—interview by Bianca Betancourt @bybiancabee
It's not too often a breakup reflection song simultaneously makes you want to dance.
Lester Rey, Chicago's quickly rising Latin Neo-Soul artist, accomplishes that very fact though in his newest track and visual "Never Been Alone".
The premise of the song is simple—too often we don't take enough time in between relationships and we're too eager to get to know someone new before we take the time to figure out ourselves. The build of the track however, is more complex; Rey's smooth vocals balancing on top of El Bles' bump-inducing beats provide a fresh take on the duo's already unique musical styles.
We spoke with Rey about how the track and the El Bles collaboration came to be and what's next for the always active musician in 2017, below.
CIRCUS: We love the juxtaposition of the solemn lyrics of "Never Been Alone" but the upbeat tempo of the music behind the remixed track. Tell us a little bit about how this song and collaboration came to be.
REY: The original song is a Boogaloo inspired song that can be found in "The Blue Lion" EP, which was released in January of 2016. The song was written as a message and reminder to myself after a breakup that occurred in Fall of 2015 that there were still things I needed to learn about myself and that I needed to take time to self reflect. As a friend once told me, I had a record of being a "serial monogamous" person and needed to break that and be alone for a change to learn self love, self care, and self worth. The song alludes to my fear of being alone, but has a message reminding me that it can be a positive experience and journey.
I met El Bles at SXSW 2016 and we found a common inspiration in Latin Soul. We both have similar aspirations to bring Latin Soul back but for our generation, so after he invited me to open up in Orlando for his EP release, "I Am Latin Soul," I knew I wanted to work with him further. His musical style and taste really breathes new life to his Latin Soul vibes. I knew that I wanted to work with him for the release of "Blue Lion Reimagined," which was released this past January 2017. He had full artistic license to remix the song as he saw fit. When I heard the ambiance, yet upbeat tempo, I felt like he really captured the essence of Never Been Alone. He captured the idea that it can be sad and thought provoking, but through its upbeat tempo he created a feeling that everything is okay and that there is plenty to learn from being alone.
CIRCUS: Why is it so important to you to continue to embrace your identity and heritage through your music?
REY: I had the opportunity to talk to students in DePaul a couple weeks ago about the power of keeping tradition alive. As I was preparing for that discussion, I was forced to really narrow down why I continuously embrace the multiple identities that describe me and my heritage in different ways through each song. I do it because I love it, I love my journey and all the elements that have inspired it. It is important to me because through my music I resist, I resist in a country that wants to kill me and wants to push me to fully assimilate and acculturate to its philosophy. It is important to me because through my music I exist, I affirm my presence in the present. I am a proud gender-fluid, Chicago-Rican, agnostic, working class human that enjoys Boleros, Reggaeton, Funk, and Juke. Finally, it is important to me because I want to use my voice and not be silenced by any oppressor or colonial force. I want to, as James Brown said, "Say It Loud!"
CIRCUS: Why did you decide to "reimagine" the original Blue Lion EP?
REY: I love my first EP and it was the beginning of me defining new genres that I called Boogaloo Urbano and Neo Latin Soul, but as it took me to meet new people and shows outside of Chicago, I was inspired by so many underground influences in tropical bass, Hip Hop, Global Bass, Moombahton, and more. The Reimagined EP served a couple of different purposes, it was an opportunity to celebrate the 1 yr anniversary since the release of the original project and an opportunity to celebrate and collaborate with the people that I had met throughout the year who inspired me. Overall, "Blue Lion Reimagined" is a more upbeat project and gave me the opportunity to hear how some of my favorite DJs and Producers in underground scenes from around the world imagined my music. It was a treat to me,as I hope it's a treat to the listeners out there who downloaded the free project.
CIRCUS: What upcoming projects can we expect from you in 2017?
REY: After dropping a mixtape called PROMESA in November of 2016 and "Blue Lion Reimagined" this past January, I want to get back to Boogaloo Urbano and Neo Latin Soul. I'm actually very excited about a Neo Latin Soul project in the works. It is a collaborative album between producer El Bles and myself, where he is cutting and sampling Latin oldies and giving it new life in a sexy, Neo Latin Soul vibe. We are calling ourselves La Propuesta (The Proposal), as we propose an alternative Latin form of music that is both creative and and filled with emotion that allow listeners to get lost in their feels. Look out for La Propuesta coming this out this summer!
You can catch Rey in Austin later this month for multiple SXSW shows (like Sahara Unofficial Funk, Soul, Alternative Hip-Hop Rock Showcase, Latinx AF and The Peligrosa House) and see the new visual for "Never Been Alone" exclusively below.