KATZÙ OSO: HOW CAN I SAY IT?
photography by maximilian ho
Paul Hernandez is a lover boy—not an audacious casanova, but a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic who simply falls in love too fast, poeticizing the women who make him stumble headfirst into desire and devotion. When this young Latino musician speaks about love, there’s a bashfulness in his voice, a change of inflection that signals the same authenticity he displays as a producer and songwriter dedicated to shimmering synthpop. As Katzù Oso—a bedroom-based solo project that’s revealed Hernandez as a sublime architect of freakishly catchy love songs—the Montebello native has seen his own artistic aspirations mature into sweet reality in less than two years. From hitting a million streams on Spotify to dropping his debut EP Pastel and playing Tropicalia—the quintessential music festival for LA’s most committed indieheads—Hernandez’s 2018 has been as dreamy as his music itself. At sundown in Exposition Park, the 24-year-old artist ponders his early beginnings, defying expectations, and being a proud cheeseball. He performs his first headlining show at the Echo tonight. This interview by Sydney Sweeney.
On the Pastel EP, there’s a few moments where you’re talking about infatuation—like ‘Coqueta’—and remaining infatuated with someone even after they’ve done you dirty, like on ‘Crazy4luvinU.’ What’s that story?
Katzù Oso: It’s about just being with someone for so long and then … how can I say it … them breaking it off with you and then you find out they got with someone else like, two weeks after. And you were with that person for like, five years. It’s like, getting fucked over—well not fucked over, but like … lied to. Like, ‘Wow, this really happened.’ Being in awe. In ‘Crazy4luvinU,’ the situation had just happened, and I had performed it at the Tyler, The Creator show at the Observatory last year, and it hadn’t been written, so I told the guys to just jam out to the instrumental, and I made up the lyrics on the spot at that show. And later I sat down and wrote them. I just had the idea of being in love with someone who’s already out of love with you, and left you for another guy—which makes you think, ‘Wow, I wasted all the time with you.’
It always makes me really sad to hear people say they’ve wasted time after being in a long-term relationship gone awry.
Katzù Oso: Yeah, for real. It happens though.
And it made an album!
Katzù Oso: Exactly—and it’s funny because when that girl left, a month later, my music started getting listens and everything started happening.
Your following has grown quite a bit this past year. On Spotify alone your monthly listeners jumped from 1,000 to 100,000.
Katzù Oso: [That] was really surreal, like it almost wasn’t happening—like, why my music, you know? My old high school band stayed at like 42 listeners for a period of two or three months, so I always assumed that’s how far local bands get. But I tried to challenge myself by doing something on my own to see if that would pop off, and people started listening and showing their friends. And was getting featured on Spotify playlists and that helped a lot too.
When you were in that band, did you approach the idea of ‘success’ differently than you do with Katzù?
Katzù Oso: We just had a very ‘local show’ mentality. We always packed out house shows in Montebello, so we were like, ‘Well this is it—this is what it is,’ you know? Until I started seeing other artists actually making it and moving up. So I realized it was possible for anyone—I felt like my band got comfortable where we were at, and I was like, ‘I want to make something out of music and this is what I want to do.’ I didn’t want to do what society or my family or my girlfriend at the time wanted me to do, which was go to school. I mean, I went to school. School is awesome and I enjoyed it—stay in school! But it’s just not for me. It’s not something that I see myself doing my whole life. I was majoring in sociology, and I was about to transfer—but I ended up just getting my AA, and right when I got it was when my music started picking up. And I was like, ‘I guess I can take a break—I don’t have to transfer just yet.’ Even to this day, my family still asks me about school, like ‘What about school?’ And it sucks because you can have so many successes, but they’re still going to ask you about it—but I am able to help my mom more now, and I get to do this with all my friends. I don’t have to hire musicians. We all work together, and it’s exciting.
Was the pressure to pursue a certain career even greater because of your identity as a first-generation Mexican-American?
Katzù Oso: There’s only like one person in my family that ‘succeeded’ and everyone looks up to him. He came here, and he went to Cal State LA and he got his master’s and everything—so I think competing with someone like that is like … fuck. I have to either make it or I don’t make it, and I’ll just be down here like everyone else in my family. So there’s a lot of pressure, for sure.
Are they accepting of the idea of success as a musician—headlining crazy tours or selling out shows?
Katzù Oso: My mom is very open to that idea now. She’ll say, ‘It’s fine that you’re not going to school and you’re doing what you love and it’s showing.’ My grandparents are also very supportive. My dad is still more old school about it, but at the end of the day he still lets me record in the garage. He’s a Santana/Hendrix kind of guy—he has a Stratocaster at home—and he would always record with his brother in the garage. So I would always be around music, but I didn’t know anything about it until he started showing me how to play bass and guitar. We would play a lot of oldies, a lot of Beatles—my dad loves them, so we had all these songbooks and every night we’d be jamming to Beatles songs. So I started with bass, then moved on to guitar and then keys.
Speaking of old music—I hear you have a crazy vinyl collection.
Katzù Oso: Yeah! I was investing so much money in my vinyl—before I started my Katzù page on Instagram, it was all just vinyl, and I would ask people their favorite songs, but later I had to remove all that. I just love listening to records and drinking wine in my room, as cheesy as it sounds. I think the most obscure thing I have is this seven-inch by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. It’s called ‘Je T’aime…’ [Moi Non Plus] but it got banned from the U.K. because it has a girl moaning really intensely on it, but it’s so good! Knowing that I have the physical banned copy is exciting. It’s a duet—at one point they’re making love in the song. It’s great—you should check it out.
What’s your most-played record?
Katzù Oso: When I’m by myself or when I’m with people?
Katzù Oso: When I’m alone, it’s Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz’s Bossa Nova—it’s like a collaboration, but it’s so good. Every song on that album just gets me, even though it’s in Portuguese. And then with people, it’s probably Substance by New Order. It has all the classics. That one’s hard to find, and I was looking for it everywhere. When I finally came across it, it was in a bin and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’
I feel like synthesizers dominate your music now. Is that an influence from your youth?
Katzù Oso: I feel like the influence was always there, but I never really dug into it until eighth or ninth grade. I started listening to New Order and a lot of 80s bands, so I think those sounds inspired me to make this kind of music—with like a contemporary twist to it, I guess.
And you were inspired by Spanish pop and rock bands, too?
Katzù Oso: Yeah—I noticed that a lot of the 80s bands, like Hombres G and Los Enanitos Verdes would use light synth pads, which kind of made the song a little more … lovely? I don’t know how to explain it, but it was nice to listen to. So I tried to put that together with like, all the crazy synths that New Order was using.
I’m curious to know what your favorite New Order song is!
Katzù Oso: Oh man. I love ‘Ceremony,’ but it’s like a Joy Division-New Order kind of song, you know? ‘Temptation’ is such a good song, too. Even though the way Bernard Sumner writes is such a corny way, and everyone is always talking about it, I kind of like it—
His lyrics remind me of yours in that way.
Katzù Oso: Yeah—that’s why I relate to New Order. I sing as if I’m talking to someone, and I’ve always done that in my music since I first started writing as a 15-year-old. I try to keep it cheesy, but not cringey. You can never have enough cheese.
Why do you gravitate towards making dreamier music?
Katzù Oso: I was listening to a lot of indie pop in high school—the fast pace of that in combination with the synths that 80s musicians used, I wanted to incorporate that into a modern feel. And sometimes I do feel out of place compared to other artists … like I used too many synths in my music, but I don’t know. I’ll listen to other people’s music and I’ll think we’re in the same category but it’s nothing that’s really comparable. A lot of people would be like, ‘You use too many synths!’ I don’t care. I made it in my room and it’s what I thought sounded nice at the time. Sometimes I ask myself if I should just simplify shit, like maybe having just six or eight tracks rather than what I usually have, which is like, 32 to 45. But when it comes down to the mixing, obviously not everything is going in at the same time. But I enjoy doing it how I do it, so I gonna keep it at that.
Do you feel like your own music has to meet cultural expectations in terms of masculinity and ‘being a man’?