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K-Pop Sensation Stray Kids On Their New LP, 'Go Live': "We Wanted To Show Everyone What Our True Colors Were"
"Hello, we are Stray Kids!" they shout enthusiastically, just before someone howls for a few seconds with exuberance. It’s fitting, considering that the South Korea-based boy band just released their first LP, Go Live, prior to hopping on the phone to discuss the June 17 release.
Featuring a total of 14 tracks, Go Live is a sonic taste of what Stray Kids has to offer. A group of eight members who hail from Asia and Australia and came together under K-pop label JYP Entertainment in 2017, the act has been together for less than half a decade. But in that short while, since the drop of their first "unofficial" release, 2017’s Mixtape, which arrived before their formal debut as a K-pop act in 2018 with the I am trilogy followed by their 2019 Clé album series, they’ve made a name for themselves for their fiercely frank approach to both their world view and experimental music making, with internal production team 3racha, made up of members Bang Chan, Changbin and Han, taking center stage as the guiding hands of Stray Kids' discography.
Go Live, which debuted at No. 6 on Billboard’s World Albums chart upon its release, is a different look for the group. They did away with the thematic approach they used when crafting prior album series’, and instead decided to go with a more free-flowing, spontaneous creation method, which resulted in a diverse soundscape that reflects the moments they ideated songs (see the culinarily inspired single "God’s Menu").
"Because it’s our first full album, we want to show a vast variety of colors, or taste, in our so-called menu of the track list," Changbin told GRAMMY.com during a conversation with Stray Kids over the phone from Seoul about the act's first LP. "The creative process just happened on the spot, so we just wanted to make it raw and feel alive, as much as there are a lot of different flavors in Stray Kids and our music."
This interview was edited for clarity, and was conducted in both English and Korean.
How're you feeling nowadays? You must be pretty busy considering you just released the new album.
Bang Chan: We’ve been busy, but luckily everyone’s been in the finest condition, so we’re all really good right now.
Felix: We’re healthy!
Always good to hear, especially considering all that’s going on in 2020. Which, excitingly, includes the release of your first official LP, Go Live. What inspired you to release this album to the world?
Bang Chan: Because it’s our first official full one, I think we put a lot more effort into it and we really wanted to show everyone what our true colors were, what Stray Kids is best at. I think what really inspired us to complete this album was to show what we make on the spot. This is really hard to explain, can you give me a moment? [Pauses.] Okay, so before, with our other [I am and Clé] series’ albums, we thought of the message we wanted to write about, and then we would write the music and sort things out. But with this album, we made everything on the spot. Whatever we wanted to say, we just made it.
You mentioned that you wanted Go Live to show your true colors. Do you feel the past albums didn’t really do that?
Bang Chan: In our past albums there were our true colors as well, but what I meant was that through this album the process was just a bit different. Before, we would choose the message first but with this one it was more about a right now kind of thing. Whatever happened happened, and it would come out as it is.
So this album is kind of a reflection of the moment rather than an idea or message you’re putting into it.
Bang Chan: Yes. For example, our first song "God’s Menu." It might be weird to see the title, "God’s Menu." But in Korean, it’s called “Shin Menu (神메뉴),” and it has two meanings. One is “God’s Menu” and one is “New Menu.” With that wordplay, we wanted to relay how the way we relate to music could be like cooking [something new up], we wanted to take that image and put it out to show what we’re made of.
You must have a strong relationship to food to base your whole album on it?
Bang Chan: Everyone loves food in our team.
Felix: Ever since, you know, we trained [to be part of Stray Kids under JYP], we had food together so it’s become natural for us to eat a lot together. And, even without me realizing, way before this album came out, I started cooking food for the team just as a hobby, seeing I could bring my energy to the group that way. I feel that it was really right for this album, since I cook and love food.
Why did you decide to name the album Go Live?
Bang Chan: We wanted to exhibit something different. Of course, we could have named this whole album God’s Menu but we wanted to show that we, Stray Kids with their music, are that itself. They are alive, they are raw, there’s no special ingredient, there’s no special filter. It is what it is, and that’s what we wanted to show through this album.
Beyond the single, are there any songs that members have particular connections to? Either as songwriters or just because you like them?
Bang Chan [about Changbin]: He’s thinking deeply. He loves every song.
Changbin: "God’s Menu."
Han: I’m going to choose "Blueprint." That’s a good song.
Hyunjin [sings]: "TA"
Seungmin: "Blueprint" also.
Felix: "God’s Menu."
Bang Chan: I will have to choose "God’s Menu." Yea, I can’t choose.
Lee Know: "Easy."
Han: Nobody answered [the song I wrote the lyrics for] "Another Day." A bit sad. Yea… Nobody. No one. [Members all laugh.]
This is your first LP, so, aside from how you approached the creative process differently, were you in a different headspace while approaching this release?
Seungmin: The albums that we released so far have our own story, but this full-length album, I think, contains what Stray Kids is all about. For example, there is a lot of music of various genres, because we wanted to tell you that we can enjoy these different kinds of music. It’s very meaningful that it’s our first full-length album so we worked more and more hard.
Stray Kids is known for its kind of edgy, experimentally aggressive approach to music, especially for singles, but on this album there’s a lot of diversity, and a lot of the songs, like "Another Day," "Blueprint" and "Phobia" were pretty mellow. Is that because rather than telling a story you were focused on showing a broader, truer representation of Stray Kids?
Bang Chang: Well, I mean, we do experiment a lot with our songs. But like you said there are some easygoing songs as well as experimental songs. There’s a whole package, isn’t it? That’s what we’re going for, because there can be times when you need to take a break. Even in a novel, there’s a whole structure where it goes really crazy but then cools down for a bit. Even in a full-course meal, you get the appetizer, the entree, the dessert. It’s all one big package, and that’s what we were going for.
You have had a hands-on approach to songwriting since prior to your debut. Do you feel your songwriting process has changed at all over the years?
Changbin: If there’s one thing we’ve gotten better at, or grown out of, is that our creative writing process comes a lot faster. What we want to write about in the moment, the ideas come faster as well. Because it’s our first full-length album, we were able to put in a lot of songs so that being an opportunity for us was just really exciting, it was really exhilarating, it made us more excited and it made us want to create more ideas to write about. The whole creative process of this full-length album, it was really special. Just playing around with music and being able to do whatever we want. I think that was really special.
What’s the overall message you want listeners to take away from Go Live?
Bang Chan: There’s a lot of flavors in the album, but if there’s anything that we want listeners to get out of it… You know, "Stray Kids has their own very special genre." I mean, I can’t tell them to think like that. But if they do think like that, I think it would be one of the hugest compliments we can get, for Stray Kids' music to have their own different genre. I think that’d be really amazing. I think it’d be really special for us. Yeah… But for the first listen of our album, I hope listeners can realize that Stray Kids really have fun when making their own music, and really experiment a lot, and really enjoy making genuine music.
You mentioned how fun the process is to create music, but it’s still work. How do you keep finding motivation and joy in this even when those times come where it may be hard to approach your work?
Felix: Honestly, for us, we have no problems at all because, all thanks to [our fandom], Stay [Stray Kids' fandom name] we’re still on our track, still on this journey. For us, there’s no end to it, so we always keep striving towards the goal we haven’t seen yet. There are always bits and pieces that we’re still picking up together. It’s all thanks to Stay, that they’re right beside us, that we get to walk this journey without any trouble.
Bang Chan: And another thing to add onto what Felix said. Of course, we have our fans, our lovely Stay who are right there with us. Not only that, but what’s most important for Stray Kids is Stray Kids itself. Every member relies on each other, every member really helps each other, every member really trusts and loves each other, and that’s what’s really important for Stray Kids.
Felix: Woah… Mic drop. [All cheer.]
Felix said that you’re still on your path to achieving your as-of-yet undetermined goal. So what is something you think you might want to achieve in the future?
I.N: One of my main goals, and one of Stray Kids’ goals, in 2020 is to show not only Stay but a lot of people what Stray Kids’ performance is all about. I want to give a lot of people energy through performances, and energy, inspiration, and strength through our music.
Final question: What’s something random you’ve never told your fans?
Bang Chan: I really enjoyed watching Community, it’s really, really funny. And The Big Bang Theory.
Felix: I actually enjoy baking instead of cooking. So far I make brownies, but I’m trying to find other stuff to do.
Bang Chan: Yea, I’m trying to make him make chocolate chip cookies. He won’t make it, but I really like chocolate chip cookies. He’s being annoying. He makes a whole lot of brownies, just to be energizer.