Seoul-based pop-rockers The Rose have been going strong since their first single “Sorry” in 2017 (when it was named one of Billboard’s best K-pop songs of the year) with steady, albeit slow, growth. But 2019 saw a major upswing for the quartet after they appeared on the South Korean band competition show Super Band, and the year has proven an eventful one for the act.
With their presence rising through televised performances and solo music from lead vocalist Woo Sung (also known as Sammy), The Rose didn’t get to put out a planned album this year but did share their inspiring single “Red” and its B-side “California” in August. They also launched their second world tour the same month.
While in New York City earlier this year to bring their We Rose You concert to The Town Hall, the members of The Rose — Woo Sung (guitar), Do Joon (guitar), Ha Joon (drums) and Jae Hyeong (bass)– sat down with Billboard to discuss their recent release, touring and upcoming music. Read what they had to say below.
How did your show go last night? I wasn’t able to make it, but heard from friends that there were some technical difficulties.
Do Joon: Yeah, the show couldn’t move on for about 20 minutes.
Woo Sung: I was really frustrated, to be honest, but it went well.
Do Joon: We just went with the flow.
Woo Sung: It was so bad that I couldn’t hear myself, I couldn’t hear anything actually, so I had to hear the fans voices to see what key we were on. That’s how bad it was. But it made it so special, and I think it was really cool ’cause I didn’t have anything in my ears and usually I have in-ears [monitors]. It sounded like we were just singing with our fans, literally. We were making music [together]. It was cool, yeah.
Do Joon: It was like, ‘I’ll play guitar and you sing back.’
Kinda like busking and the crowd joining in?
Do Joon: Yeah! A huge busking.
It sounds like you enjoyed the experience even though it must have been really stressful.
Woo Sung: At first, the two songs we were like —
Do Joon: Just confused. Confused.
Woo Sung: We couldn’t hear anything.
Do Joon: There were like 20 thoughts coming through in every second. ‘What’s going on? What’s this?’ Then we heard that there were technical difficulties.
Woo Sung: We were supposed to do four songs and then talk, but we did two and then stopped. It could have been a really bad experience because the start of the show, beginning like that, it could really just [have] ruined the whole show. But we know the fans are there to watch us, and it would have been bad if we ruined it for them too, and we didn’t want to do that. They were amazing. They were there to have fun and enjoy, and we did the same.
Do Joon: They rooted for us. They danced even to ballad songs.
Woo Sung: I love it, they’re crazy.
You guys have been busy lately, since along with touring you released your “Red” single. How does it feel?
Do Joon: Crazy. We don’t even remember what we did three days ago. We just live today.
Woo Sung: That’s how it is, we live for today. My motto is ‘Live for today.’ Because there might not be a tomorrow, so I love it.
Jae Hyeong: It has been so busy but nice because we met our [fans] Black Roses. When we play on stage, we see them smiling and listening to their screaming, singing our songs. So it’s a nice experience for me.
“Red“ was your first release this year, how does it feel to make your return?
Do Joon: It was long, yeah. Last October [with Dawn]. But we have a lot of songs waiting.
Woo Sung: With Super Band — we were on a [television] program — that pushed all the schedules back.
Do Joon: It took a lot to get back on the road, like this tour, stuff like that.
What was the Super Band experience like for The Rose?
Woo Sung: It was definitely a step forward. We needed that. We needed to experience that, perform more with other bands, other musicians. We needed to get out of our comfort zone, so it was good for us. And we loved it.
Do Joon: Because of the show, our fandom’s age has become more diverse.
Woo Sung: The age of our fans.
Do Joon: There are a lot of [people in their] 30s and 40s who are loving our songs.
Why did you decide to return with “Red” as a single? Do Joon said there is a lot you’ve been working on.
Woo Sung: ‘Cause we just felt like this moment, right now, was a good one to do a happy song for once. ‘Cause we always do really emo sad songs, right? [Laughs] But it felt right to just release a happy song, a summer song, that had a message of being who are you are.
Do Joon: Happy and uplifting and [a] simple song would be good. That was our thought.
Is that how you’re feeling right now?
Do Joon: Yeah, pretty simple.
Woo Sung: I mean, how are we feeling these days? We’re just going through our days.
Do Joon: We’re just liking today.
Woo Sung: The basic message for “Red” was just love yourself, be who you want to be and don’t let other [people’s] judgments hide that. That was the biggest message we wanted to give out, and we wanted to give it out through a really happy, uplifting song.
You have a bigger audience now than prior releases. Did this positivity have anything to do approaching a wider audience?
Woo Sung: Definitely not [laughs]. “Red” was already written before Super Band. Basically, that was planned to come back like in June or May. But it got pushed. It was supposed to be a mini album, too. It’s why we’re so sad. We had plans to record a mini EP.
Do Joon: We had plans to record five or six songs, originally.
Woo Sung: Even if we do get bigger audiences in life, I don’t think that will impact us in what we want to put out. Hopefully they will like it, and if they don’t I guess we’ll have to alter some things after we put it out. But we would love to try out different genres of music.
Do Joon: And hopefully they like it.
Woo Sung: It depends on if we like it. If we like the music, we’ll just put it out.
Why did you choose to pair “Red” with “California” of all songs, if you had other songs prepped for the EP?
Woo Sung: Oooh. That was our little greed. ‘Cause the company wanted us just to do a single. But “California” was supposed to be in the EP, but we had that song for almost two, three years now. And we really wanted to put it out. So that was a must.
Why did you want to release a song in English, like “California”?
Woo Sung: Because the song was about California. We can’t say “grizzly bear” in Korean and make it sound right.
Do Joon: Yea, we can’t really say that, “Love is a good thing to share” in Korean, because when you put it in Korean and sing it, it’s kind of really cheesy. And it would be really awkward to sing it in Korean, but if you put it into English it’s okay. I don’t know why.
Woo Sung, you released Face recently. What was it like to release your own album and get to pursue your own artistry?
Woo Sung: I guess it was harder because I didn’t have anyone else writing with me. It was me, myself and I. In that way it was harder. But I was showing more of myself and singing, not in a band way but my vocal characteristic were coming out versus how in The Rose we try to mix things up with [Do Joon’s] voice and my voice. I really wanted to put out tracks like that, that had always been the goal. Before doing the band, I wanted to be a solo R&B artist. So that was fun.
Do other members want to do solo projects?
Do Joon: Later on, yes, if we have any opportunities to do it. If we have any time. All four of us have our own thing that matches us well, so maybe one day.
Woo Sung was saying he’s into R&B. So what about the rest of you? Is it just rock?
Do Joon: Rock’s a good one, but we’re doing it as a band so maybe we’d do something else.
Woo Sung: Ballads for [Do Joon].
Woo Sung, you said that you have a different voice singing for yourself versus the band. What’s that like?
Woo Sung: The band songs are much higher, so harder. Higher key.
Do Joon: Higher pitch. Our songs are so high. I don’t know why, but it sounds better.
Woo Sung: We make it so high, it’s why my voice is always gone.
Do Joon: It may sound like it’s an easy song to sing, but it’s actually really hard.
Frontmen in bands are often prominent in media, and Woo Sung’s the first one to release a solo, so how do the other members of The Rose feel about that?
Do Joon: We think it’s funny, the idea of a ‘frontman.’ Cause then Ha Joon would be our backman. [All laugh.] It was really natural [for Woo Sung] to release a solo album, it was a good flow.
Woo Sung: We talked about it when we made the band. I was like, ‘Even if I start doing band music, I’m still going to do solo music as well,’ and they were so cool about it.
Jae Hyeong: It was a really good flow with the program and his album release, so it was good timing.
You were talking about before how your fanbase has grown but you want to still remain yourselves and do the music that you want to do, but do you really feel there is no pressure to make your music to appeal to new listeners?
Woo Sung: That’s what the company would want but we’re kinda just doing our own thing. But since there are older fans now, one thing I was considering for my solo was that I cussed. They were coming up to me saying, ‘I was showing my kid how great of an artist you were and then you came up with your solo stuff saying all these things.’ So maybe that’s something I should look out for. Not that I’m not going to cuss in the future [laughs]. But it wasn’t the title song, so you know…
Do Joon: When we look at the crowds, there are a lot of girls. But we like more if there are guys.
Woo sung: What? We like it more if there are guys? We would like more guys, I think that’s what he’s saying.
Do Joon: Yeah, in the fandom. Guys, if they are here they really like our music.
Woo Sung: So do the girls. What?
Do Joon: Yeah, they do, but…
Woo Sung, in Korean: It sounds kinda weird explaining it in English.
[The pair take a few minutes to discuss the nuances of language and culture between themselves.]
Do Joon: It’s a different culture here. I just feel that… We want more guy fans. It’s good.
Do you feel that female fans are only there because of your looks?
Do Joon: No, no, no.
Woo Sung: See? It’s kind of weird explaining it in English.
Do Joon: It’s not that but I think it’s getting weird here… Basically, I was trying to say…
You want a diverse audience?
Do Joon: Yeah! There we go.
“Red” is a happier shift for you than your earlier releases, do you think you’re going to pursue that direction moving forward?
Woo Sung: When we prepare an album, it’s like the feelings we feel at that time, so I want to say we want to go back to our sadder, emo “Sorry,” a little darker side.
You want to?
Woo Sung: Yeah, ’cause we showed the audience a little bit of a happy side, so now maybe we want to show our audience a little darker vibe.
Does that mean you’re in a sadder, darker place?
Woo Sung: When we write songs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re in that place. Actually, we are in that place. But we get healed by writing it and showing it to the world. And we’re not in a dark place right now. But everybody has that dark place in their mind. Nobody is 100% happy. [Ha Joon nods along.] Everybody has depression. It’s an emotion everybody cares. And I think we like to touch up on each one. “Red” was happy and be yourself.
Do Joon: Maybe the next song, we might talk about anger, maybe.
What are you working on now?
Do Joon: Maybe a great time period of producing songs would be good. Since we’re on the road, maybe it’d be a good time for us to go back into the studio, in the room of nothing where we just write music. It’s a good thing to have as a musician, so maybe that’s going to be one of the things we want to do.
Woo Sung: We don’t know what we want to do next or put out next. We don’t know until the day we write. We still haven’t made up our mind what to do with those songs [that were meant to be released on the canceled EP]. We really wanted to put them out, like, in May. Like in the summertime. The whole album concept was perfect and a reset for us. So since we couldn’t do that, maybe we won’t put them out.
Do Joon: Or maybe next year!
This interview has been edited for clarity.