From his bedroom in Chicago’s Cicero neighborhood, 17-year old artist Victor Cervantes writes and produces songs that are heavily influenced by the intimate mental and physical space they’re crafted in.
Born to two musician parents, there’s no doubt that pursuing music has always been in Cervantes’ blood. But his ambition as an artist is just as much a product of his family background as it is a result of being born in the 21st century. Taking advantage of a time when anyone can get their art heard globally from the intimacy of their own home, Cervantes began uploading songs to Soundcloud this summer under the alias VICTOR!. Since then, he’s racked up thousands of plays on everything he’s dropped and is now on his way to releasing his debut album, “2000.” The title is a nod to his birth year, and as he explains in this interview, it’s meant to encapsulate the mentality of a creative generation. Read the full Q&A below:
How did you get into music?
It’s been a part of my family for a long time now. My dad’s actually a mariachi and so is my grandfather, and my mom was a pop singer back in Mexico before she moved to the US. So, I picked music up from them. I was never really into mariachi specifically, but I did like the different sounds I would hear from it like trumpets and guitars. When I was 4, my dad would play music videos on MTV and I would just watch them with him. Then he bought me a keyboard and I started making little songs.
What was your experience with music outside of your family?
I kinda grew up in church, so I wrote songs for the youth ministry. Growing up in that setting, I would write a lot of gospel songs. It was so weird; [laughs] I would like write songs about God. But just watching the people there write their songs, I thought it was tight and wanted to try it. Then this summer it kind of shifted to me writing about my own stuff and putting it on Soundcloud.
Wait, so you’ve only been sharing your own songs since this summer?
Yeah, it’s really weird because I was just messing around with FL Studio, and I put out this one song called “Run.” It was this simple lo-fi beat I made. I sampled Kali Uchis’ “Speed” and added some drums. It was really short. But I uploaded that and my friends liked it, and then other people started finding it too.
Despite being relatively new to the game, all your songs consistently get thousands of plays. How did you build that following so quickly?
The split between my parents kind of caused us to move around everywhere, so I think making friends in each place helped me build a little circle. Then after that, someone translated one of my songs into Spanish and put it on YouTube. You know like Willy Pete and Alona and all those lo-fi channels? Well there are some Spanish ones too and one of those pages translated my song and that kind of blew up. Then they started making more videos of my songs and that built a Spanish following too.
Have you always written in English and Spanish?
Yeah. I think the fact that I’m bilingual really helps me, because I get to make songs for all my audiences. I really like incorporating that part of me into my music.
Where do you get inspiration from and what things do you like writing about most?
I don’t really like mariachi at all, but I think they’re just so passionate about the music. A lot of mariachi bands write really good love songs, and that inspires me to write love-based music. I also listen to a lot of artists in California right now like Jasper Bones, Banes World, Cuco and Brockhampton. They give me a DIY type of vibe and they’re all kind of bedroom artists.
Does seeing all of these artists making music literally out of their bedrooms inspire you to work the same way?
Yeah, I record all of my stuff in my room. I actually don’t even own my equipment. I just borrow from my friend.
What’s your process like from the initial idea to the actual finished song?
When I’m working on the beat in my room, I’m writing as I’m producing it. Usually, I drop a song on the same night that I wrote it. Some people might think that there’s not a lot of thought that goes into it because it’s so fast, but I feel like that process for me is way easier. I like it when my ideas shift around, so I write it on the spot.
I noticed you have two different SoundCloud pages. What exactly is the difference between the two?
So on Instagram you know how people have a main page and then they have a Finsta? That’s kind of what I did with the Lil Chismoso page. That’s where I post snippets and ideas I get, like random beats or random remixes.
What’s the significance behind the title of your forthcoming album, “2000”?
I think people born in the 2000s are the people running culture right now, and I think the year 2000 was a year when a lot of creative people, like me, were born. There are a lot of kids my age doing big things.
That’s an interesting point. A lot of really young artists have gotten mainstream attention really quickly in the past year. How do you feel about how fast young people have been able to kind of take over?
I think it’s tight. Especially the Chicago scene, you have a lot of kids like sophomores and juniors already blowing up and doing shows which is even cooler. I think with the internet today, it’s just easier to blow up and you gain more opportunities that way. We have young entrepreneurs and people doing marketing. We even have people like you running blogs. I think it’s really cool that the internet can do so much for us as young people.
How has attending school at the Chicago High School for the Arts exposed you to other creative young people?
I was actually in choir with Ravyn Lenae last year, and now she’s doing a whole album with Steve Lacy. Like that’s crazy. Bryant Giles, he’s a really big artist right now, he also graduated from ChiArts. You get to meet a lot of cool people. … We just influence each other in different ways. Being in that environment is really healthy as a creative person.
What can you tell me about the artwork for your songs?
I have a friend named Andrea Reyes. She actually graduated from ChiArts and she majored in photography. … She’s a big part of my whole visual design, and I credit her for art direction. A lot of people look for designers and just pay them for fast art, but having your friends do the stuff gives them some kind of exposure too. We’re all helping each other and all learning at the same time.
What was your first show like?
I did my first show in November. It was the day after my birthday. I performed with a lot of other people from Chicago like NombreKari, HATESONNY, Blake Saint David and Calvin Holmes. It was a big learning experience too.
What were some things that you learned?
I’m never drinking coffee before a show again [laughs.] I was so nervous and I felt so jumpy. … This was a show with the Chicago scene, and so I’m kind of delving into the scene and people don’t really know about me yet. It was mostly rappers on the lineup too. So me being the only one singing these sad songs was kind of weird at first, but I really liked it and I think they liked it too.
What are some common sounds or themes we could expect on “2000?”
So far I’ve stuck to the same guitars and synths, and I know my music has an ambient feeling. But I also want to be more open on my album and experiment with different instruments. I really like Kevin Abstract’s first two albums. It’s very angsty. I think angst is a really big part of your teenage years so I want to put that into my album just to have teenagers relate to stuff like breakups and love. Also tackling religion and spirituality.
VICTOR!’s debut album “2000” is expected to drop this year. He also has a free show coming up on Jan. 20 hosted at 1837 Show in Pilsen. RSVP here.