the early 2000s but unfortunately because of Napster and the issues with the music industry around that time, nobody wanted to invest in new artists. So I was dropped from my contract but actually that ended up being quite fortunate. We had some of the same acquaintances and we met through them, in 2005.
How does your creative partnership work, in terms of who does what?
Toby Hwang: Usually I will come up with a beat and then work up a series of jams and ideas around that. We listen to a lot of guitar and synthesizer sounds so if we find something special, that’s how we start a song. Annie tends to do the lyrics, songwriting, vocals and synths. I do the recording, producing, mixing and also some synths and guitars.
Do you work more in-the-box or do you favor hardware for making your sounds?
TH: We use a lot of real instruments, hardware synths and guitars. We tend not to like software synths as much, though sometimes we’ll turn to them if there’s a sound we need that we don’t have. But on the whole, we feel like real instruments just have a warmer and more authentic sound.
Did you have a breakthrough track or moment that you feel kickstarted your careers in music?
AK: There were two big moments. When we met we were still in punk rock bands, then around 2010 we went to Tokyo and saw a band that kind of were like two bands. They did one show, then came back out and did another show in a completely different style. And that was an inspiration for us to change what we were doing — punk rock felt like it was dying at that time and we’d become quite stale. We started Love X Stereo in 2011 wanting to do something new and experimental.
Then the other event was our album “We Love We Leave, Part 2” where we collaborated with a producer from London called Adrian Hall. The sound he helped us to create was exactly the kind of sound we had imagined for ourselves, and we realized that we had been right in our thinking, but up until that point we just hadn’t met the right people to help us get there. When he was mixing our stuff, it just kept getting better and better.
We’ve continued to work with him, he's actually done the Dolby Atmos mixes of our new singles. We worked with our producer J-Path on the tracks but sent the stems to London for Atmos mixing. In the early 2010s we weren’t really finding what we needed in terms of the people we were working with in Korea so after some experience, now we outsource a lot of it to London and other places, and that helped us a lot.
How did the idea for the new EP come about?
AK: Da1sy Døøm, whose real name is Mindy Song, was in a band called Night Dreamer with the Smashing Pumpkins’ guitarist Jeff Schroeder, and we heard they were coming to Seoul to play a show and wanted us to open for them, in 2019. Then Covid intervened, but in 2021 she contacted me out of the blue asking if we wanted to collaborate. We’d actually written a track — it’s the second one on the album, " 자각몽 Lucid / Dreams " — that I thought would be perfect, and we spent some time bouncing lyrics back and forth.
How did you manage the distance between Seoul and LA?
AK: Some of it was done by sending files back and forth but she did actually come to Seoul last year and we recorded the vocals for the first track here. And also the music video, we recorded in both locations and put them both into the finished product.
Both you and your producer work in Cubase — does your love of hardware instruments also extend to outboard effects?
TH: I started using Cubase in 2007, with version SX3! For effects I have a bunch of guitar pedals and other processors that I use to get the sounds. For mixing I use the plug-ins built into Cubase, its EQs and the other mixing tools. I usually don’t have to look to any third-party plug-ins.
Are there any particular features of Cubase that really make your life easier, that you couldn’t live without?
TH: I really like its time-stretching abilities and I’m a big fan of the new equalizers and the beat sync function. And the MIDI is the best! Also I have been using Cubase for ever so it’s just so familiar to me, I’ve tried using other DAWs but didn’t find them as intuitive. I find automation and MIDI editing really convenient in Cubase, for the way I work. Actually when we toured around the US and Europe, we had all our synths hooked into Cubase so we also used it as a live set DAW.
I really like its time-stretching abilities and I’m a big fan of the new equalizers and the beat sync function. And the MIDI is the best!
Aside from the new EP, do you have any other projects you can tell us about?
AK: We have been selected to perform at MU:CON this year which is a government-funded showcase festival. We’ve done it before but we’re happy to be selected again. And we are looking forward to getting back to traveling — we don’t really have that many Korean lyrics so we like to try to perform at some more international festivals, maybe even with Da1sy Døøm if we can.