You just dropped your debut EP, ‘Slow Love and Bangin’. Congratulations! Tell us about your transition from being a choreographer to taking the mic into your own hands as a singer. What inspired you to do so?
I think storytelling is what I really love to do. There was something about translating chapters from my life and turning them into movement that really compelled me. I think I’m also wired to always ask myself how I can bring my storytelling to the next level. I quickly became infatuated with the concept of “what if I can tell a story visually through dance and audibly through song?” To me, that would be the perfect delivery of storytelling.
You worked with Anderson .Paak on your track, “Be Ready”. Rumor has it that the man is a creative genius. Tell us about your experience.
That session with Anderson is an experience I’ll never forget. Prior to getting in the studio together, I had just choreographed to a song of his called ‘Suede’. He has the dopest energy and for him to actually find time for this little Filipino kid from Houston was surreal to me. We actually just kicked it, traded stories, and laughed for 2 hours first before we got into the music. I think the little time we spent just getting to know each other was crucial to the creative process. Songwriting and how a song is constructed in general was still a brand new concept to me, so vibing with him literally felt like we were pulling melodies from the air around us. All these different ideas floating over our heads for us to pull and take from. Once the writing started everything flowed so naturally and fast. We had no boundaries, no song structure, we were just in there creating. Before you know it we had ‘Be Ready,’ this unique and unorthodox R&B record.
Let’s talk tattoos. Tell us about some of your favorite pieces and the artists that brought them to life.
My tattoos are basically self-notes and reminders. I have a piece on the inside of my forearm that says “Made to be Greater” – which means no matter what I accomplish, I know I can do better. It has literally gotten me off the couch so many times to keep busting my ass. I also have a sleeve on my right arm which is made of symbolism inspired by each person in my family. Dance has taken me to 43 different countries in the last 4 years. Although at first, it might seem like a dope job, I have to say it is a lonely job. I’ve definitely looked at my arm on long flights when I get homesick. Each symbol is a person in my family and each symbol takes me to never-ending memories with that person. It really does get me through some hard times. I do everything for my family. The brilliant artist behind all my tattoos is my friend Andy Tran from MY Tattoo in Huntington Beach. Besides holding in my laughter the entire session – his skill in flow and detail is amazing. His artistry and execution align with mine. Andy and his shop are all about family, and they do a really great job making you feel like you’re apart of theirs.
Any upcoming tour/festival appearances that you can fill us in about?
We’re still in the early stages of putting a tour together. Creatively we have so much freedom as to what we want the show to be, but we also have to be smart about it. A lot of preparation!
How and have you found balance between the two artistic mediums, being a musician and choreographer, as of recent?
Creatively they go hand in hand. They almost feed one another, so it’s been awesome seeing one bounce off the other. But I’m not going to lie – it’s exhausting. I also have my foot in fashion with a clothing line. I do my best to distribute my energy in all 3 equally, but with doing so it really takes a toll on me physically and mentally. Nothing worth having comes easy though. The house I want to buy my parents isn’t going to buy itself haha. I never was shy to work harder than the next guy. It’s all about the bigger picture, something beyond myself. The dream doesn’t work unless you do.
Tell us about your vision and intentions for 2017.
I really want to be the first Filipino Asian American R&B/pop artist here in the States. There is none. To America – we are still nerds and karate kids. I truly believe I have the capabilities of changing that. The challenge is getting America to hear the music without boxing me in as an “Asian” artist. The ultimate goal is for people to listen to me and not hear color but hear just good music. For them to see a music video and not see color, but just a dope video. The reward would be the realization that a Filipino Asian American did those things.
You worked with The Stereotypes to bring to life ‘Slow Love and Bangin’. Tell us about the mental tools that you two meshed together throughout the creative process to bring together a successful album.
I’ve been friends with The Stereotypes for a while now, and it was another experience I will never forget cutting in their studio. It was probably the most challenging, because since I had a relationship with them prior – once they turned into producer mode from friend mode, they were not holding back. They work with super big vocalists and artists. They definitely didn’t treat me any less. I had to pull up for sure. Overall, I’m forever grateful for the tough love. I learned so much and got a dope song in the end.
What are currently your main challenges and ambitions as an artist?
Besides breaking the boundaries that have been put on Asian American artists? I think I just want to continue to mold myself as an artist. Shaving off what doesn’t work, and keeping what works. I have this gift/curse of always having the need to reinvent myself. In dance, it was doable since I kind of set my own rules and limits, but since I’ve stepped into a different world now, I have to really go about things differently. I’m learning to be patient with it and really put the time in to hone my craft. And just continue to deliver the best version of me in every aspect.
Any dream collaborations that you can fill us in about?
I think working with people who truly believe in each other is the dream collaboration. People who genuinely want to work with me, for me. I am a firm believer in getting to know people before working together. We have to be able to vibe and just have the right energy. I’ve recently teamed up with singer/songwriter August Rigo. He’s the genius behind a lot of GREAT music. We’ve been able to really explore what I want to do, next not only because we share a friendship but because we both believe in my movement. I’m all about sticking with your people and riding for them. But for the sake of the question, I would LOVE to work with Kehlani.
Last but certainly not least, any closing messages for your followers and fans?
A lot of people will tell you to be yourself, but how can you be yourself if you don’t know yourself? We live in the era where everyone wants everything immediately. Everyone wants to be successful but nobody wants to put in the work. There are no short cuts and if you get it fast you can lose it even faster. Trust in the process because most of the time it is the best part. Skipping the journey will only lead you to uncertainty later. Live your life, and experience!