Alongside R&B stars like Zion.T and Crush, singer-songwriter Roy Kim‘s KCON attendance proved the K-pop festival’s interest this year in booking talent past it’s usual bubble gum suspects. The 22-year-old Georgetown student flew across America to meet fans and perform at Los Angeles’ Staples Center for a memorable set that utilized impressive stage lighting, but most importantly focused on the singer’s tender and emotional vocals in one of the night’s most refreshing musical moments.
Backstage at KCON 2015 Los Angeles, before his set the humble singer-guitarist told Billboard about his upcoming album and his a cappella past. He spoke in a quiet and calm tone, coming off as more of a Netflix-loving college student than a chart-topping pop star who was about to croon for thousands of admirers.
How’s your KCON going? Anything memorable so far?
Everything about it was memorable because I haven’t done anything to promote myself here. Just to see people say they’re a fan of me is crazy. I’m always worried, I was worried, again, that there may not be a lot of people at my fan meeting. I think K-pop, and it might be a cliché or wrong thinking, but I thought K-pop was more of an idol or performance-based music so I thought my kind of music wouldn’t be as popular or not known at all here. It was shocking, again, to see people here, that they know me. It gave me a mission to do more here.
How are you feeling getting ready to play a massive stadium like Staples Center?
It’s great. It’s only a place I’ve watched on TV and to be able to stand on that stage is a dream. My songs are usually at a slower tempo compared to the dancing groups, the idols, so I’m a little worried when I come out, they’ll all go “Ohhhh, nooo.” I’m a little worried, but hopefully it’ll turn out well.
Regarding the idols and performance groups, where do you see yourself in the overall K-pop scene?
I don’t see myself as a performance-based artist, because I’m not a good dancer at all — all I do is really stand up with one guitar and not a lot of movement. My music’s more voice-based and it’s all live, so I don’t know where I stand, but I don’t think I stand in line with the other groups.
How’s Georgetown? Do you have time to think about music when you’re at school?
Yeah, there’s a lot of time because at school — I don’t think it’s a good thing — but I usually just stay at home, in my room and watch Netflix. Maybe during the weekend, I’ll drink, but not too much. I have a lot of time with just myself, and there’s a lot of time to think. Most of the writing of my songs usually happen when I’m in the States. So, yeah, school is fun. If I am in Korea, or if I am doing my career as a singer, I usually don’t have time to think about music — it’s just a job and when your hobby becomes a job, it’s not fun anymore. But when I’m in the States, I’m a student and it’s a hobby and it’s fun again. I think school is very necessary for me right now.
You said your last album Home was about your last year-and-a-half as a student. Has anything happened in school that’s inspiring new music?
Oh yeah, but it’s not just school though. It’s life. My songs are changing all the time. What I said a few years ago might not be thoughts right now. The third album, I’m working on it. I don’t know when it’ll come out, but I think it’ll be more deep. I don’t think people will like it.
It’s going to be way more deep. In terms fo the topics, and the songwriting, it’s going to be very minimal in the way of arranging the music. That could change, it’s all a secret, but now I’ve told you everything [Laughs]
Any musicians or albums you’re gaining inspirations from right now?
Damien Rice has always been my inspiration. He had a new album last year and I’ve heard it so many times, too many times, that I’m starting to think that my life is turning that way. I don’t know how Damien Rice lives, but his songs are pretty gloomy and pretty tragic. I try to forbid myself from listening to too much of him. Mumford & Sons came out with a new album, that was good, I like how they’re trying out new stuff, way more rock-y. And James Bay, I started listening to him when I was in school. I saw him before he got really big and I’m really jealous of him.
Do you think you’d do English music ever?
You know, I have English songs written already. I just want to hit first base as Korea, which I don’t think I’ve hit enough, but hopefully I’ll hit it well. Second base, I think, will be an English-language country. I always had a dream of touring around the U.S. in a van with my band on a road tour and hopefully that’ll happen in my life.
You also performed at Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day in Washington D.C. with Will.i.am, Fall Out Boy, No Doubt. How was that?
I think that was the biggest crowd I ever played in front of. There was too many people that I didn’t think of them as people, but as a landscape, just nature. But it was fun because it was during my semester at school, it was 10 minutes away so it was close by. It was a good cause and it was a weekend I had nothing to do, so what’s more perfect than that? And I say “Imagine,” which was well resonating with the whole purpose. I was very thankful to be there.
I heard you were a big a cappella geek in school too. It’s gotten so popular here. Who are some of your favorite acts?
I’ll say Ash Fellows. You should, uh, search them — it’s a group that I made in high school. [Laughs] It’s still going on! It’s pretty cool because it was the first a cappella group in the boarding school that I went to, the first one, that I made. The head master is a big fan of a cappella groups, it’s so sad that the school didn’t have one, and he asked if I wanted to do it and I said, “Yeah, I’ll make it!” When I started, we didn’t have any faculty members or anybody that helped us. Nowadays, I heard that they had advisors helping them. It’s good to be a part of that tradition.
It’s been very long since I did a cappella. Pentatonix is huge, I heard they’re coming to Korea. I usually spend my time watching YouTube a lot, looking at covers, because I used to do covers on YouTube a lot before I became a musician and yeah, a cappella, I don’t think I could do it well. It’s hard.
What voice part were you?
I was tenor, I think. Sometimes bass. But, wow, a cappella is so hard. It’s easy for the solo. Most people would think solo would be the hardest, but really the people backing up is the hardest part. ?