Interview: Javier channels the beauty of simple experiences into his music

EveryDejaVu interviews Javier, a Boston-based artist, about his dad's influence on his music, his creative process, and his upcoming music.
Ryan Magnole
Ryan Magnole
Lives in Somerville, MA and founded a record label / blog called EveryDejaVu. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram at @Wontu.

Javier is a Boston-based artist who is a jack of all trades: he sings, produces, engineers, plays guitar, keys, bass, and probably a bunch more. His music is a mixed goodie bag of indie pop, rock, R&B/Soul, and folk. Drawing inspirations from Latin music, especially the rock and musica folklorica he heard his dad cover growing up. That and whatever his taste brings into the equation, like more recently, 80s Japanese city pop. I’ve known Javier, whose full name is Angel Javier Camilo, for a bit of time now, since his second release “Strangers” back in 2019, where he was also helping us out a bit on some Borboleta tracks for some guitar and songwriting assistance. It’d been a bit since we last spoke, so it was nice to catch up and talk to him about rehearsing his music with a band, his creative process, influences, upcoming releases, his dad teaching him guitar growing up and more.

Ryan: For starters, how are you doing? How was your weekend?

Javier: We were just talking about The Marías show and that was really fun. I had a good week. I’m rehearsing with a band that I put together. I’m always working on new releases and collaborating with different people. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing too many things at once, but then I end up getting sidetracked by something I’m really passionate about. I’ve learned a lot of piano recently and I’ll be playing some electric piano in my live set too. I’m feeling motivated as a musician, which is really important.

Going back to what you said you’re like practicing with a band. You have shows lined up?

Yeah, I do. The only official date that is confirmed right now is the 13th of April at O’Brien’s Pub. Hasn’t been announced yet and the tickets haven’t gone up for sale yet, but that is definitely locked in. Then I have other tentative dates that will be coming up in the future for in-state and out-of-state shows in the East Coast area and hopefully later on in the year I would love to play a show in places like LA or Texas. But Texas is huge. It’s like its own country.

Speaking of LA, you went to LA at the end of last year for a show?

I was in LA in July. I went to meet up and collaborate with my now friend, Paul Hernandez, Katzù Oso. Me and my best friend/co-producer Pablo Muñoz went there to hang with people that we knew over there and meet some new people as well! Then me and Katzù worked on a song that we’ll be putting out later on this year. It’s just up to me to finish it.

And then while we were there, we put together an impromptu show just like two guitars. We invited people on Twitter and it was really fun. It was super cool, and as they say, off the cuff. It was just like something different that I hadn’t done before, so that was fun.

That’s interesting because I wanted to bring up a question later about your thoughts on the music scene here [in Boston]. What do you think about the music scene in LA versus Boston? What are your feelings about the scene here in general?

People love music in Los Angeles. And I think there’s an audience there that is very reactive. I think it has a lot to do with the weather. 

There’s definitely a strong music scene going on in Boston, but I think it would thrive more if there was more local support from the resources in the community. There’s venues like O’Brien’s and then there was Great Scott, which they’re rebuilding at some other location. But I think it’s really important that we have local venues so it can create a context for the scene to flourish and sustain itself.

I definitely feel like in LA, there’s more people making music in Spanish and English, for sure. In Boston, I know there has to be a fair amount of people doing it, but there’s not an awareness, or enthusiasm, to welcome that with open arms. I’ll see that people are very responsive to my music online from places like Southern California and Texas with my music and my artistry. Whereas, now slowly, and thank God, I am just starting to see some support from people in Boston that are discovering me through my music. I don’t necessarily think that there’s a sustainable platform where artists can always have the space to gather amongst themselves [in Boston] because there’s always a bigger act coming to town and they’re going to get booked at all the venues. There’s a lot of the venues here in Boston that are owned by other larger entities.

I was just always holding a guitar.

Let’s take it back a little bit. I’m actually curious here about early Javier. I was reading your Spotify bio and you mentioned that your dad played a big influence on you picking up guitar and loving music. Can you tell me a little bit about that? And like, what were your early memories with music like?

My early memories of music are definitely of my father covering a lot of just folk pop songs, or just like Latin rock. From when I was really young, I’d see him just playing and things like that at family parties. I wondered why he wasn’t a musician because I would always be so captivated and intrigued by every time he’d play on his nylon guitar. I always asked him, “why didn’t you pursue this as a career?” But the way I see it now, my dad wasn’t going to explain capitalism to a six year old. So early on, I promised myself that I would become the musician of the family if he wasn’t going to do it.

I was just always holding a guitar. My father bought me my own when I was like five or six years old. It was like a $10 guitar. I would play it with just the open strings, and go, “Dad, look what I did with it!” And he’d be like, “oh, that’s amazing!” I had a lot of confidence when I started learning how to play the guitar. I think I taught myself. I learned all the open chords through a book when I was eight years old, and I would just memorize the book. It was in Spanish. I would memorize the chord shapes in the book when I had nothing to do. Because like, [laughs] I’m going to sound like such a boomer, but because I didn’t have a phone. So I got bored and decided to do something productive.

Do you remember the first song you learned? Or like kind of what was maybe the first just tune that stuck with you?

It was “Guantanamera.” My dad would play it and it was very easy, so that was one of the first ones that I learned. And then my dad would always play “Hotel California.” It has a lot of different chord changes so it took me forever to learn it, but I just learned the chords and my dad would always sing the lyrics. There’s a lyric that goes “shimmering light,” but he would like sing it like with his accent. He would sing it like “shammering light.” So I would sing it just like that, “I saw a shammering light.”

How did growing up in the Dominican Republic and listening to your dad play Latin music influence you, and kind of the music now you make today?

I was born in the U.S., but my parents didn’t fully move here until around 2003. They had some family here already, but we lived in D.R. (Dominican Republic) until like I was around four. I lived with my grandmother, my parents, and my uncles in a house in Jamaica Plain once we moved to the states. I grew up in a predominantly Spanish speaking household and then I learned English in a dual immersion preschool. I think the way that influenced me was very subconscious. Because the kind of music that you grow up with becomes very familiar. I think a lot of expression through music has a lot to do with familiarity.

When I was younger, my parents would be like, “Oh, why don’t you make music in Spanish?” I was like, come on, I’m not gonna become a bachtero or something gimmicky like that. But I was just being ignorant. I didn’t know about all the music out there. Like my dad loves Café Tacvba and Maná, and he’d play a lot of Juanes too. I was just making the ignorant assumption that I would have to make a certain kind of genre if I wrote in Spanish, which was lame. My taste and things like that have expanded, as it does. I mean I think no middle schooler has incredible taste, unless they have jazz musician parents or something. I mean, I would listen to the Black Eyed Peas in middle school [laughs] only, exclusively. 

Because the kind of music that you grow up with becomes very familiar.

My parent’s taste influenced me and made it really easy for me to channel and draw from those inspirations. As well as the lyrics, me being able to write music in Spanish has a lot to do with the fact that I started learning how to play music in that language. I think that had a huge influence on being able to write something like “Tímido.” It was just like let me make a song that my dad would play on guitar. With that song, I was just trying to channel the zeitgeist and storytelling of the music my father would listen to.

Where did you kind of start off then, like, what was the starting point for you actually making music? Was there a certain genre that you thought you had to make? Or was there something you were messing with and what was that journey of beginning to make music?

I always knew that I wanted to be an artist, but I think at a certain point, I was lying to myself. I was really discouraged from singing in front of people. So I was definitely rapping, right at first. Like, I’m gonna rap if I can’t sing.

I have to say I’m very lucky because my parents listened to me. They listened to my interest.

Then I decided to produce because I can’t rap on YouTube beats. Even at 12, I knew they were whack! This was around the time when smart ads became a thing. You know, like Mark Zuckerberg figured out that I really wanted to learn about music production, so I started getting ads about it. I would see videos of people using MPC’s and I wanted one of those, but they were so expensive. One day, I got an ad for this thing called Maschine. And I thought it was a godsend, even though it was just native advertising. So, I asked for one for Christmas.  I have to say I’m very lucky because my parents listened to me. They listened to my interests. And I was like, “Hey guys, like, I want to be Kanye West. Can I have this?” They got me the lite version that was cheaper with a smaller controller. There’s a photo of me on Twitter from 2014 with my mom’s laptop captioned “making a sexy beat hmu.”

When I started producing, I would make beats for my friends. They would just never rap over them. I don’t know, like, it wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t terrible. I would just make beats for days, like every day. I had no end goal. It wasn’t very disciplined, but it was very creative. I think I was just really obsessed with just making soundscapes and textures that I thought were cool. That’s how I spent my free time from when I was 14. Up until like, literally like 19.

What’s your setup now? Do you have a certain progress, like the drums come first or bass comes first, just a melody comes to your head?

I’m constantly trying to improve the way that I work. I used to make instrumentals and then try to write a song around it. Some people are really good at top lining. I’m not, but I honestly don’t prefer that method. I’ve found myself in situations where I tried to sing over something that I made, and I just couldn’t. I researched different artists and I realized that a lot of people had a focus on their songwriting. A lot of artists that I like would write their songs with the guitar first, and then produce them. So I tried that out and it definitely has been the most consistent workflow for me. And then the way in which I record, I’ve become really picky with what makes the final cut. That means being really critical about a take on bass guitar, a take on guitar. It can be a little bit arduous for just one person to do the different parts.

I don’t play drums and I’m not going to play drums on my songs. I don’t want to learn how to play drums right now. It would just take a lot of time because I’m terrible at them. I’m not that DIY.

You never played Rock Band with the drums?

No, I never played with the drums! I just played with the guitar or the mic. “Misery Business” on World Tour. I’d sing that every time. [begins to sing “Misery Business.”]

I think something that I just have been aiming to do is just become better at playing guitar, bass and singing. I also have a lot of focus as well on the audio engineering side of things, especially for my upcoming stuff. It’s really a multifaceted process and I have had to kind of break them up since I am doing a lot by myself. But my best friend and co-producer Pablo, who co-produced my last two releases with me, definitely helps out a ton.

You seem like a jack of all trades. Speaking of, you self-directed the music video for “Tímido”?

Yes, I did self-direct it. I clearly wasn’t behind the camera. That was my friend, Justin Nguyen. He was the producer and co-director for the vid. But I was definitely cranking out the ideas because I wanted it to happen so bad. Justin helped film and edit, as well as help me refine my ideas. We came up with the storyboard stuff together.

I had never made a video before, so I was just very ambitious about it in all the right ways. When we were editing, we were really running out of good footage. We had a lot of different ideas that were just coming at me like me being bored and being like, “let’s record this.” Let’s walk my dog and then let’s go row the boat on water and record it.

It was a ton of work, but I absolutely loved it. I thought it was super gratifying. We’re editing another video for my next single that we already shot like a year ago.

Do you just have these singles planned so far? Or is there something bigger?

I have one single that I definitely know is going to come out and I have a video for it. There’ll be like two tracks that I think I’ll just drop together with the singles that I have out and that’ll be kind of like “Volume 1” of an EP of songs from 2019. I want to get them off my laptop and in the world.

I have written tracks for a second project that I want to drop this year. I’m also working on one more body of work right now. They’re both just EPs, including my singles that are on the docket to come out. It’s a lot of music and I really want to release it in the next year so I can move on and write other stuff.

Before wrapping up, if you had to choose one song to recommend to someone, what song would you choose?

I constantly question if my taste is my own, or if it’s just like an algorithm or something. I definitely know it’s a little bit of both. I’ve recently been a sucker for the city pop side of the internet. Listening to a lot of 80’s music in general. I think the writing and the production is so so good. A good city-pop artist is Hiroshi Sato and he has a song called, “You’re My Baby.” I’ve been drawing a lot of inspiration from that music recently and have been really in love with that kind of era in general.

Okay, one last question since we’re talking about inspiration. What else inspires the music that you make?

Moments and experiences that make me feel aware and present inspire songs. Riding a bike in the morning while you see the sun rising, reading a book on the train while you’re commuting. That inspires me to make art. I’m 23, and I honestly think that’s what motivates me as an artist and a human being. Like this is so nice, I want to recreate this feeling and give it to someone else.

You can follow Javier on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.

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