Taking A Better Step: Cuco Interviewed

Backstage at Camp Flog Gnaw...

The sweetness of Cuco’s sad sound has made him one of the most resounding names in alt-indie. Garnering upwards of 290 million streams, it’s not every day we witness a Mexican-American dominate a world that wasn’t built to embrace him, trailblazing a new lane entirely along the way.

There’s a significance to Cuco’s success that far outweighs him. As they continue to occupy colonized spaces, more and more black and brown people are getting the chance to see themselves at heights once told unreachable. But beyond that, Cuco is permitting the artists and inquisitive hearts that look like him to be sensitive, romantic, and bravely experimental. He’s opening doors for others by kicking them down for himself.

Describing his sound as “psychedelia-soaked love ballads,” what stands out the most about Cuco’s work is its inability to respect the confinement of genre. Having played in his high school’s marching band and jazz band, you can hear influences from all his vices, from rap to bossa nova to cumbia to heavy metal. Vacillating through languages and textures, he’s an alchemist of sound, though his through line will forever be his vulnerable storytelling.

Barely 25, he’s shedding new skin by demolishing who he once was. Open-hearted about his journey with sobriety and becoming himself anew, Cuco has no problem letting the world in, and we got the chance to peer in even deeper during a quick catch-up before his set at this year’s Camp Flog Gnaw.

CLASH: There’s been such a big wave of traditional Mexican music seeping into mainstream. How has watching the world finally embrace your culture feel?  

Cuco: I think it’s incredible how people are opening their hearts to Mexican music, they’ve kind of made it the biggest genre. Where my family is from is more cumbia and romantica, but nonetheless, traditional Mexican music is something you always heard. If you were at your abuela’s or your tia’s house, they’d have the whole banda playing. It’s all been so reminiscent of how I grew up.

When I think back to my introduction of the genre, it was definitely during all the novelas my mom watched. Which of your songs do you think would best fit a novela?

Growing up, my WHOLE family watched novelas. Even though every single one is the same storyline with different actors, it’s just tradition. As far as one of my songs goes, I have one literally called ‘La Novela’ with boy pablo, so that’d probably be the one. 

Very fitting. You’ve also been vulnerable about your journey with sobriety— how has that been emotionally and have the “no’s” it accompanies taught you something about yourself? 

Being sober was tough at first. I had to let a lot of substances go, it wasn’t just alcohol. It was a lot of different things and a lot of different journeys. I disliked how I was to the point where I hit a rock bottom and became adamant about going out and not drinking or doing anything. I’ve seen what it’s done to people I know. I just decided to take a better step and thankfully, my friends have never been the type to peer pressure me. They’ve all been really supportive of what I’ve been doing and I feel lucky. My parents, too. They’re not worried as much, they’re happy to see me healthy. They don’t like that I still get tattoos, but they’re stuck with a sober son who loves tattoos. I’m healthy.

‘Hitchhiker’ EP just dropped, talk to me about the next chapter this project is initiating.

It’s my introduction to people that I can get real weird with music and do it well. I’ve always had to find a balance of how weird I can get with music. I’m excited to introduce people to the crazy psych world that I’m into, but I’m definitely not going to stop making the cute pop stuff. I like it, I like making songs that are catchy. I just also like getting real deep, instrumental, and nerdy. Eventually, I want to start playing like three or four hours of live sets. 

Your music is so eclectic, it can feel very Beatles-influenced sometimes. Is there an artist you’re inspired by that people would be surprised to know?

Damn, there is. A lot of ambient textures come from me listening to a lot of metal and polyrhythmic shit. I get a lot of those chords and put it over softer stuff. People always think I’m looking at the ‘80s but I’m actually looking at metal. I had to unlearn a lot of things that I like because I listen to a lot of bass-heavy music, like rap with 808s and trap beats. So I had to learn how to not drown my stuff, how to mix it and correlate my kick with the bass. 

Are there any metal bands in particular you’re influenced by?

My top two metal bands right now are Loathe and Mental Cruelty. And System Of A Down, of course.

Words: Jazmin Kylene
Photo Credit: Shane Sumbu

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