Photo of ximena performing at Donut Lounge by Kris J.
“I plan on releasing an orchestral album, and I plan on releasing a hardcore EP. I see myself as someone who wants to be good at different genres and express different emotions with different genres. And that’s something that’s definitely going to come with time.”
ximena is a South Florida-born, Boston-based producer who produced her debut project, lucuma, while attending Berklee in 2021 where a lot of her coursework had her working on electronic music production. Berklee introduced the choice of allowing an electronic digital instrument as a primary instrument, which had transferred from her primary instrument originally as marimba to focusing on Ableton and the Ableton Push with course work including sound design, modular synthesis, programming, producing electronic music, and more.
In a world that has hundreds of artists popping up every day, there’s not many that share the same hometown (Pembroke Pines, Florida) as me and now currently live around the same area as me (Boston area), while also being involved in music. So I was really excited to get a chance to talk to ximena on the phone to learn more about her journey as an artist, the things that shaped her as a person and musical student, the creation of lucuma, her experience in Boston and the music community, and much more.
Where did music just start for you in general? Like, what was your first memory with music?
It was pretty early, when I was like a very little kid because of my dad, who was a musician. He was in some local punk bands in Peru. I don’t remember all their names, but I know one of them was called Tal Depre. He did a lot of new wave Goth music and acoustic music. He moved to South Florida with my mom and then I was born, and he had a bunch of instruments around the house, like keyboards, recording equipment, guitars, bass, all that. He’s been a huge supporter. My parents got divorced when I was pretty young, so it’s not like I was around him all the time. I wanted to play drums and he wanted me to play keyboard, so I got into keyboard classes. I got pretty good at it when I was in third grade, but there were some complications. The place I was going to, if you miss class twice, you’re disqualified from being part of this music school. And I have like zero control over that because I was like seven. I couldn’t make it two times, and therefore I got disqualified, so I stopped playing piano after that.
I wanted to start learning how to sing and write my own songs because I really liked how Christofer Drew (of Never Shout Never) would produce himself and play all the instruments.
I always wanted to get involved with percussion, or learn something about percussion. Around middle school, I started getting more into singer-songwriter stuff, honestly, because of Never Shout Never. My dad let me borrow an acoustic guitar because I wanted to start learning how to sing and write my own songs because I really liked how Christofer Drew (of Never Shout Never) would produce himself and play all the instruments. And I was really inspired by that as a kid. My dad and my mom both listened to a lot of 90s electronic music, goth music, new wave. Gorillaz and Bjork were really big inspirations for me growing up. Every year I’d sign up for band in middle school, but I just never got chosen for it except for my last few months in eighth grade.
What did it look like for you after? You had told me you came to Boston for school (Berklee College of Music). I would love to hear what the journey from middle school, like after eighth grade to you in high school? Were you making music? Specifically too, what is your own goal? To make/to write music, to become an artist that releases music and stuff, or were you just interested in learning music, or both?
I think when I was younger what I really wanted was to be a good singer. And I never learned how to sing. I’m just a very shy person. So when it comes to practicing, I feel like I just have to be completely by myself. I wanted to sing and play guitar, I just wanted to write my own songs. I was gonna go to this high school called Charles W. Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, and my band director in middle school was saying, ‘you should join their marching band.’ And I was like, ‘I really don’t want to join the marching band. I really don’t like the outfits. I feel like a big dork. It’s not me, it’s not my vibe.’ I just was not feeling that culture.
So when I get into high school, I didn’t join the marching band. I try to find other ways to get involved in music. I took a music theory course and AP music theory, which I fucking failed. I didn’t understand the circle of fifths, or the circle of fourths at all. I didn’t know anything like that, my ear training was ass. And then I would see the band in my high school because the music theory classes were held in the band room and I started getting a feel for who everyone was – who the band director was, what kind of person he was, the kind of people that were in the band and stuff and I started making more and more friends. The friend group I had was super into the hardcore scene in South Florida. I wanted to get involved in that scene more. I wanted to be a screamer. I wanted to play metal guitar. I wanted to play drums. But I just had an electronic kit. I was in a band for a very short period of time and the band was called Chupacabra. We never played a show. We got together, wrote like two or three songs and then we broke up.
And then what happened?
All my friends in that friend group were super into that scene. There was a local venue called the Talent Farm, where a lot of local, punk, math rock, hardcore, alternative bands would play and it was super cool. Bigger bands like Seahaven, Title Fight, Adventures would pass by and play there. The Talent Farm eventually closed because it was just a storage unit basically turned into a venue and it didn’t really have permission to be a venue. So the scene started scattering a little bit more in different areas.
I made other friends in high school, too, and one friend in particular was really convincing me to join the band because she wanted to join too, so I didn’t really go to join, but I just sat in. And I noticed the only way you could really get in more easily when you don’t really play any instruments was by joining the marching band’s front ensemble, which consists of mallet percussion instruments. When I first went to one of the rehearsals I was a keyboardist, but all my parts were just drone notes, notes that were eight measures long, just one note for eight measures or another note for another four measures. So I was getting pretty bored. And I could tell that the people who played mallet percussion, they were learning rhythm, they were learning notes, they were learning harmony, they were learning all these things. I was not a big mallet percussion person. Like, I don’t see myself – no shade to mallet percussion – I think the sounds are sick. How do I say this without sounding like a dick? I just didn’t want to, it just wasn’t me, I guess. You know what I mean? When you see yourself as who you are. You have a certain image in your head. And I just felt like being a mallet percussionist wasn’t that, but I knew that the skills that I wanted could be acquired through that way the easiest.
How do I say this without sounding like a dick? I just didn’t want to, it just wasn’t me, I guess. You know what I mean? When you see yourself as who you are. You have a certain image in your head. And I just felt like being a mallet percussionist wasn’t that, but I knew that the skills that I wanted could be acquired through that way the easiest.
One day, the teacher for the mallet percussion, the front ensemble, his name is David Yunis. And shout out to David Yunis because he’s the shit! David talked to us in a music theory class. He was just trying to recruit people and something that stuck with me that he said was, ‘sometimes people really want to work on something, and they keep telling themselves that they’ll work on it. But joining a group like this, you for sure will work on it. And we will help you get every skill you want, if these are the things you want to achieve.’ That really struck a chord with me. For years, I’ve been trying to do this by myself and I’ve been trying to find other programs and communities to help me, but I feel like I’ve been struggling. So I was like, fuck it I’ll just join the band. Even though it’s not my thing, even though I’m not like super into the culture like other people. I’ll do it because I have a love for music and I want to learn and I want to get better at what I do. I joined my junior year of high school. And I got really good, pretty quick. Then the following year, they made me section leader. And honestly, staying with mallet percussion and being involved with ensembles and stuff, if anything, I was okay, like I’m already pretty good at this.
And then I applied to a bunch of colleges. And actually Berklee was not a college that I applied to. My family really couldn’t afford it at the time. There’s a Florida scholarship called Bright Futures, and I got the 75% Florida scholarship for Bright Futures, but I didn’t realize that it was only covering public schools. So, I got accepted into the University of Miami for music percussion or music therapy. And my family celebrated, we were all psyched! We were like ‘Yeah, tuition 75% coverage, she’s all set!’ And then when we’re calling Bright Futures to set everything up – I literally got my car decal, I got merch and shit to go to the UM – and then we find out that it’s only 75% per like one credit. I don’t know how it works. It’s something weird. It’s only 75% of a credit or three every three credits, something like that. I ended up going to my backup school, New World School of the Arts because they offered me a scholarship of $3,000 and their tuition is $4,000. On top of that, I had the Florida Bright Future scholarship, and it was a public school so I would get money back at the end of every semester.
Basically, going back to your question, when I was in high school, I realized that I wanted to be a music composer. I knew growing up that I was into all these instruments, but I didn’t think I could actually master any of them. I was just really into understanding them and playing them or having them be played. I just wanted to know more about them. But I knew realistically, I can’t play everything, as much as I am super interested in playing every instrument or learning a few things. I thought that music composing would be my thing, because that way I could get a whole band of people who actually have dedicated their lives to these instruments to play things that I think are really cool. When I started at New World, I was excited. I was like, ‘Okay, this will be easy for my family because they don’t have to pay anything, and I’ll get the education that I want. How different can it be?’ But the thing is that at New World School of the Arts , the college was a very beginning program. They were still starting off and figuring things out. And unfortunately, at the time, I would come in with an orchestra score and they would tell me ‘we don’t have enough players for this so you can’t write this.’ I had to write for small ensembles, which honestly is still cool. It’s a good exercise. But, yeah, it was a bummer that I felt limited.
I took an electronic music class. It was an elective at New World. And I realized what a DAW was (Digital Audio Workstation). I used Reason, and I was like, ‘this is nice, because now people can play my music or, like, this thing can play my music and not get shit wrong’. And on top of that, there’s no limitations. I can literally have this thing play like a C8 and then a C, you know, negative five – it could do whatever and I don’t have to worry about it. I can literally just be creative and make whatever I want. The only limitation is how much the program can handle.
What year was this around?
This was like 2015. At that time, my goal was to master in composition and potentially do my masters in Juilliard for composition because I admired so many composers that graduated or studied there. Then, after messing with a DAW and getting more into electronic music, I was like maybe I need to learn more about recording and maybe I could look for a major that gets me more involved with media. So I applied to Florida Atlantic University, I ended up transferring and I was majoring in commercial music with a track in composition. I felt like that program also had a lot of work to do at that time, I’m not sure how they’re doing now, but when I got there it was like, the idea is how to write for film, or how to write for commercials. They talked about cues and time, where to put certain sounds, or where to start and stop the music, but I felt like the feedback I was getting was not super constructive. It was more like ‘good job’ or ‘you could have done this differently,’ and it’s just like one thing out of your whole piece. I felt like I needed more constructive criticism on my projects and I wasn’t getting that. I don’t think that I was also getting the information I really really needed to actually be a professional in an industry for commercials and film.
I was getting kind of frustrated during my college years, because at this point, this is like my third and a half year. I’m about to graduate, and I still feel like I don’t have any of the tools. I felt like I didn’t really get that much better as a composer. I felt like I didn’t have any connections. I went to the Career Center at FAU to try to see if I could get someone to help me get an internship or something. The person literally just sat next to me and looked it up on Google as if I didn’t do that at home. And they’re ‘Yeah, I don’t know’, and I’m like, ‘okay, like, I don’t know, either.’
I see myself as someone who wants to be good at different genres and express different emotions with different genres.
So then, one day, I was really desperate and I was looking at Berklee stuff online. I talked to my parents, and I was telling them how I felt that I really wasn’t gonna amount to anything or like I felt like there really was nothing for me. I was expressing to them how I felt desperate and sad, pretty depressed, honestly. And I asked them ‘Would it be possible at all for me to go here because they have all these things that I think could really help me?’ And then at that moment, they actually said yes, which surprised me. I think more than anything, my family just knew that I was very depressed at that time and my family just wanted to help me out. They were trying to find any way they could to help me out. My mom and dad both took out loans.
When I applied, I auditioned on marimba, because that was the best thing I knew. I got in with a pretty decent scholarship, I think it was $21,000 scholarship per year. Moved to Boston in 2018.
You said you were almost close to graduating before you went to Berklee. Does that then expedite what you would do at Berklee? Or is it like a totally separate program?
It was a totally separate program. I did basically three and a half years in Florida and then another three years in Berklee. A lot of things did transfer over, but in New World School of the Arts the music theory classes there, per semester, were actually what would be considered traditional harmony in Berklee. There were four music theory classes in New World School of the Arts, which in Berklee equated to two Tonal Harmony courses and Berklee’s music theory courses were 4 separate classes from Tonal Harmony. My major itself was just so different. I ended up not studying composition. I ended up majoring in electronic production and design. I went on to get a minor in video game sound design. All my classes were about sound design, modular synthesis, programming, and producing electronic music, like working with a DAW and working with hardware and software synthesizers.
I guess that would be a good transition into the music you end up making. When does it click for you when you’re learning all of this? That you understand the music you want to make? Or are you making music throughout this entire time?
I plan on releasing an orchestral album, and I plan on releasing a hardcore EP. But that’s something that is still gonna happen in the future. when I joined electronic production design (EPD), I was producing music, but it was just me still learning how to produce. And I was super into dubstep and drum and bass in high school. I started working on the lucuma EP really when I started my major. The way I started was I wanted to learn more about Ableton and the Push. I just sat in one of the labs – specifically B58 – and I just started learning everything about the Push and everything about Ableton and watched all the tutorials and then just dragged in a sample and started making stuff. And I just wanted to make stuff that I thought sounded good, and I thought felt good. I wasn’t caring about what genre it has to be or any limits really, I was just trying to make whatever felt right. That’s where I started to make “pi de limon” [track 2 from lucuma]. Through all my time studying, I was working on lucuma. So lucuma was just like skeletons at the time when I first started. I was working on it on the side as I was still doing my classes. lucuma was my personal stuff that I worked on, but I didn’t really work on anything else besides lucuma.
I see myself as someone who wants to be good at different genres and express different emotions with different genres. That’s something that’s definitely going to come with time. Because right now, I’m definitely representing the electronic scene, but I think with time I’m going to start expressing myself in different formats. The way my sound came about was me just getting started with Ableton and everything. It really clicked for me in my later years when the pandemic hit, Berklee had begun an electronic digital instrument (EDI) program. I ended up being able to transfer from marimba to electronic digital instrument, which, in music school, you need a primary instrument. Like you need to apply and audition with an instrument and go through this whole process. The electronic digital instrument is something Berklee started, where students can audition on a MIDI controller, and make that their instrument of choice to study and practice. So when Berklee started that that was around my halfway point in college, and I transferred over from marimba to that. When I was doing one of my final proficiencies for EDI, I was just trying to work on a song to perform and I thought, ‘God, everything I’m making sounds like shit ’ It just felt like it wasn’t me, and I felt like I was putting too many limitations on myself. The chair and the assistant chair were telling me ‘just do you, just do what you want and then we’ll assess you and give you feedback.’ So I just did me. And that’s where the remix for “sposed2” [originally by Houndsteeth] came out. I think it was my third proficiency with EDI. But I wrote the remix. And I realized I made something really cool, and I really fuck with how I made this.
You said you see yourself like going into different formats and different types of music. What type of music are you making now, like similar music to lucuma? What kind of world are you in at the moment?
Currently, I’m taking a musical break. I’ve been writing some electronic songs, still. There’s some songs that I’m still technically working on. I’m still settling into my new spot, everything is still in boxes. Once I get that more settled, I think I’m going to be able to finish some more stuff, but I’m not in a rush right now to release anything. Anything that I have been working on currently has been electronic but I do have a lot of voice memo ideas and scratches that are all hardcore or folk. I have a lot of old ideas that are orchestral that I’ve been waiting to develop for some time. I’ve lowkey been studying scores a little bit more, so I can get a better vocabulary for when I do write my songs. There’s a lot of people that I reached out to collaborate with me, after lucuma. They’re all incredible people and musicians, but I just feel very drained. I lowkey just wish that I could take a very big break from music and not think about it. But I have this fear of losing a lot of connections or I have a fear of not maintaining a lot of the opportunities that I have. I’m scared of losing my skill set. I know what it’s like to not have any of that stuff and not have any of the opportunities or connections in that way. I feel like I have built up so much momentum, and now all these people want to work with me, but it was this kind of thing where I worked and worked and worked for years straight and I’m just tired. I took this break this past year but even then, a lot of the money I make and the things that I do to survive have been music based which I’m super grateful for. But it does feel like I can’t take a mental break.
Do you feel like the draining part is the creating of music or just music in general?
The draining part is creating and developing at the moment. I love listening to music. I’m definitely still listening to a lot of music.
You working as a part of the Beats on the Beach event or things like that – does that fall under the umbrella of things you need a break from? Or is it more so the creating music and the actual creative energy?
It feels more like the actual creativity part. For the Beats on the Beach thing, I was an admin, so I wasn’t making any music or anything. I did put a set together, which is super fun. Years ago, when I made music, I felt like I knew where every part needed to be, what was needed or where things needed to go a little more intuitively, where now I just feel like when I make music, I get really stuck. I’ll make something that’s cool, but then I know that it’s not finished, but I really can’t put my finger on what it is. I just get burnt out super quick, or I get stuck pretty quick and it takes me a month to go back to the song and think about it again. It just takes a really long time for me to be able to come back to something and figure it out and develop it creatively. I think it could just be also the need to work on my skill set a little bit more. That’s why I’ve been studying scores and stuff, not only to help me with orchestral music, but just to help me with arranging and writing lines and stuff and seeing how other composers have put things together. Maybe that will just help me draw inspiration from that.
On the note of the Beats on the Beach, I want to hear a little bit more about that. I wanted to make it out there to the actual Block Party, but it seems there was a lot more to it than just the block party. Can you tell me about the program itself and the competitions that you guys held as well as just the block party?
Beats on the Beach is a beat making competition. It began in 2020 with LDER/Ludjy – Ludjy is the person, LDER is their producer name. And Joshua is another friend and their producer name is Rilla Force. Rilla and LDER did the first year together. The big brain of the thing was Ludjy and Ludjy was very close to Maya. Maya’s someone from Save the Harbor. Save the Harbor is a nonprofit organization that helps clean beaches and provide different events for people to go out to the beach and to the islands off the coast of Boston. It’s super cool! Maya got some funding, and they came up with this idea to do this beat-making competition. The first two feature producers were LDER and Rilla and they went out to a beach and recorded a bunch of samples and then made sample packs. People could download the sample packs and make their own beats and enter for a chance to win some prizes.
I feel like Boston has a lot of really great organizations to build community and to get started. No matter what age you are, there’s things for pre-teens, teenagers, adults, and organizations specifically for gender minorities. There’s a lot of opportunities here for beat-making and producing. I feel like you can find your group, depending on where you go. I just really appreciate that.
And then for the second year, they actually reached out to me to be a featured producer, and they reached out to another artist named Haasan Barclay, who’s super cool and a really good songwriter. We went out to Spectacle Island together, collected samples, made our own sample packs and we put them up. People entered. My friend Ziaire who goes by SHERMVN won the competition that year and second place was another good friend named Kevin Long who goes by (o_Tr) Ness. Third place was Maliyah. The third year, I was asked to come back as admin to help out with the event. We had this idea of having a mini festival block party type thing on top of the beat making competition. We reached out to Lightfoot and Dephrase, they became the featured producers this year . We put together the event at Malibu beach. It was two separate things. The beat-making competition ended a few weeks before the party. We held the party at Malibu beach, there was a lineup of 1800shortking, LDER, Dephrase, myself, Lightfoot, Rilla Force, there was the Hip-Hop Transformation Group, and lastly it was Leo the Kind. For the beat-making competition this year, the person who won was selected by Leo the Kind, so Leo the Kind played the beat and then rapped over it. At the block party, there’s also a bunch of local vendors. It was really nice.
That’s really cool – was the turnout good and everything?
We had a decent turnout, people sold a lot of stuff, the food sold out. We’re gonna hope, for if there’s a next time, to have the focus a little bit more on the music because it felt more like people were interpreting us as entertainment for the side rather than the main attraction.
Yeah, that’s interesting. What are your thoughts generally on the music scene in Boston, but also the beat scene and communities like that?
From what I’ve seen, it’s pretty prominent and very community oriented, very open, very friendly. I got involved through Dephrase, because I was his intern. And I went to MFA late hip-hop nights or something like that. I think it was hosted by HipStory. I went with Dephrase as an intern, and that’s where I met a bunch of the community. I had already known about Lightfoot from Instagram. He was there and that’s where I met LDER and Rilla Force. A lot of rappers were there, singer-songwriters were there. I got to meet a lot of people very casually, and I noticed throughout the years after that how everyone has their own community. For example, the Bridgeside Cypher – they will host a space for people to freestyle. I don’t know if they do this all the time, but they would accept a handful of beats from producers and save those for the end of the cypher for people to rap a prewritten verse over it. Rappers can go, get to be filmed rapping and be promoted on the Bridgeside Cypher Instagram page. That’s one way for people to get promotion or people to meet other people, and for community to be built.
Before the pandemic, there was a beatshow called Nightworks and I would see some of the craziest shows there. Daedelus was able to be featured one time, and that was nutty. That’s where I met people like DJ Manipulator, and I would see people like LDER and Lightfoot perform there. Unfortunately, Nightworks isn’t around anymore, but those events were super cool and the people who were a part of them, for the most part, are still around in Boston. We’re still a community here.
Beats on the Beach is only a summer competition. There are other plans that are lowkey being thought up. I won’t go into that, because they’re not solidified yet. We also have Beats by Girlz Boston, which is a nonprofit organization to uplift gender minorities. We teach production, DJing, songwriting, and we just restarted this past year.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s also the Hip-hop Transformation Group, where teenagers have the space and guidance to rap and produce music. But yeah, there’s just so many organizations and opportunities. The Record Company, they’re also a location where people can go record stuff and make music and try things for super cheap. I feel like Boston has a lot of really great organizations to build community and to get started. No matter what age you are, there’s things for pre-teens, teenagers, and adults and organizations specifically for gender minorities. There’s a lot of opportunities here for beat-making and producing. I feel like you can find your group, depending on where you go. I just really appreciate that.
You’ve name-dropped a lot of people. Any other shout-outs you want to make? Or if you just want to tell us what you’re listening to right now and plug anything from friends or anything like that?
Well, um, let me see… I’m going to look at my Spotify right now. Literally, I’ve been listening to just anything random. Oh, you know what? Actually, I want to recommend this EP I checked out. I think they’re a Moroccan group. It’s called Taqbir. They’re dope. They’re a feminist group. Hardcore Punk. They have a four song EP that’s fire! It’s the self-titled. I recommend them. I name-dropped a lot of people. So shout-out to all of them. In terms of rock, If you haven’t yet, I would shout out Awnthay. They’re a really good group based in Somerville. They also have been part of the Bridgeside Cypher stuff as a band with local musician Terry Borderline. They’re called Terry Borderline and the Suns, and it’s 3 members from Awnthay that actually play at those hip-hop groups. Definitely a shout-out to them.
Keep up with ximena:
Next Show, Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, MA on May 20: