If you think K-pop and think all singing all dancing big budget with bells on, you’d be… well, you’d be right, but that’s not all the genre has to offer.
Enter DAY6, the indie kings of K Town, who’ve always stood out among their label mates for writing and composing all of their own music, and favouring playing their instruments on stage over tightly choreographed dance routines. They’re signed to JYP, a Korean entertainment company, also home to Korea’s favourite girl group TWICE, multi-talented Wembley conquerors GOT7, and fast-rising young ‘ens Stray Kids and ITZY, meaning DAY6 get all the fun of the K-pop fair without losing their own artistic freedom.
When Dork meets vocalist and guitarist Jae, and vocalist and bassist Young K – remaining members Sungjin (vocals/guitar), Wonpil (vocals/keyboards), and Dowoon (drums) are getting ready for show time – it’s the day of their massive Brixton Academy show, about an hour before they go on, to be precise. Judging by our slot, they’re extremely busy boys.
It’s not their first time over here, in fact it’s almost exactly a year since they last played London, previously packing out the Kentish Town Forum.
“We’ve definitely taken a step to become a little bit more live music orientated,” says Jae. “We focused on energy before, but we felt even more importance of getting the energy in our live show, especially with the ‘Gravity’ album, and we used the ‘Entropy’ album to kind of aid us in generating that energy I guess, you know, the back and forth with the audience, and just to make it a better night. That’s definitely been our biggest evolution as a group since last time.”
The Brixton show is part of their ‘Gravity’ world tour – although there’s been another full length (‘Entropy’) since, crikey K-pop moves fast – which means we’re not treated to many of the new songs live, but to be fair, we’re not sure they could fit them into the already two-hour long set.
‘Gravity’ and ‘Entropy’ make up the ‘Book Of Us’ series, an EP and and album focused around being in a relationship.
“The first one was ‘Gravity’, which was the beginning, and then ‘Entropy’ was anything beyond that,” Young K says of the record. “So anything beyond the beginning, any changes, good changes, bad changes, especially the title song, ‘Sweet Chaos’.”
The song is definitely a representation of the whole record, if only metaphorically, as ‘Entropy’ weaves its way through every genre you could think of, it’s chaotic at least. ‘Sweet Chaos’ is the most pop-punk they’ve ever gone (think old Fall Out Boy), ‘EMERGENCY’ is big retro bop complete with video game sounds and a horn section, ‘365247’ could’ve come straight off 5SOS’s ‘Youngblood’ album, ‘About Now’ is a lo-fi little bedroom pop ditty, and that’s only four of the tracks. The huge mix of genres is a result of the boys writing their own bits everywhere and bringing the songs together in the end to create the album.
“We went into a song camp session, which is like, all of the members split up into different rooms with a bunch of songwriters, and so we came up with a lot of different songs, different genres, anything that we wanted to try, and that all added up being ‘Entropy’,” explains Young K.
“I feel like for every song, most of them came from the song camp, so each member would do one song per idea, so we’d have like thirty songs at the end of one session right, so I feel like with that being the case, everyone had different inspirations,” adds Jae.
“We wrote parts of the album individually, and the hodgepodge of all those songs became the album, therefore there was no genre continuation,” he continues. “So with each song, the energy might be a little different but overall, our goal in the end is just to put out good energy and be able to bring our listeners along for our journeys.”
They’ve always experimented with different genres, namely on their ‘Every DAY6’ project, where they put out two songs every month in 2017. They’re just having fun with it and enjoying showing all of the different sides DAY6 have to offer.
“I would definitely say ‘Sweet Chaos’ is the one I’m most proud of writing,” says Young K, “because it’s the most recent title song, and I think it represents the most recent DAY6. That, and ‘Like A Flowing Wind’, ‘Mine’, I think a group favourite was ‘Not Fine’, and ‘How To Love’ from ‘Gravity’.”
As the group’s primary songwriter, Young K wrote ‘Gravity’ in its entirety, and eight of the eleven songs on ‘Entropy’, with Jae and Wonpil chipping in for the other three. It’s pretty rare in K-pop for a group to get that much input in their own songs, with most companies hiring teams to write behind the scenes (not that that is much different from the way we do things over here in the ‘West’), but it’s even sweeter that the boys would open up about their relationships in song too, especially considering dating a bit of a taboo in K-pop. What can we say, it’s proper Real Music stuff, Dear Reader.
As a company, JYP Entertainment seems to give its acts plenty of freedom and input in their music. Alongside DAY6, members of GOT7 and Stray Kids have been given the chance to produce their own tracks; knowing that the artists are given some independence and an opportunity to present themselves musically the way they’d want to be seen removes some of those ideas that K-pop is extremely regimented. That being said, when we ask if they have a hand in the creation of the videos and concepts that are so vital in K-pop, we’re met with a straight “nope” from Jae, and hefty laugh. “Yeah we just focus on the music and let the company expand on it,” explains Young K. Fair enough, they’ve probably got plenty on.
We were also curious as to whether they felt any pressure to go down the EDM/pop route, like many other groups, but it sounds like they’re pretty comfy doing their own thing. Plus, they still get to do fun things every now and again, like the music video for ‘EMERGENCY’, which they jokingly put a little dance routine together for, and being part of a huge company has never negatively affected the group.
“To be honest, in the beginning, a lot of people didn’t know we were part of JYP, so they didn’t expect anything from us,” says Young K. “To them, we were just a band in the beginning, then as it went on they realised we were from JYP, when we started doing more K-pop things.”
Jae adds, “In our first year, we went around the Hongdae area and got in the band scene, and after we played live for a while, the dudes from JYP were like what’s up, and we joined them, but at the start no one really expected us to sound any particular way.”
Since our chat, Jae has started releasing solo music under the name eaJ, working closely with 88 rising, an Asian-American collective of artists (Rich Brian, Joji, NIKI, ring any bells?) who he’s happy to big up. “There’s a lot of really good artists coming out, especially like with representation in the states,” he says. “There’s a lot of amazing artists coming up that we all listen to, and 88 has amazing toplines, a great vibe, they’re upping the standards for Asian representation.”
So with Jae experimenting with solo stuff, what’s coming next for DAY6 after they wrap this world tour?
He says, “To be completely honest with you, we’re not sure. We just keep on writing good music, but we’re just tryna make our path, make our next title song for our next album, so whether we complete the ‘Book Of Us’ concept or whether we do something else, we’re not sure. All we can say is that we’re focused on the music.”
Taken from the March issue of Dork, out now.