In the constantly moving wheels of the K-pop industry, it’s rare for a group not to have at least one comeback – if not more – within the space of a year. When N.Flying, FNC Entertainment’s five-piece band, released their latest EP ‘Dearest’ last month, they broke a 12-month period of relative quiet – and shattered the silence with a record both poignant and infectiously fun.
“Our fans have been waiting for a comeback for a long time,” nods leader Seung-hyub when NME meets the band at their label’s offices amid a busy week of promotions. “Every time they asked us when our comeback would be, we told them to wait a little longer. However, now we finally made a comeback, it’s like a festival between us. It seems like giving our fans a present with a new song.”
N.Flying’s long-awaited comeback arrives at a pivotal time for the band. Lead guitarist Cha Hun and drummer Jae-hyun both turned 28 this year, meaning they must soon enlist for their mandatory military service. Line-up disruptions are nothing the band haven’t weathered and adapted to before, though. Four years after they debuted as a four-piece, singer Hwe-sung was added to the line-up, with original bassist Kwang-jin departing a year after. Then, in 2020, a new face entered the group to handle four-string duties – the band’s maknae Dong-sung.
Through it all, N.Flying have remained steadfast in their quest to make music that reflects the rollercoaster ride of youth, set to pop-rock soundtracks that are bright, beautiful and heartfelt. In 2019, they saw the biggest vindication of that approach when, following the end of promotions for it, their single ‘Rooftop’ suddenly went viral after an anonymous user shared it on a popular forum online. It went on to give them their first music show victory, as well as awards at the Melon Music Awards and Gaon Chart Music Awards. Ever since, they’ve been steadily rising around the world and look set to continue to do so, even as Hun and Jae-hyun take temporary leave from the band.
With NME, Seung-hyub, Jae-hyun, Hun, Dong-sung and Hwe-sung talk about the making of ‘Dearest’, Hun and Jae-hyun’s impending enlistment, and their hopes for a lifetime together.
You wrote ‘Shooting Star’ together at a song camp at Seung-hyub’s house. Tell me about those song camps and the process behind them. How did ‘Shooting Star’ specifically grow out of the song camp?
Seung-hyub: “Once a week, we always gather together and have a ‘family meal’, which is the time N.Flying members eat meals, play games, and talk together. At that time, we planned to have not only a family meal but also do a song camp. However, we couldn’t make any songs at that time. So we decided that, at the next family meal, we won’t just have a song camp without any plan, but someone should be a leader to make songs. Then, Hun made three songs. One of Hun’s three songs was ‘Shooting Star,’ and I loved that song, so I improved it. That’s how the final ‘Shooting Star’ was made.”
Hun: “As for the atmosphere of the song camp, as Seung-hyub previously mentioned, we make songs in a very relaxed setting. Once a song camp starts, we play the track, and whoever can think of lyrics can say the lyrics out loud.”
What song do you connect to most on this record and why?
Hun: “I would pick ‘Monster’ because I love rock and metal music. Also, I felt like I challenged myself by playing and recording this song. ‘Monster’ is the hardest song to play to the extent that I feel like all of my hands are broken after the band performance. However, I am very proud of myself after I finish playing the whole song.”
Jae-hyun: “I would pick ‘1’. It’s not like a song that can make a big ‘burst’, and it’s not calming music. But I love the feeling of rushing forward with excitement in this song. Of course, lots of people are busy working these days. However for us, as the pandemic gradually declines, we also want to happily rush forward from now on with overseas promotions, festivals, music broadcasting, and so on.”
This album as a whole contains different emotions and things that you go through in your youth, which has always been a big theme in N.Flying’s music. How has being in this band and being able to process your experiences through your songs impacted your own youth? Does being in this position as artists come with a responsibility to give your fans comfort through music?
Seung-hyub: “Of course. We have spent our teens and early twenties in the band, so all of our activities are youth itself rather than saying that our songs have impacted our youth. Our fans choose to love us, so we certainly have a responsibility to return their love and support.”
Hun: “It is not because [of] our position [as] artists. As a human being, if someone loves others, they would be willing to cherish their loved ones, share something with them, give something, say something to them, and so on… We want to give something to our fans and those who we love in the form of what we are good at. It’s not just a responsibility.”
This is your last comeback before Hun and Jae-hyun enlist. How much was that on your minds as you were working on this record?
Jae-hyun: “When we are planning to release an album, we don’t think about the time of the album release. I think good music comes out when we want to do music [so we focused on that] rather than on our last comeback before Hun and I enlist. Of course, we have to fulfil our duty as citizens. However, we are preparing lots of things to show. It’s not that I put a lot of effort into this album because it’s our last time before enlistment, but I think I focused more on meeting [fanbase] N.Fia after a long time since our comeback. So I want to enjoy that feeling more.”
Seung-hyub: “Maybe we can release other songs – we do not know what that [release] would be, but we are still trying to work on making songs. We might prepare songs before[hand] for N.Fia to continue to listen to after the enlistment. I can’t say for sure if it is the last time all members perform together.”
Hun: “And I’m really thankful to F.T. ISLAND and CNBLUE for [showing] us and their fans that they’re still a good, strong team even after they came back from the army. From that, we learned that we don’t need to worry or think negatively. Honestly, we also think after coming back from the army, we can perform and play music again; there are no worries.”
Since your debut, do you measure success and happiness differently? What were your hopes when for the band when you debuted and how do they compare to your hopes now?
Hwe-seung: “Before I debuted, I used to think and imagine in front of the stage, and I pursued my happiness by imagining it. After debut, I was happier when reflecting on the past. So I think it seems to have changed compared to before the debut. And there is one thing that has not changed, and that is my thought that I want to continue to make happy and good music with the fans who support us for a long, long time.”
You’ve been together for nearly a decade now and been steadily growing that whole time. Looking back on the band’s journey so far, what are the biggest things you’ve learnt about yourselves as a group and as individuals?
Dong-sung: “For them, nearly a decade [everyone laughs]; for me, two years [editor’s note: Dong-sung joined the band in 2020]. I started [in another] band [FNC’s HONEYST] as a trainee.”
Seung-hyub: “He trained for such a long time.”
Dong-sung: “So I thought I knew well, but as a band member, there were lots of things I had to do and learn. We promised to be N.Flying until the age of 80, and at that point, I thought I would not be bored of the band. I mainly play the bass as an N.Flying member and watching others’ habits helps maintain a band. In daily life and musically, I learned how to accept others the way they are. Seung-hyub is like this, Jae-hyun is like this. I accept them like a sponge.
“As people get older, they get into a habit, so they only do what they get used to. However, I [try not to live] like that and just follow the circumstances. That’s what I’ve learned the most. I will keep up with learning what I don’t know, and I am sure that learning will be fun.”
Jae-hyun: “And we are five individuals who have grown up in totally different environments and have different tastes in music genres. Those five together gather as N.Flying, and I think this is amazing. I saw other musicians as N.Flying came out, and I learned that, ‘Oh there are musicians who play those kinds of songs’. It became K-pop, and I am so curious about what kind of music this K-pop will be when it goes out into the world.
“It has been almost eight years since our debut, but we haven’t seen the whole world, so as Dong-sung mentioned, I think there are lots of things that I have to learn. We know that we still have a lot of improvements to make, but we learned the fact that we need to learn a lot by listening to music and meeting our fans from many other countries.”
Dong-sung: “I think I should learn English more [everyone laughs].”
Jae-hyun: “Yes, I need to learn English. I so desperately want to learn English.”
N.Flying’s ‘Dearest’ is out now, via FNC Entertainment