Courtesy of January
Indie pop-rock trio Band Nah (나상현씨밴드) are quite possibly the nerdiest yet coolest South Korean band you’ll ever meet. The members’ impressive resumes read like every Korean parent’s dream: Bassist Paik Seung-ryeol (a.k.a. Paiiek, his typically all-caps stage name) is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Seoul National University (the Harvard of South Korea), where he studies how A.I. and deep learning can be applied to music and audio. Drummer Kang Hyun-woong, a graduate of SNU, works as a software engineer by day. Vocalist and guitarist Nah Sang-hyun (after whom the band is named) is also an SNU graduate and composes, writes, and produces all of the band’s songs. He also happens to be the son of the bassist who performed with the legendary Korean duo 015B in their early days.
Yet despite their formidable backgrounds, the multi-talented savants come across as disarmingly friendly, down-to-earth, and humble during a late-night Zoom call with MTV News. It’s past 9 p.m. in Seoul — the only downtime they have due to their cramped schedules — and although they seem more subdued than in their hilarious YouTube videos, it’s still clear that they’re just regular guys who love poking fun at themselves.
All three members recall becoming interested in rock during their middle school years, when they avidly listened to American and British rock bands like Metallica, Queen, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Kang and Nah first met in 2014 while they were both studying at SNU. “When I joined SNU’s songwriting club, Hyun-woong was the club’s president and wanted to form a band with me because he thought my songs were good,” Nah says in Korean. And so Band Nah was born. Paik joined the band in 2018, and in the years since, the trio have gone on to release roughly 80 songs, including four EPs and two studio albums.
What’s the secret to their prolificacy? “Songs are, in a sense, a record of a particular moment in time — the feelings that I have in that moment, the kind of music I like and want to do in that moment,” Nah says. “But I think because our tastes change quite frequently, as time passes, we don’t really look back on the songs we made in the past,” he adds, laughing. “So we just release them immediately after producing them as a reflection of what we’re enjoying in that moment.”
That mentality has enabled them to infuse a wide array of elements into their music. Pop-punk is heard on “1+1” and “Sitcom” — the latter might sound reminiscent of Weezer, whom Nah counts as one of his musical influences. There’s also city pop (like on “Nights”), funk (as in “Domino”), and everything in between. Each album in their expansive discography feels quite different and unexpected, making it difficult to pin down their ever-evolving sound. Nah credits the British pop-rock band The 1975 with heavily inspiring his eclectic approach to music. “When you listen to their albums, they’re able to experiment with a variety of different genres — whether it’s house, rock, or new wave — without losing their signature style,” he tells MTV News. “So they inspire me to try versatile styles while maintaining our core sound. And seeing how The 1975 consistently release a lot of songs and albums also makes us want to continue creating songs and producing albums without taking a break.”
This year is no different. Band Nah plan to release their fifth EP this year, likely in June. Last month they dropped the EP’s lead single, “Love Love Love,” a cheerful and airy pop number about how even the smallest, seemingly most insignificant feelings can be interpreted as love. The band followed up with another single earlier this week, “찬란” (“Shine” in English), a brassy, upbeat tune that Nah says is meant to comfort anyone who feels they’ve lost sight of their childhood dreams as they’ve gotten older. “Even if our lives may seem a bit dull at present, just like how, at this point in time, our past may appear more beautiful to us, I hope that this moment will also seem brighter when we look back on it years from now,” Nah explains.
This message of hope and encouragement for anyone who’s coping with the pressures of modern society recurs in many of the band’s songs. “I often get inspiration for my lyrics when I’m talking with my friends who have different jobs,” Nah says. “During these conversations, I realize that even though we all have different concerns, at their core, we’re all struggling with the same issues. Particularly in Korea, people who are around my age work really hard because they have to, but it doesn’t seem like they’re emotionally fulfilled by what they do. There seem to be many Koreans who live like that, even though it’s stressful. So I try to express a lot of the emotions that they might feel in their everyday lives.”
The band’s relatable lyrics and unique retro vibe have garnered them increasing attention from the Korean public and media in recent years. Since 2021, Band Nah have appeared on numerous Korean radio and TV programs, such as the celebrated live music broadcast You Heeyeol’s Sketchbook and Mnet’s band survival show Great Seoul Invasion; contributed to multiple K-drama soundtracks, including Yumi’s Cells and Mental Coach Jegal; and performed at countless clubs and festivals throughout South Korea.
Still, the band’s members acknowledge that Korean indie acts face daunting hurdles when trying to reach both domestic and overseas audiences. “Unless you’re lucky and are, say, being recommended by YouTube’s algorithms, I think it’s hard to find the right connections who’ll introduce you to foreign audiences when you’re first starting out,” Nah says. “In Korea, in order to break into the mainstream music scene, it’s not enough to simply release really good music. Your music needs to be able to directly reach the majority of people in Korea… But without the help of the media, it’s hard to break into the mainstream on your own. And it’s hard to even get those media opportunities on your own — you need luck and connections.”
Kang points out yet another difficulty that has prevented Korean indie artists from achieving the same level of global fame enjoyed by many idol groups. “For K-pop idols, there are music shows that rate your performance, and you might get to appear on variety shows and gain popularity that way, but for indie bands, there isn’t a clear roadmap for us to follow,” he explains. “There’s no roadmap that’s being shared among Korean indie bands that shows them which local clubs to perform at for, say, an audience of 100 people, or which TV programs you could appear on, and — if you want to perform overseas — which agencies to partner with. Even among bands that are similar in terms of popularity, their paths to success are so different.”
But there are signs that things might be looking up for indie artists in South Korea. For example, both Nah and Kang mention that there seems to be a large — and growing — number of Koreans who used to listen to idol K-pop but are now switching over to indie rock. “In our eyes, we’re seeing this trend,” Kang says. “And we’re hoping it continues,” he adds with a laugh.
As for any other hopes the band might have for the future?
“Coachella!” replies Kang with a huge grin. “Personally, [performing at] Coachella is my goal.”
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