By John Moses, Contributor
Greetings from Los Angeles.
In my last column I wrote about my daydreams in escapism and finally leaving the safety of my apartment to enter the real world. Well, folks, that day has come (sort of)! Both my wife and I are fully vaccinated and are ready to take to Hollywood in grand fashion; we’re ready to live lavishly like never before and, alongside long-lost friends, take full advantage of the fruits Los Angeles has to offer. Problem is, the more I think about it the more I realize I’ve completely forgotten how to be myself in a social setting. How hard does one squeeze in a handshake? How long do I hold the handshake? Is it normal that I’m intertwining fingers in a handshake? I’m sure all of this will come back to me in waves, although it’s clear that getting back to normal and “being myself” will be a work in progress.
In these existential meditations I’ve been thinking about a particularly nice interaction I had before the shutdown with a local Los Angeles artist, Nacho Cano, who records and releases lush indie pop under the pseudonym Harmless. I first found Nacho’s work though one of my favorite music discovery websites, Bandcamp, and was immediately drawn in by his story. In 2017 as he was biking to work Nacho was hit by a drunk driver, resulting in years of recovery and physical therapy. During that time, Nacho produced an EP release, Condiciones, which explored ambience and introspection in a way previously untapped by his earlier work. The record is sparse, beautiful and extremely personal in a way that encourages invitation and investigation from its listener—needless to say I had to play it on my radio show.
Radio play prompted Nacho to reach out to me on social media, and over a cup of coffee I eventually came to find his personality matched the sincerity of music. After five minutes of sitting down we had skipped over basic small talk and had launched into comparing wedding proposals and talking in depth about our experiences in the music industry. Nacho is genuine, and when an artist can align their spirit, outlook and character with their work, you know they’re in touch with something uniquely special.
Since our introduction over coffee, Nacho and I have stayed in touch and continue to talk about our relationships, music we like, walking around the neighborhood, and being an artist in the digital age. He was kind enough to expand on some of our conversations for The Charlotte News, and, just like his music, I think you’ll find his thoughts to be equally earnest:
Perhaps our first connection when we met was that we’d both recently become engaged. I think both of us relate to feeling an awkwardness in grand gestures like proposals and wedding ceremonies—it’s hard sometimes to publicly display your love when in so many ways those feelings are private between you and your spouse. In contrast I find your music to be deeply personal, both lyrically and sonically— I get a sense that your work comes from an honest, emotional place. I’m wondering what you feel the differences are in expressing yourself through marriage and art? Is one form of expression easier for you? Has marriage (or engagement) changed the way you relate to your craft and to your fans?
I think about this a lot lately. But I am not sure if I have an answer. It’s rare to actually create a fork in the road. I think that’s what made me so nervous about proposing. It wasn’t what the answer was going to be but that I was actually creating a diverting path in my life. That no matter what, from here on out, my life is going to fundamentally change forever. I couldn’t be happier to have made that choice though. My life in many ways has gotten better and easier. Especially when it comes to the artistic process. My fiancé isn’t exactly the biggest music person, which actually makes her really helpful when showing her songs. My approach to music has changed ‘cause it doesn’t feel like I am writing songs for myself, but more for my fiancé to enjoy. I know something isn’t fundamentally being translated if she doesn’t understand it or if it’s getting complicated. It’s allowed me to make songs less convoluted. It’s a creative partnership in a way that I think I’ve always needed. Couldn’t be happier to be honest.
At the risk of asking another “how has the pandemic affected your creativity” question, I do think there’s a connection between this last year and the time spent recovering from your injury in that they’re both periods of which any normalcy is replaced by relying the on the resolution of a singularly focused, unavoidable event. During your recovery you were able to write and produce Condiciones and during the pandemic you’ve been focused on turning out singles and short-form projects. While starkly different circumstances, are there any comparisons in how you approach music making between these two periods of stagnation?
I also think about this a great deal. Mostly in that this liminal space we have all shared in the last year or so has been one that I have been a part of since 2017. That awful limbo. I’ve had conversations with loved ones who now have a greater understanding of the mental prison that I was in for so long. As a result, I think I am just a bit weathered. As with every other artist this year, I did make some pandemic singles. I don’t think I had it in me to make anything long form though. The approach has largely been the same, writing-wise, except maybe this time I think less and less about what it means to me and more about how do I get out of my head. Everything is a bit more daunting when you can’t go outside. I remember when I was in a wheelchair and I made beats, or what would become the start of Condiciones. It really costs a lot more when you can’t go outside. This whole year has been a huge trigger.
In an interview you did with LVL3 in September you mentioned a disparity between existing on the internet and in the real world as an artist. This was in reference to making a creative career financially viable. On Spotify you have nearly 1.5 million monthly listeners, your most popular song has 45 million plays, and you’ve had a lot of success reaching new audiences on TikTok, although I know, just like anyone else, you’re hustling hard to make a living as a full-time artist. That dichotomy is pretty interesting—if you took those numbers at face value, I think any normal person would assume you’re HUGE. I’m wondering if you can expand on your quote about digital and real-world popularity. How has your success on streaming and social media platforms informed the decisions you make in your career, especially as we emerge from the pandemic? Is there a bridge you can see for yourself between digital popularity and finding longevity beyond the internet? How does an artist best exist in real life?
The short answer is. I don’t feel I am huge, or famous, or any of these types of things. I often respond to messages on Ig (Instagram) who like my music. Many times, they are surprised I took the time out to respond, which surprises me because I truly don’t believe I have any fame or all that. I feel very much like I am still hustling and competing with larger acts. Every time I send an email out to someone, for advice or an opportunity, I get scared. I have my fiancé check it over and all that. I can’t tell you how many times over the year I’ve been ghosted or have had things fall through. It’s the nature of the biz, and I am still getting used to it. I often feel like a weathered teenager, still trying to make my dreams feel validated with a show or a placement or something. Except now, I have a fiancé, I have dogs, debt, and so on and so forth. That’s all real-world stuff. Things and problems that are totally separate to me being online. I hope to materialize my digital into something real with some shows and a tour soon. I would love to just be a supporting act to a larger band and see if anyone who has used my sound on a Tik Tok would show. I think artists best exist in a tangible setting. It’s why I am trying to make more merch or vinyl. I think when you’re able to hold what you love, it feels more real than it does so in your head. Y’know?
You and I live in the same area in LA (Los Feliz) and both like to take walks to clear our head. Since there’s been less hustle and bustle, I’ve felt as though I’ve noticed small, new things I can appreciate. new fruits in bloom, odd side streets I didn’t previously walk, bizarre monstrous houses that prior to the pandemic were hiding in plain sight….Is there anything new you’ve noticed or appreciated wandering the neighborhood over the last year?
I wish I was one for quiet and tranquility and appreciating the sites of Los Feliz, but I can’t say I’ve loved its emptiness. I miss running into people. Quiet walks around the neighborhood have often left me alone with my thoughts for far too long. I’m the type of dude that will think themselves into a spiral. I think people get me out of my head more than anything else. When I was in recovery, being surrounded by people made the whole experience easier. This time around, my mind has made it worse on myself.
Who should I be listening to?
I can’t stop listening to Spirit of the Beehive. I don’t think I’ve had a band get me this excited in a while. Separate from that, I have been listening a lot to Rei Harakami’s album (Lust). It’s becoming a mission of mine to purchase that LP but it’s one of those Discogs nightmares. 300 for a used copy? Like what!
My wife has grown tired of my cooking. What should I make to spice things up in the kitchen?
I came across this road as well and just got real elaborate with my dishes. Last night I made paella from scratch. Other nights I made traditional Mexican dishes from scratch. I think it mostly is about how much love and time you put into something and if you’re willing to venture out and fail. I have a cooking group with some friends, where we cook a dish over google meet every other week. We make some crazy stuff and it always ends up being at the least edible. I made Bahn Mi one time. Buttermilk Spicy Chicken Sandwiches. I guess what I am saying is, pick a dish you miss from a restaurant you used to go to, or from a relative you used to see, and try and recreate it.
Do you have a morning routine?
I wake up at 6ish am with my fiancé. She does the morning routine while I let my body acclimate. It takes me a while for my body to feel comfortable. She then creeks the door open and comes in with a cup of coffee. She sets it on the counter and then her and the dogs join me in bed until she has to go to work. Before she goes though, I ask that she write a letter on my back. She traces her finger like a pen across my back, where it often hurts, and writes me a lovely message from the day. It varies from “you’re poop” to “the love of my life.” Often I get up as soon as she leaves, but lately I stay in bed with the dogs. It makes me feel better about not having her warmth around. When Ari was furloughed we’d lay in bed from 6 til 8ish, hugging. I really yearn for those days. The cold has been rough on me.