Serving as a celebration of his self-described “boy band trap” offerings, Latin R&B artist Ztilo is dropping his debut EP, No Hard Feelingz, on November 12. The record is an ode to his Latin and Bay Area roots, a culmination and blending of genres from pop, to hip-hop, to soulful R&B.
Collaborating with Los Angeles-based mixing engineer Zach Steele (Travis Scott, Trey Songz, The Weeknd) for production and songwriting aspects, Ztilo’s 10-track record takes the listener on a journey of his sonic influences. For Ztilo, though, the reward of his artistry lies in the emotional impact he makes on his audience. Whether a song is more upbeat and celebratory, or mellow and sincere, the audience’s response to his work is always the most valuable asset.
This EP serves as a clear indication that Ztilo’s large-scale debut is only getting started. We previously touched on his artistic transition from his prior moniker, Cristiles, and No Hard Feelingz is a sort of emergence of Ztilo’s fresh identity as a musician.
We had the pleasure of hopping on a phone call with Ztilo to chat about the EP, his musical influences, and his experiences working with such a renowned producer.
So first things first: how was your Halloween weekend?
It was good. I kept it low-key. You know, just made sure my son had fun. That was about it!
Oh, that’s so fun! October kind of flew by for me, so when I woke up and saw that it was November I was taken aback a little bit.
Haha! Yeah, I mean, that’s how 2021 feels in general.
I’m still stuck in 2018 sometimes so I definitely get that. Well anyway, to start things off, you’re a Bay Area native. What kind of influence has this had on your overall sound?
I mean, I’ve always been a fan of the local sounds, so I would imagine the reason I’m drawn to louder bass-lines and that up-tempo rhythm would have something to do with being in tune with the local Bay Area sound. Especially in high school, artists like E-40 and Mistah F.A.B. when The Hyphy Movement was gaining some mainstream appeal. That was the beginning of me really getting my ear to the hip-hop atmosphere here in the Bay Area.
Your debut EP, No Hard Feelingz, pulls from genres such as hip-hop and R&B. Could you talk about the overall influences and inspirations behind the record and the sound that you’re producing?
Yeah! I’d have to say it’s just a collection of maybe every genre that has ever influenced me, whether that’s, you know, pop records written by Max Martin, R&B, more soulful records, or hip-hop records, and kind of blending that all in one and getting a sound that varies within genres. So, I have some stuff that’s a little more pop, a little country-infused, some stuff that’s a little more hip-hop and R&B, and you know, the Spanish records which cater to my roots.
Absolutely, that’s super cool. More generally speaking, from where do you typically draw inspiration? Is it a genre-related thing or is it more related to where you are geographically?
It’s not so much based on what I’m listening to or anything like that, but it’s just more of a feel. So, whatever it is that I’m vibing to creatively. If I’m drawing inspiration that’s a little bit darker in nature or more mellow, then you may get a track like “Missing You”, where it’s overall pretty slowed down and powerful. I just create based on the feel and all my influences are always subconscious. I’m sure those wheels are turning at all times whether I know it or not.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the production team behind the EP. You collaborated with Zach Steele, who has produced for artists such as Travis Scott and The Weeknd. How did you two get connected and what was that whole production process like?
Back in 2012, when I had my first radio single, we were looking to get it mixed and ready for airplay. The producer of the song actually knew Zach and since that song, he and I have been working professionally. We have a really close creative relationship where we’ve been collaborating not only on co-writing and production, but the overall project is a dual effort between the two of us as well. He draws from his experiences in the industry and working with those artists that you mentioned, and we kind of have those tools based on his knowledge at our disposal.
So, for the EP, did you write all of the songs independently or did you collaborate with Zach for the songwriting portion as well?
It’s all between me and Zach! There might be a song where I write 90% and he writes 10%, maybe there’s a song that’s more 50-50, it’s just always the two of us narrowing down the ideas and filtering through the records that we actually end up recording.
So it’s very collaborative! I love that. In terms of songwriting, what does your process look like? Do you start with lyrics or with a melody?
It’s a bit of both. I would say the majority of the time, we would write the melodies first. So we’ll write the melodies for the verse, the chorus, everything like that, and then we would go back and dial in on the message we want to put on the record. From there, we’ll take the time to think about the lyrics to put on the instrumental. But also, there are times where the words, inspiration, and concept for the song are already in my head, and at that point, it’s the opposite process. We write melodies and put a song together that matches the lyrics that we already have in mind. It really depends on the situation, but I would say the majority of the time we write the melodies first.
Which tracks on the EP are you most excited to perform live?
My favorite so far would be “I Got You”. I think it’s a really catchy and impactful song. I got a chance to perform it on the Grammy Awards digital series and performing it live really excites me. “Missing You”, “Peligrosa”, and “I Got You” are the top songs that I think I’m most excited for people to hear live.
We mentioned earlier that this year has flown by, and 2022 is surprisingly right around the corner. Do you have any plans for the new year? Any new music or gigs?
The wheels are turning on different ideas for things we want to accomplish. There’s definitely new music in the works. I’m looking forward to a new batch of releases and, hopefully, the chance to do live shows again once these restrictions start allowing for that to happen.
Speaking of live shows, what does your dream gig look like?
I would say opening up for a pretty big artist on some sort of arena tour, or at an awards show. Maybe performing in front of peers as well.
To wrap things up, we’ll end with a pretty big question. What does success as a musician look like to you?
I like that question. I’ve been thinking about this lately, so it’s funny you ask. When I write the records that tend to have an emotional impact on people, I think that, for me, that is the most rewarding piece of being an artist. Once the song is out there and people are able to connect to it on an emotional level, if there wasn’t a penny to be made, I think that in itself would be priceless to me.