South Korean indie rock band the Rose have reached new heights over the past year. The quartet — which began six years ago as a group of street performers — have toured the world and performed at major music festivals including BST Hyde Park and Lollapalooza, but have never forgotten their busking roots.
During a Lollapalooza midnight aftershow, the Rose went back to basics: They did away with their setlist and instead took requests from the audience testing their improvisation and memorization skills.
Known for creating vulnerable, emotional songs in both English and Korean, the Rose are continuing to expand their sound. Their recently-released second studio album, DUAL, reflects on their past, present and future.
"I think experimenting with music and trying to connect different genres is really fun as a writer, and to showcase our personality,” said the Rose’s leader, vocalist and guitarist Woosung in an interview with GRAMMY.com.
The Rose's busking origin story is unique among Korean groups, many of which are formed by entertainment companies. Keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Dojoon and bassist Jaehyeong first connected busking in the same neighborhood drummer Hajoon and Jaehyeong were working with the same entertainment company. The trio then formed a band called Windfall — now the name of the Rose’s self-made label — and later recruited Woosung.
The Rose made its official debut in 2017 with the soft-rock ballad "Sorry." The song reached No. 14 on the Billboard World Digital Songs Sales chart, and was named among the best "K-pop songs of 2017." The band's debut album, HEAL, followed in October 2022.
The Rose caught up with GRAMMY.com over Zoom in Seoul to talk about their new album, their musical influences growing up and preparing for their upcoming North American tour, which will see them playing some of the biggest venues of their career thus far.
What is the story you wanted to tell with DUAL after the release of your first album, HEAL?
Woosung: HEAL was definitely us coming back after a hiatus. We really wanted to heal through our music and writing it and the whole process of reminding ourselves why we love music and why we love doing music. In terms of the sound, it was more natural. We wrote what we felt.
DUAL, I think, is a little more intentional, in a way where we are giving two sides of a genre and two sides of a tone that we want to present to the audience as the Rose. There’s a dawn side and a dusk side. It’s really showing the listeners the duality of our music, and why it could be dark but also why it could be bright.
Can you elaborate on those two representations of the Rose?
Woosung: Dawn side has more daytime vibes, happier, easier. Dusk side is a little bit darker in a way.
I think our music always did showcase both sides. "Sorry" would be more of the dusk side. Our song "Red" would be more on the dawn side. Whenever we wrote an album, I feel like we always had a dawn and a dusk side. We wanted to showcase that we are capable of both and this is where our music is headed. I think it really depends on the person hearing it.
What can you share about your latest single "You’re Beautiful"?
Woosung: We’re saying that beauty is just a state of mind. We believe anybody should be beautiful in their own way. There isn’t one statement or one face or one thing that makes a person beautiful in this world. There are many things that could be beautiful. And that's why we believe that beauty is just a state of mind. You are all beautiful in this world, no matter what race, what gender.
Dojoon: When you go to an art museum, it’s like somebody thinks something is ugly, but someone [else] thinks it’s very beautiful. That’s what we want to talk about here.
Your other singles sound quite different. And you’ve mentioned before that this project is meant to show a more amusing side to yourselves. Was that why you decided to incorporate some dubstep in the middle of your song "Alive"?
Woosung: Yeah. When we let our team hear that song with that part attached, not all of our team agreed that it was a good rendition of the song. However, the four of us definitely felt like we wanted something like that in there. I know it’s so random, but it also works so well with the song. [Laughs.]
I think we're just influenced by going to a lot of festivals, looking at different artists and enjoying their concerts or DJ sets. We wanted to just try something that was not always on the same line as what you would expect.
"Back to Me" takes me back to the pop-punk songs you’d hear in the early 2000s. The kind of song you’d yell out or release anger or tension with.
Woosung: I think we grew up listening to alternative, pop-punk. We always had it in us to create something like that and sing it ourselves. It’s such a rock band song. We’re just bringing it back.
What were some of the pop punk bands that you’d all listen to?
Woosung: All Time Low, Boys Like Girls, We The Kings. Never Shout Never. All those bands. Panic! At the Disco.
Jaehyeong: I was listening to Green Day, All Time Low.
Hajoon: I used to listen to Bon Jovi or Green Day.
Dojoon: Avril Lavigne, Green Day! Those kinds of legends.
Hajoon: Muse as well!
Woosung: My Chemical Romance.
You have also had a big year as a group, playing at big festivals and completing a world tour. What would you say this year has been like for your group?
Woosung: Going to these different festivals and seeing different people — not just our fans — enjoy our music, has put a lot of perspective in how we do music and how we want to take on the Rose in the future. I think performing in front of these crowds gave us a lot of good lessons.
You celebrated your sixth anniversary the same day that you played Lollapalooza. How would you describe the moment, and being with your fans, known as Black Roses?
Woosung: Words can’t describe it. We said it during the show as well because we started out as a street performing band. If we did a club show, there were like 15 people and five of them were our friends.. So for us to celebrate six years of the Rose with I don’t know how many people, it was very meaningful. It showed how far the Rose brand and the Rose’s music has come. We’re just happy to be on the journey with our fans.
A day later, you performed an aftershow with no setlist and took requests from the crowd. Where did that idea come from?
Woosung: Just busking, street performing. We were just true to how we started.
Dojoon: It was a back-to-back show in the same city. Obviously for Lollapalooza, there was a setlist for that. So maybe instead of doing the same thing over again the next day, why don’t we kind of have a little moment between Black Roses and our fans? We wanted to make something special.
Was there a song that really surprised you during that show?
Dojoon: There was a few fans who actually requested the first song we wrote together, which was "Photographer." We didn’t memorize it all perfectly. So that was all very interesting.
Rock music isn’t something many people in North America would associate with the Korean music industry right now. Do you see the Rose playing a role in getting people to explore different genres from Korea?
Woosung: I think rock has always been there, but not like how K-pop is famous. Right now, the music industry really does like more dance pop, and the culture has shifted a little bit that way. But [rock] bands have always been there.
I don’t know if we’re really sparking anybody to become a rock band or anything. And if we are, we are very,very honored and will be happy that we could be even a little influence to the industry for more instrument-playing musicians. At the end of the day, rock, pop, ballad — it’s all just music. We’re just happy to do music in the way we love doing music.
Dojoon: We really want to talk more about the spirit, like the rock spirit. You know, even rap stars or other pop stars say, "rock and roll" and "we are rockstars." I think now, Korea is more open and they’re starting to open up to the image of a band. Like the structure of a four-piece band.
Woosung, you collaborated with BTS’s Suga on his latest album and featured on the song "Snooze." In his documentary SUGA: Road To D-DAY, he mentioned the song was written with artists in mind, especially when it comes to not giving up on their dreams. I feel like that mirrors a lot of the Rose’s journey. What was that experience of being part of the song like for you?
Woosung: For him to have advice on life was what was beautiful, because it could fit a lot of the general population and what people are going through this day even without music being a part of their life. We’re just happy to share the message of support. That’s what the Rose is, and that’s what the Rose’s music is always. And, that’s why I think Suga maybe felt like I would be a good fit to the song.
When I first received the rapping parts and the lyrics of it all, I definitely had a feeling of warmth with the messaging. I wanted to do my best to write the best chorus that would fit his rapping with the right lyrics that would really portray the initial message better.
You’re heading back to Canada and the U.S. soon. What are you most looking forward to in the coming months?
Woosung: We’re actually practicing for the tour right now. We’re just arranging songs, practicing them and trying to get the right setlist and the right production. Our shows have been great, but this one is definitely a level up.
It’s a whole new set with bigger lighting, bigger screens. We always had this in our head, but we just couldn’t make them come to life in the venues we were doing it at. I think music is just not for listening, but it’s also for seeing and [with] that comes bigger emotions.
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