We chat with up and coming Korean singer/songwriter Paul Kim. After attending high school in New Zealand and college in Japan, Paul returned to his native country of Korea to pursue his career as a singer. He auditioned in the 3rd season of MBC Star Audition and debuted under Neuron Music with the single “커피 한 잔 할래요” in 2014. His 2nd Mini Album Her was released late last year with a title track of the same name. His soothing but powerful vocals, easy and calming tracks, and singer-songwriter persona has gained him much interest in Korea.
Paul thanks for your time today. I really appreciate you chatting to me.
No, thanks for having me.
Let’s talk about where you are at the moment. Which part of the world are you currently at?
Now I’m in Downtown LA, in US. Actually in K Town area.
How long have you been in the US for now?
A week. I came actually last Tuesday I think. It’s been a bit more than a week since I came.
You are recording at the moment. Is that right?
Actually my CEO is a songwriter and he is with me. We’re trying to work out these few pieces together. At the same time I’m travelling as well.
Let’s go back to the beginning. I believe you actually have a bit of history in New Zealand. You went to high school there?
I lived there for five years.
How was your time in New Zealand?
I was a high school student back then. Didn’t get to drink, didn’t get to do anything fun. But, it was good. It was all about, you know, learning and hanging out with friends.
And I guess, back then, did you know that you wanted to be a musician? Were you musical growing up?
I did learn how to play the piano. I did love to sing back then as well but I never thought I’d become a singer. Because back in the old days, I thought to become a singer you had to look good. You had to do crazy things. I never expected to be standing in front of everybody and sing.
And how did that all come about then? The wanting to be a musician part in your life?
It all happened when I was in university in Japan. The was after I finished my army service. I was having a bit of a hard time I guess. So all my friends were gone because they’d graduated. I was left alone. And then I was wondering is this really what I want to do? I actually studied accounting and marketing in Japan. But I never wanted to become an office worker. Like working in the building, doing all the paperwork etc. So I was asking myself, like what do I want to do? What do I want to become? And then I realised, I love singing! If I had to choose something, that I want to do it for the rest of my life, I’ll sing. So that’s the point where I decided to become a singer.
Do you come from a musical family?
My mother plays violin. She’s not a player now. In university she played the violin. But I haven’t seen her play violin though. I’d say my family is a bit musical. But nobody is like a singer or professional artist or anything.
What was college like in Japan? Because it would have been a bit of a difference, you’re going obviously going from Korea to New Zealand and New Zealand to Japan. It’s all so many different cultures you kind of experience there?
Because I really wanted to go somewhere close enough to Korea so I could visit my parents more often. But at the same time, I was really interested in the Japanese culture. I have a few Japanese friends in New Zealand as well. And also, the university I went to is an international school. So there were students from Australia, Mexico, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam. There’s like people from everywhere. It was not that difficult for me to get along with the people there.
Did you have any musical influences when you were growing up?
I grew up listening to a lot of Disney. My mum, especially, she never let me listen to all things like K-Pop, or pop music. I grew up listening to a lot of classic or Disney music. So, I wasn’t a big fan of classic music. But, I guess. That’s my background,
The first time I listened to K Pop was when I was ten or eleven. So when all my friends were listening and singing along with K Pop artists, I had not clue. I didn’t even know what they were singing, so. And I started watching this TV show. And then I couldn’t stop watching it. I think that’s the point where I started singing along to the Pop genre.
After college in Japan, you went back to Korea. So you decided you wanted to become a singer?
What steps did you take when you went back to Korea to actually become a singer?
It was really difficult for me. Because once you decide to become a singer, then you don’t know where to start. And then, the only thing I could do was to learn how to sing, to learn how to play instruments. So I took a few lessons. And then I did a lot of auditions. I did a few auditions for TV shows. I did auditions for big companies and small entertainment companies. Nothing really worked for the first few years, And then, I was practising on my own. I was recording on my own. And then I met a few friends who introduced me to a few producers or people who needed a vocalist. So that’s how I started. And then I ended up meeting the company I’m in, Neuron Music, less than two years ago. So that’s technically when I started.
Going back to the early days, were you busking at all around Korea? Because when I was in Korea, it seemed to be that every aspiring musician was busking in Seoul, especially around Hongdae. What it the same for you too?
I did busking a few times but I wasn’t a huge fan of doing the busking. Because It’s different. I wanted to write my own songs and I wanted to sing my own songs. And once you do the busking, it’s really hard to get the attention from people walking around. So what they do is they sing all these really popular covers. And I wasn’t really into that. And, also, people expect a really, funny and interesting performance. But I’m not a funny person, I wanted to be a more serious musician back then. So, I didn’t really busk. But I did try to sing in some cafes, live cafes.
For people who probably never listened to your music before, how would you describe Paul Kim’s music?
All the music I try to do, it’s really soothing. It’s not something crazy or loud. It’s really easy to listen to and easy to sing along with.
It seems to be quite emotional, too. Because, I’m reading comments on your YouTube channel and people are saying how they have tears running down their eyes when they’ve listened to your music. It seems you really sort of hit their emotions?
I put a lot of attention on writing the lyrics. You know, which words to use. I think the hardest thing I try to do is to deliver that emotion to the listeners. So I guess, it’s a bit emotional.
What’s your songwriting style? Do you have a particular style that you write all of your songs with?
I try to write songs. But I’m not a songwriter. So, I only write when I have the inspiration or when it comes to me. So I usually start with the lyrics first. So the lyrics and the melody come together. And then I try to twist it a bit. And then, change words, change melodies and keep editing. And I get a lot of help from good friends. Tonnes of friends. I think for me to write a song it takes quite a while. It doesn’t happen in like five minutes or ten minutes. Not like those talented musicians.
Are there particular themes that you write about that you always go back to or any sort of favourite topics you like to write about?
When I actually started doing music, I actually wanted to write all these songs other than love songs. There’s plenty of love songs. Even though, I ended up writing love songs these days. But I wanted to write about the really basic emotions. How you feel about your friends, it could be about your family. It could be about, basically, anything other than love. It’s not about I love you or I want to F&*k you blah, blah. Not that stuff. I’m still working on it.
Are you drawing from personal experiences when you are sort of writing these lyrics?
Yeah, it comes from my personal experience. But at the same time, I talk to my friends and new people. And I get a lot of experiences from my friends. And based on those stories, I put my emotions to it. You could imagine what could happen if… what if that was me? What I was in that shoe, kind of? And then I start imagining how it fit me and how I want it to be.
I want to draw your mind back to when you were auditioning. Especially for some of the big auditioning programmes, like the NBC Star audition. What did it feel like auditioning for those kind of shows? What emotions were you feeling? Were you nervous? Or were you apprehensive? Or were you confident when you went in front of those people?
I was really, really nervous back then. Because that was my first audition on a TV show. And I guess I wasn’t really ready for those auditions. Because that’s when I’d just arrived in Korea. I was working. I was doing a lot of part time jobs and doing a lot of auditions. I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do. I couldn’t figure out what they were expecting from me. And now I know that I as trying to do something that they… something that is not expected.
Did you receive any good feedback from these shows?
On my first audition, yes. And then in the second one, they were like “Paul, you’re a bit off”. That’s what they’d say. I was trying to impress them, I guess. I was trying to impress everybody too much. I could be more relaxed and do what I could do. But I was trying to show them something that I can and I was trying to show them the possibility that I could become.
What’s the best thing about work with a company like Neuron Music? What is the best part?
To be honest, I wouldn’t say Neuron is like one of the biggest companies in Korea. But the best part is we are like really friends, like family. So we talk a lot about the genre, the music and how they want … how the company wants, and how I want, and how my friends want my music to be. And it’s really fun to work with them. And it’s really clear. They show me everything about the company. There’s nothing they hide from me or anything. I have their trust. And I guess they have the trust in me as well. I’m in the right place. That’s how I feel.
That’s nice Paul. And you released two mini albums with Neuron Music. Is that correct?
Okay. Let’s talk about the first one, your first mini album that came out.
The name of the album is ‘Song Diary’. Since it was my first mini album, I wanted to make it like a diary. All the songs in the first mini album it’s all about me and what experiences I had through my friends. It could be through my friends or family, whatever. It’s still a story that I’ve experienced, that I felt. And it was all about sharing Paul Kim, like me with the world.
And what was the lead single from that mini album?
Lead single from my 1st mini album is called ‘너란주의보(Doowap)’.
Now, you released your second mini album that’s called, ‘Her’. I believe that was released last year? What was actually different about ‘Her’ compared to the first mini album?
On the first mini album, I was trying to show why in my personal character, you know, how I lived and what I felt. But in the second mini album, I was trying to really work hard to make the quality of music better than the first one. So we worked with a few of my favourite artists like New York Fish, he’s also a songwriter. He’s one of my favourite songwriters in Korea. He gave me a lot of help. He did the arrangements for ‘Her’ the fourth track in the second mini album. And he also helped me to do the vocal recordings. The cover art of the album was designed by my auntie. She’s an artist as well. I got a lot of help from many people.
With the promotion of ‘Her’, did you actually go on any TV shows or were your songs played on radio?
I’m doing a few radio shows. But I’m not going on any TV shows yet. Hopefully, that’ll happen soon. But, not yet. Mainly, it’s all on the radio for the promotion.
How about concerts? Have you been holding any concerts throughout Korea?
Yes. I’m having quite a few. But it’s really small ones. So the audience can really see me close. And after the show we have a bit of a chat or I could take a photo with them. So It’s really like it makes my fans feel like I’m seeing each person. I think that’s the best part.
Do you have any devoted fans yet? Who goes to every one of your shows?
I think so. There’s quite a few. Not so many. But there’s few certain people that come to my concert every single time. And I’m really grateful.
I was given this fun fact. Rap Monster from BTS, recommended one of your songs. I think it was called ‘X’. Is that right?
How did that come about? How did Rap Monster actually get to hear your song?
I didn’t know about this until I saw a few comments on the album. And I listened to BTS a lot. They’re like one of my favourite idol groups. I felt quite weird about it actually. Someone I know commenting on the music that I wrote and that I sung. I felt flattered!
For the rest of this year, what’s your plans? For the rest of 2017?
Once I get back to Korea, I’ve got a few concerts coming up. I’ve got a few festivals that I will be performing in. The Have a Nice Day Festival and the Beautiful Mint Life in May. And I’m working on my coming up album as well. That’s the main reason why I’m in L.A. at the moment. ‘Her’ the album comes out maybe in the fall. We haven’t decided yet. But we’re still working on it. So we have to see how it goes. (Editors note: Mini Album ‘Her’ already came out last December. New album will come out in fall this year – no title for new album yet)
And you’re in L.A. for the album. Are you writing or just recording?
Writing. No recording yet. We’re trying to figure out the concept. He does awesome work with songwriting.
Do you have any idea what you want to do for this third album of yours?
It’s mainly all the music I’ve done before but it’s not exactly ballad. But something similar to ballads. I wanted to make it something more trendy, upbeat, more fast, you know. So that people could sing along and make them not sad after listening to it.
And the music videos, are you involved in the concepts of the music videos as well?
Since I’m a singer, I want to show people who I am. Who Paul Kim is. So I try to be on the music video as much as possible. But not as a main actor or anything.
And when are we going to see Paul Kim come and perform in Australia and New Zealand? When are we going to come and see you?
I don’t know if there’s anybody expecting me in New Zealand or Australia. So maybe, one day if there’s enough people looking for me. Maybe I’ll do it.
Well Paul, for people who wants to find out more information about you, want to look you up, where can they actually see you? Where can they find out information about you?
On Instagram you can follow me. It’s under Pk Album. PK for Paul Kim. On Facebook, you could look for Paul Kim-Paul Kim Korean. But you can just type in Paul Kim and you’ll find me.
And what about YouTube? Where on YouTube can people see you?
On YouTube you could search for Official Paul Kim.
Fantastic. So well Paul, that’s all the time we’ve got today. Thank you very much for talking to me.