Cero Ismael has always been transparent about his mental health, channelling feelings of depression into his music such as on his 2022 album “As Much As You Did Before”. The Amsterdam-based artist is looking up for his upcoming album though. Titled “Eureka”, this next chapter in his life marks a new beginning, one that has been able to be filled with light, as opposed to the darkness that has encompassed him in the past. Today, we caught up with Cero to talk about his mental health journey, how he hopes his music will help his listeners and the story behind “Eureka”, his new album dropping on May 11.
Hey Cero ! How’s it going? How has your year been so far?
I got to perform in India a couple of months ago, in February. So that was a beautiful highlight of this year. And now I’m here, I’m enjoying London.
You’ve taken no breaks since releasing your last album “AS MUCH AS YOU DID BEFORE” (2022) with WY, Runaway Love and Love For You already out this year. How are you approaching this year, whether through your music or your personal life?
Musically, it’s been to just to keep going. Just to keep releasing stuff. Creatively, I have a very nice focus, so that’s going pretty well. For this year, I wanted to focus on putting a lot of visuals out. And seeing the rest of the world with my music, so performing, but also studio sessions and just being in a different environment, instead of just being in Amsterdam, which is also fine and nice, but I want to travel. Because of COVID, I wasn’t able to see the rest of the world, and I was just operating out of Amsterdam. So, for now the focus really is visuals and seeing the rest of the world.
Any place in particular?
Here, London. That was my 2023 goal.
You’ve been involved in music since a young age, with your father making music and your grandmother being a gospel singer. What kind of tunes were playing in your household while growing up?
Well, I must say, I really wasn’t that into gospel music when I was younger. I got into it at a later age. But when I was younger, my dad, he was just doing a lot of hip hop. East Coast hip hop – Biggie, Big L, all the New York stuff.
Does that inspire the music you create today?
Not necessarily rapping, because I’m not rapping that much anymore. But I mean, rap is very focused. It has stuff that you’re seeing and it really makes sense and that really gets to another person. I think that’s something that I do try to put into my music and the lyrics that I’m writing
At what moment did you realise “I want to do music for a living”?
I think before being a solo artist, I was in a duo, Thompson & Ismael. This is one time we were booked to go to SXSW when I just turned 18. That was a big moment for me where I was like, “Okay, this is where this music thing that I’m doing in my room can take me”.
What are some tunes you’ve had on repeat while making your new album?
I was listening to a lot of electronic music. I made most of the project during the pandemic, and after the pandemic. Being in this caged phase of my life, I really wanted to party a lot, and my friends, too. With that, I always had an interest in electronic music. It just touched me more while being not able to dance and party.
One of your first releases, Tell Me How/Birds features slow guitar sounds and recounts a tale of heartbreak while DESPERATION, the leading single off your latest album, has a low-tempo, jazzy feel to it. How would you describe the next chapter of your creativity?
I wanted to still tell a story. The first couple of the first two projects were a love story, and about mental health and about myself. Every project is like a phase for me that I’m going through or that I have been going through in life. I still wanted to continue telling an emotional or serious story to people, but I wanted to, at the same time, sound uplifting. I wanted to sound uptempo. I wanted to blend with these different kinds of sounds. There’s still some guitar on there, a lot of synths on there. I wanted to merge these two influences. “As Much As You Did Before” barely had drums. Now this project has a lot of drums, a lot of upbeat bass.
Through your music, we’ve seen you open up about dark emotional turmoil and the feeling of being trapped. Do you find that making music has a therapeutic quality for you?
Yeah. Once I write about the sort of things that I’m going through, it just makes more sense. There are certain things that I have trouble with in mind, and that I cannot manage to solve. Once I try to write a song or just write about it I know how to manage, how to work with it.
Do you journal a lot?
I journal every day. It helps me to track everything that I’m going through or have in mind. Then, I go to the studio and it’s easier for me. It’s not that like, when I’m in the studio, I open up the book. But sometimes it helps or just reminds me of what I’ve been going through for the past couple of days.
Let’s talk about your new album “Eureka”. What inspired this project?
Like I said, I wanted to tell a serious or emotional story that I’ve been telling before. We’re just a new phase of that story. I want it to feel uplifting for people, and I want it to feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for me. I still speak about the subjects that I’ve been writing or singing about before, but now it feels like even though there’s a lot of darkness, or just troubles that I’m dealing with, there’s still stuff to be grateful for. There’s still stuff to be happy about. That’s what “Eureka” means to me. That’s why also every artwork that accompanies this project is like a body part lifting up. There’s like a black background but there’s still some light. At the moment, the light is the topic.
How do you see this album different from your previous ones?
I still go through certain troubles. My life is not perfect. For this project I was like let’s just stand still, or just take a minute to also appreciate everything that is happening, and that is good in life. So I just looked at it like “Eureka”, that means finding what you’re looking for. For two projects, I was searching for the light. Both previous projects, I really don’t have a happy ending. There’s not that much positivity in either project. Then this new project, I’m still a normal human being, so there’s still negativity and there’s positivity. But on this project, I wanted to focus on the positive side.
What do you hope your listeners will take away from Eureka?
I hope it encourages people, if they’re feeling sad, or there’s a bunch of bad stuff happening in their life, they are dealing with depression and other mental issues, I want them to know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I know that it’s easier for me to say that because I’m not feeling depressed anymore. I’m not feeling dealing with those kinds of mental issues that I was dealing with before, but better times are always ahead.
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