At some point in life, everyone will have experienced how at least one of their 5 senses will give you a strong nostalgic sensation related to a specific sight, sound, smell, taste, or feeling. Personally, the smell of chitlins cooking reminds me of my grandmother’s house and her favorite Billie Holiday Song “Blue Moon” playing on the old Hi-Fi stereo.
It feels like a sunny Saturday morning – yes the smell of chitlins can make me feel happy. Or how a very particular hue of burnt orange mixed with faint yellows and black takes me back to my childhood home where my mom kept a monarch butterfly in a glass case, and where I remember listening to Janet Jackson’s “That’s the Way Love Goes” on repeat.
That is the power of our senses and the gift of music. Music can bring recollection, feelings, and visions of the past, present, and even future. It can feel like hope.
Araya is one of those artists who uses music and visuals to give his audience such an experience that it engages each of their senses. He comes in and out of the box package, an oxymoron; being of Latin & Asian descent creating R&B, a genre of music mostly dominated by African Americans but has captured hearts globally for invoking heartfelt feelings. It unifies us.
I wanted to talk to Araya and uncover what upon first approach seemed like layers upon layers of identities that shaped him as an out loud, colorful and eclectic R&B soul, electronic, and hip hop artist – Layers that make him create the types of art that he does. And even with his melodic moody singing style to his retro photos and futuristic neon graphics, I soon realized that rather than being super complex, Araya’s concept of music is actually far more familiar.
By no means is it simple, but it describes the beauty in the everyday experiences in life, and yes, through our multiple senses. I was certain that Araya would give me a great understanding of what he feels it means to be truly free.
Music became a part of my life during a time that was very serious. I felt seen musically at a time when I really really needed it. You could use [the word] “shape” the same way you would use the word “saved”. I think it’s a more artful way to address my journey and what got me here. Music saved me.
One of the first things I like to ask my interviewees is how would you describe your music in three words?
Araya: I would say it’s romantic, colorful. And introspective.
Why do you say introspective?
Araya: Because I find myself writing a lot about my personal experience. I feel like I’m my own muse, you know? And it’s like this really beautiful umbrella where I get to just share my experiences, all the people that I meet, my relationships, my heartbreaks, the amazing things that have happened to me in my career, and the obstacles too. It’s like an ever-giving subject matter.
Explain why you’d call it colorful.
Araya: Sonically, I want to make music that isn’t tied to any genre. And I just want to make sure that while I’m making it, I have this feeling that makes me feel good. I want to feel something. I just want the music to be emotive and provocative.
I think colorful is a beautiful word because when you start to feel something from a song or anything auditory that involves your other senses, it becomes a way more immersive situation. I’m trying to create a sound that seems like it could be seen and felt because my visual world is extremely important to me as well.
You’re an all-around visual and artistic medium aficionado. How did your experience in the fashion world shape how you approach creating music?
Araya: One of the most brilliant things that I learned from working in the fashion industry was relativity and having a direct influence of community. The music industry is extremely different for me because you have to get on a stage and say something. You have to say it really loud and you want people to hear it, and if people hear that’s great. In the fashion industry, you’re sort of born into a community if you play your cards right.
I worked under a lot of people and learned this really pure concept of relativity and that I can see beauty in fashion, which makes me see beauty in music. It really helped me hone a skill that I feel is very important to me and that is to be a consumer and being appreciative of things that I’m not involved in. Having that lens with art and with things that are creatively moving helped me so much when I wanted to do my own thing.
When it was finally time to have a moment for me and not work on other creative companies and have other things be the center – when it was finally my time, I felt like it was something that I had to justify because I had done it for so many other people.
That makes a lot of sense, and it sounds like you really studied the world of fashion. You’re able to approach it from the lens of someone who sees the art as a medium but also someone who can dive deep into the logistics of it as well.
Araya: Exactly. I went to art school and it was an amazing experience. I’m still close with my peers from that time to this day – but what I will say is, before I ever set foot in that school, I knew who I was, and I knew that there was something inside me that gave value to appreciate things. I don’t think school gives that to you. You have to recognize within yourself that it is a beautiful thing to appreciate another person’s art or even your own art. The fashion industry definitely helped me exercise that skill.
Jumping into more of your background, your ethnicity is a mixture of Thai and Chilean, and you’re based in Brooklyn, NY. How has your heritage and culture blended with your musical styles, and how do you choose to celebrate your culture and heritage within that?
Araya: I don’t want to be too grandiose about it, but I think the thing about being mixed race within the minority community feels like my people and my culture want me to do this and it right. There aren’t a lot of Asian people in mainstream R&B. I know that they’re out there, but I need to get put onto more artists like that. I love the R&B that I grew up with, and I hope to modernize that and bring it back. I think my culture [and upbringing] play such a big part in it. My parents have such good music taste. They’re such effortlessly artful people, and I think that’s directly influenced by our culture. My mother was a florist for a while and she used to import orchids that were only grown in Thailand off this farm that my grandmother grows. I constantly think about how effortlessly beautiful that is.
That’s beautiful. How has your mother responded to your career in music?
Araya: Oh, she’s really really proud. She was the person who told me to go to art school. It was a year before people started applying to college and she was like, “Christian, you should go to Parsons.” Mind you, we didn’t have money like that either, so she didn’t even know what she was saying. LOL. But she said, “Your aunt had crazy blue hair when she went to college, and I know you want to have crazy blue hair. I feel like those people [at Parsons] are like you.” That is truly a generational feat.
For my mother to be a Thai-immigrant woman in America and shed the kind of ideas that are so learnt [by culture] – that just meant so much to me as a kid. You know what I mean? It really made me feel like she knew that whatever my intentions were going to be, I wasn’t going to take the route that everyone else did, but I was gonna go just as hard and I was going to try to make something out of it.
That’s really impactful. And it’s good for parents to hear that. They worked hard and they came to the States and they did what they had to do so you could essentially do what you’re doing now.
Araya: Exactly, I really do do this for them. I do it for me too, but I do it for them. And every single time something amazing happens, before I call any of my friends, I call them first.
You mentioned that your music has shaped you, whereas most people would say that they shape their music in a certain way to reflect them. Explain what you mean by this.
Araya: Music became a part of my life during a time that was very serious. I felt seen musically at a time when I really really needed it. You could use [the word] “shape” the same way you would use the word “saved”. I think it’s a more artful way to address my journey and what got me here. Music saved me.
I was going through a bunch of stuff with my family, with my career – I had a great opportunity at Nike fall through when I was coming out of school, and I just wasn’t feeling too hot. I didn’t believe in myself and music was there. It always has been. My music has made me into the person that I always wanted to be. I’m not there yet, but it lets me feel like I’m on that journey.
In what way did it shape you specifically?
Araya: Music gave me a voice, and it let me feel like if I was really gonna say something, y’all are gonna hear it this time. That’s my voice. I’ve been writing songs in the dark my whole life, and now you guys are gonna give me a real shot at this. Like that’s crazy!
Y’all don’t know what y’all started.
Araya: Exactly, and on that note, that’s why it’s hard for me because I constantly battled this conflict between myself and a feeling of complacency. I just feel so blessed. I don’t have everything that I want, and I struggle all the time financially, and emotionally – but I just feel so blessed to have that voice and to feel like people care about my craft and what I’m doing because it’s everything to me. I think it’s amazing that I’m at least this far.
I want you to really dig deep on this one, but when do you feel you are the most free?
Araya: I feel the most free when I’m on stage. It just feels so beautiful to be up there and to see a physical manifestation of the hard work me and my friends are putting in – to make it to those little milestones and those moments that make it all feel really real.
How would you describe that feeling?
Araya: It’s very cumulative. It fills me with a sense of community. My heart just feels so full when I’m doing things like that. My producer and best friend told me after I played my first show, “Bro, when you’re on that stage, it’s like you’re home.” To hear that from my best friend who doesn’t beat around the bush or tell nobody lies – I just believe that shit.
When you are performing, even if you’re up there by yourself, you feel kind of one with everyone in the room. You feel oneness and it’s a shared experience. I love that you mentioned unity.
Araya: Totally! That’s so true. There’s been shows I’ve played where the audience might be less interactive, but it’s so interesting to realize this chemistry between me and them. I think, “Yo, y’all are here! Maybe by accident or on purpose, but you’re here to watch this happen and go down right now. I’m literally an entertainer, and I got to try to do my thing and show you that. Entertainment is such an interesting concept because it literally comes from my heart and soul. I think it’s amazing because that helps me like that concept and helps me mitigate some of the bad stuff that might feel too overwhelming. When I’m on stage, I feel like there are so many ways that this can go and nothing’s ever promised. That’s freedom. I think the most amazing things in life are the things that I can’t prepare for and the things that transform and catalyze my character.
What’s next for you? What’s something that you’re looking forward to in the near future?
Araya: We released the Ethos album this spring, and I’m really happy about that and want people to continue streaming it. It’s an album about the duality between the spirit and intention. Through the pandemic, I felt like I was forced into a super introspective frame of mind, so that’s where my mind went to.
I’m working on another EP and will release that soon. I’ll be playing a show at Winston House and hope to perform for a bunch of other shows in New York really soon.