By Courtney Grimes
Gibson guitarist Kiyanu Kim has rocked with the likes of Gwen Stefani and Chris Grace as well as Baldwin artist Ben Jelen. The Korean-born Kiyanu began playing guitar professionally in 2002 and has already performed on stages most artists only dream of, including The Bowery Ballroom, The Brit Awards and The Grammys.
Kiyanu began playing guitar at an early age, and after numerous musical performances in high school, attended New York University’s Music School to study guitar. From there he went on to support huge rock acts on tours around the world. In his spare time, Kiyanu practices, records and performs with his own band, Misuniverse, made up of himself and buddy Dim Gurevich (from Russia). Misuniverse has already released an independent, seven-track album.
From a hotel room in Paris, Kiyanu spills about Misuniverse, Gwen Stefani, and his elevator experience with James Brown.
CG: When did you first begin to play guitar? How did you learn?
KK: I started when I was 11 years old. My mom used to play guitar and she would take lessons once or twice a week at home. I used to sit next to my mom during her lessons and she would show me some basic chords and some scales but I mainly learned by ear.
CG: What inspired you to begin playing?
KK: My family. They loved music. My sister played piano, my brother played violin and my mom played guitar. They were all very talented and dedicated. For some reason, my mom’s old nylon-string guitar looked the coolest.
CG: How did you first begin to get noticed as a guitar player?
KK: In high school, I was in a band and we performed a lot. I think we won some contests, too. But then I played in a school jazz band and my music teacher noticed me the most. During my senior year, he wrote me a good recommendation letter to NYU Music Department and that’s why I came to New York to pursue my musical career.
CG: Tell me about your band, Misuniverse.
KK: Misuniverse is a New York-based band (Brooklyn to be exact) that started a few years ago with the result of a songwriting collaboration with singer/songwriter Dimitri (Dim) and me. We put out an album, All’s Well that Ends, independently last year which includes seven well-written songs with some cool production ideas. It has the eloquent mood of Pink Floyd and the clever Brit pop feel of the Beatles. If you are into those bands, I think it’s worth checking it out.
CG: Tell me about your Gibsons.
KK: My first Gibson was a Les Paul Deluxe with mini-humbucker. I bought it almost seven years ago and it’s been with me ever since. I’ve collected a few more since then. I have an ES-335 in a wine red color, a Les Paul Standard sunburst and a Black Beauty Custom. I just got the Custom and it’s beautiful.
CG: Do you have a favorite?
KK: They are all great but the Custom is my favorite. The neck feels very smooth like silk and the tone quality is big and warm. It also looks amazing. It’s a very special guitar.
CG: Which guitar do you use on stage versus in the studio?
KK: They are all good for live, I think. They are all little different sonically so I use them for different songs onstage. I like my Custom the best for the studio, but I use the ES-335 a lot. It has a very different tone because it’s got a semi-hollow body.
CG: Who have you played guitar for? Any favorites?
KK: I’ve been playing for Gwen Stefani since September 2004. We’ve been around the world once already and it’s been a pleasure working for her. She’s very talented, funny and cool. I guess that’s why everyone loves her ‘cause she’s a real person. Before Gwen, I played for a Maverick [and Baldwin] artist, Ben Jelen, whom I still work with when I’m in town. We did a tour with Hanson last year and it was just crazy time. We are pretty good friends and he lives in NYC as well so we get to hang out sometimes. I love working for different artists, but my main focus is Misuniverse. I enjoy performing with Dim the best because the music is very personal to us. We’ve gone through a lot as a band. Obviously, it’s more satisfying when it’s more personal.
CG: What is your funniest story from the road?
KK: I was at the Staples Center in L.A. for the Grammys this year. After I had performed “Rich Girl” with Gwen, I got into an elevator to go back to my dressing room. The elevator was pretty full with the Velvet Revolver guys and their friends. The elevator stopped on the second floor and there was James Brown. He walked in and there was a woman who happened to be one of the escorts for the venue and she goes to James Brown, “Hello, Mr. Jackson. How are you this evening?” And there it was, a long uncomfortable silence. I looked around and everyone was trying very hard not to laugh - with their hands on the mouth, biting their lips, or pretending as if they didn’t hear anything by just looking down but smiling. Me on the other hand, I just lost it. It was so wrong but I couldn’t help it! It was one of those moments.