eaJ is in the process of reinventing himself. The 30-year-old singer, born Jae Park, spends most of his time at the recording studio playing around with different sounds to see what sticks. “I use all of them because I don’t feel like any of them are me yet,” he says. “I don’t know what is me and what’s not me.”
Park is a former member of the popular Kpop group, Day6. The band was formed by JYP Entertainment in 2015 and had a meteoric rise to fame. Their first EP, The Day, landed them a spot on Billboard’s Top World Album Chart, and the group went on to produce seven albums together. After a six-year run, Park left the band to pursue his own career, which fans suspected after his label dramatically edited him out of group photos.
The now-solo singer confirmed the rumors earlier this year, and he hasn’t looked back since. Park just moved to California, bought a new car — though he’s still learning how to drive it — and is adjusting to life on the West Coast. “I like how it’s just empty,” he says, describing his new neighborhood. “I could stare at the street at night and it’s just kind of there. It’s really weird, but I feel less lonely staring at the street being empty.”
Despite all the lifestyle changes, he appears to be comfortable and at ease. Our conversation frequently veers off course and into random topics like our medical histories, the planets we’d like to visit – his top choice is the moon — and astrology. “I think I'm a Virgo,” he says. After some light investigation, we discover that’s true. Born September 15th, 1992, the pensive singer embodies the core characteristics of the cosmic maiden. His fellow zodiac siblings are known for being down-to-earth, hardworking, and notorious overthinkers.
While chatting, Park frequently pauses mid-sentence to evaluate the rest of his thought before it comes out. “My social cues are pretty bad,” he admits. “I’m always that guy in the room that’s saying something unnecessary and everyone’s just like... crickets.” Though his take is rather self-deprecating, I’d describe him as cautious. He’s the kind of person who wants to make sure you understand what he means, and for good reason. Just last year, Park faced public scrutiny for insulting one of his friends during a live-stream.
The dispute, which was resolved amicably, taught the singer to be more careful with his words. Now, with the incident behind him, Park is learning to translate that lesson in mindfulness into his music. His upcoming album — which is a stark turn from his k-pop days — is currently in the works. When I ask about a release date, his PR rep cuts in to say, “It’s still very TBD.”
In the meantime, he’s dropped his first single “Car Crash” and chatted with NYLON about the makings of the song, his five-year plan, and why he (almost) never writes music about himself.
Read our conversation, below:
How did you get discovered?
I got discovered by the Korean American Idol. They were called K-pop Star, and then they found me on YouTube. The president or the face of the company, who ran the label that I was in, was a judge on that show. Then he picked me up afterward.
Did you get linked to JYP Entertainment after that? Or was there a gap between the show and when you got signed?
They contacted me as soon as the show ended, so I kind of just went over.
Did you know the members of Day6 before you started working together, or were you formed by JYP?
No, we were definitely formed.
How did it feel to stop working collaboratively with a group of singers, and start your solo career?
I feel less of a weight of responsibility on me. Since I was in a band, before I had to focus because if I mixed up, or if I messed up a chord, or if I didn't hit a line right, I kind of ruined it for not just me, but for the people on stage.
But I had my first stage where I could perform as just myself, and I realized that once that kind of weight of responsibility was lifted off, I found it a lot easier to just perform. Everything became a lot more lighthearted, not too serious, and more about just kind of enjoying the space that I'm in. I realized fully achieving what I've been preaching for the past 10-ish years — about live performances, being in the moment, and really reveling in sincerity and the genuine feelings in that space — was not possible without that weight off.
Now that you're having more fun at work, what have you learned about yourself as an artist?
I think I'm still definitely in the learning stages, especially with songwriting. I think the more that I write for myself, the more that I think lyrics speak on an artist's behalf. I think I may have a problem with self-victimizing because that's what my lyrics always seem like.
Do you think that’s because you’re reflecting on past experiences, or do you tend to write about your life as it’s happening?
Oh, I don't write about myself at all.
I don't ever, except for like two songs in my career. One was recently that I put out yesterday, just as a gift. It wasn't even an official release. It's the first song of my EP or my album to come, but I appreciated my fan's support and they give me so much love during “Car Crash” that I just thought, "Hey, I think I should just put it up and see what they think." I think they really liked it, so very happy about that.
What do you draw inspiration from if you don’t write about your life?
I don't ever draw inspiration, I just kind of match lyrics. I think of it as a puzzle. There's always that common consensus of, "Yo, I'm going to write about this. I've been through this and this." I've realized that when you do that too specifically it puts you in a box, in a writer's box. I'm sure it works great for some people, and some people can just bang it out and have it be really concise and a good narrative. But it puts me in writer's block way too often when I do that. So I just stopped. I haven't written about myself, other than those two songs, for a very long time.
What was your creative process while writing “Car Crash”?
I was kind of looking for a song for Head in the Clouds [the Los Angeles-based music festival]. I needed to write something as soon as possible because I'd just been contacted by Sean [the founder of 88rising music festival], and he was like, "Yeah, yeah, play the show." And I was like, "Oh, awesome, it's going to be great." But I only have music that people like — like power-ballady stuff that people cry to, and not really anything that people jump to. I was like, "I need to make some more poppish music where people can have fun,” festival music essentially.
Is your upcoming album full of pop songs like “Car Crash,” or more “power-ballady” songs that we can cry to?
I think I half-and-halved it. There are a lot of ballad parts, like powerful, vocal, ballady parts. But I tried to write a bit more pop this time just to be able to. I don't know. I'm so new and so fresh in the American market that I'm not exactly sure what my niche is yet, but right now I'm just writing to write and to see what I'm capable of.
How do the music markets in America and Korea differ?
I think the main difference, for me personally, was that I would always have a reference before. I'd be told, "This is the concept, write this kind of song." They'd give us a song and sometimes I felt like a song vending machine because they would give us a reference and then we'd just pop it out in a day. And then they'd come back, and be like, "Ah, you know what, never mind, let's try this one." That would happen like 30 times for an album.
Now that you have a blank slate to work from, are there any other genres that you’re interested in trying?
I was super wanting to do something gospel, like pop-gospel, and I tried something recently. It's a song called “In My Civic,” and I really like that song so I hope that the listeners do as well.
Did you grow up religious or were you just interested in that type of music?
My family's all Christian and I've obviously been to church my whole life. I mean, there's got to be other inspiration [too], I think Chance the Rapper is probably a big one. Justin Bieber came out with an album recently. Songs like “Holy” or “Always,” spoke to me on a different frequency than [the] other songs on that album. I think I did get a lot of inspiration from those.
Are there any artists that you want to collaborate with?
I have so many, but honestly, I'm just so busy just trying to find my own sound right now that I feel like collaborations could happen a little bit in the future.
Can you explain the art cover for “Car Crash”? I thought it was really interesting.
Isn't it? I thought it was really well-made, and it's actually interesting because a friend gifted me that. He's an artist, and he's a content creator now, but I had met him on the platform Push and then he just made a video, and then he sent it to me. I was like, "This is amazing. We should use this." And I've been using that as my logo ever since.
Where do you see your career going in five years? Where do you want to be?
I have a goal that I'm manifesting — I want to be a top 50, or top 100 charting artist in the next two years. The next two [years] is a little ambitious, but I've heard “shoot for the stars.” I mean, shoot for the moon and you hit the stars. Hopefully, we land somewhere along there, but I'm ready to give it what I got.
I feel like the last 10 years have taught me to really dive in, zone in, focus, and grind it. It's taught me what hard work really looks like no matter what my dumb 17-year-old self thought was hard work, like studying for finals. The real world has definitely shown me that it can be cruel. And I think I've learned enough lessons to be able to get to where I need to be in two years.
What should fans expect from your debut album?
I hope that I can garner the trust of current fans, and even new fans that are coming on board, that they can always expect an album with good music. I hope that is a trust that I can build in the states as well.
The fanbase you’ve already grown is already pretty loyal. Why do you think that is?
I'm transparent. I think I'm very, very transparent, almost too much. I always get in trouble for leaking things. I'm just very excited to share because I haven't been able to share for a very long time. And now that I can, I just share everything. There's definitely a more personable interaction there, a form of engagement.
I think, with that, a little bit more trust has been given to me by the people who listen to my music and I really do appreciate that so much. There's been a lot of stuff that's happened last year, maybe even in the last four months. They've stuck with me through thick and thin and it's been a ride and an adventure. All I have to say is: I'm sincerely sorry. I wish you didn't have to go through all this crap and have fingers pointed at you for supporting me.
But I hope to make them proud with these next couple of albums, for sure.