“Each time I get my inspiration from a different situation. Sometimes I get it from people, sometimes I get it from things, and sometimes I get it from scents”. This is the process of making music for 25-year-old multihyphenate Cho Seung-youn, better known by the stage name WOODZ. The singer, writer, rapper, producer and pretty much all-rounder released his third mini-album ‘Only Lovers Left’ earlier this month, offering a masterful addition to his already compelling discography.
The record contains six songs, three in his native Korean and three in English (a deliberate offering to his growing global fanbase). Over the course of each track, we’re presented with the full lifespan of a relationship – from the hungry and excited long-distance love in opening track ‘Multiply’ to the crazed and desperate pleas of lead single ‘Waiting’. Each single is sonically different from the last, but if you’ve been paying attention to any of WOODZ’s work over the last six years you’ll understand that the throughline is rarely the genre but the narratives being weaved.
“I wanted to keep going with one story,” WOODZ tells NME. “I made it while thinking, ‘If the stories of the six tracks flow differently in the big frame of the album, it will be like watching a movie.’ So, in this album, I wanted to cover from the beginning of love to the beginning of parting, and I did not intentionally end the story at the last track of this album. I wanted to fill the end with the thoughts of the listeners.”
There’s a symbiosis at play between the music he makes and the interpretation he lets fans (called MOODZ) play with, so much so that it feels like one almost can’t exist without the other. “I think that when I release an album, I stand in front and introduce the album as a representative to the fans and those who listen to it,” he says, illustrating the philosophy that once art is released into the world it no longer belongs to the artist. Clearly, when it comes to creating music, absolutely nothing is accidental for WOODZ. Each element is meticulously crafted, often with an introspectiveness and foresight you’d expect to see in someone much older.
Despite his young age, however, WOODZ has had a storied journey to success. Going by his real name, he first emerged onto the scene in 2014 as part of South Korean-Chinese boyband UNIQ, before making his solo debut two years later and honing his craft songwriting and producing for other artists. Then in 2019, he competed as part of the Mnet reality show Produce X 101 where he was placed in the group X1, though they disbanded five months later as a result of a controversy around vote manipulation and halted negotiations between members’ individual agencies.
Since then, he’s dived head-first back into creating music as WOODZ, with three mini-albums to his name as well as multiple singles and soundtrack songs spanning genres and styles. When asked whether he ever looks back on the winding path that led him to where he is now, WOODZ offers a typically thoughtful response. “I think about it sometimes,” he admits. “My mother and father who raised me well, my personality and thoughts, the many difficult moments I went through in my life, I think all of them have made me who I am today.”
“It makes me wonder if it would have been different if it hadn’t been for even a single moment,” he adds.
That support WOODZ received from his parents growing up is something that comes up again in our conversation, this time in response to the communicative relationship he maintains with his fans over social media apps like Twitter, Instagram and VLive. “I grew up receiving a lot of love from my mother, father, family and friends, but I think it is very difficult to give this kind of love, whether from afar or from close,” he ruminates. “However, I am receiving a lot of love from my fans. I think it is important to be in connection with them by constantly thinking about what [they] like, how to introduce what I like, and talking to each other.”
The last couple of years have obviously thrown everyone’s lives as they know it sideways. For idols and artists in South Korea, the majority of that time has been spent away from fans thanks to usual opportunities to meet being held almost entirely digitally or without an audience (something WOODZ laments: “I’d like to go to meet MOODZ anywhere in the world”).
Lack of motivation and drive has been an almost universal side-effect of the isolation of COVID-19, which WOODZ admits he’s struggled with, but says he forces himself to harness his creativity whenever it pops up. “I got into the habit of recording whenever I feel something and want to express it,” he reveals. “For example, I try to record the fear I feel after having nightmares, and the freedom I feel when I go on a trip. But because of that, there is no moment to stop thinking, and there are some moments of stress.”
The mind of Cho Seung-youn seems like a busy one, constantly reflecting on the ways his place in the world can be used and interpreted. Those thoughts firing off the back of each other call to mind a vision of branches on trees, sprouting and multiplying endlessly in different directions. WOODZ, it seems, is an apt persona to encapsulate his brain. But even the most restless of brains need a reprieve, so how does WOODZ stop those synapses firing nonstop?
“I recently started kickboxing,” he reveals. “But after I started [promoting the album], I’m taking a break. I’ll try again after the activity is over.”
WOODZ’ third mini-album ‘Only Lovers Left’ is out now.