Woosung: On The Wings of A Moth

Jun 24, 2022, 19:01 IST


You’ve just come home on a hot summer day, and a rush of cold air flows over you when you open your fridge, ice cubes rattling as you pour a drink. You allow yourself to relax, your skin now pleasantly humming from the heat as your body cools down. That’s what Woosung’s voice makes you feel like. As a soloist, and frontman-guitarist of the K-pop quartet The Rose, it’s a voice that etches itself in your memory, because of his unique inflection and raspy texture. While speaking, in this instance, on audio from Seoul, it radiates a warmth that’s both soothing and hypnotic. When told, he laughs, saying, “ASMR! Nice!” Apt for a man whose music is a sensory experience.


That voice also created Moth, one of Woosung’s finest EPs yet, which was released in May earlier this year. It’s a compelling narrative told over four tracks that hit you in the solar plexus, heart, head, or all three – the beauty of his music often is in the discovery of all the little stories that tie into the larger whole. He’s also coming off two tours. The first was with the trailblazing South Korean hip-hop trio Epik High, as he opened for them across cities in North America. The second was a big run of dates across Europe and the US, for his very own Moth EP showcase. It’s natural to wonder how he’s holding up. “Oh my God, thank you for asking!” he responds. “I’m very good. You know, it has been hectic this year. I’ve been travelling a lot. I don’t think I came home for a while. And, even when I was home, I was just in and out basically. But, honestly, it’s exciting. I was doing many things.” Is there a word that captures the essence of a sigh and a smile?


It takes a second to absorb that everything he’s speaking about happened in the first half of 2022 alone. As a member of The Rose, he’s been in the public eye for five years, a period that has also encapsulated his solo work. But there were twists, turns, decisions and impulses that not only led him to this stage, but built the foundation of a personality that is intuitive, equitable and charismatic. Kim Woo Sung was born in South Korea but moved to America with his mother when he was very young. Growing up in Thousand Oaks, California, his path looked very different, and not just because he was a shy kid who wanted to be a Pokemon Master at age five. He was a gifted football player until a serious arm injury brought his momentum to a halt  painful, for more reasons than just physical. Later on, a successful audition for K-Pop Star (a competition series) transported him to Seoul, where he eventually signed up with a company as a trainee to be a K-pop idol, after his run with the show was done. This was a period of upheaval, one that took its toll on him physically, mentally and emotionally. The fact that he extricated himself, through the power of his own will and understanding, is a testament to Woosung’s spirit. However turbulent, this was also a time of transformation. One of those changes that materialised was the element of balance. Woosung considers equilibrium a key component of life. “I think it was when I was around 22 or 23. I think  hands down  that was the toughest time of my short life because I was not ready to deal with all these new situations coming my way,” he explains about being a young adult in an environment with a different set of rules. “I kind of got lost. And, I realised that having balance is very important so you don’t lose yourself in the middle of so many things that you have to go through in life. At my lowest point was when I actually found balance or tried to find balance.” It was also from that lowest point that a sense of burgeoning confidence emerged. There’s something really profound about learning to love your voice, especially when you’ve been told it’s not right  over and over again. “I think you stop regretting things you decided on and you become more confident, for sure. And then you realise there is no right answer to anything,” he avers. “At the end of the day, it’s your life. And, no matter what it is, there was no wrong answer from the beginning. It’s all about the experiences you get to learn within those choices you made. You won’t regret a thing… at least you chose it for yourself.”


It feels that all these experiences  the ups, the downs, the in-betweens  have contributed to providing Woosung with a sense of perspective. His lyrics are insightful and emotive. Songs such as Dimples or Lazy off his studio album Genre (it released last year), for instance, didn’t just make you listen, but feel. Face from his EP Wolf, which dropped in 2019, was paired with a stunning music video that featured unique faces and body types  crucial imagery in a world skewed towards perfection. Then there’s Moth. Woosung was sitting outside a convenience store one night and saw a moth’s wings through the flare of the tubelight it was perched on. Most people are drawn to the more overt beauty of butterflies, but he saw the beautiful patterns on the moth’s wings. “Honestly, I think I got lucky. The moth landed on the sign and the prints looked so beautiful. If anyone saw it, they could have felt the same way… or maybe they could have come up with a different thought,” he avers. “I think we’re all different, but I think we all have the power to see. It’s just observing a little more and listening a little more, in the end.” But here’s where Woosung’s high EQ matters; it’s in the ability to accept differences. He explains his thought process: “We get caught up in what we know ourselves and our own experiences, right? And then we tend to forget that people have different experiences. If you try to just understand a little bit of what that person might be feeling, if you at least try… You will never get to fully know because, in the end, we’re not them, they’re not us, but, I wanna say, if you try to listen, to see, to think in their shoes, it becomes more chill. It becomes a more understanding space.” That’s what helps him with his vision, he reckons. “It’s like reading a book. You’re not really going through it yourself at the moment, but, when you are reading it, you imagine it, you learn from it. Maybe there are things that you get out of by just doing that. So, I think it’s important in life to just be understanding and understand that we’re all humans and no one person is that much greater than the other.”

"I think it’s important in life to just be understanding and understand that we’re all humans and no one person is that much greater than the other," says Woosung

A look into Woosung’s mind provides a deeper layer to the metaphors of moths, butterflies and light he references on Moth. There are literal mentions in the lyrics. “I could barely close my eyes, I feel the butterflies inside” from the lush opening track ComE dOWn, for instance. There’s also “Flyin’ like a moth, so drawn into the light. All I've ever known is in the same old cycle” in Side Effects. According to him, “There are many things I put in there to hint at the theme of the album. But, at the end of the day, I think it is what you want it to be. If it speaks to you in a different way, then it’s all you, you know?” ComE dOWn seems to be about loneliness and being around people who might not be right for you. Was this cathartic to write? “Yes, definitely. However, it wasn’t one direct thought. I made it very open ended, to be honest. There was a message also in there  everything goes up, but everything does come down, even if we don’t want it to,” he clarifies. “That’s why we need a good balance, like we said. Because life will always go up and down. These situations are meant to happen and they will. And it’s just about keeping a good balance during those times to be able to stay grounded. You get so excited sometimes when life is going up, you forget to look around you… to come down then will be really hard.”

That’s when Side Effects takes on another layer. It seems to be about the push and pull a person feels, or the cycles we find ourselves in. You can almost feel Woosung grin when he says, “I mean, you’re hitting the spots, honestly!” The key is in the order of the tracks too. “I didn’t just put what sounds the best. I also do think about the messages and the whole arrangement of the songs. I think about that for many, many months. And, yes, it does correlate. It is a full story within the album,” he agrees. “You’re the first person to bring it up. It’s beautiful when you think of something that you don’t really say and people do feel it. Then I feel like my message was clear in some way and that people can feel what I was feeling.” The vibey Phase Me and anthemic Modern Life close out the album in such a resolute way  like some sort of conclusion has been reached after wandering through the dreamlike fog of the opener. Modern Life is a personal favourite as it’s almost a reminder to himself to not forget to live his life in the miasma of the world, other people and too much information. “When that happens, you forget how to deal with the sadness, anger and the frustration you feel, which are just very human and normal feelings that everyone should experience throughout their lifetime, right?” he explains, delving into what life turns out to be when you start living in comparison to people. It’s akin to self-sabotage. “It was just a reminder to myself, to anyone else that goes through those feelings… that it is okay. It’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to feel angry. We feel things because we are meant to feel them as humans. Being human is experiencing those feelings and learning from them and how to deal with them. There are different ways to let those feelings out. And that’s the beauty of just living. And I feel the most alive when I feel things."

In the past, Woosung has talked about putting up walls to protect his feelings – it’s a subject he spoke about in his Mindset series earlier this year. His music and performances, however, provide secure, safe spaces for people. Being at his shows is almost like a liberating experience for most. One wonders if this atmosphere exists because he’s learned to put the walls down. “I think this atmosphere exists because I felt like I needed a secure space, and it was music. And, with music, I was in my secure space,” he responds. “That was the only safe, safe space I felt I had for a while growing up. I don’t purposefully write in a certain way or sing a certain way. I think the energy is just there. It is so beautiful because music got me through a lot and I’m glad the music I’m making is creating a safe space for you to feel whatever, learn whatever, experience whatever it is. That’s my main purpose in life.”

Luckily for us, there’s a lot more magic in store for 2022, given the return of The Rose. The three members are back from their mandatory military service in South Korea. Woosung wasn’t looking to be a part of the band, incidentally. He thought he was helping Park Dojoon — aka Leo — out with rehearsals for their group called Windfall that needed a fourth member at the time. Dojoon had met Lee Hajoon and Lee Jaehyeon prior, busking on different occasions in Hongdae, and in studios separately. It’s a small world; Dojoon knew Woosung through drinking buddies, with common friends such as BM from Kard. But, then, Woosung picked up a guitar, struck a chord and the rest, as they say, is history. “We got into practice and played the song Like We Used To by Rocket to the Moon,” he laughs. “I believe it was like a F chord or a G. I don’t remember. But, when we played together and all the instruments were making sounds all at once, I’m sure it wasn’t that great from the outside, but, inside, with the four of us, we felt it. And we felt that it was right.” The name was changed to The Rose, so everyone had a say in its creation story, and they began, united by a purpose. “Basically, the goal was: let’s have a lot of people hear the music we make and let’s have it heal us, heal them, let’s heal together ’cause that’s what music does,” he reminisces. “It’s a universal language.”

"Let’s have a lot of people hear the music we make and let’s have it heal us, heal them, let’s heal together ’cause that’s what music does," urges Woosung

However, it’s important to talk about the lead-up. The time when they were figuring things out. “That time, I think, made us who we are now at this moment. We practised a lot. We were very invested. And there was a certain energy up in the air that was just pulling us together. And we are learning as we went. We fought. There were times we were not getting along so well. It was all needed, honestly,” he states. “It really shaped us to be better human beings in terms of teamwork, understanding and respecting each other. I feel like now, after all that, we’re ready for something bigger, you know what I mean? If it was then, there would have been a crack. Now, I feel like we’re really grounded as a team, as just human beings coming into our 30s, you know? I think we’re ready for a bigger mission.”

So here he is, and here they are. “Everybody is safe and sound. We’re doing many things together. I was just in the studio. We’re writing some songs. We’re getting back to practising and really getting our teamwork right,” he says, apprising us of what’s in store. “We have many, many things coming our way. We’re doing a long world tour after releasing our album. And that would be a new beginning for The Rose, a new chapter.” It’s important to note that these are all facets of the same person – the balance, remember? Whether it’s him solo or as a part of The Rose. Let’s not forget that he’s also started two companies – Windfall (a nod to the band’s old name), which is with his band members, and Woolfpack, which is his independent company. With all these different extensions, Woosung, simply, just makes it work. “I just go with the flow. There’s nothing special I do. I just rest a lot when I need to and when I can. And I restrict a lot of things if I have a show. I wanna stay grounded when I’m touring. Maybe I don’t want to go drinking too much, right? I wanna be able to be in a clear head space most of the time,” he considers. “Of course, I like having fun; those are all great times too. But, you know, just learning my pace and knowing my pace and what I need to do to accomplish certain things and being in the right state of mind to be able to talk to people and to make them understand what’s in my head. I just gotta eat healthy. I gotta be healthy. Yeah, I think that’s how I do it.” It’s no wonder that everyone’s drawn to Woosung – like moths to a flame.

Also Read: The Many Faces Of Wonho