interview by Lucas Carpenter
"There's so much I’m able to speak about now, that I wasn’t able to do when I was younger."
With soulful vocals and cutting lyrics, Carlos Vara's music tells the story of who he is now, and who he's been before. His latest release, "Numb," is an examination of complex relationships through the lens of a man emerging into adulthood. Vara shared some thoughts with us about coming out, writing music, and taking a leap by moving to Nashville.
We’ll just get right into it. Hi, Carlos! Your debut single, “Numb”, was just released. We’ve been playing it nonstop everyday. What’s the story behind the song?
Thank you so much! So happy y’all like it!
“Numb” was actually the very first song I wrote when I moved to Nashville 2 years ago. I was at a place in my life where I was really discovering myself and dealing with complicated relationships in my life. I felt like I was feeling so much that I wasn’t feeling anything at all, if that makes sense.
I was sitting in my apartment playing around on the piano one day and I sang out the chorus “You make me go numb”. It was stuck in my mind and so I brought the idea into my next session.
How were you introduced to producer Josh Bruce Williams?
I actually first met Josh when i was 16! I was on The X-Factor for a little bit when I was younger and my vocal coach had posted my audition video on her facebook. He was a former student of hers and reached out to her to ask if I’d be down to have a writing session with him sometime.
I met up with him in Atlanta and had my first co-write with him. We stayed in touch throughout the years on email. And now we work together pretty much everyday.
Where did you move from Nashville from and why?
Right before I moved to Nashville, I was actually living in Hawaii with my sister going to school. It was my senior year of high school and Josh had called me to let me know that he and his wife were moving to Nashville.
He was like, “Whenever you graduate high school, move out here and we can start working on music.”
And me being the impulsive person I am, I was like “Why wait to graduate, when I can just go now." And that’s what I did.
I moved back home to SC, saved enough money for first months rent, moved out to Nashville, got a job, started writing, and finished high school online.
Has that experience been all you’ve imagined so far?
It’s been insane. I knew moving here would be hard, and it’s been very hard.
The first year was very difficult for me. I was working full time at a restaurant (still am), while trying to finish school, while trying to work on music. I didn’t really know many people and I didn’t really know myself at the time. I felt lonely a lot and it was a constant hustle everyday, and it still is.
But I’m honestly so grateful for it all. I had to grow up really fast and work hard. I knew that the journey wouldn’t be easy. But giving up was never an option for me.
We were able to find some old music from you on the interwebs. Why was it important for you to do a “rebranding” of yourself as an artist?
I still have an EP out on the interwebs that I wrote when I was like 17! It’s under “Carlos Guevara," my reallll name.
I didn’t intentionally try to “rebrand”… I just grew up. A lot.
There is so much I’m able to comfortably speak about now, that I wasn’t able to do when I was younger. I feel like I finally know who I am as an artist and person. And now I’m ready to release art that really is a reflection of who and where I am in life currently.
I feel like the songs I’m working are really 100% “me”, and my life and story. I changed the name to “Vara” just because i was tired of people asking me how to spell “Guevara”.
You recently came out as gay (CONGRATULATIONS!), how has that affected your songwriting and the way you look at writing music?
YASSSSSSSS. I did. Thank you so much :) It’s affected my life dramatically and my writing. Growing up I never went on any dates, or flirted with any boys, or anything like that whatsoever. I was so scared and ashamed of myself. So when I moved out here and started venturing out….. my life really opened up into this crazy new world. I feel like most people start dating and going through those early insecurities when they’re in middle school. But to go through them at 18-19 was really wild. When I write, I’m typically always writing about what is going on in my life at the time. And when I moved to Nashville I was really an emotional wreck and was just trying to find and accept myself. It had a huge influence over the songs I was writing.
Your vocals are super soulful, who are some singers that inspire you?
So many! I think my mom was a huge inspiration to me. She has the most beautiful voice. Growing up she would always play and sing Whitney and Mariah and all of the greats. Also, growing up in the church I was always surrounded by amazing soul singers and musicians. I think it just kind of happened naturally.
I tend to listen to all sorts of genres. Some other personal fave’s of mine who have influenced me are Matt Corby, The Beach Boys, Rihanna…I could go on and on.
What can we expect from you this year?
More music! I’m so excited to continue to release new material and share more of my heart with everyone. It’s going to be an amazing year.
What does the word “queer” mean to you?
I feel like “Queer” is up to each individual’s interpretation.
To me, it’s a word that I feel we’ve taken back as a community, to refer to anyone and everyone in it.