“Bubble King” was a track that made us sit up straight the first time we heard it. It was almost instantaneous – the musical movements, the vocals, the clear influences, the up-tempo sound that was met with an earnest approach to the lyrics… And it helped that Vector Xing vocalist Stevan Cablayan seemed to be pretty aware of who he was and how he was growing and learning to be expressively comfortable in just that.

Cablayan took time out of his creative schedule to talk with us about his artistic path, one that includes time spent with none other than Quincy Jones, and where he’s headed as an independent artist. We could try to summarize more, but you need to soak in this.

“I think true connectivity through music is what’s needed.”

Looking at your list of who you were listening to growing up, there were so damn big heavy hitters listed. It seems like they were pretty spread out, but were there any particular artists you think influenced you a bit more than the rest? Any who made you think, “This is definitely what I want to do”?

Sonically I think Earth, Wind, and Fire and Stevie Wonder are my two biggest influences. They create such deep, immense, and intricate music. And they switch between these gigantic sounding up-tempo anthems, and in the next track can go to a delicate and sexy love song. Production wise, it’s Quincy Jones.

I worked for him for about 3 years, and he really instilled in me the importance of knowing your craft inside and out. It’s only then that you can really start to see freedom in your music. I’m by no means close to that point, but it’s always in the back of the mind. I’m striving towards the precision and dedication it takes to make an album like Thriller.

Artist wise Janet Jackson is someone I always come back to. She takes such big risks in everything she does. Especially with her visual aesthetic, she continues to evolve naturally and remain relevant. 

It sounds like carving out your own path that’s way forked off from your contemporaries is something you prefer. Does it ever get a little too intimidating doing that knowing who your influences were and are?

No, for me it’s the only way. There are enough people trying to keep up with current trends. I’ve spent too much time trying to discover who I really am to try and be someone else. All the artists that I admire the most stand firmly in their uniqueness.

Everyone’s path is different, there’s no use in being envious of the pace or shape of someone else’s journey. I think more than creating music, my biggest accomplishment over the past year or so is really tapping into my core beliefs. Tapping into what drives me. What inspires me. What makes me, me. And those are things that no one on earth can replicate. My vision for my art and my future are things that only I can hold. I just have to stand in that truth and execute.

“Funk is rebellion to me.”

Related to your peers – there are some ripples of old-school soul, funk, jazz, etc. that you can hear in a few, but not many, artist’s work. What do you think is drawing people to these sounds in 2017? What made you decide that was the approach you were going to take?

The world has been turned on its head. The political climate is unrelenting and unforgiving at times. For me, I just wanted to grab onto something that made sense. I want to draw things into my life that feel tangible and real. I also just want to bring good energy into my life.

Funk, soul, and jazz do that for me. They are the base of my musical foundation. And also foundation of American music. I read this book called Blues People by Leroi Jones that sort of changed my life with regards to this topic. It talked about the intersection of race and music in America and how intertwined they are. And I found that intersection to be a source of a lot of creativity. 

And with that, does it ever feel like maybe you’re standing on the shoulders of giants that are too big? That maybe the easy way out would just be to follow a current trend?

Going back to the words of Quincy, he always recommends [paraphrasing] walk in the footsteps of giants, and you’ll breathe rare air. Over and over and over again, you have to do exactly as they do. Sing the same runs, have the same intonations, hit the same notes. You’ll probably never be as good as them, but even if you’re 75% of the way there, suddenly you’re much higher than you thought you could ever be. And you’re becoming more and more aware of what it takes to reach those heights.

So yeah this idea really stuck with me. And if I’m aiming to be as good as a contemporary who’s in the beginning or the middle of their careers, it wouldn’t be aiming as high as if I’m shooting to fill the shoes of someone like a Michael Jackson or a Prince or a Bowie. You can always decide how big or small you’d like to be. You are your only road block.

Pivoting to the track – “Bubble King,” love it. It’s ridiculously impressive how the music shifts and adjusts on a dime after calling on an array of sounds, like if Vandross fronted Parliament at times. What was the production process like in making it happen?

Wow, thanks that’s really nice of you to say! All I can say is that this is what the world sounds like in my brain (laughs). When I say I’m influenced by many different artists, I really mean it. These artists are part of me and what I aim to do.

In general I set out to make a 90s style R&B song, with a funk mentality with the energy of a rock song. So I found moments to bring each of those elements out. They all fit together because they all come from the same musical roots. If you think of music like art, each genre is like a different medium.

So basically I’m just making a mixed media collage. A little bit of oil paint, water color, reds, blues, yellow, different textures and fabrics and put them on all on a big canvas. And somehow at the end it all works together. 

How about being in the studio? It sounds like one of those tracks where the energy recording it would have been unparalleled.

Well, I’m an independent artist, so studio is a relative term (laughs). Most of the track was produced and recorded in my bedroom. I booked some studio time for some of the trumpets and vocals and had other musicians fill in key parts in their home studios around LA.

But nothing was really recorded in a traditional studio setting. The biggest task for me was bringing all of the elements together and making them make sense for the song. 

The track title is pretty thought provoking as well. I have my interpretations of what it could be, but they could be way off (laughs) – so what’s the story behind the track and the lyrics within?

Yeah, I think it can mean a lot of different things to different people. For me it’s about knowing yourself and standing in your truth. And not being influenced by the will of others to the point that you’re denying your own wants and needs.

It’s also about finding beauty in where you are. Whether that’s in a physical location or just where you are in life. That’s where the LA comes in. LA really feeds my soul, because it’s such an intimate part of who I am as a person. I’ve spent almost my entire life here, and it’s very hard to understand me as a person without understanding the city.

And I think the phrase living in a bubble has taken on a different tone since the election of Trump, but for me it means being awake and aware of your surroundings and knowing how much you can affect the immediate world around you. We all have a sphere of influence, whether it’s big or small, and we can all decide how we want to affect the world.

I feel like the track nails your statement “I am many things and am perpetually becoming more” in a variety of ways. But speaking of being many things, you’re pretty open about the daily life of being a gay black artist who isn’t afraid to challenge. Were these topics that were always out in the open and comfortable for you to discuss, or did you find them easier to discuss as you grew as an artist?

I’ve only been out for about 5 years, and I’d say I only honestly started to full embrace my queerness in the past year or so. I’m proud of my previous releases, but what I felt was missing from those tracks was more honesty about my identity.

It’s definitely been a growing process for me to grow into parts of myself that used to make me uncomfortable. Especially with the egregious acts of police brutality against black men that have escalated and been brought to the political forefront, it’s my duty as an artist and as a person to speak my truth.

There’s no separation between who I am as a person and who I am as an artist. It often feels like a personal assault from all sides sometimes in the current political climate being a black gay man. But I know my privilege and the opportunities I have been given because of certain parts of my identity. And I know I have a responsibility to try and change current realities. I’m just going through the process of figuring out how best to do that. Telling my story through music is a start.

“I’ve spent too much time trying to discover who I really am to try and be someone else. All the artists that I admire the most stand firmly in their uniqueness.”

Soul and funk are sounds that are synonymous with specific eras of racial and political struggle in America. How do you, as a creator, see these past struggles, look at the struggles our current society, and focus that art and energy towards the positive? I’d like to think of your music being firmly planted in positive reality, so how do you find that balance?

Funk is rebellion to me. My dad grew up in Lemeirt Park which was a focal point of black excellence and a hotbed for black resistance in the 70s. And that spirit I think has been deeply instilled within me. That’s the Los Angeles that I know and love.

And I grew up listening to songs like “Atomic Dog” by George Clinton. The song is so vibrant and futuristic, but most importantly it’s clever in how political it is. I think that’s what I’m most interested in. Talking about my pain in a way that transcends the pain. In a way that the pain isn’t my captor. Seeing the beauty in the things that are horrific. 

Lastly – we don’t say this often, and I think we’ve only said it once in an interview, but we’re ridiculously excited for what you have in stores – so what do you have coming up? What’s the best way for people to get your music and support you? Do you have an EP, LP, shows, etc. coming up?

Wow, that such a kind thing to say! Thank you so much. That means a lot to me! I’ve been writing a ton and have a lot of music that I need to figure out how I’d like to present to the world. “Bubble King” is a reintroduction of who I am as an artist – a starting point to declare my intentions.

As an independent artist, the most important thing for me right now is figuring out how to get my music in front of as many people as possible. I think you have to be really creative in the digital age about how to do that because there is so much content being created at all times. So the best thing right now for anyone to do who is digging the music is to share. Not just share the music by itself, but share with friends about why the music is hitting you the way it does. I think true connectivity through music is what’s needed.

I’ll hopefully have a full EP out by the fall, and I’m planning shows now, in and around LA. Will be sure to keep everyone updated!