“We don’t stay in one place for more than two, three months at a time,” Woosung, the de facto frontman of the Rose, tells AP. Such is the life of South Korea’s busiest rock band, who for the better part of the year have been living out of their suitcases and racking up frequent flyer miles.
Two weeks ago, the act played Mad Cool in Madrid. They hit the stage at BST Hyde Park in London the week prior. In August, the quartet will be in Chicago, headlining Lollapalooza’s Bacardi stage, before kicking off their U.S. tour later this fall. Between festival crawls and a packed schedule, their state of equilibrium is transient. At the time of our early evening chat in late July, they’re back home in Seoul putting the finishing touches on their second studio album, DUAL.
It’s been hectic. “We’re a little drained,” Dojoon admits over Zoom. They’re deep into the recording process, clocking in countless hours at the studio in addition to doing all the things they have to do to prepare for its release — wardrobe fittings, promotional shoots, banking TikTok content, filming music videos, and creative meetings with their team. Right now, the Rose are itching to be back onstage. That’s where they feel the most alive. “Even though it can be exhausting, the new music, the new production, [and] the new venues excite us.”
It’s a skill they honed while busking on the streets of Seoul in the mid-2010s. Before they were the Rose, Dojoon (vocals, keyboard, guitar), Jaehyeong (bass), and Hajoon (drums) were just three Seoul transplants who would perform in Hongdae, a bustling bohemian arts district that’s become a hotspot for students, tourists, and buskers. They learned how to connect with an audience and hold their attention.
“We tried singing loud songs, but that didn’t work,” Dojoon recalls from their earlier days. “So we always try to stay true to ourselves and the music we make. People can always tell when you’re trying to be someone you’re not.” The three began writing music together before Woosung, who moved from Los Angeles to Seoul to pursue music, joined in 2016. The band made their debut in 2017 with “Sorry,” a wistful slow burn that introduced the world to Woosung’s unique vibrato, a raspy warble sung in cursive.
For the most part, Woosung and Dojoon — who was born in the port city of Busan but lived in New Zealand for five years — carry our conversation in English. They’re both charismatic frontmen with a deep affection for the Beatles, another foursome from humble beginnings who rose to prominence singing love songs. Woosung thinks of music as a metaphysical entity that brings the universe together (“Everything is energy,” he says in earnest), and Dojoon’s relationship to it is more tactile. He’s an artist who makes music for himself, first and foremost. Jaehyeong and Hajoon are naturally more introverted, preferring to mostly listen and insert themselves where necessary. Hajoon, originally from Gwangju, follows his instincts, whereas the youngest member Jaehyeong, raised in Samcheok, is more sensitive. (A real George, if you will.) He’s penned some of the band’s most soul-baring tracks, including last year’s “See-Saw.”
It’s the Rose’s ability to seamlessly switch between the intimate and the outsize that led to DUAL. “We understand the people aren’t just one thing,” Woosung says. Onstage, they evoke an air of rock star cool. But if you want to get a sense of who the Rose are behind the scenes, just look at their TikTok. It’s a chaotic stream of consciousness. “That’s our reality,” Hajoon jokes.
They began writing DUAL in Tokyo, the epicenter of hyperactivity. The ever-evolving metropolis offered the perfect “party vibes,” Woosung says — vibrant and in constant motion. Their previous album, 2022’s HEAL, pointed inward, a cozy meditation on self and purpose that was largely written and recorded in Joshua Tree; with DUAL, they want to show a more polished, trendier side of the Rose.
The band’s most recent singles demonstrate this eagerness to experiment beyond their comfort zone. “Back To Me,” which they debuted at a festival gig in Stockholm, is punchy and anthemic, as Woosung and Dojoon lament the self-inflicted end of a relationship with emotional immediacy over rhythmic handclaps and heavy guitar. “Alive” combines a dark bassline with atmospheric synths and an explosive dubstep breakdown. You can hear the direct influence of DJs like Skrillex and Fred again.. in its jittery production, inspired by artists who reinvent sounds and meld genres to create maximalist sonic experiences. “We went to Coachella to hang out this year and to watch different stages,” Woosung says. “A lot of things DJs are doing, we were very awestruck by them. We like incorporating things into our music because we have our genre as the Rose, but we’re always excited to bring in new colors.”
Tokyo provided an ideal playground for the Rose to try out these new ideas. They absorbed the rhythm of the city, which harbors a dynamic rock and nü-metal scene that thrives in underground clubs and on the charts. During the early days of writing the album, they had lunch with Japanese guitarist Miyavi and went to random gigs, even catching one of Jaehyeong’s favorite bands, ONE OK ROCK, on tour. Immersed in the sweat and vigor of live music, they felt reborn.
DUAL feels like a leap forward for the band, whose previous body of work was defined by inner turmoil. HEAL had made them feel whole again after two years of uncertainty. In 2020, the group sued their previous management company to terminate their contract, alleging a lack of payment and a violation of contract terms. (Both parties settled out of court, and the Rose parted ways with the company.) Amid their legal battle, Dojoon, Jaehyeong, and Hajoon fulfilled their compulsory 18-month military series.
Meanwhile, Woosung released his debut solo album, Genre, a kaleidoscopic exploration of various sounds, from chill-hop to EDM to synth-wave. He took his vision on the road, opening for Epik High on the North American leg of the Epik High Is Here tour. But his endgame was always to reunite with the Rose. In 2022, they reassembled and started working on HEAL, a heartfelt collection of personal tales and fans’ stories. Ahead of its release, they partnered with Transparent Arts, a label established by the Asian-American collective Far East Movement.
Their time apart made their teamwork even stronger. “We understand each other better,” Woosung explains. Which is to say they better understand their differences. “Not every human is the same. So we’ve learned to communicate with each other.” Beside him, Dojoon quips, “We look a little bit older, too. We have more understanding and wrinkles.” It’s all those long hours in the studio and sleeping on tour buses. “And also smoking,” Woosung impishly adds.
After a tumultuous period defined by extreme change and self-reflection, they’re ready to have fun and make people dance. “We usually try to write about what we’re going through at the time,” Woosung says. They want to conduct a kinetic force so strong you can feel it, a tingling in your limbs and a pounding in your chest.
If there’s anything to learn from their struggles, it’s to “follow where your heart leads,” Dojoon says. He knows what he’s saying is a bit twee. “It’s scary to take risks, but sometimes when you follow your heart, it could lead to the place where you might belong.” (To quote one of the band’s favorite movies, Sing Street, “rock ’n’ roll is a risk.”) Woosung, moved by his bandmate’s words, adds, “You’re going to be wrong, even when you follow your heart, almost every time. But if it’s coming from a genuine place, even if you don’t make it as an artist, you’ll find the path you need to be on.”
It’s the very ethos of the Rose, a band whose name symbolizes both beauty and pain. Through their music, they’re encouraging listeners to feel everything. “It’s OK to feel sad, happy, angry,” Woosung says. “These emotions are normal.” Life is learning how to live through it all.
As for the Rose, their path has led them to the global stage, performing in a different city every other week. They’re physically exhausted, but they’ve never been more in sync about their future. They want to continue making music, playing gigs, traveling the world, and eating late-night snacks together. And if it ever gets too overwhelming, they have a plan for that, too.
“I’m waiting for the Apple Vision Pro goggles,” Dojoon jokes. “We need those on tour when we get sick of each other.” Woosung laughs. “We’re going to buy it as soon as it’s available.”