Former Bass Player for Unwritten Law

by Steve Kang

Pat Kim is currently a tattoo artist who works at Ace of Hearts in San Pedro, Crimson Unicorn in Downtown Los Angeles and guest tattoos at Adora Tattoo Studio in San Diego. He is the former bass player of Unwritten Law, which was formed in Poway in 1990. He joined them in 1997 right after they released their self-titled album and signed with their first major label, Interscope Records. They quickly became recognized with groups such as Blink-182, Buck-O-Nine, etc. They joined the Vans Warped Tour, which took them across North America, Europe and Australia.

I was referred to PK by my good friend TJ (Timothy Joseph), front man for the Palace Ballroom. (I guess rock ‘n’ rollers like to go by initials … ha-ha.) 4L has a great relationship with TJ because he played at our launch party and last two anniversary parties. We were doing a tattoo issue and TJ immediately said that I had to contact PK.

After a few weeks of playing phone tag and trying to get everything together, I finally sat down and chatted with PK. As soon as he greeted me, it was like meeting a long lost friend. We figured out that we were the same age and we are both Korean American.

Steve: Hey Pat, good morning, how are you doing?
PK: Is this Steve? How are you doing, bro?

Great. Want to jump right into it?
Yeah, ask me whatever you want.

Are you Korean?
Yeah, I was thinking that you were, too.

I knew you were because Kim is like one of the original, Korean-only last names. Mine can actually be Chinese also, but I am Korean. How old are you?

I am too, what a coincidence, I bet we have a lot in common. On that note, tell me about your childhood.
Well, as you know the typical Korean family outline of our generation is to have their children grow up to be a doctor or a lawyer. (Laughs)

Right? I thought I was going to go to law school up until I graduated from college.
Luckily, my parents were pretty cool and let me explore the artsy side that I had.

And Korean parents always made you play an instrument, mostly piano.
Oh, I logged in years and years on the piano and now I’m making my daughters do it too. (Laughs)

So I grew up in Glendale then ended up in San Diego right out of high school. I applied to a bunch of colleges but got rejected by every single one except for San Diego State. (Laughs) At the same time my buddy who eventually became the lead singer of Buck-O-Nine whom I knew since junior high school decided he was going to move down with me because he wasn’t really into L.A. anymore.

So that’s how you formed Sprung Monkey?
Well, I was going to SDSU as an art major, which didn’t make sense because they didn’t have a great department for it. During that time I just met some dudes through the Reader and we eventually became Sprung Monkey. John was just hanging out and somebody asked him if he could sing. So he would just hang out with us and sing lead once in a while. We started doing really well and started doing tours with Unwritten Law, before I was in the band obviously, Blink-182 and Pennywise.

Wow, that’s a pretty cool lineup of bands, especially the early punk years before everybody got really popular everywhere. Was it tough touring and going to school?
I ended up breaking my parents’ hearts. I decided to drop out and pursue my music career. So after about five or six years with Sprung Monkey, I decided to quit and move to San Francisco. I lived there for about a year and all of a sudden got a phone call from Unwritten Law.

Weird, you leave your band in SD to go up north and just a year later they are trying to call you back down?
Yeah, it was weird. Their bass player just quit and they wanted me to audition. I just got up here and was digging the scene and I really didn’t like their music so I was going to decline. Then I listened to their latest self titled release and loved it. I was floored, they finally found their voice and their direction. I said, “HOLY SHIT, I’m all in!” So I moved back to San Diego and played with them full time from 1997 to about 2011.

Crazy, any cool groupie stories?
I was always in a serious relationship so I didn’t take part in any of it. But, some crazy stuff happened. When girls come back to the tour bus, they seem to do just anything. We were popular but nothing like bands like Led Zeppelin, I can’t even imagine what was going on with those guys.

Right? Once you get to a certain level, normal stuff has to just be boring.
Well, think of it this way: Imagine getting back stage with The Go-Go’s. Hot rock ‘n’ roll chicks wanting to take me back with them? Man, I would have stuck a banana in my butt! (Laughs)

I would have put the entire bunch in mine! (Laughs) So how did you get started with your tattoo career?
After I quit Unwritten Law, I didn’t want to become the cliché musician guy who didn’t know what he wanted to do next. I decided to get back into art so I started picking up some Photoshop classes, etc. It was fun to learn all the new stuff but all the younger kids were kicking ass. It was so hard to keep up with them because they were all well versed in all the cutting-edge technology.

Then all of a sudden I heard that my old buddy Glen was opening up a tattoo shop in San Diego. I used to even live with him at his mom’s house when I first moved back to SD for Unwritten Law. I was living in L.A. and I asked him if I could be his apprentice. He told me that if I was dedicated that he would throw all the hazing bullshit aside and teach me how to straight up tattoo. I would drop my kids off Tuesday morning then stay in SD until Thursday night. I drove back and forth and did this for three years. I am so appreciative for what Glen has done for me. He is my tattoo mentor.

Isn’t tattooing nerve racking because you’re putting something permanent on someone’s body?
Well, when I first started off, a bunch of my friends were nice enough to be my guinea pigs. To become good, you can’t be tattooing fruit for practice, you need a real human canvas.

Any parting words?
Even though I have established myself, I always consider myself a student. I want to always be learning. If you decide that you only do a certain style or have only a certain direction, you will become stagnant. I’m excited about all these young new artists coming out with their new techniques and their new visions. You don’t have to be able to draw to be fundamentally sound. You can make a good tattoo just by copying stuff. I don’t want to tattoo butterflies all day long. I want to be an artist and continually evolve.

The interview with Pat Kim wrapped up with scheduling the two tattoos he’s going to do for 4L Magazine. I was able to round up a couple of hot chicks to volunteer for the artwork. I finished the interview feeling really good about Pat’s past, present and future. He is a super cool dude and is really funny. At one point he told me that he was married to a German woman so his daughters will be able to make the ultimate driving machine but won’t be able to drive it … ha-ha!