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[Herald Interview] From busker to Coachella star, The Rose blooms

Park Dojoon of The Rose shares band’s history and musical ambitions

July 11, 2024 - 15:57 By Lee Jung-youn
From left: The Rose members Park Dojoon, Lee Jaehyeong, Lee Hajoon and Kim Woosung (Windfall)

Last April, the four-member band The Rose from Korea took the stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the largest music festival in the United States, becoming the first Korean indie band to perform at Coachella.

Park Dojoon, the guitarist, keyboardist, and vocalist of The Rose, sat down for an interview with The Korea Herald on June 20, sharing the dynamic story of the band from its busking days to its rise to internationally traveling band.

The Rose – consisting of Park Dojoon, Kim Woosung, Lee Jaehyeong, and Lee Hajoon – debuted in 2017. Like many other bands in Korea, The Rose appeared on TV music shows with K-pop idols and performed on small stages.

However, the debut song "Sorry" was better received abroad than in Korea, and the band embarked on a European tour in February 2018, a mere six months after its debut. A US tour followed and then a South American tour. Even now, the band is better known overseas.

"Our goal was, naturally, to succeed in Korea first where we got started. But unexpectedly, we received responses from abroad through YouTube," said Park, adding that this is still surprising and that the band is grateful.

Park described The Rose's beginnings as a series of coincidences and fate that seemed like a movie.

"Jaehyeong and I became friends while busking in Hongdae. We thought we were well-matched and decided to get together with drummer Hajoon for a jam session. As soon as we played the first note, I knew that that was exactly what I had been looking for."

"I suggested, 'Let's all leave the agencies, start from scratch, write songs and busk,' and we named the team Windfall," Park said.

Kim, who provides unique vocals for The Rose, joined the team soon after. "While looking for one more bandmate to balance the team, I was introduced to Woosung through an acquaintance. We suggested a trial jam session and Woosung later told us that he felt the same way that I felt during the first jam: This is it," said Park with laughter. After Woosung joined the team, they renamed the group The Rose.

The band had only released two songs when they first went on an overseas tour in 2018. "Fortunately, we had songs we had been working on together and added some cover performances for the concerts. Still, it was amazing that we could go abroad so quickly."

"I remember performing as the first Korean artist in Belgium. The audience was small, but everyone clearly sang along to the first verse of our debut song 'Sorry' in Korean. Witnessing people on the other side of the world loving our music was just incredible."

Park Dojoon performs during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, on April 14. (Transparent Arts)

Since then, the band has continued to impress fans worldwide. On its North American tour "Dawn to Dusk," which ran from the end of last year to early this year, the band drew some 66,000 people. The band also performs at multiple festivals in the US, South America and Europe.

For Park, the performances at Lollapalooza Brazil on March 26, 2023, and Coachella in April this year stand out among the memorable stages.

"The sun was setting beautifully as we were singing on the Lollapalooza stage. Sometimes, there are moments when we feel a genuine connection with the audience. The joy of that synergy and chemistry is unforgettable," he said.

The Coachella stage felt like a showcase introducing The Rose to the public, said Park. "We were so happy to finally have the opportunity to present ourselves on a world stage where everyone was watching," he said.

The time spent busking, when the band was starting from scratch, was incredibly helpful, according to the singer.

"It might sound a bit arrogant, but performing at Coachella felt overwhelming yet also like a larger-scale busking performance."

"I spent about a year busking every day. I earned just enough each day to eat and pay rent, but that experience made any stage, no matter how large, feel like a big busking stage."

The Rose, when they began, signed up with a Korean K-pop agency that promoted the band the same way K-pop idols are promoted. But faster recognition abroad has given them an image of being a foreign band among Korean audiences.

"Our members all agree that we are grateful whether we are seen as an overseas band, a Korean band or an idol group. Honestly, we initially had some confusion about what we were, but we concluded that we were simply four Koreans who can speak a bit of English and make music that resonates globally," the singer said.

He stressed that there is no need to distinguish between types of teams or music genres. "Labeling creates divisions and boundaries, but just as we have come to realize, those boundaries don't exist. We just take pride in pushing forward with what we want to do and what attracts our hearts."

Although the band's teamwork is now solid, Park said there were many challenges in getting everyone on the same page. All members can produce, write lyrics and compose, which allows for richer work but also leads to frequent disagreements.

Even the slightest difference in the tone, nuance, and whether to use singular or plural forms of words may start endless discussions, he said. “We've spent over a week debating a single lyric. But through these thorough discussions and persuasions, we've come to understand each other's reasons."

It seems hard to define the role of each talented member. "If we had to nitpick, I might handle arrangements a bit more, Woosung focuses more on lyrics and Hajoon and Jaehyeong get more involved with melodies. But it varies with each song, so it's hard to clearly divide our roles," Park said.

Park also mentioned that the members are also considering venturing into solo acts in the future. Currently, only Kim, the band's vocalist, has released a solo album.

Though nothing is set and things may change, Park said he wants to create music that people can listen to with ease. "I satisfy my need for grand and powerful music through The Rose, so if I were to do solo activities, I'd like to make easy-listening songs about everyday life, regardless of commercial success."

Asked about other goals, Park said he wants to help aspiring musicians. "Because I've had a tough time making music, I want to help those with dreams or talent in music to work in a more conducive environment. Whether it's a musician community or a planning agency, I'd like to support them as a senior in some way."

Park is confident about the band's future.

"Since our debut, we've talked about winning a Grammy. We said it with laughter but also very seriously. We still believe that day will come, and that we will be more loved in Korea too."

"To those who have known and loved us so far, we always say 'We rose you.' It's a phrase that encompasses all our feelings of gratitude, love, and trust. To those who are yet to discover us, I hope our music becomes a means to remember and cherish a certain moment.”

The Rose performs during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, on April 14. (Transparent Arts)