Eric Nam Talks Songwriting, Acclimating to Korea, Pokémon Go and More

Eric Nam | moonROK

By: Hannah WaittmoonROK Editor-in-Chief
Riley TollettmoonROK Editor


Last weekend KCON hosted it’s fifth annual Kpop convention in Los Angeles, and with a marvelous line-up that bragged the likes of I.O.I, BTS, Twice, SHINee, and more, this year’s event was hard to miss in person, much less via SNS.

Amongst those headlining the event was Kpop crooner Eric Nam. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Eric is one of the most successful Korean-American artists active in Kpop right now. After making it to the Top 5 of the televised audition program “Birth of a Great Star 2,” Eric made his official debut in 2013 with his first album “Cloud 9.” Since, he has become one of the most widely recognized faces in Korea.

Eric took time out of his chaotic KCON schedule to sit down with moonROK and talk about what he’s been up to lately, what fans can expect for the remainder of 2016, and of course, Pokémon Go.


What was one of the hardest things about being a trainee in Korea? What were some of the most interesting or unexpected things about Korea that you learned or had to get used to?

I guess the hardest thing for me, was probably trying to come to terms with the amount of respect that you feel like you get as someone who hasn’t established him or herself as an artist yet. And that can be amongst your peers, and with company people, or audition people, or whoever’s around you. I feel like, for me at least, I had always grown up in a culture where [no matter what], you should just be treated with respect. But that wasn’t always the case [in Korea]. And that was very eye-opening to me in many ways, and very different. As a rookie, you are treated so differently. The atmosphere around it just breeds that kind of culture.


So you’re talking about how your level of perceived fame changes how people view you, and on the audition programs, a lot of people who try out are YouTubers. Do you think that gives them an advantage if they already have a following?

Not particularly, it doesn’t really help. Maybe if you make it far enough to where voting matters it could help a little bit. Or it could help in the sense that you are more comfortable in front of a camera. But for me, I was probably the only person who had started anything on YouTube on my audition program that season, so there wasn’t a distinct advantage.


At the beginning of your “Melt My Heart” music video, there’s a little clip of you as a toddler singing with along with your mom — did you always know that you wanted to be a singer?

I had always enjoyed singing growing up as a child. I don’t know when it really clicked for me, when I was like, ah gosh, it’d be really cool for me to be a singer, but it was something that I had wanted to do for a long time. I never realized it would actually happen.


What do you think you would be if you hadn’t become a singer?

Likely, a Pokémaster. Honestly, the only reason I’m here is to catch Pokémon (laughs). But right now, I’d probably be getting my MBA, or working in consulting. It’s a different path, and I guess some people could say it’s a little boring, but for me it’s something that I had wanted to do and enjoyed doing. But it’s not as sexy I guess.


Who are some artists that you look up to or are inspired by?

Top 40? Maroon 5, Bruno Mars. I grew up listening to a pretty diverse, eclectic mix of artists, so even from church music, to Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder, and Boyz II Men, and some Kpop, and really all over the place. But right now I think that vocally, Adam Levine and Bruno Mars for me have always been like, “Wow, it’d be really cool to be able to sing like that.”


What about in Korea? Are there any artists that you want to work with in the Kpop sphere?

Ugh, I love everybody. You know, I really like Urban Zakapa. They’re friends of mine, I really like their stuff. I ran into Zion.T the other day, he’s really cool. I like him, Zion.T, Crush, DEAN, that kind of stuff. They’re a little more mysterious than I am. I just smile all the time but they’re like “We’re gonna be quiet and cool.” I don’t have enough chill to do that. But yeah, I think they’re really doing stuff musically that pushes the envelope, which is good, which is great.


In addition to singing you’ve also done a lot of awesome interviews with huge celebrities Robert Downey Jr., the Star Wars cast, Jamie Foxx, etc. — how does that feel?

It’s really cool to meet these people and get to know them a little bit and pick their brains and whatnot. Recently, I’ve kind of tried to stay away from interviewing though. I think a lot of people got to know me through my interviews — in Korea particularly — and it kind of helped to get my name out into discussion, but I went to Korea to be a singer and to be an artist. While interviewing definitely helped my profile, it hasn’t really allowed me to branch out and be active in music the way I want to be.

So recently we’ve actively been staying away from interviewing. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it and it’s not that I don’t want to meet people, but I just think we’re at a time where I would like people to take my music a little more seriously. Matt Damon was in Korea, Corinne Bailey Rae too, and all these offers came in, and as much as I wanted to just hang out with them and be cool and talk about life, it’s something that I need to do later on.


You’ve been working hard promoting your latest single “Can’t Help Myself” over the past few weeks. Can you walk us through the process of promoting in Korea? How do you choose the song, concept, choreography, etc.?

We got really lucky with this one in the sense that after “Good For You,” I knew I wanted to do something for the summer. But I have been so busy this year that I haven’t had days off really, and I consider my days off my working days for music. I literally was blocking days off for months in advance. I was like I need a day. So I had two full days, 8 hours each day, and I was like “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get a song out of this, but let’s try it.”

So the first day we got a song, and I like it. I personally really like it. But they were like “We don’t think this is a great single for Korea, let’s hold onto it.” Second day we go in, and I was like “Bros. We need to be serious. We need to put together a smash.” We met up and creatively, we were blocked. We were just blocked. After dinner, that’s when things started flowing. But we thought, oh this is too pop, this is too American. That’s always the feedback I get, “You’re too American. Your music is too butter. It’s too much french fries and hot wings and cheeseburgers. We need more bibimbap in this.” We put it together, we sent it off, and we were like “This is what we have, we don’t know if you guys are going to like it, but this is what we have.” So I got an “okay” automatically, and I was like “Are you guys playing with me? Because I will go crazy if you’re playing with me.” But they were like “No, we really like it. We think it’s going to be great, let’s do it.” That was in early May. So we were trying to refine the song for a long time, and I was out of the country all of June.

I get back first week of July, and I was like, we have 10 days to finish this song. We had to change the lyrics. We had to get Tablo on it, we had to get Loco’s feature on it, we had to get the music video, photo shoot, like so many different things done. It’s really great that I don’t need food or sleep. Anyways, we were still mastering the song the morning that it was supposed to come out. Every time we put out a song we think, oh this could be better, this could be better.

So it was a long process, but I’m coming to terms with the fact that every time I put together a track, each song and each experience is so different, that there isn’t [a method]. I’ve got to put out another album, and I don’t have the fight in me to do that right now. I will take songs from anybody, but I don’t know if I can write songs right now, I’m too physically drained. But I think part of it is that, that might be the right thing. I’ve written the last few singles and I’m just exhausted, so it might be good to have a new sound or to have somebody else step in and be like, hey let’s try this, and I’d be more than happy to try that. So start sending requests for your new songs.


What are some of your goals and plans for the remainder of 2016? I guess if you take out your schedules, you have about 3 days.

Yes, I like the way you think — you’re good at math. I have very limited time to put together a full length album; I have most of the year booked up. So I’m in a conundrum! But yeah, I’ve got to put together a new album, and hopefully it gets done. By the end of the year, I’d like to have a semblance of a full album done. I want to take like 10 days off somewhere. I think I need to rest a little bit. Out of human necessity.

It’s been really hard this year, but it’s also been very rewarding, and very cool. I’m very thankful for all of it, and I’m just hoping to continue to build. I think I have some really great people around me, and some really great fans behind me to help me get there. So that’s what I’m excited about. We’ll see what the rest of the year and next year brings.


That’s all we have time for today, but would you mind saying a few words to our moonROK readers at home?

Hey everybody, this is Eric Nam. Thanks so much for staying up with the latest news on moonROK. Be cool everyone, and eat peeled grapes. Bye!



For more pictures of Eric Namand your other favorite Kpop stars from KCON LA 2016, be sure to like us on Facebook!

All images property of MoonROK Media, Inc.
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