Absolute Zero, the title of BAEKHO’s first solo album, refers to the coldest temperature possible, but for the artist, absolute zero doesn’t just mean completely cold or hot—for him, absolute zero is more a constant balancing act between extremely hot and extremely cold emotions.
You debuted 10 years ago, but this is your first solo album. What was different about working as a solo artist rather than as part of a group?
BAEKHO: I think the music-making mindset ended up being more similar than I expected, but I had to flesh out the whole album alone and felt like my ideas weren’t that solid. When we made songs as a group, we had a vague sense of what would sound best for us, but working alone, I was overwhelmed by the pressure to fill up the whole album and how to do it.

What helped you find direction for the album when you felt so overwhelmed?
BAEKHO: I focused more on my tastes. I think I was able to get over that overwhelming feeling a bit by focusing more on what it is I like, and I also had a fan meeting event in the meanwhile. It was forever since I last heard [my fandom] dOnO cheering so I couldn’t even really remember what it felt like, but I think it became clearer and clearer to me what I should do as the meeting went on. As I stood there on the stage, hearing all the fans cheering and talking with them, that overwhelming feeling went away and there were more and more things I wanted to do. I’m a creator, but I need that kind of motivation from others.

What did you figure out?
BAEKHO: I think I figured out what I like, what I’m comfortable with and what I’m trying to avoid better. Now that I think about it, it’s like my body seems to reject anything that’s a little over the top. (laughs) I end up thinking about how I can express my emotions in a simple way—the way I can express them elegantly. That applies whether I’m dancing or singing.

Is that a reflection of your desire not to overdo your vocals when recording? When you sang “Am I the One Who’s Changed, Feeling Things Aren’t the Same” featuring Sik-K live at your fan meeting, it sounded like an emotionally intense song, but on the album version, your voice was lowered with autotune and purposely mixed to sound like it’s spreading out, so it felt you were crying out from far away.
BAEKHO: When I make music where the dancing is the standout feature, I make the instruments and vocals sound more aggressive so that the dancing will stand out better, but I tried to mix this album as gently as possible so that it would sound good to lots of people. So I tried my best to avoid my usual high notes right from the songwriting stage. I thought carefully right from the planning stages of the album how I could avoid singing high notes but still convey power through my voice.
​One of your strengths is your ability to hit high notes and express intense emotions. Were you not worried about bringing those down?
BAEKHO: No, I wasn’t worried. One thing I was hoping for with this album is that people who are familiar with my vocals would enjoy listening to and feeling out the things I changed, and I knew that I had to put on an appealing voice for people who don’t know my vocals, so I thought a lot about how to combine those two ideas. So I recorded my vocals so many times. There was just one song I managed to finish in one day. When I didn’t like the recording I did on a song, I actually went back to the studio by myself and rerecorded it.

Is that how you ended up recording “LOVE BURN”? I keep thinking of the way it’s such a nice, calm song to listen to, but it has this extremely passionate melody in the chorus.
BAEKHO: There’s a version of “LOVE BURN” that I recorded really over-the-top, too. In that range, if I want to whisper, I can, and if I want to make it sound like I’m shouting, I can do that, too. I gave a lot of thought about which way to go with it, but eventually I chose where the two meet in the middle and mastered that version.

Is the way that the overall mood of the album stands out more than the characteristics of any genre another way you were trying to meet in the middle? You mixed R&B and rock without any lines drawn between them, and you intentionally kept your vocals from leaning too much in either direction.
BAEKHO: Exactly. Even though I make music, when I listen to the songs released these days, I sometimes find it’s hard to pin down exactly what genre they are. Then I wondered if I could make something like that. So instead of saying, Let’s do a rock song, or, Let’s do an R&B song, I explain to the people I’m working with the sound that fits the emotion of each part.

It feels like the lead single, “No Rules,” brings a sense of balance to the album. It felt like there were separate things that would be appealing about the things you wanted to show musically and while dancing to both people who already know you and those who don’t yet.
BAEKHO: I really wanted to find that balance. When I started writing “No Rules,” I thought a lot about what my biggest strengths on the stage are and what the most appealing way to show things off would be. I think the song’s an appropriate mix of things I want to do and things I do well, but instead of just showing off my own energy on stage alone, I wanted people watching to really feel the immense amount of energy the whole performance brings to the stage.
You seem to have taken a different direction for your choreography this time as well. It felt like you were doing more than just pulling the song along—it was more like you were gently guiding the entire performance.
BAEKHO: Right. I thought about creating a framework where I could get into things more effortlessly while making the performance. At first I thought about stuffing the performance full of moves, since it’s my first solo work, after all, but I took some of them out. I ended up suggesting it would make for a great visual if I stayed still and all the other dancers move around me.

You seem to have really nailed both the energetic choreography fit for an idol and the vocals suitable for a more laid-back pop song. It’s suitable for dancing to but you can also sit down and listen to it the same way you might sit and watch a movie or TV show.
BAEKHO: That’s what I was going for. (laughs) That’s what I was hoping for. I worry that people won’t see anything in my music. I don’t worry about restraining myself, but I do worry that the scenes I want to depict won’t come across properly. So I wanted to have something to show, even though it’s music made for listening to. What I thought while making the album was that it would be nice if it has a story that connects as you listen to the entire thing, but I wanted to make songs that would sound good on their own, too. So I made “No Rules” with the idea of specifically making it the lead single in mind. My idea was to express love on this album using temperature metaphors, so I wanted to make the single be a song where two people meet and emotions are running their highest. That’s why it’s in the middle of the album.

It must have taken a long time to think about how to incorporate all your ideas into the album and then fine-tune everything.
BAEKHO: Since I’m a singer, when I listen to things, I think, Would this work for me? Would it sound good if I tried this? I started doing that a few years back. I listened to the album in the car from start to finish after it was all done and I got a bit emotional. I was actually worried about a lot of things. It’s so different from anything else I’ve done, and I was worried if my intention would come across, but after listening to it all the way through, I think I liked it, personally, and I thought it was a solid album.

I thought it’s a good album to listen to in the car, too.
BAEKHO: Yes. I don’t always pay close attention to music when I’m listening to it. Some songs I just sit back and enjoy, and I thought it would be good to make something like that.
I got the feeling that “Festival in my car” was a reflection of your everyday life.
BAEKHO: It was the first song I made for the album. My favorite kind of music is actually demos. I really enjoy working on music in the studio then getting in the car and listening to it while it’s still a work in progress. I was the only voice on the whole album, so I figured I had to make music that shows the kind of person I am if people were going to understand my music a little better. That’s why there’s songs that really capture my tastes and what I want to say personally.

You probably find, a lot of times when you listen to a song in the car, you can place some emotional distance between you and the music. And you end up working through some of your thoughts. Do you think you were able to distance yourself from your emotions while making this album? To take an objective look, I mean.
BAEKHO: I think it’s kind of more about being secure than looking objectively. I don’t know if it’s something I picked up from being an idol, but—for example, this interview will also be on the record, right? Since I work in a field where things are on the public record, I feel like I think twice before doing anything.

Maybe your love of cars is related to that sense of security.
BAEKHO: I feel like your car is somewhere you can go and not be bothered by anyone. I’m usually by myself when I’m in my car, so I have this sense of it being the most personal space possible because I get to play whatever songs I want at whatever volume I want. When you lock the doors, even though you’re locked in, you’re looking out at the outside world through the windows. It feels secure somehow.

Then when do you feel insecure?
BAEKHO: I think I feel insecure when I get too happy. Because I don’t want the moment to pass me by. Even though I knew objectively that I was doing well, I kept thinking about how it was just one step in a process to be even better later.

How did you get over that feeling?
BAEKHO: I tried to relax a little. And I think I kept telling myself I needed to find peace. I think I was a bit obsessive before. I was a little obsessive about things like telling myself I had to have good energy in order to give good energy to other people. So I guess I forced myself to think, I’m relaxed—this is relaxing. Now I ask myself, What does it mean to be truly relaxed?

Did you start to see things a little differently after you changed your outlook?

BAEKHO: To be honest, I can’t really tell yet. I’m still at the trying stage. I don’t think I’m quite there yet. You can never completely shake off that feeling of insecurity that’s hiding in the corners of your mind. For example, even though I was clearly having fun, because I was thinking it was all just one step in the process to having a happier life later, I couldn’t see that I was having fun at all. I felt like I had to be on high alert for that mindset.

 

Are you having fun these days?

BAEKHO: So much fun. The whole process of making the album was a ton of fun. Getting through my daily schedule is fun, and the time I spend in the car is fun. I have to promote my new album any time I go on a variety show, but I just love being on TV, period. It feels fun being with people. I feel like there’s more and more fun things in my life these days.

 

Would you say you’ve loosened up and grown calmer about things?

BAEKHO: No. I try my best to loosen up, but it doesn’t really work. Like a few days ago, when I got angry about something. I got that feeling while working on the album because things weren’t going the way I expected, when in reality it’s normal for things not to work out the way you expect. But I got angry at myself anyway. I don’t know if I was like that for a while because I had to put out an album. I just try to work on my thoughts as best I can. For example, if there’s a problem between me and someone else I’m working with, I try to keep talking with them until we resolve it. I try to do that and explain the direction I’m going for.

 

How did you manage to change the way you think like that?

BAEKHO: The album has my name on it, but obviously I’m not making it by myself. I think I was able to because we learned to have faith in each other while working together. From the perspective of the choreographer, if I say I’ll just stand still, that could make them feel really anxious. But I told them how confident I was that the stage could be filled with energy, even without me dancing on it, and, thankfully, they believed in me, too. I think that’s why it was possible. It was the same for making the music. What’s key is that a lot of people got together to arrange the songs on the album. When all those people are there with me, if I want to bring the mood up, for example, I just ask the guitar player to play a riff like in a rock song and they do it on the spot.

 

I guess Absolute Zero refers less to a state of mind and more to your process: always hot and cold but finding a balance there.

BAEKHO: Right. I can’t even tell you how many times the temperature has changed, and the album’s all recorded and being mastered and getting ready for release right now. [Note: This interview took place prior to the release of the album.] I’m always trying. My emotions get the better of me sometimes, but you have to work well with a lot of people in this line of work, so now I try to control myself. That’s what it’s felt like lately.

 

Would you say your personality is a lot different now than when you first debuted?

BAEKHO: I think it keeps on changing. Lots of things come up in life. You can’t help but react to things—whether that’s for better or for worse. And I’m the same way. It’s just like taking a drink of water when you’re thirsty: If there’s a stimulus, the way I react to it ends up being reflected in me as a change, I think.

 

What direction do you hope your life takes you in now?

BAEKHO: Honestly, I would love for this album to be hugely successful. (laughs) Actually, what I really hope for is that it’s just good enough that it functions as a stepping stone for me to release the next one. That’s the way I’m trying to look at it. My dream is to keep doing this for a long time. A step that lets me do this a long time—that lets me move onto the next album: If everyday were like that for me, that would be plenty.

 

Is there anything you’d like to say to the people who have been listening to your music all this time?

BAEKHO: I hope that dOnO feels truly happy when they listen to my music. More people are waiting for my music now than when I debuted. I’ll be happy if they say, My favorite artist put out an album and I like how good the music is, or, My favorite artist is on TV so I’m going to leave it on this channel and watch. I’ll be happy if they live their lives like that while giving good vibes and being truly happy with each other.

Credit
Article. Kang Myungseok
Interview. Kang Myungseok
Visual Director. Jeon Yurim
Project Management. Song Hooryeong
Photography. Jang Dukhwa / Assist. Kim Eunji, Yoon Mingi, Kim Minjeong
Hair. HARU (Team by BLOOM)
Makeup. Ji Yeonju / Assist. Baek Eunjin (Team by BLOOM)
Stylist. Kim Eunjoo / Assist. Son Heeseung, Kim Hansul
Artist Protocal Team. An Soyoung, Shin Doyun, Kim Hyejin, Kim Jinyoung, Hong Ahyun
Artist Management Team. Kim Nakhyun, Kwak Sanghwan, Song Taehyeok
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