EXP (left to right): Frankie, Sime, Koki, Hunter, David, and Tarion /Cr. EXP, Facebook
In early 2015, the K-Pop world was turned upside down when news spread that a group of Americans would be working toward entering the Asian music scene with their own brand of music. Social media was flooded with confusion and anger due to the foreigners daring to penetrate the sacred circle of K-Pop, and this was later followed up by messages of hate toward the group. EXP is that group, and they began as a Columbia University thesis experiment by student Bora Kim.
Since the initial explosion of disdain ranging from K-Pop fans claiming that K-Pop would be forever be ruined to some EXO fans claiming EXP stole their name and concept (we kid you not!), Tarion, Frankie, Šime, Koki, David, and Hunter have survived and are about to release a new single. Kcrush America caught up with the sextet to see how their journey is progressing and to get their thoughts on online comments, their debut, future plans, as well as their thoughts on books, movies, and fan-fiction. If you haven’t gotten to know EXP yet, now’s your chance!
Frankie: From the beginning we all clicked. Although we work hard we’re always having fun and good laughs. Learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses was more of an obstacle because we all have different backgrounds and understanding your team always takes time. We’re a silly group and are still growing as one solid unit!
Šime: It was an adventure for all of us since day one. Although we were not really sure what we were getting ourselves into exactly, we were all ready to dive in head first. It really didn’t take long for all of us to become close friends. We are all musicians and performers, living in NYC, sharing the same hopes and dreams. That was really corny… But it’s true ! And the fact that We were spending hours upon hours…upon hours rehearsing together helped too.
David: I had to learn to think of them less like business/co-workers and more as a bunch of friends. Once I did that, it made everything else flow easier between I and the rest of the group.
Hunter: I’d say we all came together pretty quickly. We spend a lot of time together, especially on shooting days, and we annoy each other a lot, which some people call “bonding.” Generally, I eat everyone’s food, Koki snapchats us making the ugliest faces we can, Šime tolerates me making fun of him, Tarion sings, Frankie mediates, and David naps. He can literally nap in places I’ve never thought were nap-able. That kid makes it happen.
Tarion: I can honestly say that from day one we have all meshed really well together. Of course, getting to know each other better and learning how each other works has taken some time, but we have always gotten along well. We may not agree on everything, but that’s how family is.
Koki: I think it was easy for everyone to get along together, even in the beginning. We are all open-minded, especially when it came to discussing the group, so there was always a constructive conversation flowing. We all have our quirks, but it makes us a big, weird family.
“LUV/WRONG”- Debut Single
Frankie: That day was a roller coaster! Last minute changes to our performance space and technical things can always make a performance stressful. We were finally being shown to an audience on stage and in a live setting. Since it was showcased at the Columbia MFA Thesis Show, our exhibit (in the gallery) was set up as our “backstage.” Everyone who attended the show witnessed our “getting ready” process with makeup, hair and wardrobe while footage of our documentary and trailer were playing on multiple screens around us. Being on that stage performing for the first time live with the guys was an amazing feeling! The audience was super excited and showed us a lot of love! I definitely would’ve changed the shaking stage, haha, but when last minute changes happen you just gotta roll with it and we definitely did that!
Šime: Releasing “Luv/Wrong” was such a fun experience. We didn’t really know what to expect and how the public would react to the single so it was pretty scary too. We definitely received a good amount of criticism, which was to be expected, but we also received a lot of encouragement and positivity from people. We have learned to strive for more and to keep improving ourselves and our performances.
Koki: It was both exhilarating and exhausting. It was the first time I had been in a group that released a “single” and we were met with a lot of press, which was exciting, but balancing the stress of everything at the time took its toll.
David: I would have definitely worked harder to promote the song and on getting more people to notice us in a positive light. If we could do it all over again, I would have liked “Luv/Wrong” to have had a lot more Korean within it.
Tarion: Releasing “Luv/Wrong” was an emotional roller coaster! (Oh, I just noticed Frankie said the exact same thing…Sometimes we are the SAME person.) We were dealing with so much as a team and still adjusting to this new attention that none of us expected to get (the social media explosion was a week before our debut). We found ourselves juggling 100 jobs between the nine of us, which made us all a little loopy and coffee crazy but also a lot closer. It was definitely an experience of mixed emotions and a huge learning curve for us all.
Koki: Initially, it was slightly jarring; then I started laughing whenever I saw the comments. There were some pretty good insults, haha. As a whole, I think it was frustrating to see how people making assumptions about the group and posting hateful comments without researching what we are truly attempting to accomplish. As time went on, it was interesting to see how people sort of switched sides and started to support us. They’d get into arguments with other people to defend us, and sometimes even convince the other person to give us a chance. It was pretty cool seeing that happen.
Frankie: When we started getting hate it literally all came within days in such an aggressive form so I became numb to it after a while. It was certainly shocking to read some of the comments, people were so angry and judging us based off of 12 posts on our Instagram page with no music released yet. It certainly was an eye opener and instantly made us want to step up our game.
Šime: To be honest, I personally did not see it coming… at least not in such aggressive way. Of course, people will be mean. But in my head I was a part of something new and exciting and I was creating music for people to listen to and have fun to. The idea that people would hate us instantly just because of where we were from or because of our racial backgrounds never crossed my mind. But, you brush off the negativity and cherish the positivity. Did I just make that up?! That’s a good quote!
David: Everyone is going to have an opinion about something, so that really did not harm me much. Some of the comments were about things we couldn’t change (i.e. ethnic background), but aside from that the comments most definitely made each one of us want to push harder in perfecting our craft.
Hunter: Honestly, I don’t think we expected the comments and strong opinions to come as soon as they did. We only had 12 Instagram pictures posted, and no music out, and we were getting death threats and a lot of negative comments. We were also kind of surprised at how much attention we were getting with no real music out.
Tarion: I remember going to sleep one night and waking up and my life had completely exploded over social media and I didn’t know what to think or how to feel about it. I knew that I was shocked and surprised at the fact that people who knew very little about me and had never had a chance to meet me were telling me to “kill myself” and that I was “ugly” and “looked burned.” Then when I took the time to really process what was going on I wasn’t really upset for what was directed at us, I was more upset about the fact that there were people dealing with this type of hate through social media every day and they aren’t able to speak out about it or have the support of a strong team behind them, I think that realization hit all of us and encouraged us to get stronger as an EXP family, and stronger as artists and creators. We started to reach out to people, to spread as much love to our family, friends, supporters and even non-supporters as we could, which has made us better artists and actually turned a lot of the negativity around.
Frankie: The death threat comments were pretty intense people saying if we go to Korea they would kill us. Most of the hate was coming from younger KPOP fans, mainly EXO fans. There were some comments at an early stage from one of our fans who started sticking up for us in the comment feed and just really trying to make people understand us. It was nice to start having people on our side and support this.
David: The comments that said “Keep Fighting” were the most encouraging to me. The simple fact that we have a fan base growing and through the clouds of negativity these small rays of sunshine keep pushing through makes me smile. We also get direct messages on Instagram from our “first” fans that remind us to keep going, that they were our first fans, they love us, and to ignore the hate. It is always nice to be reminded that people have your back.
Šime: Not even 2 weeks ago someone said I looked like a “38 yr old single dad”. I’m cool with it. Ha!
David: Preparing the concept was completely in the hands of Bora, Karin and Sam (the bosses), with some input from us. The auditioning process was by far my favorite, I remember the day I auditioned, the song I sang, what I wore, and how I rapped for them and completely forgot the words, and Karin swooped like a lyricist angel and helped me out. For me, everything else when we first began was a struggle. Yet, where we are right now is very exciting because we each (including “the bosses”) have learned so much within this span of time that we are thinking of bigger ways to get more people to pay see the art we are creating.
Šime: Actually, I was just thinking about this the other day. The amount of work and things we have accomplished in such a short amount of time is something that pushes us every day. Learning about K-Pop and Korean culture have been so interesting and rewarding. Within the last four months the game has changed and now we’re on a business platform. Now it’s not just about the experiment and the project, we’re a real group with goals and plans to make this succeed. So excited for you guys to hear the second single!
“Nolja Let’s Party”- The Second Single
David: We needed help. We do not have this huge corporation behind us: Just three very intelligent, passionate, and strong headed women with distinct resources.
Šime: It felt so awesome! Just to know that we have people who believe in EXP and want to see it succeed meant so much to all of us! I will actually take this opportunity to thank them all for donating to our Kickstarter! You guys rock!
David: It was great!! It was like a weight had been lifted off us.
Tarion: Hahaha, so, we were working hard and stressing out and really pushing the Kickstarter campaign down until the very last second. When we reached the goal, I think I remember that Karin or Sam mentioned it in our text thread and we all acknowledged it for about two seconds and had to move on to the next thing on the list that needed to be accomplished that day. It wasn’t until about three days later when we were all together that we realized that we didn’t take the time to celebrate reaching our goal then we all quickly remembered that we still didn’t have time…..we still haven’t to this day!
David: Give the fans their EXP merch (fangoods!), produce our mini album, work on all of our music videos and a whole bunch of other things that will be focused entirely on making this “project” big.
Koki: It’s a more upbeat, party, windows-down, sort of song.
David: I will simply say “More.” Whatever they felt was missing in our first song has definitely been included in this second second single. I hope everyone is ready!
Tarion: We are extremely excited about our new single!!!! We worked really hard on everything from the concept to the writing to our Korean pronunciation. We’ve put a lot of hours into this song, and we want everyone to feel the passion and the energy we put into it when they listen to the song. It’s a song that makes you want to get up and dance, so we definitely hope we make you want to move!
Frankie: The writing session and collaboration on this single was very productive. We decided early on that we wanted to create a song that would unite people and what better way to do that, than a party/dance song. In this single you’ll hear each of the guys sing in Korean and possibly a rap (wink wink). With one month left of summer we wanted to go out with a bang, so a summer party song it was! #NoljaLetsParty!!!
David: You have to watch and find out. BUT, you can expect amazing music, with amazing imagery, and just an overall higher quality than what is expected from an “American K-Pop Idol Group.”
Frankie: Songs are what we’ve been working on the most, as well as, training our bodies. The mini album will have lots of fun content, new singles, music videos, remixes, and footage from the documentary. Image wise, I think people will be surprised! It’s definitely exciting and distribution plans are still in the works.
Koki: I cross my fingers to get there as soon as possible, but we all need to get better at our Korean speaking skills. We’re all hard at work to learn the language, but have a ways to go. Bora, Karin, and Sam make us do “cuteness workshops” in order to help us understand how Korean idols act.
David: We are all studying the language. We have study books, we also have an amazing teacher named Bora Kim. We study up on some of the variety shows and try to get our “cuteness” down pat! #aegyo~!
Frankie: There are several conversations and opportunities that are being discussed among our team. With everything happening so fast the past couple of months who knows what the next six months will look like, I’m certainly excited for the ride!
Tarion: I think that our goal is to touch as many people around the world as we possibly can. We get messages and comments on our social media, from people from all over the world that tell us we inspire them to go for their dreams, and I think we could all agree that that’s what really makes everything we do worth it. That humbles us and really makes us realize that if by doing what we love it makes people realize that they can do what they love why not take it as far as we can go. We still have a lot of growing and learning to do, but we’re up to the challenge.
Frankie: I would be acting more and still trying to make my Broadway debut a reality! I love the stage and live performance really fulfills my soul. The energy between the performers and an audience is a magical thing.
David: I would most likely be acting or singing somewhere in New York City or maybe I would be a burger boy at McDonalds (minimum wage is going up now…)
Hunter: I’m answering this for David. He’d be one of those fancy people that people pay to watch them sleep in a super luxurious museum. I’d watch.
Frankie: Hunter-He’s so funny! Even in serious moments he finds a way to make it funny. Šime- the realist, when we get caught up in the future, Šime brings us back to reality. Tarion- they joke and say he’s the diva of the group haha! He’s the charmer. Koki- is the baby of the group, the quirky weird one but you can’t help but to love him. David- the shy one, David loves a good nap. All together we are one silly crew of guys who are all very passionate about being in EXP and although we have fun, we work really hard!
David: I am quiet, in a group of six (plus three-IMMABB team) someone has to be quiet lol. Frankie holds it together, like a champ for us. Koki is the one with the guitar skills. He keeps us in the loop with ALL the new music. Hunter is the comedian. It doesn’t matter what time of day; you can always count on Hunter for a joke. Šime is like the Dad/Big brother; he rallies us all together when we start dreaming a bit too far in the clouds…Tarion, is the one that dreams really, really far in the clouds.
Tarion: We really do function like a family, and much like a family, we all have different personalities that complement each other and also drive each other crazy. We all love to joke and play around, but we also know how to be serious and get to business when we need to. Each of us are like six brothers and Bora, Karin, and Sam often have to play the older sister roles and keep us from going too overboard with our games and big personalities. (They just love it!) The guys tend to call me the “divo”/ male Beyoncé of the group.
Frankie: This is an interesting one. I’m a very positive person and am always trying to look at the good side. I’ve worked really hard since I was a child to make my dreams a reality. Hearing no in this business is second nature, I would definitely want to inspire fans to not give up on whatever it is they believe in and to follow their heart.
David: My eyebrows? Maybe? I haven’t really thought that hard about it. Whatever reason they choose to “Stan” for me, will be a surprise.
Koki: I’m the Asian one.
Šime: That would be so amazing! Hopefully they would NOT portray me as a 38 year old single dad. Well I always wanted to be Superman…. So maybe I could be some kind of a superhero? That would be sweet. Can someone get on that? 😉
David: I hope they treat me within their fiction as a cross between Harry Potter, Edward Cullen and Jacob Black from Twilight. That would be AWESOMEEEEE!!!
Tarion: I WOULD LOOOOOOOOOOVE to be a character in a fan fiction! I haven’t given much thought to this until now, but I guarantee you this is all I’ll be thinking about for the next few days! By the way, I am completely open to suggestions.
Hunter: I’m excited for this… One thing I’ve seen with K-Pop fandoms is that they’re extremely creative. I’d hope fans would portray me as a bangin’, crime-stopping elf with dope hair that flies around on a dragon (named Bob). He’s all magical and stuff during the day, rescuing people from dungeons and crooked wizards with mommy issues, and then he goes home to his pet squirrel( Elvis) and eats cheese and potato chips with him. Elvis always eats my cheese before I get home, which annoys me. Oh, Elvis… Then, one day Koki’s dragon (Tesla) has the flu, and Tesla has to stay home, have tea, and watch Sesame Street to feel better. So Koki has to ride on my dragon (Bob) with me to fight crime that day. But instead of doing that, we give Bob the dragon a magic potion that makes him fly higher than he ever has before, and we spend the day flying to the moon and doing tricks and flips with good ol’ Bob. Too much?
What are your favorite books, movies, or TV shows?
Frankie: I love Wolf of Wall Street, Slumdog Millionaire, The Notebook (haha!), TV shows: Empire, Orange is the New Black, Scandal and Amy Schumer.
Šime: I’m really into scary movies. Not so much into gore as into paranormal. Definitely a fan of American Horror Story.
Tarion: A: In my free time I love to FaceTime with my nephew (he is 1 year old now!), hang out with friends, take a walk through New York City and clear my mind and draw on new inspiration. I also really enjoy cooking for people and having friends over to my apartment to hang out and decompress from work for a while. (If you’re ever in NYC let me know, I might cook for you.)
Koki: Reading, working on motorcycles, drinking milk tea, and guitar.
Šime: Netflix. Netflix, Netflix, Netflix.
Frankie: I love to spend quality time with close friends and family. I’m into extreme sports, and activities that are thrilling! Love to travel and go to the beach.
David: Free time.. Ha ha ha… There is no time for free time. We have to get to Korea.
Tarion: THANK YOU! It would be impossible to express how deep our gratitude runs for your continued love and support. We are so humbled and thankful for everything. We love you and we feel so loved.
Frankie: I really want to thank everyone who has supported us since day one. When you see something getting a lot of hate it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon, but to the people who have our backs and try to spread love, we see you and appreciate you and promise to make you proud!
David: Family and friends: I love you! VERY VERY VERY MUCH! Thanks for always believing in me! Fans: I wanna see your best party moves when this 2nd single drops! NOLJA LET’S PARTY!!!!!!!! I LOVE YOU!
Koki: I love you all!
—- Joelle Halon