When we were told to submit questions for Eric Nam’s press conference so he could pick out a few to answer, we didn’t expect that he would be doing that literally.
But there we were, sitting in coffee chain dal.komm’s Marina Square outlet, watching the Korean-American crooner pull out folded strips of paper from a plastic container before passing them to the host to read what was printed on them during a 30-minute Q&A session.
Luckily for us, all three queries we sent in a couple of weeks ago were chosen (so this is how it feels to win the lottery). The first one asked him to elaborate on a social media post he shared earlier this month, in which he shared that “literal blood, sweat, and tears were poured into” his latest EP Honestly.
And the 29-year-old was pretty, well, honest with his response. “It was very difficult for me because I had to fight to be able to put out the type of music I wanted to put out,” he said. “The image that I have in Korea is very ‘guy-next-door’ and ‘boyfriend’, and I appreciate that, but it kept me in a box that made me look very one-dimensional, which to me was very frustrating.”
The tracks on Honestly certainly mark a dramatic departure from that lovey-dovey trope: there is a grand total of zero romantic songs. Instead, listeners get a frank and honest look at the process of breaking up that goes beyond the typical “I’m so in love” or “I’m so sad” storylines – not quite your typical K-pop content.
So, Eric continued, to move into that unconventional zone “took a lot of convincing and fighting and demanding” that he had not done before.
“I could understand why people were like, ‘Oh, are you sure you want to do this?’ but as an artist, you have to stay true to what stories you want to tell, and I didn’t want to feel stalled at one point in my life.”
Harking back to the social media post in question, he mused, “I said it half-jokingly, but now when I think back on it, there were absolutely moments where blood, sweat and tears were put into this album: I have cried as I made it, there were small scuffs here and there so there was probably blood, and even the music video had a lot of sweat involved.”
Thankfully, all the risks and hard work seem to be paying off handsomely. “The feedback has been very different in the sense that a lot more artists, songwriters and producers search me out and say that the album is great and that they really want to work with me on new stuff,” Eric said, looking modest despite the impressive report. “So hopefully, there’ll be a lot more to come soon.”
How dependent are you on coffee? What’s the most number of cups you’ve drank in a day and what were the side effects?
I’m pretty dependent on coffee. I don’t get withdrawal symptoms but sometimes I feel like my day isn’t complete until I’ve had a cup of coffee. On a long day, I’ll have four or five, maybe six cups of coffee. As for the side effects, I once did a TV show where I had to drink coffee all day and it made me go crazy. I felt like I was drunk!
If you had to describe yourself as a beverage, what would it be and why?
I’d say a shot of espresso because you can do so much with it: you can make Americano, latte, mocha, all these different types of beverages, and I like to think of myself as a person and an artist who can fit into many different genres and parts of the world.
Describe the creative process behind your new album Honestly.
I wanted to put together a piece of art that tells the story of a breakup. Most of the time, you only tell your closest friends “I think I want to break up with my girlfriend” but nobody announces it, so when I put that into a song and played it for people, I think it made them uncomfortable. They were like, “Are you sure you want to do this?” and I was like, this is a story, and once people understand the lyrics, they will feel like they can relate to it.
Is the title track ‘Honestly’ based on a real life experience?
To a certain extent it is. I think most people that have been in a relationship might have gone through that thought process of, “I think I’m done, but how do we end this in the nicest way possible? I don’t want to go out screaming and hating you, but I do think we’re done.” And that’s pretty much the entire story of that song.
Since we’re talking about Honestly: what’s an honest confession about yourself?
I was asked if I like durian yesterday and, I don’t really like it. (laughs) But I came to Singapore for a TV show recently and I tried durian, and I think I liked it then, so I’m having a moment where I don’t know how to respond to questions about durian.
Can we look forward to any exciting collaborations in the future?
There are people that I’m definitely talking to. Somebody that I’ve been talking to for a while is [American singer-songwriter] Khalid, but he’s so busy and everybody wants to work with him so I know it might be hard, but hopefully something will come out of it soon. I’m also talking to Latin artists to do a Spanish song or Spanish version of one of my songs from the album.
You have a song called ‘4AM” and there’s a line in ‘Don’t Call Me’ that goes “3AM, you’re in bed and you’re lonely”. What’s your favourite time of the day and why?
I think my favourite time of day is like, 1am or 11am. 11am because it’s before the afternoon and you still have that hope of being productive. 1am because that’s the time when the people around me and I get together for some real conversation, and then I get home and go to bed at 3am or 4am before getting up at 8am or 9am. My lifestyle is so not healthy. (laughs)
How did you overcome the tough times when struggling with establishing your identity as a musician?
The key for me is staying grounded and keeping my head on my shoulders. Music in any part of the world is a difficult job and to be able to establish myself as an entertainer in Korea took a long time and a lot of things I had a hard time with, but my friends and family really stuck with me through all the highs and lows, so I’m always very thankful for that.