Since first emerging in the public spotlight nearly five years ago, Ryan Caraveo has been putting in as much work on himself as he has on the creation of captivating, vibe-laden and thought-provoking music. With a keen ability to piece words together into intricately laid out stories, Caraveo has shared his personal journey with all those who care to press play. Over an eclectic range of sonic backdrops, the Seattle-bred and L.A.-based artist has staked out an ever-evolving place in the world of music, using his own confusion, trials and tribulations – as well as the hope, healing and perseverance – to build a home for the misfits and outcasts who find strength through his songs to make the most out of their discomfort. Balancing mood lifting production with solemn, melancholy prose, Caraveo has amassed a catalogue of records that cover a vast range of subject matter, emotions and life lessons.
With his latest project, Butterfly Boy, set for liberation tomorrow – Friday, August 23rd – Ryan joins Hxppy Thxxghts for an in-depth conversation on the forthcoming album, his creative process, the events that shaped and influenced his music and more. Butterfly Boy is available for pre-order on all your favorite streaming platforms.
Read the interview below.
How’s everything going today?
Today has been one of the most peaceful days I have experienced in a long time. And it started with me going to Staples. I was wearing shorts and slippers and I realized when I was going to Staples this morning that, probably for the past two months, I haven’t left my apartment unless it was to go get something done. I’m rushing out the door every single time to go to the studio, to go somewhere, to go meet someone and I was like, dude, I haven’t left the house in comfy clothes and went and got a bagel in two months. So, yeah, that’s how my day was – it was peaceful. How has your day been?
Nice, man. I’m doing pretty well. Had a bunch of meetings today, but all positive. What were you getting at Staples?
I got ink because I have three weeks of invoices to print that I’m behind on…receipts and, you know, shit like that. And I bought a comfy ass office chair ‘cause my backs been killing me. I ended up getting this super ridiculous gaming chair – it looks like a racing car seat. But it has these cushions on it that support your back, so I’m livin’.
You’re originally from Seattle but you’re in L.A. now?
Yeah, I live in L.A., over on the Eastside.
Butterfly Boy drops this Friday, August 23rd. How are you feeling about the album release?
Dude, I’m so excited. I’ve never been so excited to put an album out. I’ve never been so proud of an album and been so sure that the music is going to stand the test of time. I’m so proud of this album and I’ve never gone back in to revise a record so many times, for like months and months. I don’t know…I don’t want to get too heady about it but I’m super excited about this album. I’m very proud of it.
Yeah, I think from a fan or a listener’s perspective…I got into your music shortly before At Least I Tried came out, so you had a decent catalogue released previously for me to go back and dig through. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to Butterfly Boy over the last week or so and it’s not a knock at your previous work but this project is the most cohesive and complete project I’ve heard from you.
I have to agree – it’s all glued together. It’s not just some bounce downs from sessions. It doesn’t feel like a mixtape, I guess.
That’s a good way to put it; it’s like an album album. From start to finish, with all those interludes, it’s a really well rounded story. And it’s just beautiful music, dude. When I listen to it, it’s like there’s just so much shit on there that’s easy to connect to, which is appealing. And, as you continue to grow your fan base, it’s super relatable music and nothing about it sounds fake.
I appreciate that. I think that’s why I’m so proud of it. I feel like the glue is there and the pieces are there but if somebody wants to talk about a song, or if somebody connects to a song, I wrote it for a reason. I have a life lesson or a life story behind every song – shit I was going through and after I got through the thick of it, even if it’s shit in my head that everybody deals with, I get to share what I was going through at that time. It just feels good to have songs that I do feel have the potential to cross over and gain a lot of fans but also have those songs be meaningful.
And on that note, it’s really well balanced. A lot of your music is, but Butterfly Boy stands out with the balance of powerful, meaningful content with that crossover appeal. There’s not a track that isn’t a bop or a vibe or wildly catchy. What events in particular served to shape Butterfly Boy and what was the creative process like?
It’s interesting – I’m always writing songs and stuff. As soon as At Least I Tried came out, I took a week off with not being creative and then started writing again. If you listen to the album, you hear the interludes and it sounds like there’s something or someone that’s controlling me. And there’s triggers – this noise – when it plays it immediately flips my mood to a different batch of songs that are just a temporary mood. The reason it’s relatable is that trigger, that sound you hear, because everyone has their own triggers. For the purpose of having something concise, we went with the sound that we went with. But it deals with mind control and it’s up to the listener to decide if that’s my voice…it sounds like a woman or a robot; you’re not quite sure. It’s up to the listener to decide if that’s me or if that’s somebody else controlling me.
The particular events that inspire every song…every song is about either love or war. Just yesterday I was thinking about the album and, like, most of these songs are war songs. They’re chilled out and they’re kind of moody and they’re vibey but they’re all about war. It’s not direct, it’s not conflict with another person always but it’s like an internal war. It’s in my head and I’m thinking about the things I’m thinking about and overthinking everything…This is just a thought I had and not a conclusion I had prepped, but it’s like a story about being at war with myself.
I have three different meanings behind calling the album Butterfly Boy. The main one that we eventually concluded – the one that inspired the title – there was this kid [Jonathan Pitre] with this disease and they called him the Butterfly Boy. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him?
Yeah, he had the super intense blisters on his skin…
And his skin was as delicate as butterfly wings. His mom had to bandage him every day. He eventually passed away and it was tragic. But I watched the video about him and it brought tears to my eyes because this kid couldn’t experience a life like everyone else but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody as optimistic as he was.
Man, the fight that kid had in him…
Not just fight but love and appreciation, you know what I mean? His skin was as delicate as butterfly wings, so there’s the symbolism of people telling you to have thick skin. I would say I take things to heart. If I’m talking to someone and they look away or seem disinterested, I take that to heart and I’ll be thinking about it for a week – like, am I lame? I would say I have thin skin; I’ve had thin skin. So that inspired the title of Butterfly Boy.
I came to the conclusion after the songs were made and all of these songs are kind of back and forth – I wrote “Thrivin” days after I wrote some of the very depressing songs. It wasn’t like, oh, I’m going to snap into this or I’m going to write a song about this today. My mood actually changes like that and I’m like, dude, I don’t want to do this anymore, I’m not interested in this shit, this ain’t for me. Then the next day I’m 100% sure I’m about to take over the world in the next six months. It flips like that. It started inspiring the idea of mind control and the reasons why my mood switches like that. There are these MKUltra, like CIA experiments – there’s this conspiracy theory that they kidnapped children and introduced trauma into their lives at a very early age. Then they teach them triggers and hide the triggers in the media or music or other things. Later in life, these kids have no recollection of being kidnapped and turned into sleeper cells, but when these triggers happen in the media it takes these kids and they immediately do what they were trained to do, like carry out some violent act. The name of that project was Project Monarch and they called those kids the Butterfly Children. So it plays with that idea of: am I being controlled by something or someone that I’m completely unaware of? That’s a long answer to the question that I forgot you asked.
No, that’s a good answer because my next question was going to be about the meaning behind Butterfly Boy.
There’s that and then I have personal reasons with butterfly imagery with people I love that I am happy to have found a way to include in the title, too. So, I’m very happy with the title.
It fits, man. The title makes sense when you put it against the content of the project. And I think you’re speaking on being in touch with your emotions, too. When we talk about a lot of the music being relatable to the audience…I listen to the album and I don’t really like the term “safe space,” but I listen to the music and it feels like a safe space. It’s comforting, even a lot of the depressing – if you want to put it that way – content because it helps people recognize that they’re not alone. There’s waves of emotion, there’s highs and lows throughout the album. You cover relationships on “Deceived” or the battle with self-imposed loneliness on “Peanut Butter Waffles,” and obviously your family is a big topic in your music. I think all that stuff only serves to add to the relatable nature of what you create.
Yeah, man. I think that was the music I connected with from an early age – all the artists that shared the deepest parts of themselves. Even if it was something embarrassing, it was like the more vulnerable you could be – or the more stories you could tell that were unique to you – the better. And it’s not always like you have to search for the trauma in your life and that’s what makes you good. Some people have things in their life they’ve experienced that are unique to them or they think it’s unique to them until someone else says it. Like, yo, all these people at this show feel the exact same way and it’s a really cool thing. It was the music I connected with at an early age and it feels really cool to participate in something that might inspire someone else to do the same thing or make something that continues that cycle.
You’ve mentioned the interludes or transitions – where did those come from? Did you guys record those yourselves?
So Teal, my producer, and myself, we make everything together. And we have chosen to keep it a secret who and how the interludes were created. Until the end of time, no one will know.
Fair enough. Speaking on Teal, I know on “Battery” that Boonn helped produce the record, but is Butterfly Boy you and Teal the whole way through?
Yeah, so that was a situation on that song where Teal…so all the time, Teal has a lot of relationships with very talented producers. The way we create, I’ll be by myself and he’ll be by himself just making vibes. And one day I’ll just get like 20 or 25 vibes – some will be full beats, some will be guitar licks, some will be a sample of a song that already exists. I never ask how or why or where it’s from; I just write and we record. Even when we’re recording and tracking stuff, I don’t ask or know where anything came from. Then, when we land on stuff we like, I’m like, OK, this is probably going to be something, so I find out where something came from. And I’m like, oh, dope. Because I don’t want anything to influence any decision – who did it, or who’s connected to it, or if I know them or I don’t, or if it’s a sample we’re going to have to clear and that’s less money. None of that’s important until the song is good. That was a situation where Teal put together a track he had worked on with Boonn and then I heard it and wrote to it, then later found out who he was. I just, three days ago, followed him on Instagram and we talked. I didn’t know who he was prior to that.
Oh, that’s cool. How long have you known Teal for? ‘Cause I’ve seen his name connected to Sol and some other artists. Actually, I was familiar with his work before I discovered your music. But what’s your relationship like with him?
We both grew up in Seattle and he was an engineer at the studio I recorded at. I started going there when I was a teenager and wanted to start doing morning sessions, before the day had affected me. I just wanted to wake up, be there at 8 AM and record. Teal was doing the morning sessions, so I got linked up with him. After we did a few sessions, I found out he made beats so I got some beats from him. One of them was for “Paradise,” which is probably the biggest song that I have out. That’s how we met and we kept making stuff together, a few songs on each album. With At Least I Tried, that’s when we decided to go all in from start to finish because we kept working together and the songs we were making were the ones that kept raising their hands on the albums. So we’re like, let’s just try to do an album. We work great together.
Yeah, man. I would agree with you on that. It’s a good team. As far as your writing process goes, you mentioned he’ll send you something and you write to it. Does he ever build the instrumentals around what you’ve already written?
Yeah, that’s what happens. Like, the vibes he sends me to write to are always incomplete…like, the less the better as far as inspiring me to write. If it’s just a bass line or a guitar, I usually end up writing something. But if it’s a full thing, I’m usually never able to write something complete to it. I’ll take the lyrics and it always turns into something completely different. We’ll track it over whatever inspired it and then build around it or pull a guitar loop from this guitar player or, hey, this guy sent in a track, let’s see if we drop the key down and see if it blends well. Once we find a cool mix of sounds, it’s like, oh that’s tight. And we start building from there. 90% of the time, the track ends up pulling and shifting from other things. It’s cool because I never know how a song is going to sound from how I wrote it.
If I write a rap verse…so, “Battery.” I wrote that one to a 90 BPM Dr. Dre instrumental. I was writing it and it sounded like something old Em would do: someTIMES i’m Afraid that i MIGHT, beCOME Violent, unCAGED and just go…And I brought it to Teal and he was like, the lyrics are cool but what if you sing it over this ‘90’s sounding guitar? OK, cool. Let’s cut it. I never question anything. Anytime there’s a suggestion we just cut it and see if it’s tight. And it ended up being the track we released, so I never know what the lyrics are going to sound like or what they’re going to be over.
Wow, that’s wild to hear that about “Battery.” I wouldn’t have guessed, based on what the final cut sounds like, it started off in that direction originally.
Yeah, it’s really whatever inspired the lyrics is all that’s important to me. And then, whatever it becomes, it’s like it grows legs of its own.
I was curious about the writing and production process because the way you say certain phrases. On “Thrivin,” the way you say “ADD” – you always hear people say it the same way but on that record, you deliver it in a different fashion. Man, it pops me every time. Same shit with “flip, flip, and flip” on “Peanut Butter Waffles.” It’s simple, common words or phrases, but the way you deliver it…I don’t even know how to put words around it, it’s just like, holy shit.
I know what you’re saying. That’s probably from listening, when I was younger, to so much Eminem. ‘Cause Eminem would always bend words to invent cadences and rhyme patterns that didn’t otherwise exist. You don’t normally hear words connected a certain way because he just bends. My writing process is, when I turn a track on, I just pace around and mumble sounds. I can’t really be focusing on it but eventually the sounds will become words that go together. It’s hard to explain…it always ends up forming things that you wouldn’t say normally. How it sounds is way cooler than if it’s proper or not…it’s a dumbass sentence but I think you know what I’m trying to say.
Absolutely. You’ve got five singles out off Butterfly Boy. How have they been received?
They’ve been received very well. You know, every single cycle I’m a little nervous with how things are going to be received because every cycle I want to try to do something I haven’t done before. And this time, there are a lot of style changes – this is what I’m into, this sounds dope to me, but it’s very different from the reasons a lot of existing fans may have found me. So I’m always wondering how much fall off there’s going to be or are people going to be disappointed. But that hasn’t happened. It’s really cool to read the comments like, yo, this new sound is really dope, I think you’re finding your sound or you’ve found your sound. It’s a huge relief because even if you think it’s dope it could be a flop and everyone doesn’t agree with you.
It’s been received very well and it makes me feel invincible, like I can do anything. Like, oh, I thought this was dope the whole time but I was afraid to do these types of songs because what if people don’t like them? Which is whack as fuck because it’s my job as an artist to…what did Kanye say the other day? He had a beautiful quote – he did an interview with Letterman. It was like, you have the power of influence and Kanye said, no, my superpower is that I can’t be influenced. That shit stuck with me. If you’re making stuff, you should never feel awkward, you should never be afraid. Your job should be to be inspired and be fearless, so that’s my job and I’m going to continue to be that way.
I think it’s cool, too – Swings came out in 2014?
Yeah, tail end of it, in December.
So you’ve been putting out music for a good five years now, so it’s cool, from my perspective…I love seeing artists where you get to see and experience their change and their growth. I don’t like when an artist finds their lane and gets too comfortable. It’s one thing to find your lane but when every album you put out sounds the same, it’s a turn off for me as a listener. Like, you’re not the same person, presumably, that you were in 2014…
Not at all.
So the shit you’re creating should grow and evolve over time. And that’s not to say you won’t have some similarities and connections to your past and who you were in the past. Like I said, I got into your music later on but I’ve listened back through everything. Now, listening to Butterfly Boy, you get a sense of how you’ve grown, matured and evolved in your heart, in your head and as an artist over time. That was one of my biggest takeaways when I listened to Butterfly Boy – you did take chances and you did try new shit and it works because, when you listen, it’s clear it’s authentic. It’s not you trying to appeal to a certain audience or to your pre-established fan base. It’s you creating based on what you’re feeling inside in that moment of creation, and the confusion you’re feeling and the healing and all those beautiful emotions that make up life.
Hell yeah, man. That’s really cool feedback to hear. It’s easy to…I don’t know. The music was inspired by – it’s rap, it started as rap. You can call it rap or you can call it whatever you want, I truly don’t care. But it’s definitely inspired by rap. I would say that rap used to be very anti-establishment and now rap is the establishment. It is a billion dollar industry and I think a lot of people, once you find something that works, you keep making that because it works. But that directly contradicts with artistry. Art is always supposed to go against, it’s supposed to be anti what everybody else is on. That’s your job. I would hope that, if the day comes where I’m like, oh, that worked so let’s do that again, everybody around me checks me and it doesn’t see the light of day.
The music videos you’ve put out, what team is responsible for the art direction? They’re all unique and super cinematic, so what was the process like behind the writing and creation of the visuals?
Well, on the last two that came out – “Thrivin” and “Murda” – my homie Joe [Mischo], over at BRUME. We worked closely to make those happen. For the “Murda” video, I wanted to do something that was very sarcastic. I’m a very sarcastic person and I realized that, in the past, I’ve done some cinematic videos with a long treatment that were technically executed well, but they didn’t represent me as a person. With “Thrivin” and “Murda,” it had to feel more like me. I laugh at life because I have to, otherwise I’d lose my mind. I wanted less plot and less to think about. I just wanted it to be cooler to look at, saturated with color, more sarcastic…there were very solid points that I gave to Joe and then I just trust him. He’s not going to make anything bad. I’ve definitely shot some videos and spent some money on videos for this album cycle that I unfortunately had to can. So, I was relieved when I found Joe. He didn’t spend all the time writing a 40 page treatment but I looked at his shit and was like, this guy knows what he’s doing.
And my homie Sam Cahill, he shot the first two with me. He’s from Seattle, too. For “Deceived,” I just wanted a vibe – it’s not an intense video but it reflects the song; something you can just ride around to.
Without giving too much away, you have more videos on the way after the album drops?
Yeah. Some heaters.
What’s good with shows? Any plans to do some touring in support of Butterfly Boy?
Yes, there will be a tour. It hasn’t been announced but very shortly after the album comes out, it’ll be announced. We’ll have a full merch line, a nationwide tour and we’ll also go into Canada. All of those dates are coming very soon – we just need to lock in a couple more venues and sort out some details.
Is there anything else you’d like to leave the Hxppy Thxxghts audience with?
Go to Spotify before you go to bed, play Butterfly Boy and leave it on loop while you sleep. All week long. That’s all I got.