by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
Columbia University student Bora Kim riled up the K-pop world about a month ago when word of her MFA thesis project—a non-Korean boy band named “EXP”—spread across the Internet.
The project, “I’m Making a Boy Band” (IMMABB), has been underway since October of last year, and with their official debut single under their belt, EXP is looking forward to their first mini-album in November.
But before that, IMMABB is shooting for $30,000 in funds from Kickstarter by June 7 to help fund the different aspects of the project: music production, the entire creative team and a documentary about the entire project (2017 release date). Backers can expect plenty of incentives, from EXP T-shirts, signed copies of their mini-album, tote bag, tickets to a VIP screening of their documentary and even private karaoke sessions with the guys.
So, the big question: Who exactly are the boys of EXP? The NYC-based IMMABB team auditioned and cast Hunter, Frankie, David, Sime, Tarion and Koki.
KoreAm recently had a chance to exchange emails with the members. Take a look through our conversation below to get a better idea of who they are. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you briefly introduce yourselves, and tell us where you’re from?
Sime: I am originally from Croatia. I was studying music theatre performance here in the States and subsequently decided to make NYC my home.
Tarion: I was born in Washington, D.C., but I grew up in Houston, Texas. (The Land of Queen Bey, I went to her high school!) I’ve been acting, singing and modeling since about the age of three and have been doing it professionally in NYC for about five years.
Koki: I’m a Hong Kong-born, Texas raised, half-Japanese kid living in NYC. I moved to NYC about a year ago, and that’s when I started to focus more on my performing arts career. Modeling, acting, singing and dancing all sort of fell into place as I made my way around the city, and being in a boy band is sort of the best combination of everything.
David: I was born here in Queens, New York City. I have been performing my entire life. I was a professional male model before IMMABB. One day, while I was at work (at Swarovski), I decided to be an actor and pursue more with music. I walked out and haven’t looked back.
(Editor’s note: EXP members Frankie and Hunter’s responses were unavailable for this question.)
How is the group dynamic?
Hunter: There are definitely six distinct personalities in the group, but it’s pretty similar to any family. We spend a lot of time together, and can get on each other’s nerves, but are all actual friends. For the most part, I eat. There’s probably more footage of me eating than actual performance footage.
Tarion: I like to think of us as the musical United Nations in the sense that we are all so different and derive from different backgrounds. So, we all throw ideas into the pot and create really multi-dimensional concepts that … represent [each of] our own individual pieces while still being one unit.
David: Having us in the room together is similar to babysitting six very rambunctious toddlers. There is a lot of gibberish, laughing and WHOLE bunch of singing.
Koki: We’re a bunch of weirdos. It works.
Before you became a part of EXP, what were your first reactions when you heard about the goal behind IMMABB?
Hunter: I was really confused, as I think the other guys were also. Frankie and I were both in boybands before this, so I was kind of thinking “not this again.” It did take some time to come together and understand what we were doing. Also, I was told there would be food, so I was in.
Sime: I wasn’t really sure what to expect. All I knew was that Bora was an artist with a clear vision of what she wanted to achieve.
Frankie: I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into, but when I researched K-pop and discovered this whole other world, I knew I wanted to be part of this movement. I was so fascinated by Bora’s concept and the fact that she had such an amazing team of other talents behind her.
Tarion: Boy band was the LAST thing on my mind. In fact, if I remember correctly, I remember telling a friend that I would never be in one. But for some reason, when I saw the casting call, I was immediately drawn to it. I loved the idea of doing something fresh and new and creating a conversation about bridging cultural gaps.
Koki: I didn’t know if we were actually going to become a boy band, or if everything was just for the documentary. I was super confused. Being in a boy band is one of those things you grow up wanting to be a part of, but forget about later on. I never thought I’d actually get to be in one, but here we are!
David: I understood everything. We are documenting a “possible” boy band. We start out as just a thesis, and if things go accordingly, Bora would invest more time into us and develop the project. She pretty much explained her expectations [to us], but everything that has happened thus far has superseded everything any [of us] could have imagined.
Do you have any favorite K-pop artists?
Koki: My first favorite K-pop group was BTS, but I also love SHINEE (their new album is amazing!). Block B, Got 7, and EXO are the ones I listen to the most right now.
David: Ailee is one of my favorite K-pop artists, as well as BTS—especially Monster. He is such an epic artist!
Tarion: Some of my favorite K-pop groups are JJCC, Girl’s Generation, and Big Bang.
Sime: Although I wasn’t very familiar with K-pop before, in the past year I have grown to love it and appreciate everything about it! Music speaks a universal language. Good music, no matter the form, speaks to me—and as soon as I heard BTS’ beats, I was on board!
What was it like training for “LUV/WRONG,” from the learning the choreography to singing in Korean?
Hunter: I can hands down say I’m the worst with the learning and singing in Korean. I’m getting better now, but I had a really tough time in the studio trying to get the chorus down. There was food there, so that helped. The dancing took time to come together. We spent a lot of time with our choreographer MJ [to make us] look like a group, and not six individual dancers.
Frankie: Learning Korean is very hard. I’m Portuguese and speak it fluently, as well as a little Spanish. Both are very different than Korean, and the group cracks up at me because at first everything I tried to say in Korean would come out sounding Spanish. Bora works with us individually on the Korean, so it’s like having a private coach.
Koki: I got lucky in terms of learning Korean. I grew up around Japanese, Chinese and Korean speakers, so being able to learn the pronunciation was fairly easy. I need to learn to be more patient and help the rest of the boys though, haha.
David: When I auditioned for the band, I said, “Yes, I can dance.” Throughout the process, I have learned I am more of a freestyler, but MJ has been able to wrangle that in and I am growing more comfortable with [choreography]. Six-hour dance rehearsals back-to-back stretches your body and pushes you a bit mentally, but the finished product—us slaying the dance moves—is a proud moment.
Tarion: If you’ve ever seen the movie Rocky, that’s what our training [looks] like (only without a continuous catchy soundtrack playing throughout our montage). It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. We still have so much to learn and so much room to grow, but we continue to push ourselves every day to get better and better, in some way, shape or form.
All images via IMMABB