HW Interview: Paul Kim’s Harlem Soul

Korean-American singer/songwriter Paul “PK” Kim has sure come a long way from being a contestant on season 6 of American Idol. With a new album about to be released soon, his future in the music business looks brighter than ever. Harlem World Magazine believe this West-Coaster’s music evokes the sounds, image, and coolness of Harlem and contemporary R&B music. He’s definitely one to watch and hear.

Harlem World: Tell us a little bit about yourself? Who is Paul “PK” Kim?

Paul Kim: I’m just a guy who loves music. If you just take a listen to my music, I’m sure you’d be able to see who I am without me even having to speak a word.

HW: Where do you call home?

PK: I was raised in the Bay Area, particularly San Jose (California). It shaped the man I am today, and my heart will forever be in the Bay. I currently reside in Los Angeles, and love it here. I made the move to be closer to the industry, but ended up falling in love with the weather, the melting pot of cultures, the food, and of course the women.

HW: When did you decide a career in the music business was what you wanted?

PK: I actually never thought I could do it for a living until I got my first record deal. Music was always my first love, but I had planned to become a teacher, before EMI Asia came calling.

HW: What were you major musical influences growing up?

PK: My biggest musical influence is probably Donny Hathaway, along with Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. Those were the artists my friend’s parents would play throughout the house, when I would be over to play, and that’s who I grew up emulating. I’d have to say Michael Jackson and Prince are major influences as well. I’m also greatly influenced by the R&B movement of the early 90’s with artists such as Jodeci, R. Kelly, Boyz II Men, etc… And finally, the Neo-Soul renaissance that closed the 20th century also played a major part in influencing my music, with artists such as Maxwell, Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo,

HW: How did you actually get your foot in the door in the music business? Was it presumably through being a contestant on season 6 of American Idol?

PK: I think my deal with EMI was probably my first taste of the music industry. It was a difficult transition to pick up and move to Asia to do music, but I learned a lot about the business, and it was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Being on Idol obviously helped as well, but immediately after being voted off Idol, I deliberately took a break from being an artist, and stuck to honing my songwriting prowess, before getting myself back out there as an artist.

HW: Speaking of American Idol, do you feel you gained any vital experience from appearing on that show?

PK: Definitely. The show taught me how cutthroat this industry really is. There are no second chances, no do over’s, no excuses. You gotta be on point all the time, or you’re nothing more than an afterthought. I learned many valuable lessons from my Idol experience.

HW: What were the reactions from your parents when you told them you wanted to be a professional singer?

PK: I am a lucky man. My parents have always been supportive of my quest to be a musician. There were times when I wanted to give up, and honestly, at times they were the ones that gave me the encouragement and strength to keep pushing forward. There is no way I could have done this without them.

HW: Let’s talk a little bit about your music. Your first single is “Hero” – what is it about and is it from personal experience?

PK: “Hero” is a record about a woman who is in love with a man that treats her badly. It’s basically me telling her that I can rescue her from such a bad situation. In addition, I think it can be a song about anyone stuck in a rut. Just a feel good record telling you to keep your head up. The song was produced by my good friend John Ho, and written by my boy Jimmy Burney.

HW: Your music has a very distinct soulful flavor to it. How have African American audiences responded to you, a Korean-American, doing R&B music?

PK: When it comes to my music, I choose not to see color. Growing up, most of my friends were African American, and I learned how to sing in a Christian choir. It does bring a smile to my face though, when an elderly African American comes up to me after a show, to simply say they thoroughly enjoyed my performance, and to ask where that Soul came from. The response from African American audiences has always been positive, and they always show me love, and I will forever be thankful for that. I do believe Soul is inherent though, and not limited to a particular race or group of people. I just shrug it off when someone says “Oh you sound Black.” I just sing from the Soul.

HW: On the flip side, what has the response been to your music from Asian audiences?

PK: My Asian American fan base has been one of the most dedicated and supportive. They have stuck by me through the years, simply because they’d like to see one of their own make it here in the States. I also just came home from a month long tour in Asia, and I feel like I was successful in building a fan base over there as well. Asia as a continent has just recently started embracing urban music, and I think the timing is just right for me to start making a push out there.

HW: You have a new album coming out soon. Tell us a little about it?

PK: The album will be an embodiment of who I am. I’m not afraid to be completely honest with my fans. The songs will be almost like an open diary of my current and past relationships with the women in my life. Whether I had my heart broken, or thought I could potentially be in love with two women at once, it will just be me. Musically, I’m in an inspired place right now. There are over 100 songs in my catalogue that I’ve written and recorded, and once I find those perfect 12 to 14 tracks for my fans, the album will be ready to go.

HW: Do you have plans to do some touring soon?

PK: Most definitely. There are a ton of shows in the works, from California to Asia. No drug could ever replace the high of being on stage, singing my heart out, and performing for a crowd of fans. I absolutely love it, and I promise you guys will be seeing a whole lot more of me in the coming months.

HW Finally, where do you see yourself in 10 years?

PK: Within the next 10 years, I’d like to be making music in some capacity. Whether it be continuing as a recording artist, or as a songwriter. I even love vocal producing in the studio, so there will always be something for me to do that involves music. Hopefully I’ll have enjoyed a successful career, and will continue getting paid to do what I love.

HW: You were in Harlem a couple of years back, how was it?
PK: My trip to Harlem in the winter of 2008 was a memorable one. You know right away you’re in a different part of New York, with the beautiful mix of cultures, and restaurants that cater to more exotic palates. I specifically asked my friend to take me to Rucker Park, as I’m a huge basketball fan, and am well aware of the rich history that represents the courts. One regret that I have is that I wasn’t able to see the Apollo Theatre. It’s always been a dream of mine to perform there. I’ll make sure to visit it on my next trip to NY. The most memorable part of the trip was dining at Sylvia’s Soul Food. My friend made it a point to take me there, as it’s her favorite restaurant, and the food was heavenly. I can’t wait to visit Harlem again. All in all, I felt most at home In Harlem, than any other place I visited in New York. It is truly a beautiful place.
San Jose, California

San Jose, California (Photo credits: www.roadtrafficsigns.com)