As we publish this, a viral country trap hybrid is the No. 1 song in the United States. The SoundCloud rappers who were just rogue, underground sensations a few years ago are legitimate superstars. A 17-year-old with no major radio hits topped the charts and broke streaming records with her debut album. It’s a strange and exciting time for music, and the world is ready for artists who push boundaries to the extreme. Enter a duo of brothers from Boston who go by the name Brevin Kim.
Five years ago, Brevin Kim wouldn’t have made sense outside of niche, alternative corners of the internet. Their style is impossible to pin down—they jump from emotional piano ballads with eardrum-rattling bass to brash, modern pop songs fed through an alternative rock filter. And they use a lot of Auto-Tune. Even in their most accessible moments, likely inspired by the ‘80s rock they grew up on, there’s a weird angle to every song that Brevin Kim makes. At any other point in music history, that’s probably what would hold them back. In 2019, it’s exactly what could make them breakout stars.
For the first time in their lives, brothers Brendan and Callin Paulhus (Bren and Cal) are living in different homes. Bren still lives in the Boston area, in the same neighborhood the brothers grew up in, and Cal has been in Florida for about four months, working a new job that’s turning into a career path he isn’t sure he wants. “Being here has made me realize how badly I need music to be my life,” he says. “It’s only inspired me to work harder at it.”
As artists, the brothers release music as Brevin Kim, an amalgamation of their names and the names of their mother and father. Growing up in the Massachusetts suburbs, family was always important, and the relationship between the brothers is a powerful one. They’re less than two years apart in age, and they rarely disagree. When you have a conversation with both of them at the same time, it’s hard to tell which one is speaking, and they constantly finish each other’s sentences.
The brothers started making music together when Cal was 9 and Bren was 10. Growing up on acts like Billy Joel, Styx, and Chicago, the boys appreciated big choruses and catchy hooks from an early age. As teenagers, they gravitated to more modern and sometimes unconventional music—Kid Cudi, Clams Casino, and MIA became favorites alongside the regulars like Lil Wayne and Kings Of Leon. The music they make now reflects it all. Within every Brevin Kim song, whether it's a sparse acoustic ballad or a mutant blend of rock and rap with overblown bass, there's a combination of accessibility and experimentation, timeless songwriting and disregard for tradition.
Brevin Kim has a small but dedicated following and have been slowly building momentum over the last couple of years, but the brothers are at a crossroads. Cal moved to Florida and started an entry-level job in business, and Bren stayed in the Boston area working for the father's tile company. "Once I finally settled and the buzz subsided a bit, I started feeling complacent," explains Cal. "Extreme anxiety kicked in and I never realized how hard it would be to be away from my brother. We’ve never been apart. The music-making process became way harder than I expected, and it started to get frustrating and disheartening. We started to get worried that it isn't going to work."
"This is definitely make-or-break," Bren adds. "We want it so bad and we’ve been working so hard for so long. I know everyone says that, but then when something like this happens it’s like, 'Wow, things actually can happen. If you just buckle down and make good music, eventually the right person is going to hear it.'"
When did you guys start making music together, and when did Brevin Kim begin?
Cal: We used to go by two totally different names, and we used to basically just rap. This started when were 9 years old, but we started getting serious about it at like 16 or 17. We changed our name as a duo to Brevin Kim in probably 2016, and that’s when things got serious. Our sound changed—everything about us changed when we changed our name to Brevin Kim and became strictly a duo. Now even if we drop a solo song, we still roll with Brevin Kim.
Can you explain the name Brevin Kim?
Bren: That’s all you Cal. Cal is the one who actually came up with it so I don’t wanna take the credit there.
Cal: So Brevin Kim is a combination of Brendan, my brother who’s on the phone, Kevin, our dad’s name, and then Kim, my mom’s name. Originally Brevin Kim was my solo name, but then we morphed it because Bren wanted to change his name too. So at first I combined those three names to be my solo name, but eventually we combined it all into one.
Bren: It was just supposed to be you at first, right Cal? So instead of putting your name into it, that was your full name. Once we started making music together as Brevin Kim, I got more into it and started making beats for Cal. We got FL Studio, better equipment, a better microphone. So Cal and Bren were Brevin Kim.
I don't like that word [pop]. I've always thought of that as a corny word and I've never considered us pop. But today, it's not what it used to be. It's not only "Baby" by Justin Bieber, it's pop culture.
Why did you guys decide to make that name so family oriented?
Bren: We’re close to family, that’s probably the obvious reason. We’re two regular kids from a suburban town in Massachusetts. We’ve always been close to the family, and we needed a name that was really personal to us. And it sounds cool too.
Cal: When we switched over to Brevin Kim, I put out a really dark song. It’s off the internet now, but I was going through a break-up, was really depressed. I don’t know if that had something to do with it, but I wanted a name with meaning behind it. I didn’t want a corny name that was a catchy metaphor or something. We came up with something that was important to us.
Have you guys always been close? What’s your relationship like?
Bren: We’re only a year and a half apart, so we’ve always been close. Ever since we were babies. We’ve always lived in the same house, up until now. Cal lives in Florida now, I still live in Mass. We’re best friends. I know it sounds corny because we’re brothers, but we really are best friends.
Cal: We fought when we were young, like little brotherly fights, but it’s weird how much we don’t argue, and how much we agree with each other. Especially with music, it just works out. We have a really similar ear. We have such a similar taste and approach to music.
I want to talk a little about Boston. We’ve seen so many great local acts over the years, but it seems like it always gets to a point where artists have to leave the city. How do you feel about that?
Cal: I think things changed. When we first started making music, it was less saturated. Not only were there not a lot of white kids rapping, there weren’t even a lot of artists making music from their house. It wasn’t common in Boston, but now I feel like Boston is on the rise. I don’t think it matters where you’re from, but resources vary depending on where you are. I wish we could move in somewhere together where we think we could get our music out and make connections—maybe L.A.—but I don’t think Boston holds us back. It’s a strong community there, and we’re proud to come out of Boston.
Bren: We also didn’t want to feel like we had to move to make it. We wanted to be able to stay at home and do what we do here and not worry about moving to LA like everybody does. We wanted to do what we do and show you don’t have to move.
When it comes to making the music, do each of you guys have defined roles?
Bren: I’m usually the one who makes the beats. Cal’s been making a lot of beats recently since we’ve been separated. But really how it all starts, sometimes I’ll find a sample and figure out what I want to do with it—pitch it up or down, speed it up, whatever. I go from there and think of melodies as I make the beat. Sometimes I send the beat to Cal even when it’s not even close to finished, and he’ll start making stuff up. It’s hard to explain though, because every song is not made the same way. Sometimes it starts with the drums, sometimes the keyboard, sometimes just 808s, sometimes I’ll catch a melody in my head and go from there. There are so many different ways to do it.
You've got a lot of different styles, but overall would you consider your music pop?
Cal: I don't like that word and I don't really know what pop is defined as. I've always thought of that as a corny word and I've never considered us pop. But today, it's not what it used to be. It's not only "Baby" by Justin Bieber, it's pop culture. Pop just means whats popping, it's not a genre—and if it still is, I don't want to be considered pop. I don't like the radio, I don't ever listen to the radio, but I think there are ways to consider things part of that pop world that aren't traditionally pop music.
Can you explain why you guys are living in different cities now?
Cal: I’ve been doing long distance with my girlfriend for a while. She was living in New York City, and we were in Massachusetts. It just came up, her family has a house that they’re not living in so they’re letting us stay here in Florida and pay rent. It’s a temporary thing, we said we’d try it for a year and I admit it’s harder than I expected being away from my brother. Especially now that things with music are going pretty well. That’s basically what it was, and we’ve been able to make it work, but we do want to want to get back together.
Bren: Hopefully soon.
Are there any positives that come from being apart for the first time? Any inspiration that comes from that?
Bren: Cal, you told me, and I agree with it—when we’re apart and we’re not making music as much, something about that makes me want to buckle down and make a really good song. Weeks or months go by without us releasing a song, but it’s not like we’re right next to each other, so the creative process is totally different.
Cal: It’s like a new muscle. We’ve got to be creative in a different way. But we’re usually working on something every day, at least a couple hours a day. It’s just harder to have to relay through email, FaceTime, stuff like that. I’ve been more motivated because it’s warmer, I get to see the water every day. It changes your ideas and emotions. It’s changed my mindset a little bit.
How did you guys start connecting with fans? When we did a feature on artists to watch in 2019, someone mentioned Brevin Kim and all these people started hitting us on Twitter about Brevin Kim. Are those local fans, or does it mostly come from the internet or what?
Cal: Most of our fans aren’t from Boston, actually. A lot of our close friends hardly even engage in it. Like they couldn’t name more than three songs by Brevin Kim. We still love them, but it’s like two different worlds. We dropped a project called Somewhere Between Having Fun and Dying in 2017 I believe, and it had that underground, raw sound, and we have some diehard fans that haven’t left since.
Bren: And Alexis Ren too, that helped.
Cal: Yeah, Alexis Ren had one of our songs on her playlist, which is pretty sick.
Bren: Also, Deadlock Riot is a group we’re in, a group of musicians, videographers, and other creative people. Shoutout to Deadlock. It’s a bunch of people, and they asked us to join. We’ve gotten so many fans from them, done collabs with them. They’re from Boston too, and it’s just a supportive group and we always help each other.
Cal: But I think the main reason is just that our music is very personal and emotional, so our fan base might not be huge but we have some fans who have been by our sides from the beginning. We’re so grateful for that, and we’re constantly talking to our fans and engaging with them.
What kind of music did you guys grow up listening to?
Bren: When we were really young, we would just listen to what our parents listened to. It was Billy Joel, Styx, Boston, Chicago, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder.
Cal: You know that song “Holidae Inn” by Chingy, Luda, and Snoop? I heard that song when I was 9 and I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote my first rap. It was just lyrics, no beat or anything. And from that day forward we were obsessed with like Eminem, 50 Cent, Outkast, stuff like that. We always kept rock music in the background, and as we got older our taste evolved.
I can hear some of that in the music, with the melodies and the hooks. But when did your taste start to get a little weirder? Because you guys also have an alternative edge.
Bren: That’s tough, I’m not sure if it ever took a sharp turn. We’ve always had a weird side to us and we’ve always wanted to be different. We wanted to do something that nobody has ever done, whether it was in the beat, the melody, or using words that nobody has used. When I think about what makes a song sad, it’s always the lyrics. So on “Real Friend, Best Friend” for example, that song was to me one of our sadder ones. It could be about your girlfriend, your best friend, anything.
Cal: And we’ve always been obsessed with production, too. We’ve always liked to push the boundaries. Nothing holds us back from trying new shit. If something sounds good and nobody’s done it, we don’t care—we’ll try it. Not everyone knows this but we used to rap, and we used to scream on songs in 2010 or 2011, it just didn’t connect. It was Eminem, XXXTentacion, OG Maco type shit. We’ve always done what we wanted.
We’ve always had a weird side to us and we’ve always wanted to be different. We wanted to do something that nobody has ever done, whether it was in the beat, the melody, or using words that nobody has used.
Content-wise, you guys don't shy away from what sounds like really vulnerable, emotional content—anxiety, relationship issues, depression. Are those all things that you deal with personally?
Cal: I don’t wanna act like I’m some wicked dark artist. I struggled hard with depression for a minute, like a two-year span. I got better around 2018. I used to drive with my eyes closed and just see what happened. I’m much much better now though. I have small episodes or moments, but I’m a pretty happy guy lately. And as far as anxiety, I feel like everybody has a little bit of anxiety. I’m not downplaying it, but I just deal with minor anxiety and self-conscious type shit.
Bren: My anxiety has gotten a lot better as I got older, but i still have some down time occasionally. Sometimes I get in my head. Especially with music, like, “Are they going to like this like I do? Will they feel this like I do, do I even like this?” It can become a vicious cycle but overall I beat it. I make the best of it.
Cal, we’ve talked a little about Dylan Brady—are there other current artists who really inspire you guys?
Bren: Dominic Fike, that kid’s awesome.
Cal: I’ve been less inspired lately. There are songs here and there, but we don’t stick to an artist or try to steal from anyone. We try to not let other artist sway the way we create music. But Dominic Fike, Dylan Brady—those are good. The 1975, Bon Iver, Ski Mask The Slump God, it kind of varies. Oh and Biv, a close friend we met on the internet. Unbelievable musician, huge influence.
Bren: There are so many people, it’s hard to even list them.
Are there any elements that you’d say every Brevin Kim song has to have?
Bren: Yeah, it’s gotta have a catchy hook. Not always a typical hook that shows up three times, not the regular cookie-cutter type of hook, but there’s always got to be a catch part of the song that has a melody to it.
Cal: I know lyricism is important but the two most important things are a part that everyone can remember and interesting production. No matter the genre that we’re working in, those two things have to be there.
It’s an interesting time for music, and we’ve seen left-field things go mainstream and blow up lately. What is the ultimate goal for you guys?
Bren: I want to live a somewhat normal life, but I don’t want to worry about bills every month. But if we’re talking music, do I want my music to go mainstream? Yeah, I do. A good example is Billie Eilish. She’s so mainstream right now, but she also has a bit of underground to her. You can’t always have both—if your music is that big, people are going to know you.
Seeing your Instagram account for the first time, there’s a very clear aesthetic. How did that visual identity of Brevin Kim come about?
Cal: We were going with a mask for a while, I’m not sure if those pictures are still up. But we went with this dark, black and white vibe. I’d say the aesthetic is a mix of mystery and emotion, and we’re sticking to our roots with a little of that darker side.
Bren: Yeah, mystery and emotion. I’ve never even thought of that but that pretty much describes it.
Where do you guys feel like you’re at in your career right now? Stepping back, do you think of this as a make-or-break moment, or are you just in a creative zone and enjoying it?
Cal: This is make-or-break.
Bren: Yeah, this is definitely make-or-break.
Cal: This right here is huge, and we appreciate it. I hope this interview will open doors. Momentum is building, we’re sitting on a bunch of new songs, this article is about to go out. This is basically it right here. We're apart, and we started to feel a bit stagnant, and it felt like a never-ending cycle we weren't sure we'd come out of, but things are finally starting to fall into place and we've been given a great opportunity to be heard.
Bren: That’s pretty much exactly what I would have said. We want it so bad and we’ve been working so hard for so long. I know everyone says that, but then when something like this happens it’s like, “Wow, things actually can happen. If you just buckle down and make good music, eventually the right person is going to hear it.” We just need to keep making good music.