Michael Paramo interviews poet and singer Izikiel, discussing the impending release of their debut single, the importance of self-love, and their journey to this moment.
As a queer person, self-love is important. In a world that seeks to destroy queerness, art created by queer people exists as a method of empowerment and strength regarding loving oneself. Izikiel, also known as Estevan Hernandez, a 19-year-old queer Brazilian poet and singer from Southern California, is an emerging artist who describes their online presence as “creating healing spaces dedicated to encouraging many to embrace their true selves at all times and be a little bit kinder to themselves each and every day.” Although having been involved politically and socially for quite a while online and off, they are barely starting to emerge as a young artist. Through their work, which involves their online presence as well as organizing and leading local protests against racism and fascism, they are emphasizing the “importance of self-reflection” as well as “the beauty and healing power of nature.” Another aspect of this comes through in their music, with Izikiel’s debut single “Pillars” set to be released on July 14th with an EP set to follow in the upcoming months. Izikiel joins Michael Paramo for this special interview to learn more on this special upcoming project as well as about their artistry and life.
Your debut single is due to be released on July 14th, how does it feel to be so close to this special moment?
Holy shit! That’s like… tomorrow! I feel so nervous. I’m not going to lie. I remember for months I’d dance in the corners of my school to the early demos of “Pillars” or I’d shed tears late at night while singing it softly to myself. I mean, this isn’t technically the first time I’ve experienced the thrill of releasing music. I released a little EP in 2015 called ‘Our Sun’ (it almost doesn’t count) and when that came out I didn’t stop shaking for a while (a good shaking). I’m sort of experiencing the same kinds of butterflies inside right now at this comeback. Everything’s changed though, Michael. Everything.
What significance does your name hold to you as an emerging artist and person?
Izikiel. Well, this name to me is really deep yet extremely soft. It reminds me of Greek Gods and mythology. It also makes me think of David from Psalms when he sings to God. It reminds me of angels and all things vast and mysterious. It’s also very gender neutral to me. Ever since I was a child, I’ve had the wildest imagination and no matter where I am at, I am always picturing magical beings flying around or am trying to puzzle out more secrets to my existence. Izikiel is another form of Ezequiel, which I love as well, but I changed up the wording and I think the new spelling is still elegant yet more mysterious. My boyfriend actually helped me out with the new spelling (P.S. I love you). I think “Izikiel” captures the softness and sensibility that I’ve had towards imaginative, strange things, but also makes me think about those mysteries of old and bright lights that I’ve loved exploring and want to incorporate into my work. I want listeners to be imaginative and to question, but all in all, to be themselves through it all.
How does queerness intersect with yourself and your art?
Queerness to me is freedom. All I’ve ever wanted was to be free. I’ve had to hide all my life. I’ve been questioned, I’ve been hit, I’ve been derailed. I’ve always wanted to be myself and to be closer to my own freedom – so to incorporate queerness into my art is to continue in the progression towards freedom. Being femme, unapologetic, colorful, me. I want to be myself in my art and show that you can be queer and multi-layered and bring new sounds and ideas to the table all at the same time. As a queer person of color, I don’t plan to detach from my roots or beliefs either.
Who have been the most influential people in your life, both offline and online, who have helped form who you are today?
Phew. This is a big one. I would like to start with my upbringing in the church (I’m the child of missionaries, I grew up going several times a week to church until age 18. I’m… barely 19). Yea, maybe there was a lot of it that maybe I didn’t agree with or wasn’t too fond of, but I learned patience, the importance of spirituality, and much that I know now about love in the church. When I say “the church” I’m not talking about a building – I’m talking about the people who went to church with me, scolded me, and hey, even my family! I don’t go anymore and I’ve changed the way I view faith, but my upbringing has shaped me up so much. I like to think and focus on the positives rather than the negatives of my past. I gotta name somebody else who has influenced me greatly: the love of my life. I’m sure he’ll read this, but you definitely did it for me. If it wasn’t for that kid, I would not have even had the confidence to create what I created. He has taught me endurance, patience, magic, and believed in me when literally no one else did. A couple of artists that have inspired me in the past and in the present are Jeff Buckley, Solange, Mitski, Ms Lana Del Rey’s early days, and bunches of artists from the classic folk scene in Uruguay to Brazilian Bossa Nova.
What has been the most challenging moment for you in this deeply personal process of creating art?
Well, I guess it has been a hard last few months for me. You know, dealing and processing it all in my mind. Not being able to just “get away” to make art like i hear a lot of musicians do. I’ve had to navigate through financial insecurity, dealing with harsh criticism and rejection for being queer, and even a tough family separation where basically everything I grew up knowing got distorted. All of that was in my mind haunting me while I was making my art. I was able to have two or three getaways to my favorite beach Corona Del Mar to reflect and create on my midi though. Often times my best writing would come at 3 or 4 am when everyone was asleep, and although I’d be dead at school, it’s what I had to do to move forward and create good art. I’m trying to form healthier habits now. These anxieties picking at my mind definitely took a toll in my work ethic and balance, but the emotion in my songs is raw and the stories I tell throughout this upcoming EP embodies some of these feelings I’ve had over the past year. Like, I have this really dark song with nostalgic lyrics and a heavy guitar chorus, but also a liberating loud and bright pop song on there too. There have been good moments in this long journey too, I promise.
What has been your most joyful moment in this process leading up to this release of your debut single?
My most joyful moment leading up to this single would have to be when I came to the realization that I can actually make complex, cool music. Wow! I can actually be a producer and do pretty cool things on Logic and other softwares. Of course, I’m still very new to all of this, but my last EP was literally entirely recorded on my Apple earphones. That’s how I recorded every instrument, and I knew nothing about technology. It all stressed me out. After I released that EP I was proud but also hurt because I knew I could’ve done something so much greater, but I felt stuck in a box both educationally and emotionally. I felt frail and small and unable. I put off the releases, but kept making little songs on my guitar. The joy for me was in finally having enough money to buy new equipment, taking a few months to mess with it on GarageBand and Logic, and creating something similar to what I’ve wanted to create for years. Like “wow, you can actually do this!” …and well, it’s really even just the beginning.
What are your plans for the future, both regarding this project, your art, and your personal life?
I love this one because I have so much planned. I’m so excited to tell you! Well, the “Pillars” release is tomorrow. That’s that. It’ll release on all platforms (eventually) and it will be very much accessible. I’m writing out the screenplay to the “Pillars” music video currently, and might even co-direct it with a photographer that I admire so much (and that you all may know! …keeping that a secret). That video should come out anywhere near the end of August. The full EP, which will include a couple more new songs, will be coming out definitely before the end of this year. Seriously, not too far after the “Pillars” video drops. This will be my first EP under the name Izikiel and a breakthrough moment for me because the genres I’ve explored in it are so dark and pop and loud and different from anything I could’ve ever done before. I’m also writing poetry and studying sociology and journalism at school. Also, as a goal, I know I want to create a full album, and I already have songs on the side that I might use for that. A dream of mine is to tour one day, of course, once we get more material out. But hey, before anything else we gotta see if people will even dig my shit.
Thank you for your time, Michael. Love you.
I would also like to thank Izikiel again for the time that they put into this interview. I am sending love to you as well.
Follow Michael on Twitter (@Michael_Paramo)