His latest full-length release, House On A Hill, what can be viewed as Nam’s third English language album (that, too, is a challenge to define – “LPs, EPs, mini-albums, whatever we call them, do they have much of a significance the way they used to?” he ponders aloud), centres on what he has labelled “an existential crisis”.
Following a relentless tour schedule and COVID-19 lockdowns, Nam headed into the studio last year to realise he didn’t have anything to write about. But he did become enamoured with a particular house on a hill and obsessed with the idea of homeownership. His friends were buying homes, after all. In a songwriting session, he began to unpack his motives.
“Why do we want a house?” he asks. “Is it a sense of identity, or self or status or wealth?” Those materialistic questions evolved into, “What makes us happy?” Did he really want the house on the hill, or was he pursuing an empty emblem to feel accomplished or whole?
The title track unlocked the album for Nam.
“Almost every line in that song, if you just read it out loud as a statement, it makes you think about things that sometimes we don’t want to think about because we’re scared (of) what the answer might be,” he explains. That’s evidenced in the refrain, where he sings, “When is more and more / And more and more enough?”
“We’re scared that we may never find happiness,” he continues. “We’re scared that we may never be satiated with what we have. What if we’re never satisfied? How terrifying is that?”
Beyond the terror of everyday life, or, perhaps, the only thing that makes it tenable, is gratitude. Nam wants the song to illuminate that fact: To allow listeners to find what drives them and hold onto it.
“I hope that (the song) makes people kind of reframe, reset what happiness means to them,” he says. “That’s at least my intention for it.”
Those big questions (what motivates us to get out of bed every day, or what truly makes us happy) became profound and sometimes deeply distressing source material for an expansive pop album: An emotional range from The Weeknd-channelling love anthem Sink Or Swim to the sombre synth ballad I Wish I Wasn’t Me.
Of the latter, he says, “As great as things are, sometimes I wish I wasn’t me. I wish I was somebody else. I wish I was living a different life.”
Admitting that was cathartic and one of the ways Nam views the record as a celebration of his career and life to date, particularly because his first EP Cloud 9 came out 10 years ago.
“The number 10 is a significant number,” he says. “It’s hard to stay relevant, or make it, or get to a place where you are consistently releasing music.”
It’s also his second independently-released album, following 2022’s There And Back Again and the first in which he wrote on every single song on the record.
“I’ll be honest, as an independent artist, every day is unstable,” he says.
It’s a negotiation between being able to do whatever you want, as long as you can finance it, and considering the major label system, which possesses its own rigid guidelines of what you can and cannot do.
“I love what I do. I love my fans. I love everybody that shows up in streams. But it’s, it’s scary. And that’s the reality, sometimes, of being an independent artist.”
The other reality, of course, is the ability to make fulfilling music that feels true to who he is, now.
“It’s fulfilling and gratifying, in that I feel that there is growth,” he says of this album. “This is the culmination of 10 years of experience.”
House On A Hill will be released on Friday (Sep 8) via The Eric Nam Company.