When Yoodoo Park arrived in Queensland in early 2020, he wasn’t expecting to stay as long as he has. The year that ensued, of course, had other plans. To his credit, however, the Japan-born multi-instrumentalist better known as GRMLN has taken the experience in his stride.
“I have family on the Sunshine Coast, so I relocated from where I was living in Japan right before COVID hit,” says Park. “Luckily, moving here was probably the best out of anywhere in the world. I was considering moving back to America, but it just wasn’t the right timing. It’s ultimately felt like the best choice, given there’s live shows happening here. My friends in America probably wouldn’t be playing any shows for a while yet.”
Park is quick to note the geographical confusion surrounding the project: GRMLN’s Bandcamp says they’re an Australian act, yet Wikipedia lists them as a Southern Californian one. “I’m just all over the place,” he explains. Park is the sole songwriter, instrumentalist and producer behind GRMLN, which has made the transitions from country to country relatively easy.
“I have American and Japanese bands, and now have friends helping me out in Australia. As far as recording goes, I do everything myself. To me, that’s perfect,” he declares. “I don’t have to work with a fixed lineup, where I need someone to do guitar or something like that. That’s why it’s been able to continue for so long.”
GRMLN initially began releasing music in the early 2010s. Park came up with the moniker in high school, originally going by Gremlin before realising a Google search would immediately lead you to the ’80s movie. Rather than feed the mogwai after midnight, however, Park opted to simply remove the vowels.
His sun-kissed take on jangly garage rock captured on tracks like ‘Relax Yourself (Dolphin Cry)’ and ‘Summer Nights’ garnered attention from international blogs, and ultimately got Park signed to beloved indie label Carpark Records. Here he was, barely out of high school and freshly 18, calling then-basement-project upstarts Cloud Nothings and established indie darling Toro y Moi his label-mates.
Two albums and an EP on the label followed. Park also undertook extensive touring with peers like Yuck and Born Ruffians, as well as appearing at festivals such as South By South West. It was a learning curve for the young Park, who had barely performed live prior to his signing to Carpark.
“I was so naïve that I didn’t even realise that you could play the songs differently to how they were on record,” he says. “I was like, ‘OK, this is what I’ve recorded, this is exactly how we have to play it’.” At their first show in Los Angeles, he remembers, there was no-one in the crowd except for their press agent. “It took a lot of experimenting with different band line-ups and with how we sounded before we were able to become a bit more comfortable with the whole thing.”
GRMLN managed to get tracks like the urgent, rumbling ‘Teenage Rhythm’ and ‘Jaded’ featured on video game soundtracks (Forza Horizon 2) and TV shows like Shadowhunters and Difficult People. Park, however, quickly found himself burnt out. He parted ways with Carpark amicably and returned to college.
“I wasn’t really focusing on music when I released the second album,” Park says of 2014’s ‘Soon Away’. “I had started to become more hesitant when it came to my music. I went on a real journey of questioning all of it – like, ‘Am I allowed to release this? Am I not? What will people think of this?’ I’d become really skeptical.”
Park stresses that he is still on good terms with the label, and is ultimately thankful for the experience. “I still email with Todd [Hyman, Carpark founder] every now and then,” he says. “They definitely gave me a boost of credibility that meant a lot when I was young and starting out, but there’s now this mutual understanding that I’m doing my own thing.”
And doing his own thing means maintaining a streak of new music. Since 2017’s ‘Discovery’ – GRMLN’s first as an independent act – Park has released at least one new album every year. More often than not, there’s been two. “I’m at a point where I’m so independent with my releases,” he says. “If you’re on a label and release a few singles that people end up not liking, that’s another risk you’re taking. Not only does it reflect badly on you, it reflects badly on the label. That’s something I don’t have to worry about anymore. I can just release everything.”
“I don’t want to die not producing as much as I could have”
As if to prove a point, Park has released nine new GRMLN singles in 2021 alone – all of which will appear on the project’s 15th studio album, ‘Dark Music In The Sun’. That album, by the way, is coming out tomorrow, on a Tuesday – itself a rarity in the New Music Friday era. So, why release the lion’s share of an album before putting the whole thing out? “That just comes down to me being a bit psychotic,” Park confesses with a laugh.
“When I was living in Japan, I was feeling kind of stagnant – there was nothing really happening. By releasing singles the way I have been, I could feel like I’m putting something out there. I never want to feel like I’m missing out. I don’t want to die not producing as much as I could have. I want to make as much as I can while I’m alive.”
Across the multitude of GRMLN albums, the project has naturally progressed into new territory. On 2019’s ‘Is It Really That Strange?’, for instance, GRMLN embraces a robust post-punk sound comparable to Joy Division or Wire. Last year’s ‘Goodbye, World’, by contrast, calls upon brighter textures and a more polished indie-pop approach.
This prolific nature once again stems from Park’s time in Japan, where he would turn to working on GRMLN music whenever he had the opportunity. “I think I recorded three albums in one year,” Park recalls. “I had nothing else to do. I was teaching English in Japan. That was my only thing I had going – I would teach, go home and record. I had so many songs piled up, it got to the point where the amount I was releasing wasn’t catching up to how many songs I was making.”
‘Dark Music In The Sun’ is Park’s first new album that wasn’t part of said backlog – which ended in 2020 with the July release of defiantly upbeat and brisk ‘Morning Star’.
The album is notable for being Park’s first GRMLN album written and recorded on Australian soil. “I landed in January, and started recording in this little caravan,” Park says. “The main difference between recording the last few albums in Japan and here is that now I can make as much noise as I want.”
“When I was in Japan, I was recording in a really small apartment. You could hear people on the other side of the walls. That’s the reason why the last couple of records were a lot quieter and a lot softer. Here, I could be a bit more aggressive. I could sing a lot louder. Because I’m in the bush, there’s no-one to really say anything.”
“When it comes to the idea of having a home, there’s this whole feeling I don’t have”
Lyrically, on ‘Dark Music In The Sun’ Park reflects more on his spirituality and his personal identity as he enters his late 20s. “Even before COVID, I was a bit unhappy,” he says. “There’s no reason I should be unhappy, but when I write music it stems from this feeling of uncertainty. I’m a Korean man, born in Japan, that moved to America and is now living in Australia. When it comes to the idea of having a home, there’s this whole feeling I don’t have.”
It seems, though, that Park is beginning to make a home for himself here. He’s played some shows in Brisbane, including two sold-out shows with noisemakers VOIID to a great reception. “People have been really kind,” he says. And in April, he will headline Brisbane institution Ric’s and the Gold Coast’s premier punk venue Vinnie’s Dive in support of ‘Dark Music In The Sun’. Park hopes to play to other cities in Australia as soon as he’s logistically able.
“In Queensland, you still hear about COVID on the news and things like that,” he says. “It’s all still a bit uncertain, even though the cases are really low here. It just takes one case to ruin the whole music scene and industry. When the time’s right, though, I definitely would love to come down and tour as much as I can.”
GRMLN’s ‘Dark Music In The Sun’ is out March 30