You can’t deny Eric Nam’s spirited charisma. On his recent There and Back Again World Tour, the 33-year-old bantered wittily with his audience despite the occasional farfetched offers of adoption requests that were witnessed on his TikTok account. This is not an abrupt and surprising act. The Korean-American’s newest sophomore English album, also titled There and Back Again, resonates with many as it unpacks the crests and falls of life. Which explains why listeners naturally gravitate towards Nam’s work.
Like the rest of us, Nam has to confront his emotions, only he does it through music, specifically on his seven-track record. “The music in this album has a spectrum of emotions such as feeling both good and bad due to romance, work, friends and even other factors. I wanted to capture this essence when writing and putting this project together,” he says.
“I feel like there’s got to be one song that a listener should be able to relate to. If you’re in love there’s ‘Any Other Way’, ‘Wildfire’ if you are absolutely devastated and falling apart, or if you’re completely over somebody there’s ‘I Don’t Know You Anymore’. It’s taking different aspects of the emotions that we’ve all experienced and synthesising that into a cohesive piece of music.”
Both a writer and composer, Nam finds the creative process healing. “Songs and lyrics come from a place of real emotion and introspection. Once you’re able to talk about what you’re going through with songwriters and even friends on the frustrations, anger, sadness or love, that process [becomes a therapy session].” But even when Nam feels that he’s ready, sometimes he finds it difficult to even start those conversations. Each songwriting session is piled with mixed feelings.
This marks Nam’s first album since his departure from Stone Music Entertainment, which managed most of his past K-pop releases and his debut 2019 English album Before We Begin. As an independent artist venturing the entertainment and media waters, Nam experimented with different music genres including pop-punk. “I had never spent so much time on an album,” he says. “Traditionally, we flew into LA to do a bunch of [music] sessions within five days and walk away with six to eight songs in hopes of finalising an EP. I’ve never had that luxury and time to experiment previously because I know exactly what we need to get and proceed to get it done.”
For this album, Nam threw everything at the wall to see what sticks. There was a period during the production where pop-punk was trending, thanks to the emergence of Machine Gun Kelly, Avril Lavigne and Travis Barker; Nam thought it could be an interesting attempt at the genre but after trying it for a few sessions, he concluded that it wasn’t feasible. “Those songs will never be released,” he says. “[It] also helped to improve my songwriting, both lyrically and melody making. Songwriting is like a muscle that if you don’t stretch or consistently work out, it won’t be in prime condition.”
In the end, Nam didn’t veer far from his music ingenuity on There and Back Again. Fans can still identify the pop-driven track and album’s first single ‘I Don’t Know You Anymore’, an Eric Nam composition with minor lyrical and stylistic creative twists. “For other songs, I wanted to introduce different elements of storytelling and musical techniques. Thus, they are a little left-leaning, more ‘indie’ feeling in some ways on ‘Any Other Way’ and ‘Lost On Me’. ‘Wildfire’ to me is very experimental in many ways with its approach.”
Compared to Before We Begin which is mostly backed by electronic samples and loops, Nam’s sophomore effort is guitar-driven with physical instrument elements. The latter’s organic vibe extends to the album’s poetic lyrical delivery too.
Much of There and Back Again was born out of the Covid-19 pandemic. During this period, Nam noticed those around him, and even himself, felt frustrated and emotional. Preferring in-person collaboration to Zoom sessions, he laments that not being able to meet physically has hindered the songwriting’s collaborative process. He explains it’s about being in a room with other collaborators, reading their body language and immediately picking up each other’s melodic response, which was impossible to execute over Zoom. Once Nam and his team got vaccinated, they wrote and recorded the album in the living room of his frequent collaborator and Grammy-nominated producer Rabitt.
Matching his music intentions, Nam experimented with visually bold style. Gucci-branded clothing, painted nails and heeled shoes. These ideas came up as concepts (and were eventually realised) that served as a statement on normalising fashion and not being confined to social norms. “Asian people are rarely seen or not often seen dressed in them. Just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense. I was excited about pushing this boundary,” he shares.
For our Zoom video call, Nam appears in a nondescript Nike cap and a white crewneck which he describes as “basic”. But as a performer, he seeks to present himself as edgy and cool. The pearl necklace is another fashion staple too. “It’s not common for a dude to be wearing pearls. I don’t think I would wear pearls on a normal day but the great thing about being an artist, performer and a musician is how I want to express things with my music and when I’m performing,” he says. “I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my mum, whom I visited over Christmas. I deliberated on getting a pearl necklace and she questioned what guy ever wears pearl necklaces. I was like, Mum, you just haven’t seen the album yet. But trust me, we’re going to make it cool. But she just could not understand. If Justin Bieber, BTS, Harry Styles and everybody else is doing [it], why can’t we do it? You know, and that was the thinking that I had in that approach.”
Besides being a veteran musician since debuting in 2013 with his first Korean EP Cloud 9, Nam has branched out into hosting and podcasting. Notably for his stint as the emcee for Arirang TV’s English broadcast After School Club and its spin-off The ASC After Show. The advantage of knowing both English and Korean made Nam an ideal candidate to bridge K-pop artists to the international audience. In fact, he also single-handedly hosted a massive K-pop event, Hallyu Pop Fest, in Singapore in 2018 over three days. This motivation derived from a desire to challenge himself. “I’m a very ambitious person and want to experience a lot of things,” Nam says. “If I’m not busy and feeling challenged, then I’m not enjoying myself. I always feel like I have to be trying and working towards something new and different for me to feel creatively inspired. This inspires my music in turn. These gigs out of music feed my creative juices and allow me to become a better, more refined and elevated version of myself, which is something that I strive for.”
In August 2019, Nam co-founded multi-platform media company Dive Studios with his brothers Brian and Eddie which amassed millions of listeners. To positively impact culture and society by empowering diverse creators and communities through audio experiences primarily podcasts, Nam leverages his unique position in the industry to create a deeper connection between artists-content creators and their fans. “We have series and shows (such as Daebak Show and I Think You’re Dope) that discuss Asian identity and Asian American experiences in life and culture such as K-pop. Because as much as it is in entertainment, we also need diverse creators and entrepreneurs in different areas to encourage and to inspire younger generations,” Nam says.
“Podcasting is great because it allows for conversations and people to have different perspectives and to build their own thoughts and ideas on what they think is important or what they want to talk about. Through discussion of different issues, this allows them to develop informed decisions and opinions. That’s been really cool to see.”
Nam’s insatiable appetite for wanting to push limits towards other creative areas stems from being naturally curious. This motivates him to always keep a lookout for opportunities outside of music. “I’m very interested in start-ups and entrepreneurs. Supporting them through advice engages my brain with the community in fascinating ways. The other thing is providing a positive impact. That’s something that manifested very early on in my career. When I get to a certain point and have a platform, I want to be a force for good and be helpful. That’s a goal of mine,” he asserts.
“I hope that I don’t lose my sense of curiosity, ambition and motivation. And I hope that I’m always learning and happy. Because I feel happiness comes in waves, which circles back to the album. I literally have days where I feel so good. Then there are other days where I’m consumed with like worries or anxieties. This is an active conversation that I always have to have with myself. It’s a very real conversation that I think everybody should have. A way of me keeping myself accountable and saying, let’s be ambitious and work hard. But let’s make sure that we’re happy and having a good time too.”
There and Back Again is available via digital music platforms including Apple Music.