This week, Blog is spotlighting five Brown and RISD student musicians, all of whom will be performing this Saturday night at the Bodega Beats live session at The Spot Undeground. We’re publishing all interviews of one musician talking to another.
Check out the event’s two DJs, Michael Moyal (aka Mulga) and Raye Sosseh (aka Chartreux) interview with each from Tuesday. Yesterday, Dolapo Akinkugbe (aka DAP the Contract) interviewed Jahi Abdur-Razzaq (Brown ’17), rapper to rapper. Today, Jahi interviews fellow rapper, and musical Renaissance man, Sebastián Otero Oliveras (Brown ’18). You check out Sebastián’s work as Sebastián ()tero on Soundcloud.
Jahi: Alright let’s talk about you. I think, the main thing is: why music? Why express yourself through this music as opposed to something else?
Sebastián: Right, I started playing the violin when I was 4. So music has been very present in my life, throughout my life. I don’t know, I just think I have this connection to music, and this energy to produce, and use this medium to express myself.
For example, I can think of a good thing to draw, or something, but my hands don’t do it that well. But I have my voice and I think I have the talent and the energy. So that comes together and that is Sebastián ()tero.
J: So how did you make the transition from violin to rap?
S: I played classical until I was 13 or 14. I got bored. I love listening to classical music but I can’t play it. I don’t like it. And then I moved to jazz. I played a little bit with jazz, and I’m from Puerto Rico and salsa is a big thing. Latin jazz too. So I also played over those types of genres.
Since I was a little kid, I’ve been listening to hip hop. I would freestyle with my friends, even with my mom. I would freestyle with my mom. We would do, like, rap battles. She’s not good — well I mean, okay, she’s decent for a mom. I was like eight or something and we were in a traffic jam, we would do acapella, free styling.
It wasn’t until senior year that I wrote my first rap song. Senior year of high school. I don’t identify myself only as a rapper, cause I keep playing the violin and I sing. I try to integrate rap into my music concept. So I’ve been rapping since senior year.
J: So rap is just a tool?
S: Yeah, rap is just another tool to create my concept.
J: So what’s your concept? Do you have an overriding concept?
S: I try to integrate singing, I love singing, I feel different when I sing than when I rap. I rap. I also play the violin. I think my concept is a little bit eclectic. I could do singer-songwriter sounds, like with a guitar. But I love playing with a big band, like for example, Richard.
And I love to get hype. I try to mix Latin American rhythms and melodies with like boomba. I try to make these connections that are rarely made.
J: So how do you think the music that you’re putting together, the eclecticism of it all, effects the message that you are putting out?
S: I think it expands the audience because people can choose the songs that they like, and others that they don’t, depending on the genre that I’m playing. In terms of the language, cause I rap and do everything in Spanish, I would say music transcends language. People can appreciate music as either good or bad, because of the sound, rather than the content, even though the content is important to me.
But I think if people like my music, it’s probably the phonetics of the language. Because for example, in rap, you know when a word rhymes with another word, even though it’s in Korean, Chinese, or whatever. It sounds similar. If people like my music, it’s because of that and the sound. It’s a very unique sound here at Brown bringing these Latin American vibes.
J: You were talking about your aesthetic before. What is it for you? Is it the Latin American dude in America or is it completely devoid of American-centric ideals?
S: I don’t know, man. I’m exploring it.
J: Is it you, though?
S: It is me. It’s Sebastian ()tero, the Puerto Rican, who studies at Brown.
J: It involves you and who you are and what you do?
J: When you’re doing music, music in general, how do you start a song?
S: Sometimes, I’ll be just playing around with the guitar and I’ll create like a nice chord progression and I’ll start mumbling, saying nonsense stuff to start brainstorming while I’m playing, and I’ll have my notebook right by my side. And I’ll start taking notes.
Sometimes it happens really fast; sometimes I’ll be in the classroom and then thinking about the chord progression and a theme or phrase. I have a little notebook with me always and I’ll write that. I think it’s a very constant process, like throughout the day, I may create something. It’s not a particular time of the day or week that I compose or create. Sometimes a melody just comes to my mind and I record it on my phone. Then, I make the chord progression for that.
J: Do you think that being a college student at the same time effects the time and how you’re writing? Sometimes, I find myself not finishing a song because I don’t have the time, but then it’ll come back later and I’ll think, “Wow, maybe I couldn’t have written that line if I hadn’t [left] and come back?
S: Totally, totally. It’s hard to find time to sit and write and think about your music. Not doing anything but doing just that is not easy. For example, I went to New York over the weekend and in the bus, I wrote half a verse of a new song. It’s interesting because it was the first time I did that, writing [while] going from one place to another. Finding free time is hard, definitely.
J: Do you have now a realm of experiences? The things you do do with your time, the things that keep your time busy, does that effect what you write on? What do you draw from to write?
S: Right… newspapers, conversations with friends, and stories. I like stories and maybe I’ll write a song about that story or make a story of that story. Or from experiences, from personal experiences.
For example, being here and listening a lot to American rap. In Puerto Rico, I didn’t listen to a lot of American rap; I knew Eminem and 50 cent, but I’d never heard of Kanye West before I came here to Brown. And expanding the spectrum of hip hop. I’ve been influenced by the rhyme schemes of American rappers. They’re different from Spanish or Latin American rappers. I would say that is another thing that has influenced me, the context of where I’m living right now.
J: Who do you think listens to Sebastian ()tero?
S: France and Puerto Rico. France and Chile. People here on campus. It was very interesting that over the summer, I made a music video of one of my songs, called “Laura Se Va.” I was very surprised and I was really happy to see that people I have no connection with, that I don’t know at all, were sharing my video and messaging me. Also on Soundcloud, gradually, people that I don’t have any idea who they are, are following me. Gradually, too, I’m expanding the audience of Sebastian ()tero.
J: What do you come in for the live show thinking? I’m going to get some fans here or?
S: I just enjoy. I perform for myself. You probably feel this, too. I love listening to my music. It’s what you do. Like I love listening to my music. I love performing my music. It makes me really happy to perform even though there may be 3 people there watching me, or for example, at Commencement, almost 10,000 people.
I will do my best, first out of respect for music, second out of respect for myself, and third out of respect for the people. I’m going to do my best, always. I just go in and enjoy with the people what I’m doing.
J: What’s something one person should know when they’re coming to a Sebastian ()tero set? What should they be thinking about when they’re coming to watch you perform?
S: I try to make the audience question themselves about some things. I have a very social commitment. Probably someone that is going to listen to me will have to be open to start thinking about the things that I’m saying. Also, dance. I love it when people dance to my music. It gets you really, really hype on stage. I love people dancing and losing themselves.
Image via Bodega Beats.