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'I'm Half Korean, Half Southern': Drummer David Kim On Embracing Charlotte Rhythms And Asian American Identity

With nearly 30 music years under his belt, David "DK" Kim is one of Charlotte's go-to drummers. (Pictured here performing with the rock band Temperance League during a live-streamed performance in 2020.)
Daniel Coston
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With nearly 30 music years under his belt, David "DK" Kim, pictured here performing with Temperance League during a live-streamed performance in 2020, is one of Charlotte's go-to drummers.

Name five Asian American rock musicians based in Charlotte. If you're having difficulty creating that playlist (particularly during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month), you're not alone.

Even local music veteran David "DK" Kim — who's logged nearly 30 years behind the drums for long-standing acts Temperance League, Benji Hughes and Mike Strauss — notes the lack of Asian representation among Charlotte's rock, pop and folk scenes, sharing his thoughts on incremental music progress and his introspection as an artist, a Korean American and a North Carolinian.

“There’s definitely more diversity now than there was three decades ago when I was playing (in Charlotte). But not a lot of Asian Americans playing rock music as far as I know.”
– David "DK" Kim, Charlotte music veteran and drummer

Interview Highlights

On his music upbringing:

Growing up, some of my earliest music memories were playing my older brother’s records. In hindsight, he was really nice to let me... Or maybe my parents told him that he had to let me do that! Those records were all Boston, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones. I was in his room a lot, and it was an '80s decked-out room with a water bed and blacklight posters. Listening to those records and looking at the album covers in that room were (my) earliest music memories. My brother and sister also drove me to my first concert at the Charlotte Coliseum, which is now Bojangles Coliseum. That was Journey with Bryan Adams opening up. That was memorable.

My brother played guitar, my sister played piano and my mom played piano. There was always music happening at the house. And when I was about 12, I got deep into hip-hop. My neighbor had a record by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and we listened to that over and over and over. Thinking back on it, my mom was very cool about letting us go to see hip-hop shows. She would drive us from (where we lived in) Hickory to Charlotte Coliseum, drop us off and go sit in her car in the IHOP across the street and read a book until the show was over.

On becoming a drummer:

I got into playing drums through my brother. He wanted to learn how to play drums, so he bought a drum kit. It’s the same one I use today. He was living in an apartment and couldn’t keep the drums there, so the drums were at my parents’ house. I was just at home with nothing to do, so I would put on REM, Rolling Stones and CCR cassettes and play along to them, which is a great way to learn how to play drums.

It’s been good playing with different songwriters. It makes you learn new things that you wouldn’t have done on your own… I haven’t thought that I’ll always play drums, but it’s just kind of happened. I’ve never not been involved (with music). I can’t imagine not doing it at this point.

On being an Asian American musician in Charlotte creative community:

I don’t know any Asian American (contemporary) musicians other than myself. I grew up in Hickory, North Carolina, and being a minority, you definitely experience some unpleasantries, harassment and discrimination. Not much, but some.

Since I’ve been playing music in Charlotte since '95, I haven’t really experienced any of that. Luckily, I’ve been surrounded by band members and friends that are accepting. It’s not something that enters their mind. But there’s not a lot of other Asian American musicians that I know, and I would say that with the bands I’ve played with, there’s not a whole lot of diversity.

There were a couple of shows where my band opened up for The Avett Brothers. We were a four-piece band opening up for that four-piece band, and there were two Koreans there (DK and The Avett Brothers’ cellist Joe Kwon). That’s something that you might not have seen two or three decades ago.

You hear stories about coming to the United States from another country with no money and a suitcase. That was literally my dad in the '50s after the Korean War. He was the oldest of six siblings, and he put himself through school and took jobs that he didn’t necessarily want to take but did to be able to support his family back in Korea. Growing up, we took that for granted because he was able to set his family up to be in a nice neighborhood and not need anything. We were extremely lucky to have him to do that.

So, I am half Korean, and the other half of me is extremely Southern.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

Temperance League - “Spirit of ‘85”
Mike Strauss Band - “Just Can’t Quit”
Goldenrods - “Twilight”
Buschovski - “Election Day”
Come On Thunderchild - “That Mile”
Temperance League - “All That’s Left if My Best”
Les Dirt Clods - “My Blues”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival (named one of the “best podcast conferences” by Buzzsprout) and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier, named “Best Podcast” by Charlotte Magazine and honored for excellence in arts and music podcasting by the local Edward R. Murrow Awards and The Webby Awards (called “The Internet’s Highest Honor” by The New York Times).