By Nikole Tower, October 2017 Web Exclusive.
Following the released of his second full-length album, “CRUZIN,” in late August, Velo was booked to headline the 40th anniversary of Tucson Pride's Party in the Park Sept. 30.
This visit to Southern Arizona, the place he was raised, marks the recording artist's second consecutive year paling the Tucson Pride stage. This year, however, he'll be bringing hits off his new album, which includes collaborations with drag superstar Rhea Litre, Andrew Christian’s Pablo Hernandez, James Majesty and Luisifer.
Echo caught up with Velo ahead of his return to Tucson, and here's what he had to say.
Photo by Dylan M. Austin Photography.
Echo:What's new in your world since we spoke about a year ago?
Velo: Well I feel like I really hit the ground running this year. I released my first album Sex.Money.Power when I was talking with you guys in my last interview. I’ve been working on a lot of music ... I was working with Pablo Hernandez and Rhea [Litre] on a couple of tracks, but you know they’re really busy so a lot of stuff got pushed back and pushed aside. My first album came out ... Then I didn’t stop. I kept recording and ended up with Rhea and Pablo to record and just about a week ago I released my second album which is called CRUZIN. It’s been kind of crazy since, it’s been a crazy few weeks actually. Gearing up for the release and filming a lot of videos for the new release. It’s been a really wonderful year for me. (Read Echo's 2016 interview with Velo here.)
Echo: CRUZIN features some hot collaborations; what was a highlight from your experience working with each of them?
Velo: James Majesty is my creative life. I’ve been doing music for a long time but I’ve only been seriously doing it for about two years now. [James Majesty is] the yin to my yang. She works really hard. She is all about her art and I haven’t met anyone that just got it, they get that they have to work hard and produce and be really involved and things aren’t just going to happen for you. You have to really work if you want them.
Last time I was in Tucson ... I met another Latino artist, Luisifer. He was one of the local talents performing at Tucson Pride that year. I really felt his flow, we really connected on that level. One thing I’ve really appreciated about him is that he is really creating himself. Everyone that I have worked with on this album are just really creative people in general, they’re constantly thinking of ways to just express that whether it be with photos or music or modeling or whatever. I’m actually working with him on a Spanish album right now that will release next year. I’ve released a couple of Spanish tracks to just get the feel for it, but I’m now honed in on what I want my sound to be like in Spanish and Luisifer is actually featured on it. He’s featured on both albums which is really cool.
[Pablo Hernandez] is featured on both of the albums, too, so he sings in English and Spanish with me. We’re going to do a little surprise Spanish release. We’re really excited, and we just want it out there after we put out a video for the song “Up and Down.” I kind of feel like J. Lo and Pitbull with Pablo a little bit. He’s just so pretty, but what I really love about him is that he is just so sweet and he is so willing to just be open to different ideas. He takes direction really well, and we just mesh together musically. I absolutely adore Pablo, he is one of my muses to be honest. When I was looking at the Spanish tracks or even some of my English stuff, musically I’m thinking about what type of man I sing about and it’s him and he laughs.
Where do I start with Rhea? She’s just a freakin badass chick… I got a little obsessed with her just by how she dominates the room and she works really hard to be where she’s at. This girl is making her own lane and I admire that so much. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. When we were working on the song “CRUZIN,” I was watching a lot of her interviews on YouTube. We co-wrote the song and I was coming up with ideas for her rap and when she came in to record it she took parts of the rap and made it her own. She came in, and we got to the studio, and she’s like I love this, I love this but I’m going to cut this off and write a whole other part of the verse. I like it that she’s constantly working and she’s very supportive of other people following their dreams and I just love her. Everyone that I worked with on this album are people that I love and admire and look up to and it’s great.
Photo by Dylan M. Austin Photography.
Echo:With "Woof" you said you took a very different approach – more gay male-oriented materiel – has that carried over to CRUZIN?
Velo: With CRUZIN I really went back to that “Woof” style. I was listening to artists like Drake who I freaking love and also to up-and-coming Latino rapper called Bad Bunny. So, I was thinking about what I want to sing about and what was coming to me naturally. It’s very gay male orientated, however there are a lot of silly tracks on it as well. There’s a song called “Irrelevant” with Pablo that is kind of like “Let Me Take A Selfie.” The premise is about Instagram and Twitter and follow me and who are you, you’re irrelevant. It’s just silly commentary on how people use social media to be so important, but really it’s silly.
Echo:You mentioned Drake and Bad Bunny, who were some of your other inspirations while you worked on this album? Not just in music, but in general?
Velo: Drake and Bad Bunny were the main people I was listening to, but as silly as this sounds, I’ve been really into the new Fifth Harmony stuff. They just have really hot beats. It’s that type of music that it’s silly, fun, feel good stuff. I really wanted to incorporate that into my stuff. I think the main goal of my album, CRUZIN, and a lot of the tracks is to normalize being gay. I wanted it to sound like something you would hear on the radio, on straight media, and it just happens to be gay people singing to each other. For example, the track “Up and Down” with Pablo reminds me of a Drake and Rihanna love song – you meet someone, you’re into them, you’re trying to hold back that you like them but you kind of just let go. I didn’t want it to sound like a very gay parody type thing. I wanted it to sound like a legitimate real album. There are some fun silly songs on there to because I like them but in general I wanted the production value on the album to be taken seriously. It’s not like, oh it’s just another silly gay artist song which I feel like oftentimes – as much as I love fun, mindless stuff – oftentimes gay artists are viewed as parody type artists where there are very few artists who are gay and are taken seriously. In general, very few artists that are gay are viewed as professional.
Echo: Why do you think it's important for there to be LGBTQ representation in music (as well as TV, movies, etc.)?
Velo: I wish it was OK for artists to feel like they wouldn’t lose out on opportunities, money or anything [else] because they’re gay. [For] the few artists who have been able to come out and hustle and still make money, that’s awesome. But I feel like [that scenario is] very far and few between ... It’s when they tone down that they’re gay. It reminds me back in the day when gay people – there were the radical gays and the ones that had to tone it down to be viewed as normal and be accepted. People were encouraged to dress normal and act accordingly so they could be placed into the mainstream and then there were the radicals who were like “No, fuck that, I’m going to do whatever the hell I want.” I feel like that’s the way it is for entertainment in general. There are certain pockets that allow overtly queer persona or sound and then there are pockets that don’t... It’s there I just wish it was more normal. That’s why I’m really excited for the song with Pablo. There’s been gay duets before, but I’m excited to release a Spanish one because latino music is so overtly masculine, just the way hip hop is. I want to still keep that essence of the music, but make it gay. I’m really excited to see the reaction of this overtly masculine Latino song, but we’re singing to each other. Latinos don’t really talk about gayness and it’s okay as long as it’s not in your face or talked about so I’m excited for those two songs to come out and the visuals for those songs to come out. I’m curious to see how people are going to react to it.
Echo:Do you consider yourself an activist? Why or why not?
Velo: Absolutely, I think we all play our own role. I was the kid who started the Gay Straight Alliance at my high school. I’ve been doing that since I was a little kid. When I went to college, I was a part of a Gay Straight Alliance there. When I graduated, for the past 7 or 8 years of my adult life, I’ve been working with public health and I’ve been doing a lot of work around HIV/AIDS. That’s like my real job... I haven’t always been on the front lines, but I’ve always stayed involved somehow.
Echo:You credit your reign as Mr. Seattle Pride 2012 with jumpstarting your music/performing career. Do you have any interest in revisiting pageantry or singing contests in the future?
Velo: No ... (laughs), I don’t think so. I don’t think it needs to be a competition for me anymore. The real competition starts after the show and that’s because now it’s not about winning anything at a bar, now it’s about trying to win more fans. That’s a competition within itself. I don’t really want to join any singing competitions or anything like that. I just want to get better at my craft and try to gain some new followers and meet other creative people that I can work with and that is a competition within itself. People are doing what everyone says not to do and they read bad comments about themselves. People can be so mean but at the same time you can be the best singer, you can have the nicest body, you can have the most money, you can have the prettiest face, whatever, and someone will still not be into it. So I’m kind of just like whatever. That’s what I mean by that constant competition, you don’t really win anything but the love and support of people who are interested in you.
Echo: Where do you call home these days?
Velo: I’ve been in Seattle for almost nine years now, so Seattle’s home. I’m from Arizona, so I like to go back and it reminds me of what home used to be. I’m actually going to be back in Tucson for Tucson Pride. They wanted to add me to the lineup for the 40th anniversary of Tucson Pride. Luisifer is actually going to join me on my set. We’re going to be doing a couple of our songs together. I was trying to get Rhea but she’s busy, she’s a busy girl.
Velo will take the stage at the 40th anniversary of Tucson Pride's Party in the Park Sept. 30 at Reid Park, 900 S. Randolph Way, in Tucson. For more information, visit tucsonpride.org.