The singer-songwriter is back again with his no-skips sophomore album.
Expect even bigger things in 2022 from Korean-American singer-songwriter Eric Nam.
The crazily charismatic talent already has millions of fans and streams, and he’s a bonafide superstar in South Korea, where he spent a decade building his career. Born and raised in Atlanta, things kicked off for Nam with a bang when he placed in the top five on Korea’s version of The Voice-meets-American Idol in 2012. Shortly after, he signed to a major K-pop label and went on to release five successful music projects, tour the world, star on Korean variety shows, and host multiple hit podcasts. He was also named GQ Korea’s “Man of the Year” and landed on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list in Asia. But an artist of Nam’s ambition eventually needs to keep it moving, and he did just that by recently returning to the States where, after many a Zoom songwriting session, he crafted his sophomore album, There And Back Again, dropping on January 7th. Replete with luminous, skyscraper-high anthemic gems, the no-skips, English-language album is his first full-length release as an independent artist. The head-turning, electric music video for the equally electric lead single, “I Don’t Know You Anymore,” is almost at two million views on YouTube, and his second single, “Any Other Way,” is an absolute bouncing-on-a-vodka-drenched-dancefloor bop. You can—and definitely should—catch Nam on his headline world tour.
Below, the multi-hyphenate discusses this exciting new chapter in his music career, and how he’s tackling his jam-packed 2022 calendar. He’s got you covered in the self-care tips/must-have picks department, and, yes, he revealed how he keeps his skin as crystal clear and glowing as his dreamy pop-perfection pipes.
This is your first time releasing an album as an independent artist. How does it feel?
“It’s a lot of things. I always had independence because even within the label system, I was always doing my thing. But now I have the freedom and the liberty to make all of the decisions and to talk about particular things. There’s something about it that’s not even tangible where I just feel free. That to me is probably the most important thing about being an independent artist. It is, at the same time, terrifying because I don’t fully know what I’m doing–I’m kind of just like making it work, but it’s a learning process. It’s a lot of work, but I also wouldn’t have it any other way. Even as a kid, my mom would bring me into Gap or Old Navy or whatever, and I would literally have to touch every single piece of clothing and my mom would be like, ‘Stop touching things.’ For me, I have to actually go through the process of experiencing everything for me to learn and for me to form a full conclusion about it. I feel like, having been in the label system, now I want to know and understand what it’s like to not be in that and to work and fully function outside of that. If anything, it’s been liberating but also a great learning experience. Hopefully, it’s all just downhill from here… in terms of ease!”
How long were you living in South Korea? Why did you decide to move back to the States?
“I got there in 2011, and I just got a place in L.A. a few months ago. I love Korea. Everyone asks me why I moved to the States. If it wasn’t for Covid, I’d probably be back and forth twice a month. But at the same time, I look at this trajectory and this general excitement around Korean, Korean American, Asian American music and artists and actors, and it’s been a long time coming where I wanna be in a position to kind of really add my voice to the movement and to take a big part in it, so I feel like I have to be here. It’s exciting.”
What is the meaning behind There And Back Again? How difficult is it for you to choose an album title?
“I’m really bad at album titles, I think. It’s just really hard–which is why, in the past, it’s been like the name of a single off the album. I don’t know where it popped up—it was in the back of my head. I was like, I really like this phrase ‘there and back again, there and back again…’ I felt like it was kind of literal in terms of what I was doing in my life of moving to Korea and then coming back. But then it made me think, ‘How do I relate this to life in general?’ And it’s about the ups and downs in life that we all go through. The emotional highs and the lows and this constant undulation–this back and forth that we have–and how that relates to all of us. There’s some happy songs, there’s some sad songs… that’s like the one thing that tied it back together. So There And Back Again all of a sudden started to make sense.”
Any dream collaborations?
“There are literally so many. Adele, John Legend, Harry Styles. Songwriter wise… I’m just gonna throw the biggest names out there. Max Martin’s great. I think Ryan Tedder’s incredible.”
Your vocal range is insane. That falsetto! How did you learn to sing like that? Are you trained?
“I’ve never really trained. Well, they gave me some vocal lessons on a TV show, but it was not what I wanted. It was very ‘This is how you sing a Korean ballad.’ The way I really learned was doing background vocals and demo vocals for a lot of other singers in Korea. I just spent a lot of time in the studio cutting songs and writing songs for other people. It forced me to learn how to mimic and to sing things that were out of my comfort zone so that I could pitch it to people who I could not sing like or who could not sing like me. I think that’s where I naturally learned how to sing.”
Do you have any pre-show rituals before hitting the stage?
“Tours are pretty brutal. They’re a lot of fun and I love performing and seeing my fans, but it means that I’m on the road, living out of a suitcase and on a bus bunk for months at a time. So my focus is to stay as healthy as possible. I’m not the best at maintaining a ritual or being incredibly regimented, but I try to eat as healthy as possible and listen to my body when I’m on the road. I try not to eat anything before going on stage, but remain hydrated, conserve my voice, say a little prayer and huddle with my crew, and just remind everyone that we are so blessed to be able to do what we do for a living.”
Any must-have self-care products on your tour rider?
“Nothing’s too crazy on my rider, though I would love to say that I only eat orange and yellow M&M’s that are separated from the bag by a toucan, but I can’t. Boring, I know. There’s just some juices, fresh fruit, hot water, coffee, and coconut water. If you throw in a few cookies or chocolates, I won’t be mad. Otherwise, I carry a lot with me, from a humidifier that is in my bunk, hotel room, and green room, to a low pillow that I travel with for my neck. And I’m excited to announce that for this upcoming tour, I am going to order a juicer to freshly juice every day. (I don’t even do this at home, but I mean, why not?)”
Let’s talk about skin care. Does your routine change while on tour?
“My skin-care routine fluctuates depending on my laziness and how I’m traveling. HOWEVER, the basics that go into every routine are a cleanser (always in the PM, not always in the AM), toner or essence, moisturizer, and sunscreen (in the AM, of course). Now, if I have some time or depending on the season, I’ll throw in an anti-aging serum and eye cream, and if I’m wearing makeup, I obviously have to use an oil cleanser. I think I tend to be more “on top of it” when I’m on tour, because the water that you’re using changes every day, the weather can be harsh, and exposing my skin to hot and cold air constantly will naturally allow for more breakouts, so I tend to take more time and follow a longer routine.”
What are your go-to products for self-care?
“Humidifier. Proper humidity is so important in preventing catching colds, losing my voice, having nasal issues, etc. Every time I go to the ENT, it’s the same story of 'GET YOURSELF A HUMIDIFIER.'
“Candle and room spray. Nothing can make a stale hotel room or artist green room feel homier and better than a nice candle and some room spray. I love scents, so I will have incense or candles or sprays just thrown into my bags. It’s like playing scent roulette. I never know what scent is in what bag.
“Earplugs. I’m always listening to music, monitoring sounds, going to shows and performing in them, but because of the overexposure I have to loud sounds, I developed tinnitus which is really not fun, so if you ever see me out with earplugs or sometimes even AirPods in at a social function, it’s because it’s too loud for my ears. EVERYONE, PLEASE TAKE CARE OF YOUR EARS.
“Sleep and activity tracker, Oura Smart Ring.
“Pillow. I have a bad neck, so I travel with a pillow that allows me to not wake up with serious pain in my neck the next day.
“Betadine Sore Throat Spray. Anytime I feel like I have a scratch in my throat, or before I go on stage, I have this throat spray that I’ll use to help relieve any pain, and also I believe that it helps… something? IDK. But I like it.”
If you have an entire day to yourself, without any responsibilities, where are you and what are you doing?
“I’m sleeping in, going to grab a lazy cup of coffee in the bougie independent roastery, eating whatever I want, and I like to tell myself I’m reading a book next to the pool or fireside, so I'll just carry a book around to pretend like I'm reading it. Can’t be just me, right? And then I'll grab a glass of wine, whiskey or tequila somewhere with a friend or two.”
Are there any special self-care or beauty practices that you swear by?
“Oooooh… No, I'm clearly very boring. Man, I should come up with something. I’m gonna work on this. Like, I light something on fire, spin in a circle 30 times, and then lather my body in Vaseline. No, that’s not it. Also, please don’t take this quotation out of context. Thanks.”
What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired?
“I allow myself to feel uninspired. Accept that there are seasons in your life where you may not feel motivated or inspired and that’s completely okay. Embrace it and understand what would just make you happy, and in my case, I do whatever I want to do. I think inspiration comes when you are in a good physical and mental headspace, and to get there, you have to allow yourself to feel free or untethered and unburdened by the fact that you may be uninspired.”
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Photos: Courtesy of Kigon Kwak
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