James Lee is taking control of his career and doing things on his own terms. The former bassist and keyboardist for the Korean rock band Royal Pirates is exploring variations of synths and visuals as he brings his music Stateside. Having spent his life performing in rock bands, Lee is using his expertise in producing, writing, and singing for his new projects.
Last year, the singer released his first solo EP “The Light” thanks to a successful Kickstarter, detailing his journey through recovery after a restaurant’s windowpane crashed into him leaving him with a severed wrist in 2015 while living in South Korea. Despite five surgeries and painful physiotherapy, Lee was unable to regain proper function of his hand ultimately leaving his position in Royal Pirates two years later. Following “The Light,” Lee linked up with NEKO, Amber Liu, and more artists for his following singles.
To ring in his new career endeavours, Lee embarked on his first Stateside tour alongside rock band Fyke and Kevin Woo, former lead vocalist for K-pop boy band U-KISS. Lee also teamed up with Woo for their first collaboration “Falling.” Originally released in August, the pop track explores a missed chance at love and an unsuccessful attempt at moving on.
While its lyrics are melancholic, the music video displays a relentless desire of sabotage. The music video, released on Oct. 26, opens with a bloody Lee before cutting to him unsuccessfully delivering a speech to a blushing bride and groom. From there, chaos ensues as Lee and Woo disrupt the wedding with fire, chainsaws and commotion. “Falling” features cameos from Lee’s family and YouTubers Mike Bow and Linda Dong.
In Lee’s follow-up single “Losing It,” the crooner opens up about his mental health during his rigorous rehabilitation from a life-changing accident in 2015. Backed by pop-synths and subtle bass, the track’s somber lyrics and emotional delivery redirected listeners from “Falling”’s comedic moments. In sharing his struggles, Lee hopes those suffering from PTSD know that they are not alone.
Since speaking candidly about his injury over the past few years and redirecting his career, Lee is looking forward to making more feel-good tracks. The singer partnered with Thai-German based singer/actress Janine Weigel for an upcoming track scheduled for release on Nov. 22.
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Lee took time from his busy schedule to chat with KultScene via email about new music, support, and his future.
You and Kevin completed touring together recently. How was sharing that homecoming with him?
“It was so much fun to be able to play shows with one of my best friends. We all had the same energy and just wanted to make sure the shows were fun for everyone. I hope we are able to do it again in the future!”
How does opening this new chapter in your career feel?
“I’ve been working on other artists’ music, and I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to build a career this way, but I would also like to release my own music consistently. I hope that this chapter leads to more opportunities for better music. I also want to be the best version of myself that I can be, and this feels like the right direction.”
Initially, “Falling” was released in Aug. What made you decide to release the song and music video at different times?
“At first, we weren’t sure if we would have the budget, but a company called Mydailylive.com graciously stepped in and helped us out! We also had to shoot some pickups, and I was traveling quite a bit, so I had to wait until I got back to LA to film the flamethrower scene.”
Where did the concept for “Falling” come from? What was the process like?
“Everyone knows that feeling of falling for someone, whether it be a slow drip or unexpectedly finding yourself in love —so, lyrically, it was really easy to write. I’ve also been in rock bands all my life, so the arrangement was fun for me to write. I also knew that the contrast between Kevin’s voice and mine would give the song more depth —and obviously, he killed it.”
“Falling” has dark comedic moments in it. How do you feel about the memes coming from the music video? Do you have a favorite?
“The memes were the best part. I loved seeing my fans excited and proactive about the video, and the fact that there were so many memes shows that the video had a lot of interesting moments. My favorite was a clip of Kevin singing, ‘I keep coming back every time,’ but the top of the image had the words ‘My Acne,’ basically calling Kevin a pimple lol.”
How did the blow torch and chainsaw become incorporated into the video?
“That was actually the director’s idea (Brad Wong). They just seemed like outrageous things to have at a wedding, so we thought it’d be great to throw them in there.”
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How does it feel to have your parents be a part of the music video? What were their reactions?
“Anytime I can involve my family is such a pleasure. I feel lucky that they get to be part of my projects, and it’s fun for me to see their acting.”
What was the best part of working on this project?
“Creating so many memorable scenes with some of my best friends.”
Earlier this year you released “Mad” featuring NEKO and “Anxiety.” How was the journey from then to now with “Falling?”
“With NEKO (Erik Lidbom), I wanted him to take the driver’s seat because I respect him so much. Not only does he have hundreds of hits, but he is a great guy and taught me so much in such a short amount of time. I was a bit more angsty with ‘MAD’ and my own track ‘Anxiety,’ and my goal was to make something artistic that represented my journey. However, with ‘Falling,’ the goal was to also have fun, and I think we achieved that!”
Your fans have provided a large amount of support through your journey. How does that feel?
“Without my fans, my music means nothing, so I appreciate them a lot. I’m so lucky for the ones that have stuck with me.”
When will Jerry finally make his on-screen debut?
“Gotta get him in a video ASAP!”
What plans do you have for 2020?
“I am striving to create one new song every week, and I hope to release a new track every other week. I hope that releasing music more consistently will give my fans something to chew on, reach more people, and help me get to the level I want to be at.”
“Losing It” was written around the same time as “Mad” and “Anxiety.” What was going through your mind during the writing process?
“I spent a week in a mental hospital after my accident. The track is about how I was unable to fix the anxiety and pain. It’s really about a moment of chaos.”
How does it feel to be able to share this vulnerability with your fans?
“When I write my music, it’s like a journal, so it’s quite easy to be honest. I’m just lucky that they reciprocate and support me.”
You’ve released a lyric video for “Losing It.” Do you plan on releasing an official music video too?
“At the moment, I have no plans to do so, but I will be releasing a new track Nov. 22 featuring my friend Jannine Weigel. She’s a singer and actress from Thailand and Germany who is a killer vocalist. It’s also a feel-good track, so I can’t wait to share!”
What message do you want listeners to take from this track?
“With “Losing It,” I just wanted to share what I was going through. I know a lot of people have some form of PTSD. If you can relate when you listen, I guess, just know that you aren’t alone.”
Your music gave us a glimpse into you healing mentally and physically from your accident in 2015. What are hoping for yourself as you continue to move forward?
“For healing, both mentally and physically, and the ability to be the best version of myself as possible —and to see my fans ASAP! I love you guys and miss you!”
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