In late September of last year Craig Connolly met Cuco at a studio in Bethnal Green, London for a conversation about how to overcome mental health struggles as an artist. Below is an extract of that interview from Issue 005, featuring photography by Thomas Chatt.
“It’s not even about being woke, it’s just about being a decent person. Be a fucking decent human being and co-operate in the more positive side of humanity…”
What were you doing when you were 20?
At that time I was too caught up in the bravado of mid-2000s hip hop and the arpeggiated trance melodies of Marco V and Marcel Woods to have noticed an artist as interesting and honest as Omar Banos, aka Cuco. That musical immaturity seems to have skipped a generation when you look at the swelling crowds filling his venues and the venues of his contemporaries like Brockhampton, Clairo, Yellow Days and Boy Pablo.
The youth are craving honesty and emotion. They no longer want their icons to hide behind shields of swagger.
Plucked from his bedroom in Hawthorne, South Los Angeles, Cuco is now touring the world; a stop off in Hackney the location of our rendezvous. There’s a stark dichotomy between those isolated days in California and the life he now leads. His EP ‘Chiquito’ dropped in 2018 to widespread acclaim from institutions like Rolling Stone and modern tastemakers like The Fader (who made a documentary that offers a heart-warming insight into his life) and he’s performed at festivals all over America; sharing bills with everyone from singer-songwriters to trap artists.
After an uneasy experience in the airport the night previous, which also resulted in a chance encounter with Mitski, Cuco was ready to chat and take stock in the unseasonably hot London sun.
You had a couple of problems in the airport last night, can you divulge what happened?
Yeah, we pretty much told them we were pulling up for work, then they just saw a bunch of brown kids, and I know don’t know if that was a factor, but it always tends to be when you have a group of 10 rowdy motherfuckers showing up.
It was like three hours of questioning, they had to contact booking agents and look at deposits and stuff. They ended up questioning everything we were doing
here and I guess they didn’t want to believe us. Doris [manager] and Ryan [tour manager] kept pulling up all documentation and everything was in order and they’d be like, ‘We need to go and investigate this again’.
Actually do you know Mitski? Of all the places in the world we ended up in the same immigration booth as Mitski and she was going through the same shit. She got on her way before us, we were there for another two hours.
Do you find it difficult to be taken seriously given how young you all are?
For sure, I guess it makes sense ‘cause you don’t expect people this young to be going around the world and getting these amounts of money because for the shows they’re playing. I guess all jokes aside , it probably makes sense that they were questioning us in the airport and we were probably a little bit suspect, because one of the crew lost their passport.
How surreal is it being on different continents where people are singing both the languages you sing, word for word?
It’s fucking crazy, dude. In Jakarta I was tripping the fuck out, seeing them word for word sing the hook of ‘Lo Que Siento/Dreaming of You’ to the Spanish part, “Oye cariño, solo pienso en ti”, they’re crazy into it! Especially that culture clash, it’s not just American artists going to Asia, we’re a Mexican-American band going to Asia, it’s multiple different cultures in that same venue and everyone’s showing love. Obviously it’s the art, but everything there is just love and that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve experienced in my life.
Do you feel there’s a positivity with what you’re bringing? There are a lot of braggadocious hip hop and R&B artists around, whereas what you’re doing is communicating on a very deep level.
Hell yeah, I mean for Mexican and Latin-Mex culture there’s a lot of machismo and you’re always taught to suppress your shit and keep your feelings inside, ‘Don’t be expressive because that’s a woman’s thing’. It’s very sexist too. I don’t know, I never thought of [my music] like that, but then realising that it was different because it’s going against this stereotype… You see men thinking, ‘This guy is talking about how he feels and it’s not about how many girls he fucks or how many cars he has’. Don’t get me wrong, everyone likes spoiling themselves and buying themselves nice things, I’m really guilty for that stuff, but I don’t feel the need to brag about it and if I ever do make a song about that it’s because I’m trolling. I have so many ignorant songs that I just make because I’m bored.
Have you ever had to contend with toxic masculinity? Did you ever have an issue you had to deal with?
For sure, it’s something you see every day and sometimes you’re not even aware. It’s really about realising what you’re doing wrong and how you can better yourself. It’s not super deep, it’s not hard to realise you’re doing something toxic, especially as a cisgender, heterosexual male, there’s a lot of things that you’re taught to think that you just need to get out of your head. It’s not even about being woke, it’s just about being a decent person. Be a fucking decent human being and co-operate in the more positive side of humanity, I don’t like being negative and bringing people down for doing what they’re doing.
You’re doing a lot of collaborations and you’re part of this new wave of artists coming through. Do you get the sense that the likes of Clairo and others are helping each other come up in the industry?
Yeah for sure, everyone’s cool with each other, even if we don’t make music together we all have each other’s back. Whether it’s Clairo or No Vacation, Triathlon, Jasper Bones, it’s cool, we all know what we’re doing and we all know what the fuck we’re trying to be on. Everyone has their own shit, but it’s very genuine, there’s no industry BS.
Was that how the Clairo collab came about?
Pretty much. Yours Truly hit us up and I think that it was the perfect time. Clairo was down and I was down, we’d been trying to get something going but that was our first opportunity to get into the studio together and ‘Drown’ came about from it.
I think so, a lot of people are starting to see that Latin-American artists can do well in the regular music industry, it’s cool to be able to cater for your own people
but at the end of the day you just want to be able to cater for the people that fuck with your music. I think it’s the same with any type of art, if people fuck with any type of art you don’t want to just be boxed in with, ‘You’re not white, so we’re just going to label you as a Latin artist’.
Everything in Latin radio is either very pop or reggaeton and that’s not what I do. I’m just making my fuckin’ music.
I saw you share a LatinXIndie Spotify playlist on your Facebook. Do you feel that you have a duty of care to help propel other Latin artists that are doing cool shit?
I don’t know. I feel like people put more value in me than I put in myself. I really don’t know how much of an impact I can make, I just know I love the impact I have with the people that fuck with me. I don’t know how to put myself on a pedestal, I don’t go around thinking, ‘Yo, I’m the shit’. I don’t know how to do that.
You mentioned in another interview that the Spanish element of your music is a nod to your heritage. Do you feel that it’s a tool, with this Trump administration where Mexican people are so marginalised, that packs an extra punch? Being able to perform in both English and Spanish and have American people be into it?
Hell yeah, not even just Mexican artists, Latin-American artists and artists of colour are coming up. Obviously I don’t see myself as being on that level of success, but we’re out here in London working our fucking asses off because that’s how we were raised. We were raised to work our asses off, we don’t know anything else apart from working hard and that’s a work ethic that I’ve incorporated into my music and my life.
Do you feel pressure with that?
Always, but as an artist you can only do so much. I don’t have an IQ of 6000 and know everything, but if I can help other people that have more to say than I do then I’ll always help out with that.
Do you feel that there are any challenges being a Latin-American artist in the States?
Not really, you make music, you get discovered, you help out. The main thing is the genre bubble, how labels perceive you, it’s weird. They take the fact that you’re out of the box as a thing that’s hard to work with. Once you find people that think, ‘Yo, I don’t know how to classify this, that’s tight’, that’s when you find the right people. It’s just hard to find those people that understand you.
You’ve got quite a cult following across your social media. Say when you’re interacting on Instagram, is it a totally different experience when you’re seeing fans in the flesh?
Hell yeah, I see all these likes and reposts and shit, the people mean a lot to me but mostly it’s just a social media concept that I don’t give a shit about. If people listen to my music it’s tight. If people are impacted by my music, it’s tight, but actually physically seeing how many people are like, ‘Yo, your music changed my life’. That trips me out!
In an age of instant information is there an apprehension to give away too much of who you are?
I tend to give a lot of information about myself on the internet. I’m not a mega star or anything so I don’t feel I have to hide shit. I’m hella emo, so I’m always posting how I feel. I guess it’s relatable, whether I’m posting a shit-post or if I’m really sad, I guess it’s important because it resonates with people. They see that I’m an artist and I still have all this fucked up shit in my head, whether it’s depression, anxiety, physical health shit. You realise as an artist that it’s important to know you’re not alone. And for the people that listen to you it’s important to know that it’s ok for people to feel some type of way. It’s ok to feel sad, it’s ok to go through struggles.
Reminding people that you’re a person too is important, because back in the day people would think that if you’re an artist then you must be ok and then an artist would kill themselves and people would ask why? People thought that if you were an artist then you must be happy, but now people realise that this is a serious issue. It resonates with both the artist and the people when there’s personal info. When people try to tune in with you as a person I think that’s really tight.
Do you find it helpful to just be yourself?
Yeah, it helps me out a lot, sometimes people ask, ‘Why do you tweet this shit out?’, but then they realise that it makes sense. I don’t know how to ask for help, sometimes writing it and putting it out there is a little release. Obviously it won’t cure me, but it helps out a bit and it resonates with people where they think, ‘We’re all going through the same shit, our minds will fuck us up equally’, or worse. We’ve just got to be there for each other and shit.
Words: Craig Connolly / Photography: Thomas Chatt
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