Kevin Kaarl: “I want to surround myself with the things that do me good, and nothing else”

Mexico's biggest new star talks us through the calmest breakthrough in folk pop

If Gen Z artists are characterised by anything, it’s by sharing their feelings unabashedly, and centring their vulnerability in their work. And this is definitely the case for Kevin Kaarl, a folk pop singer-songwriter from Chihuahua, Mexico. 

Fresh off the one-year anniversary of his breakout album, Paris, Texas, and ahead of his London show at OMEARA, we caught up with Kevin to discuss his dream pop musical influences, the authenticity in his lyrics, and the beautiful and emotive experiences he wants to share with fans at his live shows.

Kevin Kaarl - te quiero tanto (Video Oficial)

What’s the inspiration behind the themes you explore in your music, particularly on your album, Paris, Texas?

With each song on the album, I tell the story of a character, and everything that this character had to experience to be able to find himself, and to realise that nothing can go back to the way it was before. These songs are written as if they came from his own mind, from his own discussions of his own life, from everything that he’s experienced.

What artists were you listening to when you were writing the album?

I listened to Beach House a lot. A lot. It’s a band that inspired me a lot in terms of the composition of this album. But also, other bands such as Wallows, Party Circle, bands that make dream pop or alt pop – there were so many, but I was getting a little inspiration from each of them.

It’s interesting that you say that because you can really hear Beach House’s influence in this album. Beach House, and maybe King Krule or Paco Moreno and even Mac Demarco?

Ah yes [Mac Demarco), a little bit of that too.

When you think of music from Mexican artists, I think a lot of people have stereotypes in their heads about what that sounds like, either Mariachi or reggaeton. But what you’re doing is so different from what people expect – what was the inspiration for you to go your own way, and carve out your own sound?

Well, I don’t think this is so much about being different, but I want to open a path that shows there is more than a certain type of music in Mexico. Yes, there’s a lot of Mexican Urbano, reggaeton, [perreo], but I feel like you need to listen to different music from time to time. Sometimes you need calmer music, or music for different types of people. So, I tend to make songs that remind me of the artists that I like – I listen to a lot of pop, and folk – and I just try to satisfy what I’m listening to, and my own tastes. I want people to be able to listen to reggaeton during the day, and then my songs when they go to sleep at night.

You have a very kind, gentle demeanour in the way you handle yourself, and you can really hear that in your music. Especially in your newest single, ‘mis compas tan aquí’ (my buddies are here). You can really hear the love for your friends, not just in the lyrics, but in the musicality of the song. You can hear the joy of being around people you care about…

I think that, yes, I focus a lot on my life as such. I don’t try to have a life that I don’t want to have, so in my songs I reflect a lot because I simply want to have a good time, I want to be with my friends, I want to surround myself with the things that do me good, and nothing else.

Kevin Kaarl - mis compas tan aquí (Video Oficial)

You can really feel that. It’s something that’s unique to you as an artist, and to the way you write music. How does it work when you collaborate with different artists?

I think that sometimes it’s a little difficult to find a personality that I can connect with in the same way, as we all have different visions of life, and my [vision] is just my truth. So, sometimes it can be a little complicated to be able to connect with other artists, but I always try, and I manage to connect with them, with the way they see life. When I meet artists, it’s like we don’t talk so much about music or creating or anything like that, but simply about life and what we like; what makes us feel calm, I think that’s the only thing I can do. That’s how I connect with others when collaborating.

Are there any particular artists that you’d like to collaborate with?

There are so many. It’s a shame to say, because I know that not everyone knows my project, but hopefully at some point we will cross paths. Obviously, Beach House, [that] is one of my favourite bands out there. There are a few Latinx artists that I also quite like, such as Kali Uchis, The Marías – I have a list, I’m sure I’m missing many artists! But there are so many people who I feel we could create very beautiful music together.

What does the future sound like for you? What direction would you like to go sonically in terms of your music?

I’m getting into pop a lot, but I don’t want to let go of my guitar. I don’t want to let go of the acoustic sound just yet. I want my music to sound a bit like if you were, I don’t know, in your car at night driving. I think it sounds magical but without being experimental and strange, so I don’t know how to define it. But I’m adding various sounds like synthesisers, electric guitars, very spatial sounds.

Kevin Kaarl - San Lucas (Video oficial)

Would you like to include more traditional Mexican folk music and sounds in your future albums as well?

I think that at a certain point it will be inevitable to include something Mexican – obviously I grew up with Mexican music so I will never, never deprive myself of adding Mexican influences. I think that I just include references from my roots, so I can never avoid having traditional sounds in my songs. I take it by the hand along with me.

And when you perform, what should fans expect from a Kevin Karl show?

I think the fans should expect a calmer show than usual because my music is quite calm. When [people] come to a concert, maybe they expect it to be bit livelier, but I think they always end up enjoying my shows a lot because we can dance, sing, shout or cry – we make space for our feelings. So, yes, my shows are calmer than most concerts, but they end up surprising audiences with a mixture of feelings, and music. It’s a mixture of happy music and sad music at the same time, and fans can get a bit of everything in one place.

And finally, where is your dream place to perform?

Right now, I don’t have a specific venue in mind, but I do want to get to a place in my life where I can fill stadiums. I want each place I perform at to be bigger than the last. I want there to be more and more people at my shows, more people gathered to sing along with me. There are many venues I’d like to perform at in Mexico, because those are the places that I’m most familiar with, but I just want to reach more people and perform at bigger stages each time – with more people with me, sharing and enjoying the moment.

Kevin Kaarl is playing OMEARA in London on 17 September. Find tickets here.