The Pacific Citizen has a great feature/interview on the folk rock duo Oak & Gorski. The article delves into their lives before the band was formed, their tour experiences both nationally and internationally, raising money to record their Love Destroyer EP and more. I really found it to be a great read, especially as a fan of the group. Check it out by either heading over to the PC or finding it in full after the jump.
Oak and Gorski on a ‘Love Destroyer’ Adventure
The folk rock duo of Ken Oak and Ed Gorski go back to acoustic roots in their new album.
By Christine McFadden, Correspondent
Published January 10, 2011
When Ken Oak was eight years old, his elementary school teacher volunteered him for a position that would shape the rest of his life.
“I was in Houston, kind of in a bad neighborhood, and the school music teacher came to our classroom looking for a cello player,” Oak said in an interview with the Pacific Citizen. “She was putting an orchestra together, which is unusual for an elementary school.”
“My teacher recommended me because I was kind of your typical Asian student: I was good at math and spelling.” Oak, who is Korean American, was given a cello, and “that’s when it started.”
Oak was immediately drawn to the cello, eventually asking his stepmother for private lessons and showing the opposite behavior from his sister who stressed over piano practice.
Today, Oak is a “cello rock” and singing sensation, joined with guitarist Ed Gorski to make the folk-rock group Oak and Gorski (formerly the Ken Oak Band), traveling the nation and recently taking their music international.
They also performed in Chicago at the 2010 JACL national convention. Based in California, they’ve completed 10 national tours and had their song “Inda” from their debut album Symposium (2005) featured in the movie “She’s the Man” in 2006.
Bringing Cello Rock to Asia
On Nov. 1, Oak and Gorski returned from a tour in Asia, their first time touring outside of the United States. They spent one week in Singapore and two weeks in Japan.
“It was amazing,” he recalled. “We didn’t really know what to expect.”
Oak and Gorski’s host family in Japan had seen them play a few years back and had wanted to bring them to Japan.
“They set up some shows and just kind of brought people out to see us and the response was really good,” he said. So good, in fact, that Oak and Gorski recently decided to head back to Asia next month, this time extending their stay in Japan to three weeks. Following Asia, Oak and Gorski will return to tour in the U.S.
Oak says that a definite goal of Oak and Gorski is to continue taking their music to an international level, citing Europe and Australia as places they want to go.
On their tour in Japan, Oak and Gorski struggled at first. Armed with large suitcases and his cello fly case, Oak and Gorski chose to maneuver the subways rather than call a cab to the hotel.
“We didn’t really know what we were doing we were just going through all the subways with all this luggage going up and down the stairs and it was just way harder than it should’ve been,” he remembered. “Japan, Tokyo especially, is just super dense — walking around the city, it’s just the sheer number of people; it’s just something we weren’t used to.”
At the Shinjuku Station, the busiest train station in the world located in Tokyo, Oak and Gorski saw street performers that inspired them to potentially take up a different venue in the future.
“That’s something we were thinking about trying out too: performing on the street, getting permits, and just seeing how people respond to that.”
When asked about how difficult traveling with a cello is, Oak responded that he’s only had to purchase a separate seat ticket for his cello one time — for all other times, he uses his fly case which wraps around his cello case.
“It’s not the safest way to go but it’s definitely a lot cheaper. We just can’t afford the extra seat.”
The Love Destroyer Campaign
Oak and Gorski released their fourth album, “Love Destroyer”, on Dec. 14. So far, Oak says that the reaction has been good overall.
“Most of them [the reviews] have been favorable and also among fans — I think people that have been following us, most of them are pretty attached to kind of the more acoustic sound of our first two albums and so our last one [before Love Destroyer] was kind of a departure and more of a return to the earlier sound and people like that a lot.”
In order to raise money for the album, Oak and Gorski used Kickstarter, an online funding platform for artists.
“We recorded the album but we needed money to help us promote it, to give it a proper push and get it out there,” said Oak, citing funds needed for a press campaign, college radio campaign, pressing CDs and a music video, which all totaled approximately $10,000.
After seeing several friends start similar campaigns, they decided to launch their own, setting the target at $10,000 and targeting a timeline of one month. After spreading the word through Facebook and email, they ultimately raised $13,368.
“It was really actually pretty surprising,” Oak said. “We were worried that we weren’t going to hit it because if you don’t hit your goal you don’t get any money. The support was pretty overwhelming and we surpassed it by quite a bit.”
Utilizing another feature on Kickstarter, Oak and Gorski placed high priced items for fans to purchase if they pledged enough money. Among the items were Oak’s high school cello, four personal cello lessons from Oak, and for Gorski to shave his head and donate his hair to charity.
“It’s all tiered, so people that want to just pledge very little, they can,” said Oak. “But then they encourage you to put higher pledges in just in case people have a lot of money and want to do something crazy.”
“It was about $1,200 for Ed to shave his head, which was his idea. He was like, ‘Yeah, you know, I’ll shave my head, give my hair to charity,’ but after we put it up he was really afraid that people would do it,” Oak said. “He didn’t want to cut his hair. I guess luckily for him no one did pledge that.”
Oak’s cello was priced at $10,000, set as the highest price item.
“The cello’s not worth that much, but it was a fundraising campaign so things were overpriced,” he said. “I really figured that if someone did buy it, then I have enough money to buy another cello and put quite a bit of money toward the campaign.”
Oak predicts that they may use Kickstarter again in the future.
“We’d like to,” he said. “I don’t know how many times in a career a band can do this because after a while fans are like, ‘we gave you money last time, aren’t you famous now?’ But I think we might try it for the next one. We’ll see.”
Picking Cello Over the Courtroom
Among Oak’s current favorite artists are Augustana, Pomplamoose, Lissie, Mumford and Sons, and Ra Ra Riot, drawn to the latter in part due to their similar use of string instruments (players cellist Alexandra Lawn and violinist Rebecca Zeller are in the band).
Despite growing up with different musical backgrounds, with Gorski listening to punk music in Pittsburgh and Oak growing up with new wave, electronic music in Houston and later Michigan, he believes they have similar tastes overall. Recently, when they traveled to Nashville to record “Love Destroyer”, both were drawn to country music. Oak attributes acoustic music as what initially drew them to each other.
“When we come together, our backgrounds are pretty diverse but we still have a lot in common,” he said. Together, their ideal artist to open for is Ryan Adams. “Opening a show for him would kind of be a dream come true for us.”
Despite releasing an album last month, Oak and Gorski are currently still writing, this time for the next album.
“We’re always listening to songs,” he said. “Songwriting is such a big part of what we do, so we’re always just kind of listening to see what works and see which songs are popular and why. And also just like the sound that people have, like Mumford and Sons — it’s so acoustic — it all sounds live in recordings, which we both really like.”
Despite being constantly surrounded by music, Oak laughs that he didn’t always think that music was going to be his profession.
“I think at some point in high school I did think it would be really awesome to play for a living but I didn’t really see it as like a viable reality,” he recalled. “When I got to college, my dad actually let me study music but it was under the condition that I would go to law school afterwards.”
Oak majored in music at the University of Southern California and subsequently applied to “a ton” of law schools. But after getting into a number of schools — including New York University School of Law — Oak decided not to go.
“It was a tough decision because it was such a good school,” Oak said. “My dad was just like, ‘you’d be crazy not to go; I would have killed to go to that school.’”
However, Oak has rarely looked back.
“I don’t think I would’ve been happy,” he said. “I can just picture myself in an office doing work. But I just think I would’ve been thinking the ‘what if’ about music a lot more than vice versa.”
“It’s not easy,” he continued. “It’s not like making money is really easy, no big deal. But we’re doing what we love and we’re able to keep making new music, which we’re thankful for.”