Showcasing Professionals in Live Music: Interview with SoCalvario

My initial idea for the interview series was to showcase people who work in live music crew positions. This interview differs from the previous ones in a very interesting and intriguing way.

SoCalvario is a Finnish-Colombian duo who combine metal and Colombian hip hop. Beyond representing an interesting combination of genres they both have other roles in music, as well. This intertwining of roles is what ultimately brought SoCalvario together in the first place.

I met Kay and Nico during my music business studies at UCLA Extension in 2018. They both studied in the music production program but our class schedules met a couple of times. Since then, I have been lucky to call them my friends and follow the band’s first steps here in Los Angeles.

This is the story of SoCalvario and the creative minds behind the band.

SoCalvario - Torrance
SoCalvario – Torrance, California. Photo credit: Nicolas Prada

Who is SoCalvario and what kind of music do you play?

Right now we are just a duo from Colombia (Nico) and Finland (Kay), but we are going to gather a full band here in Finland – where we both are currently living – to be able to play live.

Our music is a mixture of metal and Colombian hip-hop. A music video for our first song Asesino can be found here

What’s the story behind SoCalvario?

KayI had just moved to Los Angeles from Helsinki in the fall of 2017 to study music production at UCLA Extension. During the first week of classes I met this weird Colombian dude at a school networking event. He said his name was Nico and that he was a classical composer but to me he looked more like a punk rocker with his tattoos and skateboard. Later I found out that yeah, he really is a proficient classical composer, as well as a pianist, rapper, singer, bartender and a skateboarder. 😛 

A little after our first encounter Nico needed help with recording and mixing some songs he had written for a short film called Invisible Love. During those sessions he showed me a project he had done earlier in Colombia, where he was rapping in Spanish. I didn’t understand the lyrics at all, but I thought it sounded cool. Some time later I went to Nico’s house and showed him some metal riffs I had written. He spontaneously started rapping over them in Spanish and I was thinking I was witnessing something awesome and unique, although I still didn’t understand a thing he was saying. And the whole thing reminded me of one of my all-time favorite bands, Rage Against the Machine.  

The lyrics Nico was spitting out eventually became the song Unbearable, which is about the pain and discomfort of not being able to concentrate on anything important with all the distractions popping up. Los Angeles and California in general was distracting the both of us with its hecticness and so many things to do in the new city (to us). So we kind of combined those two things in the band name: SoCal (Southern California) and Calvario, which could be translated from Spanish as “misery” or “agony”. 

NicoI was at the “networking event” organized by UCLA extensions eating free food and I met this long hair dude with a skateboard and we clicked right away, it was like love at first sight. He also had a unpronounceable name so I call him Kay or “Perro”. Since the first moment we started sharing about our music and showing each other awesome bands and stuff. Once we were in my car and I showed Kay a song by a Colombian band named “Los Petit Fellas” and told Kay, “Hey dude let’s mix up your talent as a producer and metal guitar player and my rap and create something like this” he said “Hell yeah!” A few days later he was in my house showing me this amazing riff he created and I immediately felt inspired and started writing rap lyrics to it, from then the creativity has been just flowing every time we get together and that’s how SoCalvcario was born. Next thing I know, we have two songs on Spotify, a super dope video on Youtube and in  summer 2019 we are performing at a festival in Finland!!

God bless Suomi for this guy.

What can we expect from you guys next?

KayThe next thing we will put out will probably be a music video for Unbearable which we shot last year in Los Angeles and Finland. The video has a storyline and is currently too long for the song, so I think we will add a new part to the song to make it longer. I’ve always felt a little like it’s missing something anyway, sounds a bit like a radio edit, so now it’s time to fix that. 🙂

Even though we started the band already two years ago in LA, we are still kind of just starting it. Much of 2019 we didn’t even live in the same country as we both spent time between California, Colombia and Finland, but not always at the same time. Haha, it was a weird arrangement, I know. Also Tom, the guy who sings the very high parts in our first two songs moved back to Spain from LA after we had recorded the songs, so we became quite inactive after the first part of 2019.

Now that Nico moved to Helsinki at the end of last year and I also returned here this spring we are finally living within a reasonable distance of each other. Even in LA it was a pain to go to each other’s house because of the traffic. So now it’s time to start writing lots of new material together. We already have something demoed and lots of new ideas. So more songs are definitely coming out, as well as the formation of a real band and with that live shows, which in my opinion are the most important thing. It’s kind of my main goal to be able to play live. And those live shows are meant to be Pantera-level energetic, sweaty and gruesome. Haha.

NicoI back up everything Kay said but I wanna add only one thing: Expect “sweaty, gruesome and sexy”.

SoCalvario - Oicatá
SoCalvario – Oicatá, Colombia. Photo credit: Nicolas Prada

You both have ties to the music industry beyond SoCalvario. Tell about your roles and work outside of the band.

KayI’m very interested in audio engineering: recording, mixing and mastering. That’s why I went to LA to study music production. I like recording live instruments, like guitars, drums and vocals. I don’t know much about working with synths (except lifelike drum synthesizers, mainly Superior Drummer 3). 

In LA I worked with producer Michael Blum, who introduced me to Mike Muir from Suicidal Tendencies, so I got to work with them as a recording engineer on their side project. That was cool! 

I’m also specializing in mobile recording, where I take my gear and go on location to record bands or artists. Nico did a huge musical project last year and I went to Colombia to help him record a part of it.

Here in Helsinki I have my own small studio, which I’m going to renovate and start taking in clients later this year. 

NicoI have been surrounded by music my entire life since my parents were musicians and have been always working in this industry. When I was 12 years old I started to love rap music and I decided to start writing my own lyrics and producing my own tracks in my house with an old cassette recorder and an old mic. I had the opportunity to perform my songs in public and also when I was 14 years old I won a hip-hip contest in my city Bogota. This made me see the music in a more serious way and not just a simple game which is why I applied and was accepted in college when I was 15 years old.

I studied classical composition, music theory and piano in Colombia, I have been writing music for classical music festivals all around the world, my music has been performed in Colombia, New York, Philadelphia, Spokane, Germany, Belgium, Italy, UK, Mexico, and even in Beijing by various artists, chamber ensembles and big orchestras. While I was doing all these things, I realized I wanted to write music for films and stuff, so I decided to get involved in this world and it’s also one of the reasons why I ended up studying in UCLA. I have written music for theatre plays, TV spots and various short films in which I have had the chance to include Kay as a producer. Recently I got an award for “best original score” at the Independent Shorts Awards in LA.

How did you end up doing what you do now?

KayUnlike Nico, I’ve never been extremely talented in music. But if I want to learn something I will put the time into research and practice. In high-school my friends and I founded a metal band called Vaie. We wanted to record our stuff, so I took my MiniDisc player and hooked a 3,5mm splitter to the mic in and used two computer microphones to record crappy demos. That’s how my interest in recording started. Little by little I started gathering better equipment and more knowledge. 

Kay mixing
Mixing. Photo credit: Thomas Powell

I had always thought of music and recording more as a hobby than a profession, until a few years ago I got really bored at my mechanical engineering day job. When I found out that it’s possible to go to UCLA Extension in Los Angeles to study music production, I put my papers in and a year later I was quitting my job and moving to California. That was the best decision ever. In addition to the courses being really good and interesting, I met some great people and had awesome experiences. So many things happened and it definitely changed my life in many ways.

My goal for the future is to be able to work in music full-time. Both in production and performing.

Nico: I started my composition career because I wanted to get a deeper knowledge of music and then apply it to my rap but in the end I ended up falling in love with the classical world. I never left my love rap on the side, but I did leave it out of my priorities for a while because I didn’t have friends that were up to do anything else than Bach and Beethoven (they were just a bunch of classical nerds hahaha). When I decided to write music for films, life gave me a big slap in the face, many directors didn’t even look at me even when I was writing music for orchestras all over the world. But the industry was different and it took me a while to process and finally understand that. In 2017 I was unemployed, hungry and depressed, times were getting really rough in Colombia so I decided to move to LA and “See what happens, it’s la la land”. When I was in LA a good friend told me to apply for a scholarship so I could study in UCLA and I said “no fuckn way I’m getting that scholarship” but then he technically forced me to apply and I FUCKN GOT IT!!! I couldn’t believe it, but yet I did. 

This career is tough and sometimes doesn’t pay back as you think it should, but this is about passion and not retribution, being a musician is a thing I do not regret a single day of my life.

How is the Coronavirus affecting SoCalvario and your other jobs?

KayWith the Corona thing going on we still can’t efficiently work on SoCalvario together, but this is a good time to write stuff on our own and when the thing blows over we can start arranging the material together. 

I was also supposed to start a new mechanical engineering job last week, but that is on hold for now because the company doesn’t have the manpower to orientate me for the new job. Meanwhile, I’m writing songs and creating material for my Youtube channel TruGrooves, which offers high-quality drum backing tracks. Later it will also feature interviews that I’ve already shot as well as original songs.

NicoSupporting what Kay just said: this thing just sucks, this situation makes me really sad and I feel so useless, I wish I could help more. I have no job at the moment and since everything is stopped, my chances to get one are getting smaller every day. I just want to stay positive and keep the good thoughts going. Everyone facing a bad time because of this corona thing you are in my heart, we’ll get through this shit, better times for music are coming I can feel it.

On the other side I started to work on some other projects that I hope to release soon.

Your best survival tip for fellow bands and other professionals in the industry in this situation?

KayThis is a good time to be creative. When Corona has passed you’ll be ready to execute.

NicoPornHub is free now hahahaha, yes good time to be creative, study, and learn new things to improve your art. The musician can never stop learning and practicing because the music is going forward and it won’t stop to wait for you. As I mentioned before this thing might change the music world and the way people consume music.

Feel free to promote SoCalvario and your other music services, how people can find your music and you on social media, etc.

Current news about the live music industry: Crew Nation: Global Relief Fund for Live Music Crews 

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