Stray Kids Detail Their 'Darker,' Special 'Yellow Wood' Album & How They Travel the 'Road Not Taken'

Stray Kids
Courtesy of JYP Entertainment

Stray Kids

"The fact that we have a lot of people that are willing to join us on this journey, that itself is a really big honor."

Following their biggest sales yet in America with Clé 1: Miroh and first U.S. tour, Stray Kids are growing up and thriving but they know there may be bumps on their journey. 

In their latest album Clé 2: Yellow Wood, packaged as a "special album" with three new songs, the band is navigating growing pains with the aggression of the angriest bucking bull in a rodeo. Members Bang Chan and Seungmin open new single "Side Effects" track wondering, "I threw myself with trust in me/ But why am I just being hurt?" before the full group yell on the refrain, "My head hurts" while recounting the changes they're experiencing, both externally and internally, as they mature.

The disorienting song structure, the psychedelic genre they've tapped into, plus a brilliant sample of what sounds like a monotone, prescription-medicine ad listing-off "common side effects," all blend together to create the type of messy portrait of a young person coming into their own in 2019. But instead of try to polish the mess away, the guys embrace such a chaotic nature like some of the best young artists are today. There might be some fights (Hyunjin lashes out at several members in the video before returning to himself and rejoining the group) but Stray Kids say sticking together on their unique path is what keeps everything going.

Speaking to Billboard just hours before Clé 2: Yellow Wood was released, members Bang Chan, Changbin and Felix open up about the themes of the new Stray Kids album, how it furthers their story, and what they hope this next chapter can represent for not only the ninesome but anyone following along on their journey.

Billboard: How's everyone feeling ahead of the new album dropping?

Changbin: Nervous, but we are looking forward to [our fans] Stays' reaction.

Felix: We can't wait and we hope this performance will surprise Stays by showing a darker vibe.

So, it's darker? Can you explain this darker chapter in the larger Clé story?

Bang Chan: "Darker" says a lot. After Clé 1, in the "Miroh" music video, we're in this new dimension, right? But in the trailer and teasers [for Clé 2], we go from the rooftop on "Miroh," take the elevator to go down, but then we push a button called "YW," which stands for our new album Yellow Wood. It's meant to show that we decided towards taking a road that is less taken by anyone else. We're entering this new road that only we chose to take and I think that's what we're about.

Can you explain the Clé 2: Yellow Wood album title a bit more too?

Bang Chan: Clé 1 and Miroh, refer to a place we made. Same for Clé 2, it is a series and just like Miroh, the Yellow Wood is a new place that Stray Kids are experiencing. What's different, and what's a bit more special, is that now it's something we've chosen to go into.

Looking at your careers at large, how will Stray Kids continue along a road not taken?

Bang Chan: Well, I can't really predict the future -- I'd love to! -- but in this road that Stray Kids have taken, there may be some ups, some downs, there may be some side effects that can occur. But as long we're together, because we chose to go into this road, we need to be responsible on it. This road that we've chosen, we're giving Stays and a lot of people a lot of good energy. As long as we keep going, I feel like we can get really far on this road.

I heard you name drop the new single "Side Effects." Can you share more about it?

Changbin: Many young people get confused when pursuing their goals. There are times when the resources they need don't come right away, so they get worried if they're going the right way or not. There needs to be a special reason why someone chooses a specific path and we want to spread the specific message to never give up. There are many people -- including Stray Kids -- going through the same phases. So, we want to give some kind of comfort to them. So, if there are people out there going through those tough times, we hope our song helps them relieve some stress.

During your time in America, Bang Chan actually mentioned how members like Felix and Changbin have gone through "a lot." Can you share a bit more about what you were referencing then?

Bang Chan: Everyone in Stray Kids goes through hardships and everyone has their own personal story. Each story is just connected with each other through choices and, I guess, when we make a choice, we don't know if there will be side effects or not. What I really wanted to say was that, yes, Felix and Changbin have gone through a lot, pretty personally, but so has everyone in Stray Kids. And it's not just us, all the Stays as well. Jeff, I'm sure you've gone through some hardships yourself. I guess Stray Kids just want to say, we go through it as well. 

Felix: As Bang Chan mentioned, [our group] went through that same hardship back in our trainee days. It wasn't easy at first, but now that we're a group of nine members, we wish to share all of our past hardships to Stays in the future. And through that, we believe we can help each other. 

"Side Effects" and the new tracks see you playing with some new dance-music sounds. What genres did you play with on this album?

Bang Chan: Stray Kids always try new music. It’s fun, it’s something we can experiment with, and it really expands our spectrum and knowledge of music. 

Changbin: The genre we were trying for was psychedelic trance.

Bang Chan: It is EDM-based music, once again, and I guess you could connect that with "Miroh" which is like an EDM banger.

I was looking at the comments and fans were saying the sound and teaser videos reminded them of Billie Eilish a bit.

Bang Chan: Aw yeah! We're real fans of Billie's music. Actually, we think our stage performance will also give off that vibe as well…

Felix: It's a special album and so we wanted to prepare a special performance for "Side Effects." So, instead of focusing the strong points of the choreography on just dance moves, [we thought], "Why not focus on strong points on formations as a team?" Through that, we expressed our feelings and emotions to match this new level of choreography. 

Bang Chan: We tried something different performance-wise. It still has that really strong energy that Stray Kids give out, but it is like a different style of energy. It sounds silly saying it from our mouths, but it has a different color to it.

Felix: It's more about the way we deliver it.

What else do fans need to know as you make this next step?

Bang Chan: You know how you mentioned Stray Kids going and climbing the next step? Well, it really doesn't matter if we go up those steps or not -- of course, it'd be great if we could go up! -- but the fact that we have a lot of people that are willing to join us on this journey, that itself is a really big honor. Even it's just one person, a group of people, even it's just you on this adventure we're going through, we're just really glad that there are people willing to go with us. I want to say thank you to Stays, all around the world, in Korea, and we're going to Europe later this year, we're really excited to see our Stays there. 

Changbin: Stay, this album is for you! 

Felix: 2019 isn't over yet, we're still going and we still have a lot show to you guys...

Bang Chan: ... of course, it's not over yet. It's June right now! [Laughs]

Felix: [Laughs] I know it's not over! I just want to say thank you and to please keep looking forward.