“Art Is Storytelling” Xdinary Heroes Interviewed

Inside their ambitious, deeply personal, new release...

“We didn’t know how heavy our music was going to be when we first began and neither did our label,” says Gaon, one of Xdinary Heroes’ two guitarists, making bassist Jooyeon laugh. “With each album, the sound got heavier and it was a success each time so our label became more confident in our sound and so did we,” Gaon adds.

Xdinary Heroes – drummer and leader Gun-il, keyboardists O.de and Jungsu, guitarists Jun Han and Gaon, and bassist and youngest, Jooyeon – are in off-duty attire of tees and knits, and grinning down the camera from Seoul ahead of the release of the first full-length album, ‘Troubleshooting’. As a band they’ve never sounded less than eardrum tight, but the most pressing observation on this record is how they sound so much more expansive, more assured technically and, on tracks like ‘UNDEFINED’ and ‘Money On My Mind’, more spandex-and-stacks ballsy than ever.

When they debuted in December 2021, Xdinary Heroes were touted as an ‘idol band’, complete with a narrative lore centred around an alt-space called♭form (pronounced flatform), and as a ‘bolder version’ of their labelmates, DAY6. Their first single, ‘Happy Death Day’, was glitchy and shouty, the aural equivalent of a twitchy eye, and while its visual aesthetic – the band’s styling and the video’s retro-futurism set design – certainly looked idol-ish, its sound most definitely didn’t fit in either realm of K-pop nor the current crop of gentler, melodic K-rock bands like Onewe or LUCY. 

For a time, their parent label, JYP Entertainment (home to idol groups Stray Kids, TWICE and ITZY) distinctively leaned into an idol route, something O.de and Jungsu, who’d begun as idol trainees before switching over, were au fait with. They had an idol-esque variety show (Rock The World) on their YouTube channel, made content like reacting to their music videos, and the pop-punk fizz of their second single, ‘Test Me’, was given its own choreography video in which the members exchange bemused smiles, an experiment – albeit it a thoroughly fun one – that hasn’t been repeated since.

Gun-il, the eldest at 25, has come to define being an idol band as “taking advantage from both idol and band worlds. From the former, it comes mostly from a marketing aspect, how we attract attention from the beginning from the public. If we’d started out as an indie rock band, I don’t think we would have gotten as much attention from the get-go.”

Some bands start out clearly defined, their path. Others, like Xdinary Heroes, grow into themselves, with an increasingly stronger vision for each release. Having turned their position between K-pop and K-rock into their very own niche, where delicate and cinematic (‘until the end of time’) exists harmoniously alongside hefty and galloping (‘MONEYBALL’), we sit down with Xdinary Heroes to talk about process, personas, and self-perception.

Let’s start it off snappy… Please describe ‘Troubleshooting’ in three words.

Gun-il: Young. Ashamed. Foolish

Jungsu: Ten titled songs.

Gaon: Dream. Honest. Freedom.

Jooyeon: ‘Ten titled songs’ is the best one.

Gaon: Best songs ever.

You released your fourth EP, ‘Livelock’, last October, then hit the road on tour twice. When have you had the time to make this album? 

O.de: We’ve made a very consistent effort for the songs for a very long time. ‘MONEYBALL’ began even before Livelock, so every moment where we’d have a little time, we’d devote it to making songs.

What was the last song written that was added to the tracklist?

Jungsu: That would be ‘Little Things’.

For anyone unfamiliar with the band’s concept, can you explain it in a nutshell?

Gun-il: Our Xdinary Heroes world is based on a space called ♭form, which is where we meet as a band. So throughout our journey, each conflict [and record title] is expressed metaphorically using this IT language.

How and where does the concept and your own lived experiences meet?

Gun-il: Music is an art form and art is storytelling, so in this made up world, we each have our characters and through them we tell stories. Our everyday experience comes out a lot because although we are in this world, it’s, in the end, just made up. We are the people who write the music and the characters aren’t that different from the real us, so there isn’t too much difference in the storytelling, whether it’s through the real Gun-il or reflection Gun-il.

Which of these “ten titled songs” is closest to your heart?

Jun Han: Writing the lyrics for ‘Little Things’ was the most reflective of my experience.

Jooyeon: ‘Walking to the Moon’. Working on it, the world in my imagination really came to life so this song really sticks out for me.

Jungsu: My choice is ‘UNDEFINED’. I wanted to show myself as a limitless person so I tried to express that through this song.

On Livelock there was much more of a spontaneous element in the writing, with tracks like ‘Pluto’ and ‘Enemy’ written almost on the spot. Did making Troubleshooting follow a similar trajectory?

Jun Han: ‘Money On My Mind’ was done really fast. The composer came with the guitar riff and the basic composition but we wrote the melody in about five minutes and the song came together in about 30 minutes.

Livelock was an important milestone in the evolution of your writing process but also thematically, with the concept of advancing without boundaries. Coming off the back of that record, was your thinking around the next logical step creatively as a band?

Gun-il: I think we tried to put down more truthful stories about ourselves for this album, and also we improved a lot in every aspect – vocals, instrumental skills, lyrics, melody writing. Livelock was one of the most successful albums we’ve created so far, and it was actually a little pressure on us to create a better album. But that pressure had a positive side because we put in more effort into creating better songs and I think we’ve made ten amazing songs.

Are Xdinary Heroes the type of band who like to get together routinely in the studio and tinker about for hours or do you each just record your ideas then have extended marathon songwriting sessions?

Gun-il: It’s different for each of us. Some people write on flights, some write in the dorm or in the car, but as a team we have to find the time and really focus during that time, and we tend to do that. We have to really condense it. 

That sounds like a challenge.

Gun-il: Yeah. It’s definitely hard but it’s possible because if we were to write every day, it’d drain us. We have rests in between the songwriting periods that refreshes us and our ideas.

The album’s focus track, ‘Little Things’, also has a Korean name, which translates to “Young, Shy and Foolish” – what was the decision behind not using the original in English?

Jun Han: We thought a lot about how to translate “Young, Shy and Foolish” into English but rather than translate directly, we wanted to focus on what and who this song is for. And the purpose is a consolation for people who feel little and vulnerable. This song was written when my confidence hit rock bottom and my friend was going through the same hardship. And when I wrote the lyrics, they’re reflective of what I said to my friend at that time.

Jooyeon: I think in terms of melody we thought a lot about it. When I hear this song it really evokes different emotions, sometimes it’s really happy and sometimes it’s sad, especially in the chorus.

On this record alone, I hear some really classic influences, like Motley Crue and Rage Against The Machine, and always enjoy how they’re always solid but small nods that enhance your own sound… 

Gaon: We were inspired by overseas bands rather than Korean bands per se, so that’s why I think our sound is really old school. I think it fits us well that our sound got heavier throughout our discography [because] the music we listen to also got heavier. We love to experiment with new things, it’s so fun to see how far we can go.

Jooyeon: ‘Break The Brake’ (2023) was our breakthrough moment as a band. Through making that we thought we could try even more bolder attempts as musicians.

Which of Xdinary Heroes is the kind of musician who keeps on buying new gear and can’t stop, won’t stop?

Jun Han: I’m guilty of that charge, I’m planning to buy about two or three more guitars in the near future.

Gaon: Literally I have money on my mind because I want to buy more guitars. I name every single guitar. My main guitar is called Snoopy, followed by another guitar called Woodstock. I love Snoopy.

You debuted mid-pandemic but you had the chance to meet fans globally with the Break The Brake World Tour. How has this experience changed the way you use the stage and feel when up there?

O.de: Back then, we didn’t have any experience so we had to rely on a lot of practice to move like rockstars and now we know how to be onstage and make our presence felt, so we go with the flow and the feeling we have [in the moment].

In one of your pre-debut introduction videos, one of your staffers described that band as yet to be “drawn on a white canvas”. In 2024, what does that drawing look like?

Jooyeon: I think we only have the sketchings done on that canvas, but we still have a lot of time to fill in the colours.
Gaon: I think it’s closer to doodling but with very hard lines, as our music implies.
O.de: I think as a band I really expect us, as a band, I see us through a long perspective. We have a lot of time to colour and draw, and erase if we make a mistake, and do it over.

Words: Taylor Glasby

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