Van Gogh's Ear came to life in 1985 at Wesleyan University, an ivory tower of learning in Middletown, Connecticut. Frank Randall, Bob Ryu, and Mike Joo got the ball rolling early in 1985 when they recorded several songs on a four track recorder in a subterranean band room on campus. These primitive, yet memorable tunes included cover versions of "Surfer Joe", Aztec Camera's "Down the Dip", and the VGE's first original thrash rock song "Drivin' Down the Sidewalk of Your Love." GS Han, having returned from a year studying in Japan, joined the trio in the fall of 1985, and shortly thereafter the group became known as Van Gogh's Ear. Early influences were the Replacements, Husker Du, Soul Asylum, and other bands from Mike's hometown of Minneapolis.
If asked, Frank, Bob, and GS would certainly agree that being in Van Gogh's Ear (VGE) was the highlight of their senior year. Gigs can be recalled much more clearly than any classes or lectures. "We were friends first", recalls Bob when describing how well the group got along. In fact, as VGE matured, friendships grew much stronger. VGE began tentatively, playing predominantly cover songs to small audiences. But within half a year, VGE was performing original tunes such as "Overwhelming Stench" and "Let's Go to Sri Lanka" in the manner of a confident pop punk garage band, albeit still to small audiences. Brian Moore, a high school buddy of GS, joined VGE and helped to create a fuller sound.
After graduating in 1986, Van Gogh's Ear reunited periodically, but less often as the years passed. In the summer of 1987, VGE got together in a studio in Greenwich Village and recorded a number of songs, the best of which was Frank's "Lives of Kings", which depicts the raucous lifestyle of Brian Mulhern and Brian Moore in their NYC apartment. Frank, in fact, remained the most committed to honing his musical skills. While living in New York, he befriended fellow musicians Mark Lerner and Mark Donato, among others. Much later (in 2006), along with Wesleyan alum Chris Erikson, they would record the album the "Good Loser Club."
In 1988, Bob and GS were in graduate school in Cleveland and Chicago, respectively. Mike graduated from Wesleyan and pursued a career in the art world. Brian was living like a "king" in NYC. Frank, with Mike's encouragement, moved to the Twin Cities. Two years later, Frank would form the Sycamores with drummer Dave Downey. In the summer of 1989, Frank and GS travelled in Europe and wrote a number of songs (including "Way South" and "Cowboy Toast") which would eventually be recorded in the studio.
During the 1990s, Bob, Frank, and GS managed to reunite in Minneapolis (a few times), Cleveland, and Chicago, having fun and continuing to write and record original songs. Without drums, VGE's style turned to folk, pop, and mirth in the spirit of the Young Fresh Fellows and Jonathan Richman. Shortly before the new millenium, Bob, Frank, and GS met in Minneapolis and recorded original songs which would eventually be featured on VGE's CD, "Ono." The band was ably assisted by Mike Wisti (of the Rank Strangers) who recorded VGE in his Albatross Studio.
Since 2000, the musical reunions have been infrequent. In 2001, GS and Frank got together in the Third Ear Recording Studio in the Twin Cities and recorded a number of songs inspired by their Europe trip and GS's interest in Hawaiian music. In October 2005, Frank, Bob, and GS were joined by VGE-super-fan-turned-band-member Steve Kaback (keyboards, guitar) in the Third Ear Studio to record several old and new original VGE songs. Since that recording session, the members of VGE have been waiting for another reunion.
Over the years, Van Gogh's Ear has been very fortunate to record with such talented folk as Chris Erikson (guitar), Mike Wisti (guitar), Jon Duncan (keyboards), Karly Christensen (vocals), and "borrowed" Sycamores Heath Henjum (bass), Jim Johnson (pedal steel guitar), and especially drummer Dave Downey, who VGE has adopted as one of its own.
Over twenty years have passed and yet VGE manages to stay together. How can this be? For VGE it is simple; music and friendship are closely intertwined. In 1996, Frank sang at GS's wedding in Los Angeles. In 2002, Bob and GS returned the favor at Frank's wedding and jammed with the wedding band, Betty Drake. Though the simple college days have now been replaced by family life, birthday parties, and kids' sports, VGE's music still continues to reconfirm and strengthen friendships. Music is the spark for creativity and will always be a great reason for getting together.