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The Rose: ‘We now have more freedom to express ourselves’

As Korean rockers The Rose begin a new era, they tell Rolling Stone UK about their latest album 'Dual'

By Joseph Kocharian

The Rose

As I wake up Korean band The Rose with a pre-9AM call, I’m suddenly struck by how apt is that we’re discussing their new album Dual, which has been split into two sections named Dawn and Dusk.

It’s the end of a work day in London for me, but the group are just getting ready for another hectic day as a bonafide global act. These blurring of timezones are reflected in the new record too. Listeners can journey through the day as the record opens with the calm ambience of ‘Dawn’ and reaches the night with a certified club banger of ‘Cosmo’ towards the end of the album. 

“For me, it was kind of pop-punk rock, early 2000s kind of vibe and then we have songs that are quite lo-fi and very chill,” explains Woosung, singer, songwriter, producer, vocalist and guitarist of the band.

“We go back and forth between all these genres but we still have the colour of the rose. And I think, even with that, we’re trying to show the balance in our music and what we could do as musicians and what songs we could write and how they could be tied together.”

Dual album cover (Image provided)

The two sides of the record, like the concept of twilight, are not mutually exclusive, which is the beauty of this album. The emblem for ‘Dual’ is a Venn diagram, with a ring of roses and one of thorns interlocking on the album cover. It’s a perfect symbol for their latest track that dreamily mingles music genres together. There are five songs on ‘Dawn’ and five on ‘Dusk,’ with their title track ‘Wonder’ acting as the high point between the two. Dojoon, the main vocalist and guitarist, explains that there has been a lot of experimentation with their latest endeavour.

“Maybe you can expect a new energy that the Rose can carry (with this album.) We were obviously experimenting with a lot of new sounds and new genres. We have our roots and the Rose sound, especially when doing Heal. We pretty much made our identity stronger, but now doing ‘Dual.’ I don’t know why, but we got a lot of influences from doing the festivals too. We wanted to experiment new genres. We always said one day we’re going to do a lot of other genres, and have our own taste of every little piece (of music) Now was great timing to do so. And we enjoyed it so much and we’re happy at the outcome of it.”

The Rose, Dawn (Photo by Kim Je Won )

The band has infused a lot of synth-pop rock to their sound. Tracks like ‘Eclipse’ and ‘Angel’ are filled with euphoric layers, laced with devastatingly sad lyrics, delivered by Woosung and Dojoon’s vocals that range all the way from ethereal to gritty, bitter cursing tones. Hajoon’s drumming and Jaehyeong’s bass guitar make sure that this album stays away from being too poppy, and firmly with their rock-roots. The cinematic quality to the production is evident in tracks such as ‘Angel’ featuring Trevor Daniel,  which have twinkling piano notes and violin strings, that crescendo so well that you can imagine a Max Richter track being played in a movie trailer or to a sell-out festival crowd as a tequila sunrise sunset appears, with the crowd singing along. 

Nostalgia is also the key to sound the of ‘Dual.’ Everything from Echo & The Bunnymen, Fleetwood Mac and The Smiths can fleetingly be heard, along with more modern comparisons of The 1975, Troye Sivan, Coldplay (who Jaehyeong is a big fan of), and even the criminally underrated e.m.o.t.i.o.n by Carly Rae Jepsen. Although the album is a kaleidoscope of sounds, members Dojoon, Hajoon, Jaehyeong and Kim Woosung have somehow managed to create a record that is cohesive, and, at the end of it, completely their own sound. Dojoon credits their creative freedom allowing them to evolve.

“While we were writing and producing this album. We had no limits. We met a lot of new writers and a lot of collaboration. When we were doing the sessions, we didn’t have any limits. Whatever it felt like on that day,” he says.

“The soul, the energy etc, we just went for it. We ended up with so many songs. We had very dark songs, very bright songs, and we wanted to capture the best moment of every chance.” I asked Woosung if their journey, that was a-typical to that of the very-regimented South Korean music bands helped with their exploration of their sound.

“We chose a journey that required freedom, and we kept choosing that route as we progressed in our career. From the beginning, we had a root sound for The Rose, and I think that just kept evolving. Now with our own company and great partners like Transparent Arts. We have more freedom to express ourselves.”

The Rose (Photo Christian Haahs )

It’s clear their experiences of the festival circuit, time working on their signature sound on their previous album ‘Heal’ and a myriad of other influences have also dded colour to their musical canvas. The band were the first Korean Act to perform at the illustrious Montreux Jazz festival, which has previously welcomed performances from greats such as Nina Simone, Elton John, David Bowie and Stevie Wonder. They have also supported BlackPink at their BST Hyde Park show, performing in front of a 65,000 strong crowd. The gravitas of these moments are not lost on Woosung.

“It’s amazing, right? Ten years ago, well over ten years (laughs) when I was in high school, it was hard to see a lot of Asian acts in the music industry. Now with the boom of K-pop, there’s more chance for Asian acts to be at the festivals and shows. It’s such an honour to be the first (to perform at Montreux) you know. It’s a very cool festival and we like the place, it’ was very peaceful and beautiful there,” he says.

The band are not intimidated by the meteoric rise of polarity of South Korean artists. In fact, they embrace the BlackPink sized mega-crowds.

“That was cool.” Woosung reflects fondly. “There was a lot of people there (laughs) And that’s another one that’s got history too, I believe. A lot of great bands have played there and opened there. We opened for BlackPink and they have many many fans. (But it) definitely was not intimidating. I think we crave it and we love performing in front of many people. I think our music thrives with more people there. There are so many parts where people can sing and chant along. It (BST Hyde Park) was definitely the largest crowd we’ve done. It was a much bigger version of busking (laughs.)”
Woo-sung humbly rejected my suggestion that playing at huge events, such as BST and also Lollapalooza Brasil has brought them a throng of new fans.

“We’re not sure if it brought more fans from the festivals, but we got to reach out to people who never had the chance to listen to our music and people who never knew Korean-rock bands existed. We’re just happy that we got to reach those people and gave them an opportunity to go on a journey together with us and if they took it and became a black rose (the name given to their fandom), then so honoured and so happy, and if they didn’t’ then that’s also cool too, maybe we’ll meet again later.” Though new fans are always welcome, the band are clearly focused on their devoted black roses. Being assigned a hue, like the band members once again links them together. Dojoon is the red rose, Hajoon is the blue rose, Jaehyeong, pink and Woosung the white rose.

The Rose- Dusk (Kim Je Won)

The band have clearly relished their time on tour, and absorbed every drop they can from the experience. Jaehyeong, a good cook himself, has fond memories of Camden in London, and discussed a particularly good spicy London curry they sampled whilst in the city. But what were their other highlights of festival season?

“For me, what popped into my head was Brasil Lollapalooza. It was one of the first festival we did and just the crowd- It was so big! We hadn’t done a one hour show in front of 30,000 people before and that was our first. I think it was very memorable,” says Woosung.

What I notice, as I talk to Kim Woosung, is that he sees everything in colour. It starts with L.A, when I ask the band where they are most excited to visit on their up-and-coming “Dawn to Dusk” tour.

“We’re excited to go to all the cities honestly. They each have their own colour. We are excited about LA. It’s one of the bigger venues and we definitely wanted to do that one. It was really important to us. It might have been overshooting at the time, but you know, the sales are doing well and we just feel like we wanted to achieve or have a goal, have a purpose to look up to and keep moving forward.”

So what colour then, is LA?

“Los Angeles for some reason…maybe it’s obvious, but it gives me like green.” Doojon chimes in to counter this claim, with the response that I was expecting. “I feel like Los Angeles is orange.”

“I can see that” Woosung replies. “If I didn’t live here, I would definitely feel orange to, but because growing up, I lived in the suburbs, out of the city for me, it was very foresty, so it’ a very calm green colour.” When we talk about their performance in Brazil, I get a more expected answer.

“Oh wow. Lollapalooza Brasil definitely has many colours. I mean. I could say red, yellow, blue. I can’t really say one, because it felt like a rainbow. We were playing “Sour” at the end of our show, and on the last part, we were all shaking our hands from side to side, and it felt like rainbows. It was so beautiful.”

Lollapalooza Brasil (photo by Lucas England)

Whatever they’re currently creating on their musical canvas, it’s clear that the band are excited for the artistic process, and what they will create as a result.

“We’re very curious (to see) how the eleven songs from the new album will take us,” says Doojon,

“After six months of touring and a year after the release. I want know where we will be at that time Maybe we could be a lot bigger, or maybe we could transform and take us to another colour of the rose. We want to see how it goes, especially how people will react to these songs. We’re humbly open and trying to enjoy every minute.”

One of the things the band are most open to is collaboration. They repeatedly say they’re open to collaborate with any acts, big or small, but it is important that they fit the vibe.

“We’re down to collaborate with any artist, honestly. As long as it fits the vibe. For the Rose, I think we’ve only had one feature so far. It was on ‘Heal’ on a song called ‘Yes’ by James Reed. James was there whilst we writing the album. It was so random. It was not planned. We were letting him hear the songs and he started singing over this one he liked and it just happened so naturally. For us it doesn’t matter who the artist is or what their career is like. It’s more about how we get to the song together.  It has to happen so naturally, just writing together, listening to it together, hanging out, maybe listening to it and they just like it and want to be on it. The energy just has to fit.”

Woosung adds however, there is one pocket of the music world the band would like to tap. “With the Rose we definitely want to collaborate with some DJ’s. Off the top of my head, I can think of Fred Again, also the likes of Skrillex, Marshmello. DJs have their own music world, so we want to incorporate that to our music and are open.”

Organic timing is important to The Rose, even in their solo-endeavours. I ask about his collab with Suga from BTS came about.

“Suga was very natural, because we are friends. We had been talking about doing a track together. Timing never really worked out, So this time around he sent me the track for Snooze and he had his verses in there already. It was very natural. We knew exactly what we were doing. We knew each other’s colours and what each one was capable of. So it was an easy process,” he says.

Lollapalooza Brasil (photo by Lucas England)

Connection to their devoted fans is just as important as The Rose’s collaborations.“Honestly, we write songs hoping that they (Black Roses) would connect with them” the band tells me. I want to know which song from the new album they’re most excited for the fans to hear, and they all agree it is ‘Wonder’ that has the rousing trappings of the iconic anthem of My Chemical Romance’s ‘The Black Parade’ before it bursts into a rock anthem. It is the song that balances the two sides of the record out. From their back catalogue I ask them if any of their tracks had a strong connection with the fan that they had not expected. “We were definitely surprised with the amount of love that ‘She’s in the Rain’ got.” Woosung muses. “It’s our number one streaming song and when we play it, everyone knows the lyrics to it, even if it’s like half Korean and half English, no matter what city or country they’re from, they know the lyrics. We think it’s so beautiful because we believe music is a universal language and It’s amazing to connect and communicate through energy, without words and language being a barrier.”

The band’s journey has been all about balance, and overlapping experiences that have woven themselves together culminating in ‘Dual,’ an album that takes you on a layered, emotional journey, full of elation, heartache and twists and turns- just like life itself.