Since their debut in 2016, ASTRO have made a name for themselves as the purveyors of joyful boyishness and lively adolescence, with singles such as ‘Breathless’, ‘Crazy Sexy Cool’ and ‘All Night’. Although the boyband have, at times, stepped outside of their comfort zone – ‘Blue Flame’ and ‘One’ come to mind – they always eventually return to their core identity.
This extends to many of the members’ releases outside of the main group, what with MJ’s bubbly trot-inspired solo debut single ‘Get Set Yo’ and JINJIN & ROCKY’s comical ‘Just Breath’. But leave it to none other than MOONBIN & SANHA to buck the trend with ‘In-Out’, their first mini-album as a sub-unit in September 2020, which featured the surprisingly sultry title track ‘Bad Idea’.
Eighteen months later, the duo are finally back – and they are doubling down on their newfound adult sound on ‘REFUGE’, with what they describe as a “darker, more mature” image. MOONBIN & SANHA sat down with NME prior to the release of their sophomore mini-album to speak about their evolution as artists, whether they’d like to swap songs with fellow bandmates JINJIN & ROCKY and their hopes for the future.
It has been over a year since you debuted as a sub-unit with ‘In-Out’, how do you feel about finally making a comeback?
MOONBIN: “We are definitely nervous and also looking forward to it! This time, we are coming back with a darker, more mature concept. We hope our fans are also looking forward to it.”
Can you tell us more about your new title track ‘WHO’ and what fans can look forward to?
SANHA: “We’re really looking forward to the music video [as] there were definitely more challenges this time. It took a lot of acting skills, and I think we did well, so I was really satisfied while shooting the video.”
You also released the song ‘Ghost Town’ as a pre-release single, which features a more mellow and stripped-down sound in comparison to ‘In-Out’. What was the significance of choosing this song as a pre-release track?
MOONBIN: “Well, of course there were opinions from the company, but we also felt that the mood and meaning of it would be suitable. We thought that this was the perfect song to pre-release, especially since ‘WHO’ is a story before ‘Ghost Town’. So, if ‘WHO’ was the prequel, then ‘Ghost Town’ would be the epilogue.
How was the process of preparing for ‘REFUGE’ different from ‘In-Out’? Was it easier this time around, or did you feel more pressure to make this record better than the last?
SANHA: “When we heard the guide versions of all the tracks and received the first draft of the choreography, we thought, ‘Oh, this is more difficult than last time,’ because the choreography was so difficult.
“But when we heard the completed album, I felt like we had kind of evolved, and it [gave us] an opportunity to mature. I wouldn’t say the process for one album was harder than the other, but it was definitely more satisfying this time around, because we knew how everything needed to go.”
How does MOONBIN & SANHA’s musical direction differ from that of ASTRO?
MOONBIN: “For ASTRO, we have a much brighter, more refreshing mood. But as a unit, we’re headed in a different, dark direction. There is more of a message in our minds, internally [for MOONBIN & SANHA’s music]. We try to explore maturity [more deeply], and we definitely want to take on more challenges in various ways.”
What are the things you chat or confide in each other about the most? Do you ever disagree about anything?
SANHA: “We actually spoke out a lot in the process of making this album. We could contribute our opinions, so we have been talking a lot about that. We also often discuss the things we want to work on and fix as we perform as a unit, and remind each other, like, ‘it’s better to do things this way, or that way,’ so we talk a lot about performing.”
Your fellow bandmates JINJIN & ROCKY also debuted in their own sub-unit earlier this year with a completely different concept from yours, so here’s a fun question! What do you think would happen if you had to swap title tracks one day?
MOONBIN: “I think it’ll be really interesting, but I don’t want to swap songs [laughs].”
SANHA: “Their songs are in a higher key than ours, so it’ll be really difficult for us, but the energy they had in the music video looked really fun. I’m trying to imagine them doing our title track this time too, but I don’t think it suits their image [laughs]. Each unit has its own thing, and I think we’re all in the right place.”
Finally, what are your hopes and goals for this release and the rest of 2022?
SANHA: “Our top priority this year is to be with the fans, and to meet them face-to-face. It’s been such a long time since we have been able to. We’ll be seeing our fans in Korea soon, and hopefully internationally as well.”
MOONBIN: “We’re finally making a comeback with our second mini-album. Compared to our first album, you will be able to find a lot of growth, both musically and otherwise. I hope we will be able to talk and see each other soon, so stay healthy until then!”
ASTRO’s MOONBIN & SANHA’s second mini-album ‘REFUGE’ is out now.