Photography: David Rodriguez-Suscato
Chiquito, Cuco’s latest EP, starts out shimmering and woozy, drowsily inviting you into his dreams and letting you linger there a while. Drawing from a glut of influences - ranging from Chicano rappers to Louis Armstrong - Cuco gives you a heartfelt taste of his brain. For the final track, CR-V, the South-LA self-taught multi instrumentalist jumps you out of his mind and into his Honda CR-V, picking up his homies in his CR-V, looking like a Mom in his SUV.
Despite only being twenty-years-old, he’s not afraid to open up about his influences, anxieties and motivations. Proudly Chicano, he’s less interested in being well-known and more interested in helping out his parents financially (the family were in an ongoing struggle in which they twice nearly lost their home) as well as being something of a voice for a young generation of Mexican-Americans, often misheard and misrepresented in America. Equally, he’s honest about his mental health – discussing an ongoing sense of ubiquitous anxiety and describing his songs as ‘Stupid emotional.’
Importantly, those songs are stupid good. So, we decided to sit down with the California wonderkid to find out more about his identity, his love of jazz and what it's like being a musician in today’s chaotic world.
CUCO - Summertime Hightime feat. J-Kwe$t
Lorenzo: You can really hear your Chicano identity in your music, including in your latest EP. How important is it for you to represent your culture through music?
Cuco: I definitely think its important. I don’t think there’s enough representation of Chicano culture in general in the music industry. I think it’s just really dope to be able to do that and to put us on the map a little more. It’s not like we weren’t on already on the map, but I think it’s tight that I have that contribution with what I do.
Lorenzo: What role has the internet and social media had in your success?
Cuco: I think the internet has a lot to do with how successful people are. It was how my music was able to get that far and reach different countries, all the way across the ocean. I think it’s a new era in the industry. Social media is definitely a new way of distributing yourself as a figure and as a person, so that you’re accessible not only to your people but everybody in the world.
Lorenzo: Has it created a connection betweens you and your contemporaries? Musicians who might have similar sounds or ideas, all over the world?
Cuco: I definitely feel a connection to every artist that has been falling into the same category as mine… I dunno, we all fall into the same category with each other but I think it’s important to really support each other, even from across the world. Its not like we don’t have access to each other. Once in a while, I’ll talk to Boy Pablo, for instance. I think it’s tight to be able to have that connection and support each other.
Lorenzo: Do you think the internet makes it easier or harder for artists to emerge nowadays? There’s this great platform but there are so many musicians trying to make a name for themselves.
Cuco: I think it’s easier because, at the end of the day, people are going to filter out what they generally like and don’t like. There are always going to be artists that differentiate themselves from the same stuff everybody else is doing, but the internet gives you a way of finding your people or your audience. For me, I just put music out. I don’t have any connections to anybody in the industry – nothing like that. I don’t know how that happened, to be honest… It just did.
Lorenzo: Another artist you’ve became connected with was Kali Uchis. How did that come to be?
Cuco: I’m not too sure. I just know it was word-of-mouth. Somebody hit up some of her people and then she found out about me and then she message me. I had already been a fan for a while, so it was kinda tight to be able to become cool with her and then actually start getting work done together. I just happened very natural. It wasn’t anything crazy.
Lorenzo: You’re a self-taught musician and producer. What’s it like being so self-reliant, recording and releasing your own music?
Cuco: I didn’t have friends, so I just spent a bunch of time playing instruments and playing music. Aside from that, I just love music so it was really tight to not have nothing to do and just have a cool little hobby that would eventually take me to where I was going, you know? In terms of putting out my own music, I just kinda put it out ‘cos I had spent so much time on it. But, I’ve never been like a fan of my own music, I don’t really think I like what I do. I just know I put so much effort into it. So, its just me. Like, me in its rawest form.
Lorenzo: You originally learnt the trumpet because you had to at school, but it has become an integral part of your sound. Did you fall in love with the trumpet straight away?
Cuco: Yeah, I love playing trumpet. I think I enjoyed it mostly when I was playing in jazz band. It was hella fun. Ten-percent of the song is actually written and then the other ninety-percent is improvised. I loved improvising. I, for sure, feel like Louis Armstrong is one of my bigger influences. I guess he has one of my favourite stories of how he came to be. His music’s just always been hella touching and inspiring and nostalgic.
Lorenzo: Talking of musicians you love, what are you listening to now that you can recommend?
Cuco: Real talk, I’m gonna give that shoutout to Retrospect. He’s the Ventura homie. His music’s on Soundcloud – go check that out.
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