South Korean alt-rocker Loren (stylized LØREN) has written songs for Blackpink and G-Dragon, appeared at South By Southwest and recently partnered with 88Rising, leading to a performance at the influential collective’s summertime Head in the Clouds festival — all before he released his first album.

Out Friday (March 24), the EP “Put Up a Fight” is the result of a years-long effort while working at the Black Label, a prominent South Korean record company associated with Blackpink’s home YG Entertainment. According to the singer-songwriter, a full-length follow-up is almost finished. 

Loren, born Lee Seung-joo, hopes to ingest a bit of punk and grunge to South Korea’s rock scene, and “Put Up a Fight” is his call to arms to like-minded music fans. Even amid waning popularity worldwide, and especially in South Korea where only the occasional indie or pop-rock band makes registers a blip, Loren is undeterred. 

“I feel like rock music is not a dying breed in Korea: it’s dead,” says Loren from Los Angeles, where he’s visiting after finishing up SXSW in Austin.  “It’s six feet under its gravestones, but I’m kind of resisting where everything else is going, like a branch or something in the wind. To me, ‘Put Up a Fight’ kind of sounds like you’re kicking and screaming on your way out. You’re still going to kind of lose, but at least you refuse to just go peacefully.” 

Prior to his SXSW showcase, Loren had only performed with his band once in South Korea, and he recalls the audience not giving him the reaction he expected. “I guess they found it somewhat interesting, but they were not vibing with it,” he says. “They’re just kind of like, ‘This is fucking loud.’ The same way I would treat, I don’t know, classical music or something. ‘I guess it’s good. I don’t know.’” 

Loren is aware that to spur a rock revolution in South Korea is a longshot, but if anyone’s going to be the harbinger of 21st century Korean rock, he hopes it’s him. It’s a genre he’s connected with all his life. The Strokes are his favorite band, and he’s also a fan of Jack White, Damon Albarn, Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, “and, obviously, Kurt Cobain, but he’s the most basic answer at this point,” says Loren.  

The first single from “Put Up a Fight,” called “Folks,” comes with a message. Says Loren: “I really wanted to put out there in the world [that] it’s so easy to judge people based on covers and shit, but I just wish people would … [not] be so quick to see someone negatively. And I think that was a bit more of a personal message than other songs [on the EP].” 

Loren is an anagram for “loner,” a tattoo he has emblazoned across his chest. It’s a reflection of his childhood, which he spent studying in an American international school in Singapore. Arriving in middle school, Loren didn’t speak a word of English and never really made friends. He sought solace in the band room where he learned how to play different instruments, and the rock music he was listening to.

“Music to me was a way for the world to shut the fuck up,” he says. “I used to read a lot of interviews and it was great to relate to [rock] because a lot of artists went through a difficult high school or childhood or whatever. So it was reassuring. ‘I’m miserable, but at least we’re on the same page.’” 

As lonely as it may have felt at the time, Loren has a sense of dark humor about these years. “Nowadays, I tell my friends, ‘If I had a really happy [school life], if I was popular, maybe I’d have a fucking desk job or something.’  So I’m very happy that I had no friends.” 

Despite drawing on his inspiration as a loner, today’s Loren is, at least publicly, frequently surrounded by friends and like-minded peers. His stage name was assigned to him by none other than Blackpink’s Rosé, after he performed alongside her during a 2020 Instagram Live and she said she needed a name to introduce him by. He had been thinking up some stage names, and she picked Loren from the list. Later that year, he appeared in Blackpink’s music video for the song “Lovesick Girls.” 

Inspiration can come from anywhere, but Loren has a unique way of cataloging it: a private Instagram account where he posts ideas jotted down on his phone. “It’s like a memo, but I always lose stuff and it’s just my personal account,” he reveals. “It’s locked and has no followers, so only I can see it. But it has 1,300 posts. Sometimes it’s very rational, lyrically, and other times it’s like, ‘I fucking hate everyone. I want to die.’ But it’s that wave. And you kind of get a sense of your mental health. I was fucking depressed in 2018. [But now] my face is tense from smiling.”