It’s 11pm on a Tuesday when DIY finally manages to catch hyped Chilean-Norwegian musician Nico Muñoz for a long-overdue natter. The man behind Boy Pablo, it turns out, is a late riser. Stuck in self-isolation at his brother’s apartment in Bergen, the 21-year-old has been taking it easy today, he whispers, so as not to wake the neighbours. “I woke up at like, midday, and I guess I’ve been playing FIFA since then. I play a lot of FIFA…” he shrugs. We’ll give him a pass. Because while his hazy, sun-kissed jangle-pop might sound like the music of a daydreaming stoner, Nico’s no lazybones, having spent the whole of the pandemic filming a five-part, Wes Anderson-style teen fantasy video series in the run-up to last month’s stellar concept album ‘Wachito Rico’.
But hold up - how did we get here? Boy Pablo, melancholy indie crooner du jour, has been described as the next Mac DeMarco. He’s got his own fan-made subreddit community dedicated to topics such as ‘how does Boy Pablo do his hair?’, and his three million global monthly Spotify listeners have taken him to stages as far as Brazil, the Philippines, and California. He’s enjoyed a wild three-year ascendency without any kind of major label backing - and with his hotly-anticipated debut having finally just dropped, things could well blow up even further. And yet, you might never even have heard of him. What’s up with that?
“It was all just luck,” Nico admits, plugging in his PlayStation controller to charge as he sits down for our Zoom chat. After uploading 2017 single ‘Everytime’ to YouTube, the track started worming its way through the video streaming site’s algorithms, popping up at random whenever indie heads across the world forgot to close their browser tabs. This wasn’t something Nico had anticipated. Three years later, in 2020, the video has 34 million plays, and over 70 million streams on Spotify.
But fortune favours the bold, and as Nico reflects on his history, it’s hard to say that he didn’t deserve a break. “My mum and dad were really poor,” he explains, describing how his parents fled the brutal military dictatorship of Chilean president Augusto Pinochet when he was just a kid. “We were living in a bad neighbourhood in Chile, and they sacrificed their lives for us kids to move to Norway so that we could have a good life.” It wasn’t entirely so that Nico could become an indie heartthrob in his adulthood, though. “My mum wanted me to be a doctor!” he laughs. But his dad, at least, has been beaming about Boy Pablo’s success. “He was super stoked because I’m basically living his dream. To this day, he writes down how many streams I have on Spotify so we can see the progress.”
“Though I’m writing about difficult things, I try to find a way to make people feel uplifted.”
Moving to Norway wasn’t all plain sailing, however, and Nico sighs as he reflects on his school years in rainy, coastal Bergen. “I had really shitty friends before I met the band. We went all the way through school until I was 14 or 15 before they just stopped inviting me to parties and everything.” Nico ended up meeting his “brother” - manager and ‘Wachito Rico’ art director Fabio - in church, barely a year later. “I thought he was a douchebag at first, but then I realised he was just really, really smart,” the singer laughs. “We hung out every weekend playing ping pong, and then I started making beats, and he was rapping over them.”
The rest of the band fell into place after Nico packed his bags to enrol in boarding school. He recalls sharing a knowing glance with soon-to-be-keyboardist Eric Tryland during his first class, where he was advised by teachers that “this is not a summer camp and we are very strict here”. Before long, Nico’s classmates were “getting suspended for drinking in their dorms” while he and his future bandmates hung out playing soccer, skateboarding, and “playing volleyball completely naked”. “It felt like summer camp,” he notes cheekily. “I was very happy there.”
Fast-forward to 2020 and these golden years have been captured in ‘Wachito Rico’’s video series. Narrated by Tiger King’s Rick Kirkham, and inspired by Tyler, The Creator’s “don’t give a shit” mentality, the visual story that runs through sun-kissed ditties like ‘Rest Up’ and ‘Leave Me Alone!’ are dominated by these rose-tinted larks. There’s ping pong matches, football, showdowns with “sworn adversary” Nacho and, of course, a dreamy romance between the titular “handsome boy” Wachito Rico and his sweetheart Sofia. YouTube commenters are already demanding a “full nine-season Netflix series about how Wachito gets superpowers or something”.
But Wachito Rico - the record, the movie, the man - already does what was intended. In case the brightly-coloured film sets, melancholy guitar licks and heartfelt lyrics weren’t a strong enough indication already, Wachito Rico is Nico’s fantasy alter-ego; a means through which to express his realest feelings. “I don’t want everyone to know what’s going on with my personal life, so that’s how I deal with it,” he says. “It’s hard to write about things like my anxiety, but it feels really good because this way I can set out my emotions and sing them out.”
With nods to ‘60s love songs, summery tropicalia and Nico’s own Latin-American heritage popping up throughout, ‘Wachito Rico’ is a concept album that feels befitting of the person behind it. Tackling everything from insomnia and self-consciousness on songs like ‘i hope she loves me back’ and ‘come home’, the album reaches its emotional peak on piano-backed album closer ‘i <3 u’. “It’s really personal to me,” Nico admits. “I was having such a bad time at one point during my teenage years, and this special person rescued me.”
But as much as Nico loves sad songs, the album is, ultimately, about positivity. “Though I was writing about difficult things, I tried to find a way to make people feel uplifted,” he says. And as he comes to a conclusion, you can’t help but feel the optimism runs right through his blood. “Things don’t always turn out the way you want them to be,” he summarises. “But you can change, you can adapt. You can be fine.”
‘Wachito Rico’ is out now via 777 Music.
As featured in the November 2020 issue of DIY, out now.
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