Eric Nam
Photo: Kigon Kwak

Eric Nam

When it comes to music, Eric Nam has quite literally done it all. The 33-year-old singer-songwriter has been involved in the music industry for roughly a decade, and in that amount of time has become an insightful and recognizable solo talent around the world. Though Nam first began to gain momentum in his career with art very early on, his wholesome attitude reflected an optimistic hope for the future of talent and graciousness — opening the door for even greater opportunities with age.

Since his musical debut (with nearly 500 million streams), Nam has gone on to build incredible presentations of musicality in both English and Korean, as well as the eventual progression to his impactful DIVE Studios podcasts that only expanded his reach and relatability to listeners. From K-Pop Daebak w/ Eric Nam to I Think You’re Dope w/ Eric Nam, his ability to communicate concepts inside and outside of music further helped him attain the No. 1 podcast download spot in over a dozen counties. Having manufactured such a reputation for versatility as a performer and influential public figure, he’s recently found himself in a healthy space to fully enjoy his career and the fruits of his devotion to work.

Now, freshly into 2022, Nam is dropping his sophomore full-length English album, There and Back Again, including the enchanting retro-pop track “I Don’t Know You Anymore” released in late 2021, with a chorus that blends his soulful sound and an unmissable guitar that depicts a shift in maturity. The song is also a familiar bridge into new terrain, adding other tracks that feel pensively evolutionary both lyrically and contextually — with so many incredible musical elements merging his own life with varying dance music components.

These aforementioned moments feel effortless on Nam’s “Any Other Way” or “What If,” with enough deviation to encapsulate his full potential in more stripped, mid-tempo productions. “Wildfire” perfectly reinforces that suggestion, using an integral soft synthy-electro influence, whereas “Admit” is the singer’s acoustic revelation to give the album greater sub-genre insights into his craft.

With this incredible new body of work officially out in the world, the singer/media mogul is now pressing pause on some of his non-music commitments to be fully immersed in There and Back Again by kicking off a brand new tour and an exciting reveal of his stunning video for another powerful track “Lost On Me.” As of now, things are looking rather bright for Nam, with the promise of numerous sold-out shows to look forward to and a masterful discography to break down — so we were very eager to speak with to the singer-songwriter about a career that actively inspires countless creatives.

This is an incredible project, and it happens to be your sophomore studio album! Did coming back into this allow a little more room to breathe — and what were some of your initial hopes in creating There and Back Again?

Ooh, I’m not sure if I have any more space to breathe this time around! For me personally, more than whatever significance a sophomore album can hold, this album is special to me because it is my first album as a completely independent artist. To be put in a position where every single thing pretty much falls on you is both freeing but also terrifying. So I knew it would be a very big learning process for me, and oh have I learned. From a music perspective, I wanted to create an album that pushed the boundaries of what my sound has traditionally been. Centering itself in feel-good pop, but leaning slightly to the left and incorporating new techniques, sounds, and processes so that I wasn’t comfortable all the time and so that it would ultimately affect the music. I think my hopes were to create music that I felt was a slight departure and an elevation from my previous sounds, learn more about the process of creating music and releasing music in today’s world, and perhaps most importantly, to have fun.

The lead single “I Don’t Know You Anymore” has a very insightful moment of reflection and openly discusses your ability to recognize unhealthy dynamics in your life with people. As someone who is very close in age, I’ve noticed that it seems to be a recurring trait for our generation at this time in our lives. How would you say that putting those feelings into your music helped you in handling those complex relationships?

I think when you’re younger it’s more difficult to see your life and the relationships in it with perspective and naturally so. Every single person and relationship and situation can seem like it is the most important thing in the world and that it may or may not become a big part of your life and future. However, I think stepping into your 30s, you have a better sense of self. You’ve probably been through a few bouts of ups and downs, extreme highs and extreme lows, relationships that run the gamut of emotions, and just a lot wiser than you were in your 20s… at least I think that’s for a lot of people. But, most importantly, I think you start to realize what is important for you. What is important for your health, your sanity, your quality of life, and rather than giving away or compromising parts of what makes you healthy or happy, you start prioritizing them and making sure you’re in a good place. I think writing this song out was a very therapeutic process for me in just reiterating that understanding. Reiterating the understanding that when you need to move on or cut people or situations out of your life, you have to do it for yourself. Because nobody in the world will love or care about you as much as you should care and love yourself.

Eric Nam
Photo: Kigon Kwak

When I listened to “Any Other Way,” I quickly fell for its genuinely positive, feel-good energy. And from what I’ve read, you also intended for it to feel very inclusive, which universally, means a lot for anyone who might have experienced people who aren’t so accepting of one’s innate attributes. When you think of making music a space for inclusivity, what types of changes do you think the industry could see change/growth in?

I think that there is so much work to be done for general inclusivity in music. The biggest thing that I want to advocate for is diversity in voices and faces of music as well as a shaking up of the music system so that it is an actually sustainable career choice for more people. That means more acceptance of people who may look and appear or sound “other” and more opportunities for these people to be cultivated and nurtured. The music industry is currently not diverse enough. We have to be able to appreciate and recognize that there are so many different stories and voices that need to be heard and I don’t believe that efforts to incorporate these stories and voices have been properly made. I am still waiting for more Asian American artists to break out onto the scene. We have made huge strides in terms of general representation of “Asian” people, but first, it is not enough, and second, “Asian” is not “Asian American,” and vice versa. Also, “Asian” should not be a catchall term that is used to fill one box on a running list of “diversity checkpoints.”

We then jump into “Wildfire” and it’s so addictive. The guitar, your falsetto, all of it just makes for a really vibrant track. How did this song, which feels like a combination of several styles, come together? It feels like it must have been a unique process to get that incredible, final sound.

“Wildfire” is one of the songs that I did not write, but I truly wish I could say I had the genius of writing. I, unfortunately, did not. But! I’m so proud and happy to be able to call it mine and to put it on my album. I heard the demo and I just absolutely fell in love with it. It had been in Rabitt’s (my producer) vault of songs for years and nobody could get the sound or the song right, but I fell in love and I asked if I could give it a shot, and here we are. I will say that it was probably the most challenging song to record on this album, just spinning in and out of falsetto and my normal voice to then screaming the octaves, and also, the entrances of particular parts was very challenging due to a very fascinating timing thing that I still don’t fully understand. So it took a WHOLE LOT OF EFFORT, but I’m glad that it sounds the way it does and that we were able to get it on the album.

Every track is so well-crafted, but I have to admit that “One Way Lover” has a special place in my heart already. There’s something that really strikes an emotional chord, and it feels like there’s a lot of depth that’s worth unpacking. I would love to know how that particular song found its way onto this wonderful album?

Kevin Garrett is an artist and songwriter that I’ve been a fan of for years and have wanted to work with for a very long time. Kevin somehow came up in conversation between myself and my producer, Rabitt, and he mentioned that he had a song that he and Kevin had worked on together. I asked if I could hear it, and out comes “One Way Lover.” If you’ve ever been in and out of love with someone, I feel like it’s a song that you can relate to and understand. If you haven’t that’s fine as well, cause there’s something so pensive and moody and thoughtful about the song and the lyrics that leave you thinking about the different dynamics of relationships, be they romantic or platonic.

You’re also prepping to go on a massive world tour, so congratulations on so many incredible venues and expansive locations. Considering it’s been a minute since touring was even an option, what are you most excited for — and has that adrenaline rush started to build yet?

Thank you so much. Yes, right now we have 52 confirmed shows, and I imagine we’ll probably inch up closer to 60 at some point as the year progresses. I am very excited to hit the road with a full band this time, which is a first for me, and we have a much bigger crew, which I hope also means a lot more in terms of what fans and concert-goers are walking away with in terms of our concert experience. It still hasn’t really hit me that we’re going on tour yet, particularly as we don’t start rehearsals until early January, but it’s going to be such a good time and I can’t wait to see my fans!

I have to acknowledge that I’m actually a big DIVE Studios fan and love your work on Daebak Show! You’ve really provided a space where artists are eager to talk music, and you get a lot of fun original content because people feel very comfortable with you. What has been one of your biggest personal achievements to come out of this platform after launching numerous podcast series?

Thank you! I think it’s been fun to have a reason and an excuse to catch up with old friends and meet newer and younger artists who I otherwise probably would not get to interact with. So just being able to have dynamic conversations has been great. I think one of the most rewarding things for me is that a lot of artists come on the show and talk about things that they may not have shared in other places, so artists tend to open up a good bit and I think the fans appreciate getting to hear and see another side to their favorite artists. The other really special part is the community that we were able to build around Daebak Show and DIVE Studios. It’s really special to be able to be a part of someone’s weekly listening playlist — their drive to work, their work companion, their study buddy, their nighttime routine, etc., so thank you to everyone who has joined us in any capacity.

You’ve now been able to attain 400 million streams with your music, and are nearing a substantial 10 million followers across social media. What has been your favorite thing about connecting with people, as well as your (current) least favorite trait about social media?

Oh sheesh, I did not realize. That’s, uh, a lot. Thank you. I think my favorite thing is probably being able to connect? My least favorite thing is feeling pressured to post something. I don’t think I’ve been very active this past year in regards to social media. I just realized that it can be very exhausting and I naturally, without me realizing it, just started to take a step back from posting as regularly as I used to. I’m sure it will come and go in waves, but allowing myself to just say, “Eh whatever, there will be a natural flow and you shouldn’t feel pressured,” has been enough for me to just not obsess about social media like I think I used to.

Finally, you have had so many experiences that have led to this independent release There and Back Again (via The Orchard), now that you have that ability to have even more input in your craft, what would you say has been the biggest noticeable change, if any, in your work?

From a strictly creative standpoint, I don’t think much has changed because I’ve been doing my music for years, but honestly, it’s more work and more stress. I sit here wondering, oh my lord, will anyone listen to this? Can I keep doing this? There are so many things that go into creating albums and music and touring and it’s all very exhausting and stressful because at the end of the day, as much as it is built on and around me, it can easily just fall and topple on me. So if we’re being very real, it’s never been an easy ordeal, even when I was signed to a label, and it most definitely hasn’t gotten any easier. I think the most noticeable change though is that it forces me to grow up even more and have a bunch of conversations that are not easy to have. But rather than thinking of it as a negative, I’m trying to process it as a way for me to grow even more as a person and I’m sure these growing pains will make their way into my music at some point as well.