Royal Pirates has gone through many obstacles. When the band was initially formed, it was named Fading From Dawn, and was made up of guitarist and vocalist Moon, drummer Sooyoon (also known as EXSY), and Moon’s brother, bassist Richard Kim. However, Richard passed away in a unfortunate car accident and James Lee replaced him.
They renamed themselves as Royal Pirates, but sadly, another unfortunate event hit them. James’ hand was terribly hurt in a freak accident while at a restaurant in Seoul. He was forced to give up the bass and had to resort to playing the keyboard and programming.
Despite all that they’ve been through, the band stayed strong. In case you didn’t know, the guys were in town as one of the judges of Astro Star Quest, an annual Chinese singing competition show organised by ASTRO. They even held a meet the fans session to interact with their Malaysian Royal Treasures. If you’re feeling down that you didn’t get the chance to meet them, fret not, because we spoke to them on your behalf ;)
We sat down with the rock band for an in-depth interview session and here’s what went down:
How do you feel to be invited as a judge for Astro Star Quest?
James: Oh, it’s honestly a big honour to be able to go on the show. We’ve never been judges before on a program so to be able to be invited to events like these and have contestants actually want to ask for advice from us, it’s a big honour and a big surprise. But we feel really lucky that the people of Malaysia wanted us for the show.
Have you met the contestants?
James: Yeah, we got to mentor 2 of the contestants, Timothy and Pung. They came to Korea and they trained with us as well, and we had a really good time.
So what do you think of them?
Moon: We were really surprised at how talented they were and they had such unique colours. Some of them were good in R&B, some of them had jazz voices. I think the level of contestants in Malaysia is really high and we were very honoured to be judges for such an amazing talent show.
Were they any awkward moments when you were mentoring them?
James: I think Timothy and Pung were both kinda awkward guys. (laughs) But that makes them kinda charming. Because Pung has this pure innocence about him that I think can reach and touch a lot of different people. Like when he sings, it really gets to your heart. And Timothy is very intelligent, he’s very young. He’s got a lot of swag. He’s very confident because he knows he’s talented but he just needs to be a little more organised. Super talented guys, both of them. I think they both just need a lot of practise but once that comes into play then they’ll be great artistes.
Moon: The most awkward moment is when there was this hater – a hater is like a judge too – and the hater gave really brutal comments. Super honest, really brutal, sometimes mean but I guess that’s when it’s kinda awkward? Because that’s when the contestants kinda are like “ugh”. When haters say like really straightforward things, it’s funny at the same time but sometimes I feel sorry for the contestants.
You didn’t go through the reality show route to debut. Would you consider yourselves lucky?
James: You know there are different strengths in doing different programs like that. We’ve done different band competitions and it brings out the best in you if you let it. Friendly competition is okay but you’ve gotta exercise the fact that you can’t let the negativity get to you. I think the existence of the hater concept is good because it’s in a safe environment and they’re gonna critique you just like people outside will. Whereas if you’re online, there’s gonna be people really attacking you. You see them all the time.
Why did you guys decide to work with Astro Star Quest? Were there any special reasons?
James: This is our 2nd time in Malaysia. The 1st time we were in Malaysia it was unexpectedly overwhelmingly good. Everyone was so good to us. We weren’t expecting too many people to come, maybe like 500 people. But around 1,500 to 2,000 people ended up coming. It was overwhelming because it was our 1st promotion in Malaysia and the staff and everybody who were part of the promotions were so good to us. We were like, man, we gotta take this opportunity to come back and it’s just a unique experience in our lives and our careers as well. I think we’ve grown a lot from this experience as well.
Any particular meaning for the title “3.3”?
Moon: We just thought number 3 had a lot of meaning to us. It was our 3rd album, there’s 3 of us. I guess 3 can be considered like a perfect number. It represents the triangle as well to show that we’re solid as a band. That’s the message that we wanna give out so we came up with that name.
And with this EP you decided to rebrand yourself?
Moon: Rather than rebranding we stayed in our rock routes, but this one was like we wanted to tell our stories at that point of our lives. So I think that was the most focused we were when writing songs.
Are there any differences in this album as compared to your previous releases?
Moon: In the previous ones we went a lot more pop than when you see our music from before we debuted. It was really hard rock, we did a lot of alternative rock stuff and then we wanted to kinda bring that in this album. So it’s like thinking back and going back to our roots on this album. That’s what we focused on.
So, we noticed you tried our “King Of Fruits”, the durian. What do you think of it? Would you want more?
Moon: You sure you wanna know? (laughs) It was okay. Soyoon is okay with it I think.
EXSY: Yeah, I thought it was okay.
James: Soyoon kinda has a good stomach so he could handle spicy food and dangerous food like durians. For me, it was a big mistake. I shouldn’t have eaten it but I’m glad I did I guess, but it gives me nightmares. (laughs)
Moon: For me, I have a pretty weak stomach when it comes to food, so I tried it way before, like put a little in my mouth and decide, “It’s not for me”. (laughs) So this time I didn’t try it with the guys but I knew what it tasted like.
James, you had an accident involving your hand. Did it change the group’s dynamics?
James: Absolutely. I think for me, it’s a new band because personally I did metal then I met these guys and we did alternative rock and then we came to Korea and we tried K-Pop. Now, after my hand got cut off and reattached, it’s like “I don’t know, what can we do? What can we try to do to make it work?” The producer was kinda like the glue to help us figure it out at that point. It was a very traumatic time I think. I couldn’t…I mean, I didn’t know if I was gonna keep my hand or not, you know. So at time it was just like go with the flow and let’s make an album that’s a statement of that time. As time goes on, we’re maturing out of that phase but this album, “3.3”, is like the story of that time.
How did you react to the news?
Moon: It was heartbreaking and we were like “What should we do?” But we were focused on supporting James at that moment. That was a priority. After that we thought, “What can we do?” He can’t play the bass anymore so maybe he can try this. We shared ideas and I think we came up with pretty good solutions. I think James worked hard to really pull off his new position.
Do you guys have any current obsessions?
Moon: When we went to the States and were working on new songs, and oh, you can’t play Pokemon Go in South Korea but you can play it there, so we started playing there. We played a lot. Actually, me and EXSY we went out to catch Pokemon and yeah, that was fun. I actually felt like a Pokemaster. (laughs) That was really fun but that was like a short amount of time. And nowadays, you’re obsessed with shoes! (points at James)
James: Yeah, I’m obsessed with shoes, it’s so dumb. It’s like a horrible investment but I love it so much. I used to be addicted to this video game Moon introduced me to, and then I erased it off my phone and now all I do is look at shoes. Yeah, that’s my life. And also, just writing music. Honestly, it’s just so fun, you know? It gets your mind off like all the stress and whatnot. I’m kinda obsessed with R&B and hip-hop right now, trying to integrate it into the band as much as I can. But, we’ll see how that goes.
Moon: Me and EXSY actually watch “Dragon Ball Super”.
James: Oh, it’s Super? A new one?
Moon: Yeah, that one. It’s really fun, you guys should watch.
Did you guys have any rituals when you were recording your album? Or any favourite things to do?
James: I don’t know, every album is kinda different. It’s not like “Okay guys, let’s do this pattern.” It’s more like “Alright, what song did you write? What songs have I written?” Then we kinda like mix it all together.
Moon: I guess we just talk?
EXSY: 1 memorable thing we did was the birthday party for Moon. It was in the States and we couldn’t find the bakery store and it was 12am, so nothing was open. So me and James, we just bought like a small cupcake for Moon and that was his birthday cake.
James: Happy birthday! (laughs)
Moon: My birthday, I was in the booth recording and it was really late so, I thought that they left without me. That was kinda sad but they came back with the chocopie. I was happy.
EXSY: The chocopie was…not good. (laughs) Oh, and I bought like a Darth Vader bubbly thing for him because he likes Darth Vader.
Moon: It was the best birthday ever! Not. (laughs) But that was really sweet, really sweet.
What do you like about Malaysia?
Moon: I said this earlier but I just love the people here. They just seem so happy and they’re smiling all the time.
Of course, because we’re looking at you!
James: Really? Awwww.
Moon: I just think the overall energy, was really just kind and nice and smiling and happy.
EXSY: Korea’s really cold right now, so coming here was like running away from the winter.
Moon: It’s freezing, it’s really freezing right now.
Do you prefer the hot or cold weather?
EXSY: I like hot, yeah.
Moon: I prefer hot, rather than cold.
Are there any other countries you wish to go to, but haven’t had the chance?
James: Not yet?
James: I’d like to go to Brazil. I wanna go to every country.
EXSY: I wanna go to Europe, I haven’t been to Europe. Or South America either. We’ve never been to the Philippines.
Moon: Oh, we’ve never been to the Philippines, or Vietnam.
EXSY: So, different countries in South East Asia. And Europe and South America. Just everywhere.
Do you guys have any plans for a future album?
James: When we went to LA we wrote a bunch of songs, I’m not sure if it’s gonna be an album or a single but the songs we wrote are…well, we just kinda changed our format. I’m on MIDI controls and keys, Sooyoon’s on drums but he’s adding a couple things, Moon’s kinda being more dynamic with how he performs. It’s not just guitar but different things too. We’re adding a couple different elements, I’d say, more sample-based, more MIDI-based. Our genre’s changing a little bit.
Despite the influences from other genres, how do you retain your identity in music?
Moon: I think I just listen to a lot of music. Staying in love with music is important. It’s easy to get sick of it if you’re like in the industry and doing it professionally. Well, I still love music and just having that part is the most important thing.
Any plans for collaborations with other rock bands?
James: We’re pretty close with this, well, he’s like a rock legend, his name is Yoon Do Hyun. His band goes by YB in Korea and his band is awesome! We were in a club with him, not like a dance club, like a rock and roll club but we play like shows together. So I think it would be fun to be able to collab with him. He was a guest at our last show, he sang and we played the songs for him. As far as for idol rock bands, I’m pretty close with CNBLUE’s Jungshin, it’d be cool to be able to do something with him. But maybe since he plays bass, something like that would be fun.
Do you prefer performing in Korean or English and why?
James: I play the keyboard, so there’s no language. (laughs) It’s just sounds.
Moon: I think it’s because I started singing in English, so I feel more comfortable with that. And it’s better. But there’s something about Korean that’s interesting. And writing lyrics in Korean is really fun. It’s a different vibe. I write totally different types of lyrics in Korean so right now, I’m learning to enjoy singing in Korean. But definitely I think English is easier.
Royal Pirates has been around since 2004 and 2009, so what’s the key to your longevity?
Moon: We fought a few times, right?
EXSY: Not a lot.
James: I’ve been in other bands and this band doesn’t really fight compared to the others. Moon and EXSY are pretty laid back so it’s like, you just become laid back when you hang out with them. They key is like, as Moon said, staying in love with music.
Moon: I think that helps.
EXSY: Because we grew up in LA and we’re all in Korea right now, so it’s like 3 of us are the only friends from LA. I think that’s a good thing for us.
Moon: I think it’s important to cherish that because you don’t have that many friends from childhood. But we’ve been friends since we were young, so it’s really important to keep that friendship.
Any last words for Malaysian fans?
Moon: I’m so glad that we came back to Malaysia and I think it’s really interesting and fun and exciting that we didn’t only come for a show but we came as judges for a TV program that you guys all love. So it’s a different side of us that we can show you guys and I’m glad that we can do it in Malaysia and we love Malaysia. Hopefully, with the new album, we can come back here as soon as possible.
EXSY: I’m just so thankful for Malaysian fans. For loving us so much for some reason, I don’t know why. (laughs) We didn’t get a lot of chances to perform out here so I feel sad for that. I wish I could come here more often for you guys because you guys show so much love for us. Thank you guys so much for that and I just love the people here, I love the weather. I love the nature here, it’s like LA, so I love it here. See you guys soon.
James: Malaysia is very nostalgic for me, because I came around a month before my accident. I think it was one of my last shows I had playing guitar, so that comes to mind when I think of Malaysia. So there’s lots of nostalgia that came from that. But also, like Sooyoon said, I don’t understand why the fans like us out here? More so than in other places but we had every single song on our album chart on KKBOX without even promoting here. So we feel very blessed and lucky. I wanna see what we can do if we actively promote here, I think it could be interesting to see how Malaysian fans interact with us during a live show, for example like a club or playing on stage, something like that. I just wanna come back soon.
Please do! Thank you so much for your time.
Royal Pirates: Thank you guys, thank you so much. See you soon!
Well, that sums up our interview with the boys! Special thanks to our friends from Universal Music Malaysia for arranging this interview.
‘Til next time, Royal Pirates ;)