Royal Pirates go from underground to cute

Royal Pirates comprise (from far left) Kim Moon Chul, Kim Soo Yoon and James Lee.
Royal Pirates comprise (from far left) Kim Moon Chul, Kim Soo Yoon and James Lee.PHOTO: UNIVERSAL MUSIC

Korean-American rock band Royal Pirates were not prepared for their transition from the underground scene to K-pop world - they suddenly had to act cute for the cameras.

Lead vocalist Kim Moon Chul, 27, says: "A lot of people want us to do ageyo (a term for acting cute in Korean) and do group dances. Idol groups prepare and practise their ageyo. But we've never practised ageyo.

"We had to do it on the fly, so we made up stuff up on the spot. Sometimes our actions are funny. We want to entertain as well, but we aren't that good at ageyo."

Royal Pirates spoke to The Straits Times in Seoul in March, sharing about life in Korean show business and promoting their latest EP 3.3.

It topped the Singapore iTunes Rock charts when it was released in December.

The laid-back trio - including keyboardist James Lee and drummer Kim Soo Yoon (whose stage name is EXSY), 27, - did not take the conventional route of undergoing agency training to enter the world of K-pop.

Formed as an indie band, they were discovered on YouTube, where they gained a following with their rock renditions of songs such as Wonder Girls' Nobody and Britney Spears' Circus.

Kim, who goes by the stage name Moon, says: " When our YouTube videos were getting a lot of views, we went to our favourite restaurants in the United States and people recognised us. They asked for pictures and autographs. At first, I didn't know how to react to stuff like that."

They then caught the eye of Apple Of The Eye and signed on with the Korean entertainment company in 2010.

In 2014, Royal Pirates released their first EP, Drawing The Line, in South Korea, followed by another EP, Love Toxic, that same year.

That prolific start suffered a major setback when Lee got into a major accident in June last year. His left wrist was severed after a restaurant door crashed down on him in Seoul.

His wrist was reattached, but doctors said he could no longer play the bass. "My mind went blank for a moment," says Lee, 27, who has been undergoing rehabilitation and was seen with a stress ball to exercise his left wrist. "Then I went into survival mode. When you are in the hospital and you are just depressed, it sucks, so you just have to change your mindset."

The day after the accident, Kim visited the hospital and said in jest: " What's up, our new keyboardist."

Kim's joke turned out to be reality - Lee started learning to play the keyboard.

Overcoming the tragedy, Lee's perspective of life has since changed. He says: "I used to be very worried about the future, but now, I enjoy life every day because you don't know when your last day is going to be."

•3.3 is available at CD-Rama outlets and digital platform such as KKBOX and Singtel AMPed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2016, with the headline 'Royal Pirates go from underground to cute'. Print Edition | Subscribe