JYP Entertainment

The Book Of DAY6 Is Still Being Written

'I want to hold onto my youth': The Korean rock band reflect on where they've been and where they're heading to next

It's hard to describe the intimacy of a DAY6 show until you can see it with your own eyes. It's a special kind of alchemy, one that the fivesome from South Korea have spent years perfecting — from their days busking in the streets of Seoul to this very moment, on stage in a New York City theater playing a stripped-down version of their debut song "Congratulations" for 2,000 fans. But the real magic is captured in the way their fans, called My Day, take the lead in singing the Korean song, a sea of diverse faces becoming a singular chorus.

As they play their instruments — leader Sungjin on acoustic guitar; Young K on bass; charismatic Dowoon at the drums; and guitarist Jae and keyboardist Wonpil standing idly by, encouraging the crowd — the looks on their faces are unmistakable, a mix of mirth and amazement. For a group that wants to "sing about every moment in life," then surely this moment feels worthy of its own melody.

"I think that I'm actually not a singer but you guys are the singers," honey-voiced Wonpil says to the crowd, somewhere between earnestness and playfulness. With Wonpil, it's sometimes hard to tell.

The day before their string of New York shows, I meet the members of DAY6 for an early breakfast in NoHo, just a block away from where eager fans have already begun lining up for their next stop at BUILD Studio. But here in a quiet cafe on Lafayette Street, the only sound that can be heard is drummer Dowoon's baritone laugh. "I was told to tell you that this is your spoon, for your yogurt," I tell him when we sit down. "Thank you!" he says with a broad smile, clutching the utensil to his chest.

Dowoon's charm is his affable nature. ("I want to be kind to all people," he later says.) Sungjin is wildly expressive and witty; his greatest strength, he says, is that he's "not bound to normal limitations." Wonpil speaks with quiet, careful intention, but he carries a positive disposition — and a blinding smile. He's the perfect foil to oldest member Jae's occasional cynicism. Raised in Los Angeles, the guitarist moved to Korea seven years ago, and he's still adjusting. "I've come to a point where I've realized I don't know what words are in English anymore, I know them in Korean," he says. "So I'm not good at Korean or English." Young K, who spent his adolescent years in Canada, can understand Jae's bilingual struggle. The striking bassist has recently taken up cooking as a new creative outlet. ("Because I don't get evaluated," he jokes.)

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DAY6 members from left to right: Sungjin, Dowoon, Jae, Wonpil, and Young K

We traverse their four-year discography over lemon pancakes and iced Americanos. Only Young K chooses something savory — a ratatouille omelette, chosen in part because of the Pixar movie — to indulge in during our conversation. Their latest release, The Book of Us: Gravity, marks a fresh page for DAY6. It's a prismatic piece of work about connection — both the connection you share with others and the connection you have with yourself. It's somehow bright and wistful, a mix of genres, sounds, and sentimentalism. And it proves that DAY6 can't forge ahead without reflecting on where they've been.

Chapter 1: The Turning Point

DAY6 debuted in September 2015 with guitarists Sungjin and Jae, bassist Young K, Wonpil on the synthesizer, and Dowoon on the drums. A sixth member, a keyboardist, was also part of the original line-up. As JYP Entertainment's first-ever band, DAY6's debut EP The Day — led by the raw power ballad "Congratulations," which Sungjin still calls their "best" — showcased their vocal ability and talent for writing tender lyrics.

They are, after all, a group of idol-trained vocalists. At the time of their debut, Sungjin, Young K, and Wonpil had each trained with JYP for over five years; Jae for two; and youngest member Dowoon for less than a year.

Ask Dowoon if he had any concerns joining an established group's line-up just three months before their debut, and he'll kindly balk at the suggestion. It's not in his nature to worry. But that doesn't mean he was completely void of insecurities. "I'm not a singer, and I'm not a good songwriter, so I was wondering about that," he says in English, surprising even himself. ("Are you from America?" Young K jokes from across the table.)

"I'm doing my best. I'm still not there," Dowoon says of his vocal training. "But at the same time," Young K adds, "his part — which is playing drum — he's actually doing his best. So it's more than enough."

There's a comfortable camaraderie among the members of DAY6, one that Wonpil remarks has been there since their debut. "Because we trained [together] for so long," he says quietly, "we're like neighborhood friends who grew up together. Even Dowoon felt like he had been there the whole time." Their last serious argument was in early 2017 (over the acoustic instrumentation for a radio performance; how boring), but Sungjin says the band has a "very strict majority rules" policy. "Once we have an argument, we resolve it — but we usually do it over ice cream."

As a body of work, The Day sits comfortably between DAY6's two magnetic poles. It starts with "Freely," an energetic pop-rock ode to living in the moment — a song that not only lays the foundation for later tracks like "Dance Dance" and "Best Part" but also closes out the Gravity Tour setlist. And it ends with "Colors," a broody power ballad about unrequited love and the subsequent heartbreak.

Sungjin calls the EP's release a turning point. "The dream that I had lived for in that moment became a reality," he says, while carefully dissecting his croissant. For Wonpil, it reminds him of his youth. "When I think of [The Day], I remember the pure passion that we had," Wonpil says.

And now that passion can be seen in the faces of fans who sing along to "Congratulations" with such fond reverence. "You have hella interviews when you first debut, and they always ask, 'What do you guys look forward to?'" Jae says. "And that was our answer: When we point to the crowd and they sing our song."

As trainees, Young K recalls how they would crowd around a laptop to watch live performances from groups they admired like Coldplay. "There's always a session where everyone sings for you, and they're not even holding a mic. We were dreaming about it, and now we're having that. So we're very honored."

Chapter 2: Digging Deeper

For Korean artists the first comeback (or release) after a debut is crucial in building momentum. But for DAY6, their second EP Daydream served as a reintroduction. A month prior to its release, the group's keyboardist left the group due to personal reasons. DAY6 were now a quintet, with Wonpil on the keys full-time. Their sound, however, hadn't changed — only evolved; they were back to pulling at heartstrings as effortlessly as they pluck their guitars.

Their second single, "Letting Go," written by Young K and Wonpil, is a sentimental rock ballad that recounts the painful decision to end a hollow relationship. It unpacks heavy emotions with somber harmonies and dynamic chords. "In the second album we talk about more detailed emotions and situations," Young K says. Jae adds, "It was us wanting to sound a little more mature."

"Wish" is one such song that finds DAY6 growing more introspective and examining their own loneliness over heavy guitar riffs. "I wish I was happier," Sungjin, who co-wrote the song with Young K and Wonpil, sings on the chorus. "Every day my wish is the same."

When I ask Sungjin if he still feels this way, he smiles. "We get happier as time progresses," he says. "I'm always looking for new adventures. I feel like I experience more of those now, in the present, than I did in the past."

It's their ability to open up about these worries and insecurities, to reveal the ugly parts of themselves, that has endeared DAY6's music to their fans. And Daydream was a step toward this direction, a confessional of sorts.

"During our first album, we wanted to associate with our JYP label or with a mainstream audience, so we had a more mainstream sound, or a lighter tone, in general," Jae says. "But I think with our second album we kind of figured, 'You know what? We're here. We're a band. Might as well do what we like to do.' So we pursued a little more of our own interests. And I guess our music got a little bit deeper because of that. I feel that eventually segued into the Every DAY6 project, where we just went totally with what we wanted."

Chapter 3: Shedding

OK, so maybe that's a slight oversimplification of the Every DAY6 project. On the surface, the premise was every musician's dream (or nightmare): DAY6 released a new single, a music video, and a b-side — plus performed them live — every month for the entirety of 2017. (As Jae later admits, "It wasn't really like we had a choice.")

The group went into the ambitious project thinking that they could use plenty of their unreleased material; they had just written "a bunch" of songs for their new album, and their company didn't want to waste them as b-side tracks. So Every DAY6 was a novel way to showcase their new material. "We were excited because half the work was already done, but we were also scared because the other half wasn't completely done," Jae says.

There was only one problem: The company wanted different lead singles, which meant Young K, the group's main lyricist, had to get to work.

"Writing lyrics is writing down a story every time," he says. "So we run into a phase where we go deeper and deeper into who we are because we needed to decide: What are we going to talk about, and how are we going to talk about it? In order to do that, we needed to know ourselves better."

To do that, Young K shed his idol veneer. "Before Every DAY6, or even until the early part of the Every Day6 project, I still had that packaging," he says. "I still wanted to look cooler, I wanted to write it better. But I feel like going through that phase, I took out more of that unnecessary clothing and got more honest with words and more simple."

And it wasn't just the bassist who felt the lasting effects of such a tedious creative endeavor. "Before Every DAY6, I was lazy," Sungjin jokes. It also helped Jae, who admittedly gets inside his own head more often than not, relax. "There's no time to worry," he says. "You just have to keep moving on."

Each member has their own way in which they deal with feeling creatively blocked. Sungjin "breaks up" with music. "I don't like working in a state where I don't know what to do, so first I have to admit that I'm in a slump, and then take a break. After three days or a week, everything comes back to me."

Wonpil prefers to be alone. He assesses the situation rationally: "I ask myself, 'Why am I feeling this way?' and then I find a way to break out of it. I like to think positively." Jae, on the other hand, turns toward the internet; halfway through the Every DAY6 project, he launched his JaeSix channel on YouTube.

Meanwhile, Young K goes outside. "I'm the only person that goes out whenever I'm in a writer's block," he says. "I need that travel time. It doesn't have to be somewhere far. It can be nearby. Just not in the same place that I used to be."

By the end of the Every DAY6 project, the group had released two full-length albums (Sunrise and Moonrise), and expanded their versatile discography with heart-racing anthems ("Say Wow," "Pouring"), powerful rock ballads ("I Smile," "I Need Somebody"), earnest love songs ("I Like You," "Man in a Movie"), and one soothing declaration of acceptance that aptly acts as the project's sentimental closer ("I'll Try").

Chapter 4: Balance 

DAY6 eventually hit their "burn-out phase" with Shoot Me: Youth Part 1. Three years of constant writing had taken a toll on the group and resulted in repetitive melodies and songs that all started to sound the same. To break out of old habits, the group experimented with new sounds and took their time doing their homework, listening to and studying other genres. The result, released six months after the Every DAY6 project concluded, was Youth — a two-part series that manifested in two starkly different singles: the dark and explosive "Shoot Me" and the 80s-infused, synth-pop song "Days Gone By."

"We're always looking for a new sound," Jae says. "One, because we like music, and we're always looking for something new to do. And two, in order to get confirmation from the company to come back with a song, they need to feel something fresh in it too."

"Shoot Me" was "a little bit stronger and a little bit more concert-oriented," he adds. It's anthemic without being generic, its electronic influences adding a necessary edge to DAY6's particular brand of melancholy. "We're just sad people," Jae jokes when asked why so many of their lead singles are about heartbreak. "We do write bright songs too," Young K says. "It's just the ones that get confirmed as title songs happen to be very, very sad... I think the company is trying to either say, 'You're sad people and you need to realize that,' or we're just better at singing and writing sadder songs."

By contrast, the synth-heavy "Days Gone By," released in December 2018, is sonically warm and nostalgic. "We wanted to bring the 70s and 80s vibes that we were feeling and studying into our style," Sungjin says. To be clear, it's still about heartbreak; the lyrics speak to the halcyon days of a past relationship.

"I don't think any of us are very comfortable with happy emotions," Jae says. "[But] sad emotions, we're very comfortable with. Wonpil always says that we always have a hint of sadness even in the happier songs."

"The Day6 sound is balanced," Wonpil clarifies. "If it's a happy song, it's going to have a little bit of sadness, and if it's sad song it's going to have that major happy sound. For example, 'Congratulations' is a sad song but the melody is bright and the chord progression is bright too." This musical balance, says Sungjin, is a way for DAY6 to "spread our arms to everybody."

"I think that's real life, though," concludes Jae. "If you just take a song and make just positive or just sad, that doesn't feel real."

So, speaking philosophically: Is the glass half-full or half-empty? "It's both!" says Jae, to which Young K adds: "That's DAY6."

Chapter 5: Exploration and Entropy

The Book of Us: Gravity, released earlier this summer, strikes this balance perfectly. Lead single "Time of Our Life" captures the exhilarating feeling of a fresh start. From the opening cymbals to the sweeping vocals, the song marks a new chapter for DAY6, one Jae calls "Exploration." (Rejected titles include Sungjin's "Somewhere in 2019" and Wonpil's "We Are Not Adults.") "We're still looking at new things, still understanding new concepts," he says. "We've got a lot to learn."

That level of self-awareness, especially four years into a career, is refreshing. But it doesn't come without some concern for the next chapter. "I'm always thinking: 'Are we going to be able to sustain this?'" Wonpil says. "Not only where we are creatively, but who we are?"

As they look ahead — The Book of Us: Entropy will be released later this month — that question still lingers.

"I feel like I've grown up a lot," Dowoon says. "I've matured."

"I feel like I haven't matured at all," Wonpil counters. "I want to hold onto my youth. I'm afraid I'm going to mature too much. Once you mature too much, the music becomes a little bland. And I'm afraid it's going to become work and not something I want to do."

But on stage, performing live, that never feels like work. Sungjin pauses, smiling slightly: "That's when I feel the happiest."