“Five points if you know where that’s from,” vocalist and guitarist Jae tells me over the phone from a conference room in Seoul. It’s the kind of playful remark you’d expect from a 26-year-old raised on the Internet. And spoiler alert: I didn’t get the reference. (To be fair, our connection was a little spotty.) But I don’t need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of memes to understand DAY6, the Korean pop-rock quintet whose guitar riffs and dynamic melodies offer a piercing snapshot into young adulthood and all of its raw, earnest emotion.
Their most recent release, The Book of Us: Gravity, is a mix of genres, sounds, and sentimental lyrics from vocalist and bassist Young K (who’s a credited lyricist on all six tracks). It’s their brightest release today, tonally and melodically. Their energetic lead single “Time of Our Life” captures the exhilarating, heart-pounding feeling of a new romance — or, the start of a “beautiful page of youth,” sings honey-voiced keyboardist Wonpil. From the opening cymbals to the sweeping vocals to the wholesome melodies, the single is a prismatic manifestation of the clarity that comes with a bit of adult perspective. The message itself is uplifting and welcoming.
And while Sungjin, Jae, Young K, Wonpil, and Dowoon are starting a fresh page of their story, The Book of Us proves that you can’t forge ahead without reflecting on where you’ve been.
MTV News caught up with Jae and Young K following the release of the EP to talk about its bright, anthemic sound, their creative process, their insecurities, the book of their lives, and how their fans influenced the direction of the album.
MTV News: If there were a story of your life, what would the title of this chapter be?
Jae: It would be called “Adjustment.” I’ve been in Korea for seven years, and at first, I did have a lot of difficulty. I still don’t know a lot of things, whether it’s about the language or the culture, even the humor here. Those things confuse me a lot, but I think I’m starting to understand. I’m starting to be able to genuinely and honestly laugh with people when they crack a joke. So, “Adjustment.”
Young K: My title is “Young K.” I’ve been Young K for about four years now. And I think it’s the great chapter of my life, but I honestly don’t know how long it’s going to go on for, and I’m still writing it down. So I guess this point of my life, the chapter would be called “Young K.”
MTV News: When do you feel most creative?
Young K: At a place where it’s not too quiet. Like for example, [in] cafés with a lot of people. Or when there’s something going on in front of me.
MTV News: Do you often work out of coffee shops?
Young K: Yeah, I use coffee shops quite often. I try to get something from everyday life, so I tend to look around a lot — just when I’m living [my] daily life.
Jae: When I’m in my creative zone, I’m usually — this is really weird — but I always have a sad song on and that just kind of gets the gears going. I don’t know why, it just does.
MTV News: Is there like one sad song in particular you like or one that’s recently inspired you?
Jae: Lately, when I’ve had melody ideas or when I’m thinking of concepts or lines or lyrics or whatever, I’ve had on Post Malone’s “Stay.” I don’t know why, it just works.
MTV News: From an outsider’s perspective, the Every DAY6 part of your career seemed equal parts creatively fulfilling and somewhat exhausting, releasing two songs every month for a year. Did you feel burnt out by it? And how did you power through any creative blocks?
Jae: Oh, man. Young K’s got stories for you.
Young K: I have? [Laughs] When the company confirmed that we were gonna do the Every DAY6 project, they said they were going to use a lot of the songs that we already wrote. None of the title songs got confirmed, though. So we had to write it again and again and, and by the third month I felt like I was out of it because we already wrote, like, 20 songs before the project started. So I already felt burned out.
Jae: Lyrically, he’s pretty much the main contributor of that whole Every DAY6 era. Melodically, I think the group in general — because we all top-line — we kind of came to a burn-out point around “Shoot Me” because we’d been writing on and off for about two-and-a-half, three years. We just ran out of juice. We started to see a repetition of very similar melodies. That’s where we came to a point where we were like, OK, we got to buckle down, we’ve got to study. We did that for a little bit, and it worked itself out.
MTV News: What do you do when you’re staring at a blank page?
Young K: Lyrically, I tried reading books, but it didn’t work for me because I’m not a book lover so much. I read a lot of lyrics, and I tend to observe a lot when I’m living — for example, when it rains or when I look at the rain. How would this make someone feel? Or when I’m watching a couple talking in a loving way. I always try to look at a different point of view.
MTV News: On your latest album, The Book of Us: Gravity, each song is like a snapshot at a different stage of life or life experience. At what point after Remember Us did you start working on this next chapter?
Jae: We’re always writing, so I don’t think the process ever stops for us.
Young K: And, to be honest, two of the tracks on this album were written a long time ago. “Wanna Go Back” was one of the songs that Jae and I were involved in a while ago. That was written for every taste. And “Cover” was written last year.
Jae: When we start writing, we don’t necessarily start from a point where we’re just like, OK, we need to make a song that sounds like this and it needs to talk about this. We’re curious guys, so wherever our curiosity leads just that day or that week, that’s the song that comes out.
MTV News: So for this album, it’s bright. It’s optimistic. How did you decide on that tone?
Jae: One of the main contributing factors was the fact that during our world tour we were doing concerts and everyone was having fun and everyone was having a really good time, but we felt like maybe we were in need of more concert music. So, like, break points where everyone could just clap, where everyone could start jumping at the same time and scream out certain words. That’s one of the main points in how our album became what it is today. If you listen to “Best Part” or even our title song [“Time of Our Life”], it’s made to be enjoyed at a concert.
From left to right: Dowoon, Jae, Young K, Wonpil, and Sungjin
MTV News: Speaking of “Best Part,” that’s a song that’s all about living in the moment and the real kind of joy and happiness you could feel if you do so. But it’s not always the easiest thing to do, to forget your troubles. Are you, personally, someone who lives in the moment? Or are you more of a worrier?
Young K: I am the person who lives the moment, who always wants to give my best. Even when I’m on the stage, [or] when I’m preparing for the stage or anything that doesn’t have to do with the stage, like, spending time with my friends, I want to have the best time. All my life, my motto is carpe diem. So I guess I’m that type of guy.
Jae: I said that this point in my life was “Adjustment,” right? And that’s also one of the things that I’m adjusting to. My team is very positive. I think it also has to do with the cultural differences. In America, when you’re 18 and you go to college, you’re kind of just thrown out there, and you start figuring everything on your own. And then you start worrying about life. I’m not saying that people don’t worry in Korea, but I think there’s this understanding that things are going to work out. That’s something that I see in my team, and it’s something that I’m also adjusting to, because to be completely honest, I’m pretty negative. I’m always thinking about the worst things that can happen in situations. But just living with my teammates, I’ve been learning to live life in the moment. If I think positively then positive things are gonna happen.
MTV News: I like that the album starts with “For Me” because in a lot of ways it’s the most personal song. It’s a song to yourself, a song that acknowledges your shortcomings in an effort to get to this place of self-love. Is there something that you used to be really insecure about that now, with a little time and understanding, you really admire or love about yourself?
Young K: Actually, my appearance. The way I look, like, my face.
Jae: What’s wrong with your face?
Young K: Even when I was young, I got a lot of opinions that I intimidate people. Some people might say I don’t look nice when I talk [or] when I don’t smile — that I always look angry. That’s why I practice smiling in front of the mirror. But then I realized that it’s actually a good thing because people tend to not take me easily. Also, at the same time, when we’re doing a photoshoot, I can give out a very strong image. All I have to do is just not smile and look at the camera.
I found out that everybody has strengths and weaknesses. And if you have a weakness you can work your way to kind of cover it or have make that weakness be smaller.
A smoldering look from Young K
MTV News: Jae, were you intimidated by Young K when you first met him? Did you think he looked mean?
Jae: Straight up. If you don’t know him, then you don’t know that on the inside he’s smiling. You gotta understand he’s always smiling on the inside. It’s just on the outside it’s a plain expression. His features are so sharp that they look like they’re glaring at you, but they’re not. It’s a misunderstanding. He’s completely innocent.
MTV News: Jae, what’s something that you were used to being insecure about but now you’re like, “You know what? I love that part of me.”
Jae: See that’s where I go back to “Adjustment.” Because I’m still trying to adjust to that positivity part. I don’t think I’ve matured enough to understand that my flaws are actually my strengths. There is the fact that I’m not good at Korean, and that sometimes when I get asked hard questions I can just act like I don’t know what they’re talking about.
MTV News: I saw you tweeted a few months ago that you wanted to be better at live vocals. Has your voice ever been an insecurity of yours?
Jae: I don’t think an artist’s ever satisfied, leaving a stage thinking, oh, that was a top performance. They’re not thinking about how good it was. They’re thinking, I messed this part up, I messed this part up, that part wasn’t good. So I’m just not there yet. I think I need some work. I’ll get there.
MTV News: I love that you gave Dowoon a fan-favorite vocal part in “Wanna Go Back.” Was that always part of the song?
Young K: It was just that part was supposed to be an octave lower. It’s very low. So who has a low voice on our team? Dowoon. So Dowoon was called.
Jae: Young K always has a master plan. So when he’s writing lyrics, he’ll try to write the lyrics to adjust to how we sing.That’s also something he’s really good at — our vocabulary, the way we pronounce things, what we’re good at. I think we’re always trying to include Dowoon.
Young K: Low voice equals Dowoon.
MTV News: That song had originally been written for Every DAY6. What was it like to revive it for this album?
Young K: It fit the vibe of the entire album, which is very bright. It’s got an upbeat tempo. And the message it’s giving out about how you want to go back to the simple days [of youth] but since I can’t, I will just miss it. We wanted to write about human relationships, and in order to start a very healthy relationship, we felt like we need to know ourselves better. And “Wanna Go Back” would be the song that looks back on your life.
MTV News: What was something you wanted to be when you were a kid? Did you always want to be rock stars or did you have other dreams?
Young K: Singer wasn’t one of it.
Jae: Definitely not.
Young K: Not for us. Wonpil definitely wanted to be a singer.
Jae: Yeah, Wonpil knew. He knew from his youth.
Young K: I think that at one point, for a very short period period of time, I wanted to be a KBL [Korean Basketball League] player, but realized that cannot happen. And then I wanted to be working in stock management. I thought that was a really cool job. But here I am.
Jae: I went back and forth. Singing was never really a thing that I thought was a serious profession. I don’t think it ever is for anybody. All the artists that we’ve spoken to or that I know kind of just one day closed their eyes and opened them and they’re just here. That’s kind of what happens. I feel like we’re really fortunate. But for me, I was going to college, and before I came to Korea, I really wanted to be in the UN. So I’m kind of a dreamer, right? I either wanted to be in the UN or I wanted to lobby for somebody because I like arguing. So that was my thing. I started interning at an MPO, trying to network, [and] then I opened my eyes, and I was in Korea.
MTV News: September will mark your four-year anniversary as DAY6. What is the biggest change that you’ve seen in the group since you’ve made your debut?
Jae: I think our teamwork.
Young K: The team has to be thought as a whole. The team includes five individuals, but at the same time it’s considered as one. Dowoon came in only a few months before our debut. Having that one [new] person in the group completely changes a lot. Even musically. So our teamwork on the stage and off stage, we know each other better now.
Jae: When writing songs in the beginning — because everyone’s fresh, we’re young, we’re ambitious — parts play a big role. But then after writing songs together for this long, you come to the realization at some point that your part doesn’t matter and that whoever sounds best on that part is the best result. The competition within the team doesn’t really matter at all. After our second album everyone stopped caring about parts and we just saw the song as something that needs to be good.