The vocalist and multi-instrumentalist details how the saturation of trap metal prompted him to reconnect with his nouveau nu-metal roots.
Growing up is hard to do. Establishing one’s identity as a young artist in front of thousands of fans, followers, and foes can be even harder. But whether it’s experimenting with sounds or adjusting a public persona, growing pains give way to comfort. For one-man band Blvc Svnd, his 23rd birthday is a time of reflection.
“It’s lunar eclipse season, so I’m thinking about a lot of old shit and a lot of old behavior patterns and trying to let go of those things,” he says from his home in Pasadena, California. “I’ve just been focused on being more confident within myself and letting go of caring about what other people say about me, especially since I’m moving into a whole new genre.”
Blvc Svnd’s meditations are reflected in the name of his upcoming album Atelf – a combination of the Hindu word “atman,” meaning the essence of being, and “self.” Calling it his “magnum opus,” Atelf, due for release this summer, will serve as the follow up to his 2020 album By Any Means Necessary. A fusion of groove, d-beat, and nouveau nu metal, the project was a seminal installation in Blvc Svnd’s creative journey. The record was not only the first rock record he has recorded under his current moniker, but a feat as a solo vocalist and multi-instrumentalist.
While Blvc Svnd and his live band, the 444s, may be the new metallic troop on the block, Svnd is hardly new to rock and roll. Having played his axe both in the form of private guitar lessons and Guitar Hero as a boy, he has always been enamored with the cathartic nature of music. As he grew older, he began playing classical cello in school. He credits his time in the orchestra with his ability to recognize various auditory components and the process through which they can be placed in harmony. Nevertheless, he continued to crave the freedom of metal and punk, which prompted him to learn how to perform unclean vocals through Melissa Cross’ The Zen of Screaming.
Like other young artists in his cohort, Blvc Svnd would eventually take interest in the budding SoundCloud scene. While the oversaturation of what’s reductively referred to as “emo rap” (often grouped in with its abrasive cousin “trap metal”) has since dulled the allure of the platform, he was graduating high school at a time when it was a world of untapped potential. With artist collaboration frequent and creative output high, Blvc Svnd thrived in this universe as an alternative rapper – until he didn’t.
Yearning to offer a more modern take on the metal greats from the ’80s to the early 2000s, Blvc Svnd buckled down in his songwriting to carry the torch of rock to the next generation. While he still has much more life to live, he has already learned to become a protagonist in his story when it comes to bettering himself, his community, and the future of music.
How have you been?
Honestly, everything has been a lot better. It’s crazy because [before the Pandemic], I was just coming into what it is I really want to do, but I still wasn’t fully committed to it. I still had one foot in rap and shit. I had never really found out what I wanted to do because I’ve done a lot of different things in the music industry. I realized earlier this year that I want to make heavy music. I’ve just been working on a bunch of music. I have hundreds and hundreds of songs.
How did you go from performing alternative rap to a more traditional rock format, albeit as a one-man band?
Basically, what made me really want to make the transition was that when I was doing trap metal and doing rap shit, it just felt like I wasn’t doing anything original. My dream as a musician is to do something that’s original, to start something. All the artists I listen to pretty much started a different wave, like Korn, Slipknot, System of a Down, and all the super low key hardcore bands I’m into. They started a whole new wave. When I started doing trap metal in 2016, people frowned upon it. They talked shit about it. It was kind of exciting. I was like okay, this is the new sound. Then it just seemed like in 2019 certain artists blew up and it’s become cute, you know what I’m saying? It didn’t have the rawness that I used to like about it. It just made sense that I would [return to rock] because first, it was original, and second, it felt comfortable. I grew up playing in bands my whole life. It was pretty much going back to my life’s work.
From your perspective, what do you think led to the development of trap metal in the mid-2010s?
I just think that a lot of kids my age, people that were born from ’96 to 2001, we all grew up on Guitar Hero and we all grew up on the last bit of rock. I think that rock stopped being mainstream around 2006. We were all little kids listening to SOAD and Slipknot and Linkin Park. It made sense that we were all conditioned to like rock and metal. Then in the early 2010s there was Lex Luger, who is a super innovative producer. His sound is really aggressive and so hard. I feel like Waka Flocka was a big part of that too because he was making aggressive trap. He was yelling and doing ad libs. He was basically screaming on the track. So, I feel like it was a combination of the fact that we grew up on Guitar Hero plus the evolution of trap in general, like the evolution of production and all that. It all came together. We were all listening to Chief Keef. I remember the early 2000s sound and that’s what we grew up on, so it was a mixture of both.
The 2010s era of hip hop was definitely more aggressive than the late ’90s and early 2000s hip hop, which was more lyrical or melodic.
Exactly. It seemed like on the hook they would have an R&B singer and then there would be the rap verses with a guitar sample beat. That was the way to get a hit, like make something for the ladies, kind of like the formula that Drake stole. That’s what was hella popping back then. But I liked that shit, too. I liked Pharrell and The Neptunes and that kind of production. That was definitely a big influence because I think Pharrell was kind into Bad Brains and Minor Threat because he’s from the DMV and the DMV has a very specific sound. He took some of that—the hardcore punk and metal sound—and put it into his production.
Even just looking into the history of rock in general, it’s an amalgamation of so many different genres. It’s rooted in R&B, going back to the ’40s and ’50s and the contributions of Black folks, and then The Beatles came along and took credit for a lot of that.
Nah, that was us for sure. And that didn’t really stop. Nobody really talks about it, but Bad Brains in 1985 and 1986 were kind of on the nu metal sound way before everybody. I think that a lot of people were influenced by that, too. I just think rock and hip hop are so much closer than everybody realizes. So, trap metal was the baby of that. Everybody just embraced it because a lot of people don’t really embrace it, whether they like hip hop or rap. They try to put them in different boxes. But I think people in trap metal were like hey, we like both.
You mentioned how alternative rap is a bit more mainstream and not as dangerous and exciting as it used to be. What do you make of these new aesthetic punks?
I just think that it’s so corny because a lot of these people that are on this wave now like five years ago looked completely different. They wore colorful turtlenecks and sherpa lined jean jackets and wore New Balances. Now they want to wear chains and band tees. It’s kind of disappointing because the shit I got made fun of and demonized for my whole life has become cute. It’s wack. I really got made fun of and really had to get into fights and had to go through some shit just to be who I am. It’s just annoying that these kids are like okay, I’m just going to make punk pop now or new wave synth pop and ride the wave. That’s just how music is. There’s going to be people that ride the wave. There’s always going to be people that are actually genuine to who they are. I’m learning to realize that and that’s what helps me to deal with that.
There’s been a lot of conversation about the integration of moshing within rap or hip hop. Is that something you could contextualize for our readers?
I feel like moshing [in rap] started around the SoundCloud era because everyone was doing shows together in 2016 and 2017. It didn’t matter if you made punk or rap or Lil Peep-type shit. Everyone was on the same show. It would be punk kids and metal kids and people like me at the show. We’d mosh and people would be scared of it at first, but then it became a regular thing where everyone’s starting to get in the pit. As soon as Travis Scott and Smokepurpp started doing that at festivals, it became a part of the rap culture. But I think the pit in the hip hop show is way different than a pit at a metal show. The pit at the hip hop show is just something where people are jumping around, very politely. You bump into people. It’s kind of cute. But a pit at a metal show or hardcore show, people are crowd killing and stage diving. People are really hurting each other at punk shows. There’s definitely a big difference.
So, you grew up playing in bands and then you made the transition into trap metal, and now you’re coming back into more purist rock again. What has that transition back to your roots been like?
It’s been amazing because I’ve been playing drums a lot more. I’ve been playing bass again. It’s really nice to get back into instruments that I haven’t been focusing on in years. It’s been a really awesome journey finding the way I want to tune my drums and how I want my bass tone to sound – all these things I’ve really never paid attention to. It’s really awesome. It’s a beautiful experience. I’m the type of person that likes the process of things, so this is really fulfilling to me. I’m kind of figuring out the new things that I want and like. Honestly, I’ve been writing a lot, more metal and hard rock shit. It feels better and it feels more fun. It doesn’t feel like I’m forcing it. When I was doing rap, it felt like I was forcing myself to write lyrics and be this character, this ‘I don’t give a fuck’ demon. I had to live up to that. I don’t even have to be any of that no more. I can be 100% me.
How would you describe who Blvc Svnd is in your current era?
I feel like I’m a lot more mature. I know what I really want. All of the little things that triggered me maybe two or three years ago don’t really affect me now. I feel way more evolved and much more mature. I was making all that music, like trap metal, when I was fresh out of high school, so I was going through that transition of becoming an adult and how to make money. I was going through a lot of shit. I was kind of living on the edge. I was smoking a lot of cigarettes and smoking Woods and drinking a lot. I don’t even drink or smoke tobacco no more. That’s a big thing. When I used to drink a lot, I felt really tired and not mentally aware. Since I’ve quit drinking, I feel so much clearer minded and so much more sharp and excited about life. When I was drinking every day, I felt so depressed and I couldn’t even fucking think.
There seems to be this expectation for artists. ‘Oh, I’m a tortured soul, I need to do all of these substances.’ Then we grow up and realize that we can be creative without them.
Exactly. And honestly, that’s part of it, but I actually was a tortured soul. I was going through a bunch of shit. I was unpacking my childhood trauma and all this shit I went through as a kid and trying to move on from that. That shit was really difficult, so I put it off for years until Quarantine. When Quarantine hit, I had no choice. I just feel so much better and so much happier, just more content with what I do.
What’s the status of your mental health project, Helping Hand?
It’s just about making the money to do it. I’ve looked at reviews for BetterHelp and texting therapy services because that was my initial idea at first. I changed what I wanted to do because I noticed that most people in society watch minute-long videos all day. We just be scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. I was thinking maybe we can have a TikTok-style platform, but have certain categories of what you’re going through and have psychologists and real therapists give their opinion on how to help yourself, how to make yourself better. For example, dealing with anxiety because of a certain situation, or the mental effects of dealing with hate as a black trans person – getting really specific on what people are going through mentally. It could be a free platform because nobody can pay for therapy. A lot of people have therapy that doesn’t even work, or if you tell them what’s really going on in your head, they send you to the psych ward. I’m really focused on getting my money up and then I can really invest a lot of my time and everything into it.
You mentioned that the process of making music has become more rewarding as you’ve expanded your sound. What is the story behind your upcoming album, Atelf?
I started to really work on the songs I made during Quarantine. I’ve never really taken this long to work on music before. I took those songs and really evolved them and tried to make them the best they could be. I went back and listened to best-selling albums like Back in Black by AC/DC and work by Guns N’ Roses. I asked myself, ‘what can I learn from them to make my record better?’ I tried to incorporate what I heard from those records into my record. I think it’s the best album I’ve ever made because I spent a long time working on it.
It really helped me learn how to mix and master. I got my album By Any Means Necessary mastered by someone else, and I didn’t really like how it sounded. I decided to buckle down and learn how to mix my own shit. Somebody mixing your own shit is like somebody painting your painting for you. When you’re mixing and mastering, that’s what the listener hears in the headphones. That’s the final painting. I learned how to do it pretty well and really went in on this album. I dropped my EPs and my singles and I’m letting them run up, and then when I drop this crazy album next year, I can focus on Helping Hand.
What kind of fan base do you think this album will attract?
It seems like I’ve been going through a transition. There are people who are fully supportive of me doing my band, and then there are people who want me to do my old sound. But at the end of the day, I don’t really care because this is what I want to do and what I feel comfortable doing. I’ve noticed that there’s a whole generation of kids right now who are really into Korn and Deftones, but they’re a lot younger than me. I’m trying to get those kids into my shit. Right now, rock and metal’s cool, but it seems like a lot of stuff is overproduced – too many synths and too much of that EDM element. I don’t have a problem with it, but I think people are overdoing it. I think people have a hunger for that raw sound that was popular in the late ’90s, early 2000s. I want to do that, but with a modern twist to it; with a new flow, and the new drum beats.
Have you picked up your cello lately?
Yeah, I actually put some on the new album. For Atelf, I’ve pulled out all stops. I did keyboard. I did cello. I pretended I was a choir. I did like eight layers of vocals on one song. I really went in on that shit, so I’m super excited about it.
Are there any collaborations on this record?
It’s 100% Blvc Svnd. I did a bunch of reflecting in Quarantine, and it just seems like everything goes better for me when I focus on myself and my own career instead of trying to bring people up, trying to help people out. I’ve really been focused on myself and what I really want to do. I’m just trying to focus on me. When I can collab with someone I really want to collab with, I will. I want to collab with all the OGs. Everyone I look up to is over the age of 30.
Is there anyone off the top of your head you’d be really stoked to work with?
Bring Me the Horizon. They remind me of myself, just not giving a fuck and doing what they want. They’re not trying to stay in one genre or in one lane. I think that would be a dope thing to do. I remember in 2007 my brother showing me Pray for Plagues and it was crazy. I remember seeing them come up on MySpace when Oliver Sykes was everyone’s crush. I feel like I grew up with them, too. Corey has obviously influenced me my whole life so it would be amazing just to get in the studio with him and see how he works. Corey is like 48, so it’s more of a dad and son type vibe with him. His son Griffin’s band [Vended] is good, too. He’s a really crazy vocalist.
Do you remember where you were when you first heard Slipknot?
I actually have the funniest story about Slipknot. I’m pretty sure the first time was in Guitar Hero. I was listening to them and liked it, but it was so heavy and it was so crazy it kind of scared me. I didn’t know what the fuck it was, but it was hard. My parents and I were going to church and shit a lot. When I was 7 or 8 years old, I got there on Sunday after I played “Before I Forget,” the pastor was passing around the mic just to answer any random questions. I don’t know why I asked him this, but I was like ‘what is this artist talking about in this song?’ I mentioned the line where Corey says ‘I was a creature before I could stand.’ Obviously, my pastor took it as a chance to go into this whole satanic panic lecture. I was fucking scared shitless after that. Like, oh my god, this nigga is satanic.
Now that I look back at it, I’m super mad that I let him make me feel that way about Slipknot. I liked them all the way back then, but I was turned off and scared shitless of them. But, when I was 15 or 16 and hanging out with Weird Clan, like Eric North was like ‘yo, you should go back and listen to Slipknot.’ Obviously, I tried to be like a typical 16-year-old and put on a front like ‘oh, they’re trash,’ but actually knowing I was scared shitless of them and have this whole embarrassing story attached to them. But something in me told me to go listen to their debut album. I had heard “Psychosocial” before, but when I heard the first album, my head and my brain and my whole body fucking exploded. I was blown away. That was like the hardest shit I had heard in my life. When I heard “Eyeless,” I think I started crying. I finally found what I really liked. When the breakdown came back slower I went fucking bonkers.
I still listen to that album every fucking day. That shit changed my whole life. Joey’s drumming is what stood out to me about that album. I had never heard a metal drummer play with that kind of groove while still having the precision of an extreme metal drummer. It was just slapping. He was playing with the craziest fucking kick patterns, especially on “Prosthetics” – that was my favorite song as far as drumming. I literally have Joey tatted on my right arm, him in his first mask. I got it back in 2018 before he passed. He was one of my biggest inspirations and really changed my life.