DAY6: ‘We’ve Always Wanted to Go to India’
The South Korean rock band open about their songwriting process, their aspirations for future records, the definition of authenticity in a world that often dismisses artistry in K-pop and India
I caught up with DAY6 a few months ago via Skype–I’m told the quintet are in the middle of shooting new content for their fans and are dressed in their looks for a video, so it has to be an audio call. I can’t see them and they can’t see me, so of course there’s a lot of giggling, whispering, and moments of ominous silence that then have us all breaking into laughter together. It’s awkward, hilarious and everything you’d imagine a call with DAY6 to be.
It’s towards the end of the year so there’s a lot going on in the band’s schedule, but they’re an unstoppable force, flying across the globe to complete performances in the U.S. and in Australia. It’s a pretty rare thing to have all five members be able to join in on a single call, so I’m happy to hear all their voices greet me. “We’ve just been on tour and we’re having a good tour so far,” says vocalist and guitarist Jae. “Everyone’s been really welcoming in their countries and really just turning up for us, so we’re happy.”
DAY6 debuted in September 2015 with leader and guitarist Sungjin, bassist Young K, guitarist Jae, keyboardist Wonpil and drummer Dowoon. All members are trained vocalists, with Young K also doubling as main rapper, and every member contributes to songwriting and production. (The group did have a sixth member, a keyboardist named Junhyeok, but he left in 2016.) Young K also leads the songwriting process, with lyrical contribution in every single track on most of DAY6’s albums.
The beauty of DAY6’s artistry lies in how versatile they are able to make each track within a single album–in one moment you’re listening to a stadium anthem that’s reminiscent of a young U2, and in the next there’s a segue into Killers-esque post-punk revival. If you’ve been a long-time fan, you probably already know this thanks to their genius ‘Every DAY6’ project through 2017, which saw the band release two songs on the sixth day of almost every month. The result? An expansive, experimentative discography which built two powerful albums– Sunrise and Moonrise–with B-sides that shine just as much as a lead single. Jae explains that there usually isn’t a set idea when they begin an album–a lot of the music is born through songwriting sessions with various producers, where each member gets to go explore any genre they want on their own. It’s a power they’re exercising more and more, especially all through the Book of Us series. “We didn’t really discuss a direction when we started,” Jae says. “Everyone just kind of did what we wanted, which is why the album is a jumble of this and that from everywhere.” In fact songs have a tendency to switch genres in between verses–a great example of this is DAY6’s 2017 single “I Wait.”
The group also credit the genius of JYP Entertainment producer Hong Jisang as a key factor in their creative process. “I think definitely one of our main influences is probably gonna be one of our main producers and that’s Hong Jisang,” says Jae when I ask the band about their musical influences. “He’s a writer that works with us very frequently. For most of our title tracks–actually all of them I think so far. But yeah, he’s definitely one of the main influences because he’s always been kind of our mentor since the beginning of our debut dates… even before that. So he’s been teaching us about songwriting, you know, tracking or melody writing. We have a little bit of a flow just because we’ve grown so close to him as a group.”
“Just one of the reasons why we try any kind of genre or any music is because people do have different tastes in music,” explains Young K. “So if they like at least one of them, then it’s a success for us. Another reason is because we do get to play almost all of them, almost all [their songs] at the concert. So, we do have a chance to show it to the MyDays and the crowd and you get a chance to have fun with it. And I guess it’s just what we aim for as a group.” They’ve stood strong and stuck to their guns when it comes to this process of songwriting and it’s the fuel that expands their creative process, ensuring they don’t stick to one particular sound or vibe.
I remember back in 2016 when DAY6 began to get more popular, a lot of the attention around them was built of curiosity. As the first band under JYP Entertainment and the one of the first in the third generation of K-pop, both fans and industry professionals were curious to see where the Hallyu Wave would take them. The idea of an ‘idol rock band’ was new to the thousands of fans who had discovered K-pop after the 2016 boom of the genre, and DAY6 didn’t fit any existing stereotype–idol or band. They still don’t, and it’s a powerful statement.
This particular artistic evolution that we’ve seen with DAY6 isn’t easy to achieve in the K-pop idol-sphere of it all; our discussion about artistry in the glittering world of idol culture brings us to the topic of what it’s like to exist as what people believe to be a ‘traditional’ band in the middle of the ‘boy band narrative.’ I ask because it’s something I see often even in India–there’s this idea of authenticity always being tied to the more ‘conventional’ format of a band: artists with their instruments are deemed more ‘legit’ than pop acts. There is an unfortunate tendency among the general public to dismiss artistry created by pop stars and K-pop idols. DAY6 walk the line between the two worlds, and their path to finding that balance often demands a seesaw from one side to another. Have they ever faced a dismissal of their artistry because they’re idols who are also a band?
“That’s a very deep question,” says Sungjin. There’s a long pause as he gathers his words and then continues, “I personally haven’t seen that big of a difference. We, as a team that emphasizes on writing songs and writing music to appeal to other people, feel that everyone who writes songs or does music has the same objective and goal, therefore [artistry] is the same thing [for every musician.] So we’re not trying to focus on those kinds of factors but just try to focus instead on our music and our creation process so that we could become more authentic artists that appeal to more people.”
And what is DAY6’s definition of authenticity?
“When the person who’s creating the music legitimately feels like it’s good music,” says Sungjin firmly.
Right now the authenticity in their songwriting comes from the ordinary. Lead lyricist Young K explains the members draw from everyday experiences and conversations to write songs that are relatable, raw and honest. “Lyrics wise, I could say, we got very cleaned up and very neat. During the times of Every DAY6 project, we were out of time all the time throughout the year,” he says with a laugh. “So, it gave me the lesson of like, always being prepared to write lyrics so that I could pick out a way to find motivation or inspiration. I don’t wait for that inspiration, I gotta always go look for it. For example during everyday conversation, if there’s something or if there’s a word if there’s a phrase that I like, I write it down on my phone.” He pauses for a moment and then sheepishly admits, “To be really honest, I haven’t been doing that for months now. I need to get back on it.” He also says rather than listening to new music, skimming through lyrics is always his go-to move when it comes to evolving his style of storytelling. “So I guess it’s just continuous experiences that helped me to grow and, like you said, evolve.”
I ask the band which of their songs they would recommend to a new listener to help them understand DAY6’s artistry, and there’s a collective hum as they contemplate. “That’s a really difficult question,” says Wonpil. “Maybe ‘You Were Beautiful?’” The rest of the band agree wholeheartedly, and feel the 2017 rock ballad does a great job of summing up who DAY6 are. It’s certainly a fantastic example of the band’s powerful songwriting and their uncanny ability to to delve into topics that are at times a little too real, a little too familiar.
DAY6’s complex Book of Us series of albums have dealt mainly with the various levels of human interactions, emotions and relationships, each volume diving deeper into the complexities of what makes us who we are. The ‘Us’ in the titles can refer to DAY6 themselves, the relationship between them and their fandom MyDay as well as various other relationships the members might have in their lives. It’s also a general reference to the relationships we as human beings cultivate in our lives. The first album in the series The Book of Us: Gravity was one of their brightest releases, exploring youth and young love. The Book of Us: Entropy was a little heavier, a little more mature, exploring the beginning and end of relationships and how it changes a person.
The band’s upcoming release of The Book of Us: The Demon is perhaps their most anticipated release yet. Set to drop tomorrow, May 11th, the eight-track EP already hints at a slightly darker route than its predecessors with its title, promising a deeper look into the core meaning of the series. The teaser for the lead single “Zombie” which dropped on May 8th shows the band wandering dazed through crowds while the track itself seems to build on angsty alt rock. DAY6 also dropped an album sampler that hints The Demon cruises through pop rock (“Day and Night”), blues (“Tick Tock”), post-punk revival (“Stop”), acoustic pop (“Afraid”) and more.
In true DAY6 style however, the tracks can change direction in-between, crossing genres from one verse to another. It’s all a surprise right up until we hear the record, which is one of the best things about listening to a new release from this band. While I’m not told any specifics, I’m assured that DAY6 plan to go bigger than ever before when it comes to future releases. “We want to go to space!” exclaims Dowoon and the band agree enthusiastically. How does space translate sonically? “We want to go for a larger scale of music,” he explains. It’s about dreaming bigger and looking at ways to elevate DAY6’s musicianship. Jae adds, “Yeah, maybe going from just one acoustic guitar to like a full brass band or something.” We discuss possibilities of DAY6 working with an orchestra someday and it’s a pretty fantastic vision.
Speaking of future plans, I decide to put them on the spot and ask about when we’re getting an India tour. “Whenever you guys call us, we are definitely there!” Jae assures me immediately. Young K and Wonpil explain they are familiar with Bollywood and eager to learn more about it. “I am aware it’s huge there. And recently Katy Perry did something with Bollywood?” asks Young K. We realize he’s referring to the pop diva’s massive November concert in Mumbai with Dua Lipa and he shares that it’s one of the reasons DAY6 are more eager to check out India’s concert scene. “Yeah, I actually heard it from my friend. They were telling me, ‘Yo, you should go to India’ and like wherever it is, we always want to go. If there are people who are willing to listen to us and enjoy with us at the concert, we want to go.” Jae adds, “You guys have a lot of people and for us it’s a new culture and we are always interested in going to different places and seeing new things, trying different foods… naturally the food! So yes, we’ve always wanted to go to India, so call us!”
We spend the rest of our allotted time together talking planning a show in India for 2020 and although COVID-19 has postponed these plans for now, it’s something the band believe needs to happen. “We definitely wanna see you guys,” says Young K. “It’s always great to go to new places. Until the time that we meet, we want you guys to stay healthy and happy.”
Earlier this evening DAY6 announced that they will be suspending all activities and promotions to take a break to focus on their mental health.
Check out DAY6’s album sampler for ‘The Book of Us: The Demon’ below: