|Pat Kim - Unwritten Law's Bassist|
Pivotal moments in musicians careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy
by Mark E. Waterbury
The recording deal. To many musicians out their playing live in clubs every night, touring in vans and taping their demos on four tracks in their basements, this is the Holy Grail of their music career. They take it as meaning that they have made it and are just a step away from riches and fame. Well..reality check guys, getting signed usually does not mean that you can relax and enjoy the ride to stardom. Most times the work has just begun, and with today's fickle economy especially in the music industry that record deal itself is libel to be precarious, no matter how good you are or how hard you work. Southern California's gritty punkish rock fivesome Unwritten Law is an example of the industry's uncertainties. They got signed fairly early to both a large indie and one of the top major labels, but both ended up being short lived deals. Interscope Records stepped in next, and released two albums in the four years that they were with the band, but then they too pulled the plug. A lot of bands may think it is the end of the world when they get dropped by their label. Unwritten Law shrugged it off and kept plugging away, and with a new label behind them, a sort of unplugged album recorded under rather unique circumstances, a slot at one of the largest music festivals in the country and a new studio album in the not too distant future, they have proved that they are true survivors.
The band had already achieved some notice by the time Pat Kim joined in 1998 as the new bassist replacing original member John Bell. Formed in Southern California by drummer Wade Youman in the mid-90's, the band already released a debut CD on Red-Eye Records to virtually no success, although it was re-released a year later on Epic Records. Epic also released the follow up album "Oz Factor," but they pretty much shelved the project, which produced the songs "Superman" and "Denied" that had some solid radio airplay. Interscope Records signed Unwritten Law, but just before they were going into the studio to record a new album, bassist John Bell quit the band. They went into the studio with hired gun bassist Micah Albao to record a self-titled album, which also became known as the "black album." Albao was not available to tour, so that is when Pat Kim entered the picture, joining the lineup of Youman, vocalist Scott Russo, and guitarists Rob Brewer and Steve "The Kid" Morris. "I found out right away that they were pretty much a live band," Pat recalls. "We were just always on the road and using that to push our albums. We started to build a following of hard core fans and we became pretty self sufficient on the road. We always give a hundred percent in concert, and that is what the people who see us want to see - a good show."
Unwritten Law was slowly and steadily achieving popularity with the combination of their hectic touring and some fairly decent radio and video support for their songs "Cailin" and Lonesome" off the self-titled release. As the twenty-first century got rolling, the band went back into the studio to record the album "ELVA," which was Pat's first recording experience with his new bandmates. "I hadn't been in the studio for such a long time that it was kind of trippy at first, but it turned out really well. Everyone has their own ideas that we bring to the table and work them out and everyone has creative input for various parts." The first single from the album "Up All Night" did not fair very well, but the second one "Seein' Red" had the potential to become their breakout song. MTV and radio stations nationwide put the song in heavy rotation, and other forms of media exposure such as late night television and music award shows opened up to them. In spite of the indications that Unwritten Law was on the cusp of some serious widespread success, Interscope dropped them soon after "Seein' Red" had started to make an impact. "We had a good album there that had sold a lot of units, but I guess it wasn't enough for a major label," Pat muses. "It seemed like it was all about numbers, but in the long run, it ended up being better for us. We were actually relieved in some ways. We also knew that we had to keep recording records and playing out and everything. We weren't going to just stop. We had to keep going on."
Unwritten Law did not stay unsigned for too long, and in 2002 the were picked up by Lava Records. "It came on pretty quick, and in some ways, we've been pretty lucky because we've been on three major labels. That is almost unheard of for a band like us. One thing about Lava is they have a smaller roster and there is less of a chance of us getting lost in the shuffle." The band's first release on Lava wound up being a rather unique endeavor. MTV wanted the band for one of the episodes in their series "Music in High Places," which would feature the band performing their songs in Yellowstone National Park. The natural settings had a profound effect on the band, and they decided to take it a step further by recording "From Music in High Places," a somewhat unplugged album of slightly different versions of songs off of three previous albums. "(MTV) never actually released any CDs of music from that series, and ours was the first. We had a chance to work in a different medium and it was a great experience. It was really cool...almost every song was in a different location - you had natural sounds in the background. In one song, we had all these bulls and horses in this rodeo ring in the background, and that was quite a trip to have that in there." With "From Music in High Places" on the streets, Unwritten Law are doing a few select tour dates including a slot at the prestigious Music Midtown Festival in Atlanta. They are already working on song ideas for their next album, and may be hitting the studios as early as June. "The new album is going to have a few different elements in it. The roots of Unwritten Law will still be there, but we are all older and have more influences, and you can't keep doing the same things over and over because it will get boring, It will be a bit different, but then again once you get into the studios the outcome can become completely different when the spontaneity gets going."
Yes, Unwritten Law are survivors; not completely because of toughness or positive attitudes, which any band who wants to make a success of themselves has to have anyway. Perhaps the main reason they have survived being dropped by two major labels in a tough economic climate for the music industry is that they keep on the even keel of continuing to write and record solid music, getting out on the road as much as possible and taking any avenue offered to them for exposure. That type of work ethic along with their growing fan loyalty has no doubt helped them maintain that major label interest, which is keeping them on the cusp of possible stardom. "We are a hard working band and we are always hungry for getting some more. If the band were to be done tomorrow, then I have no regrets because I've been able to travel around the world playing music for people. I already feel rich and very lucky. Of course you always think of a house, car, money and the material aspects of success, but that's not why we play music."
Pat Kim's advice for musicians: "Do whatever you are doing the best that you can, and then just do it and keep working. There's no real one way to do it. You have to go out and learn it yourself, usually by trial and error. Work hard, get it together and no matter what, just keep on going."