By Riddhi Chakraborty for Rolling Stone India 

The singer-songwriter opens up about his most emotional records, what it takes to run a label, and the narrative which inspired his new LP, ‘The Story’

It’s almost 10 PM on a Thursday night in South Korea, and Kang Daniel has butterflies in his stomach.

We’re just a couple of weeks away from the release of his first studio album, The Story, and he can’t escape the jitters because this LP is about to change everything. “I’m just extremely ecstatic,” he says with a big grin when we connect over Zoom. He’s blonde right now – which is a top secret until the promotions for the album begin – and his fluffy platinum bangs make him look even younger than he is. It’s been a long day full of interviews, and we’re his last press stop before he heads off for a late-night dance practice, but his excitement around talking about the music itself is nowhere close to waning. “Every time I release an album or a song, I have the same kind of feeling,” he declares. “Because it’s actually me taking center stage as the speaker in my own story, and I believe that that’s a blessing in itself. Like every other time, I just feel blessed and truly happy about it.”

Kang turns out to be the perfect interviewee. He sends over the newly mastered album to me in advance so I can get a better understanding of the direction he’s taking next, and he’s come highly prepared for the in-depth dive we’re about to take into his artistry – I catch glimpses of him taking notes so that he can map out his answers, and it’s terribly endearing. We nerd out together over small details like ad libs and background vocals, album design and release schedules, each topic more interesting than the last. He hides his face in his hands every time I compliment his hard work and grins when I point out things I’ve noticed in the record, adding in little behind-the-scenes facts that the audience might never otherwise know.

“They’re not all personal stories,” Kang says when I ask how much of this album (which finally dropped today on May 24th) was inspired by his own life. It’s a surprising twist considering all his previous albums have been based on incidents and trials he’s experienced first-hand, but he explains that it was time to look outside of his own sphere to convey the message he needed to at this point in his life. “I think that I was trying to find common ground that a lot of other people can really relate to, stories of other people that everyone can really relate to.” He takes on the role of narrator rather than protagonist, and The Story is more like an anthology that he’s taking listeners through. It’s the reason why he titled it the way he did. “We were just discussing and throwing out ideas and it was just a simple thought, because I had accumulated different stories and put them into this album,” he recalls. “All of these songs had different themes and different storylines, but I had put them together into one big album. So I thought, ‘Why not?’ Why not just call [the album what it is]. It turned out to be quite perfect.”