Cuco, 19, Keeps His Feet On The Ground As His Dreamy Tracks Break Through
Omar Banos' approach to music is simple: He just wants to make music he would listen to on his own. Most of the time, that method manifests in uptempo hip-hop beats, jazzy electric guitar solos and bedroom indie pop-rock.
His method is working: Banos' sensitive, dreamy songs, under the moniker Cuco, have racked up millions of streams on Spotify and Soundcloud, and he performed at 2018's South by Southwest at the ripe age of 19.
From the Los Angeles-adjacent city of Hawthorne, Banos, who released two self-produced albums over the last two years, has been aspiring toward music for as long as he can remember. He cites his parents as influential in his breakthrough: "I got the creative aspects from my dad, and the business management from my mom," he said.
He always had wanted to play guitar, and picked it up in high school before expanding his repertoire to include the trumpet and French horn.
"I'm very committed to my instruments," Banos said. "If an instruments is right in front of me, and nobody has time to teach me, I just teach myself."
The same is true for his dreamy production. At 16, Banos got his hands on his first music-editing software, and he's developed a range of techniques.
"I don't really follow genres," said the artist. "I have a bunch of really poppy tracks, and then another super low-fi, tape-recorded sound. It's actually really random."
What doesn't seem so haphazard about Cuco's artistry is his starkly romantic lyrics: "Every time I look for you / You're nowhere near, it makes me blue / I swear I need you by my side right now / Forever," he sings yearningly on his latest track, "Sunnyside."
Anyone who has spent time with Cuco's discography — 2016's Wannabewithyou and 2017's Songs4u — has likely suspected that romantic musings must come organically to the teen. He switches between English and Spanish, singing with his pleasantly warm lilt of love and desire.
"When I'm writing, I just kind of put myself in a place, in a certain time period in my life," he said. "Love songs just kind of come out very naturally, me being a very romantic person."
Though Banos' soft sound might inspire daydreaming, the independent artist is keeping his feet firmly on the ground during his breakthrough.
"I feel like I'm watching myself take off, but my brain is still on the ground," he said. "This all happened so quick. I didn't even have time to become a diva!"
Banos adds that despite his success, he's not always recognized as Cuco — even by those attending his gigs. "I will wear chinos and vans, and sometimes people will get confused. They're like 'are you sure you're here to perform?' " he said. "I guess [my band and I] don't look like artists."
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.