Not long ago, I was driving down California’s I-5 late at night, making what I refer to as the Drive of Dreams—cruising the long stretch of highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It was during the tail end of my drive between the two iconic cities when I became bored of my usual concoction of music playlists and decided to explore the real estate of my Apple Music subscription a little more fully. With my beautiful wife sleeping peacefully in the passenger seat and feeling contemplative behind the glow of headlights, I began sorting through the 'chill' category and finally settled on a playlist fittingly entitled 'mood.' A song called “The Juice” by an artist named HERO began playing and a dark 80’s synth beat with a smooth R&B voice filled the car. It was the type of song that perfectly matched the vibe of nighttime reveries. I immediately grabbed my phone to add the song and the EP from which it came—VHS POP—to my library. I played the song on repeat for the rest of the weekend and it has remained a solid fixture in my aux cord decisions ever since.
Soon after discovering HERO and his incredibly swaggy/sultry EP VHS POP, I sought to follow the artist on social media in order to stay up to date on new music, as one does in our digital age. I had a surprisingly difficult time finding his accounts at first, and when I did I was even more surprised to find a Twitter and Instagram account each with less than 1000 followers. It was then that I realized just how unknown the Canadian R&B artist has confusingly remained, even with a song like “The Juice” that currently has over half a million plays on Spotify, 300,000 plays on SoundCloud, and recognition from the playlist editors at Apple Music.
In an effort to inform the world of the irresistibly good music of HERO and his unique fusion of self-produced R&B/retro pop, I reached out to the eclectic artist from Calgary, Alberta and asked him a few questions.
Let's talk about the hit track from VHS POP that a lot of people have streamed online. “The Juice” currently has over half a million plays on Spotify and 314,000 on Soundcloud. Did you anticipate it would be such a hit?
I had a hunch that the song would do well based off reactions I would get when I played it for people, especially girls. I had no idea it would be the biggest track off the EP though.
Talk about the creative process that went into writing, producing, and recording "The Juice." What was the inspiration behind it?
We all have that one person we’d do anything for. No matter what you put each other through, how long you stop talking for, or how destructive you are for one another, you still love them. That type of relationship was the basis for the song. I started off with that synth bass line and sort of built it up from there. Honestly I was just trying not to overcomplicate the production. I really wanted it to be stripped down and accessible, a pop ballad but with sci-fi sounds.
Many of the greats like Kanye and Pharrell also pride themselves on producing their own music. Are you influenced by artists like this? Who are your influences?
I’d say they influence me in the sense that they’ve always done things their own way regardless of what people thought at the time. They completely control their creative direction from end to end, and producing their own music is really just an extension of that.
I have a lot of influences though. When I was growing up, genres like rock, disco and electronic music had the most impact on me. I remember the first time I snuck into a punk show in like elementary or junior high, there was something about the attitude and aggressiveness that I really fucked with. Those kind of experiences shaped who I am today, from how I dress down to how I approach writing music. Other influences I’d name off the top are Bowie, John Carpenter, Bad Brains, Slipknot, Hedi Slimane, and Earth, Wind & Fire.
In our social media age, there have been a lot of unknowns like Chief Keef, Bobby Shmurda, Desiigner, and Rich Chigga who have come out of nowhere with a fire track and because it goes viral they are able to establish a huge platform of loyal followers and have a career pretty much overnight. With you, your music seems to have made the rounds online as well, but your own social media presence has remained small. Why do you think that is?
That’s the thing, I don’t think my music has really made the rounds. It's weird, there’s been a lot of love from Spotify and Apple Music, but most of the major blogs and publications want nothing to do with me. Even getting a premiere for VHS POP was a nightmare; no one wanted to cover it.
You also have to remember that the genre those other artists are operating within is one of the biggest on the planet—[rap and hip-hop] are already a huge part of the cultural lexicon. It doesn’t hurt to have a celebrity cosign as well. I’m not trying to take anything away from them, but it’s worth mentioning.
Now, when you consider what I do—this sort of weird mash-up of various genres such as disco, retro pop, dance and R&B—it can take a bit for people to warm up to it. I make songs built off pop structures and arrangements but they're just not as straightforward genre-wise, which I think might turn some people off. I usually notice one of three reactions people have to my music, they either: A) Love it B) Don't fuck with it at all C) Don't really like it, but then a month later it's all they listen to.
There's a lot of Canadian artists that have been popping off for a while now—Drake, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Tory Lanez, PARTYNEXTDOOR to name a few—but they all have one thing in common: they're all from Ontario. What is it like being an artist trying to make it from Alberta?
I love Calgary, the city where I grew up, but it can be uninspiring at times. It's a great place if you want to be stable or comfortable but not much else. It’s not really a place to take risks. There’s definitely a lot of talented people and the population is very supportive, but sometimes it can feel like you’re living in a time machine; lot of dudes are still following trends and styles that are long past relevant and then wondering why they don’t pop. Or they’re just not setting a high enough bar of quality for themselves and let their homies gas them up.
I mean, it’s been changing for the better over the years, especially with some of the younger dudes coming up, but it still has some ways to go. I feel like I’m sounding a bit harsh but it’s only because I care so much about the city. At the end of the day the talent is there, just some of the mentality needs to change.
Your music and your overall aesthetic have a real retro vibe. Where do you get a lot of your creative inspiration from?
In terms of writing, just real life situations, whether it’s stuff I've experienced in the past or things I'm currently living through. It's hard for me to talk about anything else. VHS POP was all about what was going on the last two years of my life up until that point. Outside of that, frustration, horror films and rock & roll.
What are you working on right now?
The new EP and designing/composing the live show.
What's the dream you're working toward?
Where do you see yourself in three years?
Alive and hopefully still sober.
Robbie Tripp is a writer, public speaker, and creative activist. He is the author of Create Rebellion, an abstract manifesto for disruptive creativity. He lives and creates in San Francisco with his wife Sarah. Learn more at www.robbietripp.com.
For more like this, check out our chat with Dosseh, the French rapper who nabbed a Young Thug feature, right here.