Multi-talented K-pop sensation, Eric Nam makes for a relaxed conversation that’s as filled with profound observations as it is with fun chit-chat.
The 8-track album is definitely Korean-American artist’s most ambitious and most explorative piece of work yet as it leaves room for sonic and creative shifts in the future. Musically balancing ballad love songs like his first single from the album ‘Love Die Young’ with anthemic tunes such as lead single (and music video) ‘Congratulations’ ft Mark.E.Bassy, and lyrically playing the line between playfulness and vulnerability, the album was undoubtedly a massive undertaking for Eric.
And as he delves a bit deeper into the making of the album, it’s clear that juggling this project with other parts of his career took a bit of a toll on the singer. Explaining the inspiration behind ‘Love Die Young’, he explains, “I went into the studio in July. I flew from my Europe tour straight home to Atlanta to see family, and from there I went to LA to write. I was at a point where I was extremely burned out and exhausted. My health wasn’t doing too well. So a lot of the songs I ended up writing between Nashville and LA were ballad-like songs that touched on that feeling of exhaustion.
“But I put into a way that it was also a love song because I wanted the message to go across anything and be relatable. So from that perspective, it was about how you see this end coming, how love is going to fade away but we try to hold onto it as long as we can; that’s where ‘Love Die Young’ came from – about a relationship that you didn’t want to see end. But it was also about bigger things in life. “
Creative burnout isn’t uncommon among artists, and the always busy Eric is no exception in that aspect. But how he seems to have dealt with it- by turning it into more work- is quite exceptional.
Whereas most in his shoes would take a step back to recover, Eric went the opposite direction, and when it’s pointed out to him, there’s a pause and laughter. He says, “I guess so! The way that I work and function is that I’m always on the go, I’m always doing a billion things, so I don’t have time to escape and put everything down. If that happened not only is a hold in my career, but it puts a hold on my entire team.
“So there’s a sense of responsibility, a weight on my shoulders to make sure I’m consistently going in healthy so that people around me can stay that way as well; part of it came from necessity and part of it came from trying to be creative with what I had in the moment.”
But more than the work ethic that should be taken away from this, it’s the way that Eric made the best of whatever he had that impresses the most, as he adds, “For me at the time, it was the most honest, real emotion I had at the time.”
Despite dealing with the exhaustion as mentioned earlier throughout the making of the album, it’s commendable that he managed to strike a balance within the soundscape. Each track is meant to be a relatable journey that takes Eric’s own experiences simultaneously connecting with it the experiences of listeners.
Explaining the significance of each track, he says “ I love each one for a different reason. Personally, Love Die Young is very different from what I’ve done sonically and very honest, vulnerable lyrically. There’s another song called ‘How’m I Doing?” which I decided to add on last minute, but it quickly becomes a song that everyone who has listened to has attached themselves to. The title song ‘Congratulations’ which has an entertaining sound and features Mark.E. Bassy which is all about a fun way to say goodbye to somebody. There are all sorts of songs that I’m really excited for everyone to hear finally!”
All the same, some tracks didn’t make it onto the record for the sake of this balance and relatability. Eric reveals, “There was a song within the tracklist literally called ‘Burnout’, we ended up taking it off the tracklist because I wasn’t 100% secure with it. When I look at the tracklist now, there are some playful tracks and others which have a mature sound; I think it’s a good breadth and overall mix.”
Despite being happy with the sound of his English debut album, Eric is neither certain it’ll remain that way nor is he sure where it’ll go. He explains, “In Korea, it’s become very pop-influenced and if not it leans towards ballad sounds. So when I make music in English, I’m hoping to make edgy pop in the vein of Troye Sivan and LANY, but having said that I love brighter sounds as well. I like not sticking to one sound so that’s why we left it open-ended because I’d like to try a little bit of everything; this album was an exploration of that. “
Enamoured and impressed by the culture of London where he recently toured, he adds, “If there’s one sound I definitely want to get deeper into it’s a British pop sound, I’ve been talking to some British writers I’d love to get into the groove with.”
While his music continually shifting and changing, Eric’s over-arching message remains the same; with “relatability “is an oft-repeated word in our conversation – it’s not only what his songs are built on, it’s his entire persona. Being Eric Nam is all about reminding people that celebs are human beings too. And although he quips that he might be too approachable – “it’s just Eric Nam”- his next words are powerful yet humbling.
He says I’m not better than you. You’re not better than me. We come together from a place of mutual respect. In the world we live in today, things have become so polarised because of the Internet and social media. Whether about politics or other values people tend to be at each others’ throats constantly so if we can come to an understanding through music I think that’s the biggest contributions I could give to my fans.”
It’s in his search for this human-to-human connection with fans that Eric began his highly-popular podcast ‘Kpop Daebak’. Delving into its origins and his future plans, he says “I wanted to fill a void in the podcasting space with K-pop, but there are other areas I’d love to explore with the podcast, so new shows are coming out. One of them is called “I Think You’re Dope” it’s just me talking to my celeb friends who are people just I love!”
While on the topic of the future, Eric reveals his dream of becoming popular in the States, not just in music but in other areas left unexplored. He says, “ I’d love to do TV and film in the States. I’ve stayed away from that side intentionally because I wanted music to come first. Still, having done so much television in Korea, it wouldn’t be such a farfetched idea for me to move beyond music. Someday have the “Eric Show” and carve out a space in a field where an Asian face doesn’t yet exist. “
Aside from a few dreams – one of which is a collaboration with Bruno Mars- Eric expresses that he is content as long as his fans continue to enjoy his music and artistry. He takes a moment to reflect on the most consistent highlight of his career – which he reveals is touring the world and getting to meet the fans who continue to support him.
It’s no wonder then that he’s prepping to go back on tour early next year. There is a palpable sense of excitement as he lists the countries he dreams of ticking off his list in the coming years.
He says, “ Touring early next year, and I’m excited to go to Latin America because I’ve done it. I’m also enthusiastic about properly touring South-East Asia, and it’s usually been one-off shows. Places I’d love to go that I haven’t been before that I’d like to go? Definitely on the top of my list is India, I’ve been having this conversation for months. K-pop hasn’t made that effort as of yet to go to India, partly because of the under-developed touring scene.
“The last time I was in India was almost ten years ago, and I’d love to go back to experience it again from a different perspective. It hopefully happens, and we get to tour a lot more internationally. “
Clearly excited for the present and the future, Eric remembers to count his blessings. Thinking out loud, he says, “ I still think it’s surreal that I’m just a Korean-American dude born and raised in Georgia, who went all the way to Korea to pursue music. And now people pay real money to watch me sing and talk on stage. That is such an incredible blessing, and whenever I’m performing on stage in whatever city and whatever capacity, it’s like “I can’t believe I get to do this for a living.”
But honestly, if our last interaction, in particular, is anything to go by – as he divulges what he wishes people would ask him in an interview, “Have you ever seen a ghost? Or do you believe in ghosts?. For me, I’ve not seen a ghost physically, but I’ve definitely felt a presence or been paranoid enough to convince myself that I’ve seen a ghost. I’ve heard way too many stories from friends and family, so I believe in ghost”. There’s no question about why he does this for a living; he’s a natural, and there’s nothing else he’s meant to be doing besides entertaining and touching the hearts of fans with his natural charm and profound values.