In the 2000s, the ‘Ninis’ narrative was spreading through the media and the business system in Spain claiming that young people today do not want to work or do anything the way it is supposed to be done. The term comes first from NEET (not in education, employment or training) and it was first formally introduced in the UK in 1999. Not only was it very damaging to the new generations and completely unfair, but it indicates a misunderstanding of how young people are changing the paradigm of capitalism when it comes to dealing with it, but also developing new narratives that are sometimes unknown to the masses. And this happens specifically when it comes to art and how it’s developing.
Pop music in Spain has changed radically, and fortunately we have begun to understand and accept the new sounds and possibilities within the reimagination of our folklore and the results of the artists who are defining the new paths that music is taking in this country. It is beyond any doubt to see in Rosalía the highest expression of all these new pop art and artists, who create music with their laptops and record ideas in their iPhones’ voice app, and to which normally old farts tell them what and what is not music. This new Spanish generation is showing the world how deep, complex and rich our culture is, beyond stereotypes.
These last two weeks have been very good for Ralphie Choo, the Spanish artist who has signed and released the best album of this year in our country, and one of the best in the world. Supernova is operatic and works on another level in his way of thinking; it’s not about a voice, it’s about all the elements of his songs telling a story. The attention to detail in the album’s instrumentation is superb, and Ralphie takes us on a journey that lifts us up, makes us fall in love with life, understand its ups and downs, and dance and sing along to it. From the dreamy intro Juan Salvador Gaviota, through the bangers Whipcream, Máquina Culona or Gata, to the pop gems Voycontodo or Beso Bruma, there is a unique landscape created especially for Supernova, and it is full of engineering and crafting the right elements with passion, friends and a special method of thinking song without structure.
Ralphie Choo is creating baroque pop that weaves impressionistic songwriting with rhythmic elements of flamenco, bossa nova, hip-hop, and IDM. Alongside friends and colleagues from the multidisciplinary RusiaIDK collective—which includes Rusowsky, Drummie, Tristan Mushu, and mori—Choo has honed sonic and visual signatures that interface with Internet aesthetics, the fashion world, and his own textured Spanish heritage.
Singles Tangos de Una Moto Trucada and Bulerías de un Caballo Malo are avant collages of Spanish guitar, bulería claps, 808s, and flamenco’s unique vocal cadence. “Most people are brought up with very specific pop culture references, but my mother exposed me to classical music and Paco de Lucía and Camarón de la Isla. The raw emotion in their vocal performances and their chopped-up, punctuated style of guitar playing are huge sources of inspiration,” he explains.
“There’s a constant sense of melancholy, especially when all the things you dreamed about start happening so fast,” he adds, reflecting on the loaded emotions behind Supernova. “One day you’re in your room sketching out songs, and the next you’re in LA and New York meeting your idols and making dreams come true. There’s a part of me that asks, ‘What changed?’ Like, you don’t want to let yourself down, but at the same time, I cling to banal memories of a life without worries. Now I have a schedule, a vision, and these crazy goals. I’m hungry for this, but I think that inner conflict is reflected in the record.”
In this conversation, we had the chance to talk to Raphie Choo about Supernova, and learn more about how his way of thinking is one of his greatest talents in creating this album. Friends, collaborations, writing in both Spanish and English, projecting Supernova while recovering from an injury, instrumentation and producing with a unique mind and what his mom thinks of his album.
Hi Ralphie, how are you? Both the press and the audience are very happy with your album. How have you received it?
It was the best thing that could happen. Obviously, we were super happy with the result, and we knew that people who understood the whole process and the music were going to love it, but we didn’t know that so many people were going to welcome it so well. There has also been a chain of events that have helped the release a lot, among them, Rosalía posting a story promoting the album. And there are so many fan reactions on Youtube, the reception has been super cool, I’m really happy. I didn’t expect it to go so well.
What does it feel like to see a fan reacting to your album for the first time on YouTube videos?
I don’t really know, it’s very satisfying when they say nice things about the work you’ve done. It’s exciting and emotional. But at the same time, you also analyse –I’m an obsessive person, and I want to know what people think–. But above all, it’s emotional.
But this success isn’t usual among Spanish artists. You are part of this generation of young Spanish artists who are having international success. That is to say, you are connecting beyond our borders even though there is a lot of this album that has to do with the sounds of our culture. Pitchfork talked about the single Bulerías de un Caballo Malo; it’s the music media of reference, and it’s not usual to see artists from our country in these publications. What did you feel when you saw it?
The truth is that I went crazy. I mean, I wasn’t understanding why. It all feels like a simulation; I don’t know if I’m really seeing this. But I was very happy! I wasn’t really following the site though. But then, talking to my manager, Manu, and to other people, I found out what it was all about –and it was serious.
I really liked it when I saw on your Instagram account that you wrote a very grateful message to all the people and talked especially about Rusowsky and Barry B. How important was it to have these people close to you?
It’s been very impactful. There are numerous day-to-day details, especially at the beginning. When you start analysing everything, you might not arrive at clear conclusions. But through the day-to-day interactions with them, there come moments to check if the lyrics are cool. They might recommend changes to a bar, suggest altering a bass drum, or adding something else. So, indirectly, they've played a 100% part in the album.
In terms of professional and musical growth, it’s been substantial. I’ve learned a lot from him, particularly Rusowsky. Barry, he writes like a machine, and he’s been a significant influence in teaching me how to convey things. He’s like a father, straightforward with his advice, and it resonates deeply. They’ve all been part of this entire process.
Tristán and Mori have also played vital roles. I’ve learned a lot from them, particularly on an aesthetic level. I'd say Mori has been the most influential person. They also collaborated on the album cover, worked on a fanzine, contributed to the videos, did lettering and visuals... Everyone at RusiaIDK has been deeply involved in this project.
Do you remember the moment when you decided you were going to record an album? Were you looking for the sound that it finally had, or was there also a process in which you found different ways?
I’m quite spontaneous. This whole journey has been about introspection, personal growth, and finding myself. And I’ve been in great company. I haven't looked for anything, I've found myself; it all sort of fell into place. I've been making songs, improving, working, going abroad to work with super cool people. The album was made in English, almost unintelligible—the lyrics were also very beautiful.
Initially, I had some early demos that we took to Aranda del Duero, where Andrés has this fantastic place—an old restored farmyard with a high ceiling. The acoustics there really influenced the album; you can feel the space's reverb in the music. Once we had fairly solid demos, we went our separate ways. On my way back, my computer crashed, and I was left without it for a week. During that time, I started writing lyrics. I didn't want the album to be just one person narrating a story. I wanted everything to tell a story. The voice is just one element, much like a flute solo or a lead that comes and goes in the music.
Is there any special reason why you decided to rewrite the lyrics in Spanish? Do you feel more comfortable in this language?
It began in English, primarily because of the music I listen to; nothing too elaborate. I can do those melodies in English. But it was challenging. To be able to do this in Spanish and pay justice to our culture… you have to connect with the people here.
The process of listening to the album is very cool. How did you deal with the production? In Beso Bruma, there is a flamenco snare, but then very different sounds and choruses start to appear. It's a constant on the album, the magnitude of the instrumentation.
It's akin to a work of craftsmanship—similar to a blacksmith crafting the perfect knife or a watchmaker delicately handling the bearings and axles of a watch with tweezers to ensure they function flawlessly. It's about creating a refined product in the end. I believe it closely aligns with that concept—being meticulous, thoroughly reviewing everything, but without becoming overwhelming.
The song Total90Nostalgia has a lot of depth and a very detailed production. It has a dreamlike touch, and at times it evokes a bit of Radiohead. But I think there is obviously a part of you that pulls a lot towards North American hip-hop and that final mix. How did the idea come about, what was it like to create it?
It all started on a day with the guitar, creating the melody that's reminiscent of it. Those chords do have a bit of a vibe similar to No Surprise, but it wasn't an intentional reference. I liked the idea of it being more like a soundscape. And then I enjoy how you can pull elements from here and there. It's like assembling your super intricate Lego set or customising the appearance of your video game character with an awesome skin.
Ultimately, I love composing, but I don't think in terms of a rigid structure. I think in terms of elements that come and go, like when you're watching a film and things unfold. There doesn't always have to be a catchy hook or a chorus that sticks with you. Instead, it's about taking you on a journey, leaving you with a feeling that says, I loved this film. You might not watch it again, but it gives you an unforgettable experience.
Another highlight of the album is Whipcream with Paris Texas, who are also so great. How did the collaboration with them come about?
It came about through Jackson, our AR from Los Angeles, who has been in the whole process working really hard. Through him, we sent them a track to try out and they sent it back to us with a great contribution.
It also leads me to think a little bit about Máquina Culona, with Mura Masa. I think you’re both musicians and producers. What has the experience of working with Alex been like?
We were over the moon, and on the day we met, everything just flowed for about four hours in a London studio. Thanks to the Pitchfork exposure, the label 4AD started showing interest. They invited us to London for a few days to get acquainted and explore if we could collaborate with someone cool.
Out of the blue, Mura Masa came into the picture and expressed interest in meeting up. It was like, what the fuck is going on? But everything fell into place seamlessly. We headed to the studio, and the first idea that emerged was fantastic. Mura Masa has an abundance of talent, with an incredible knack for manipulating sounds, excellent taste, a swift work pace, and a well-structured method. He's like a bureaucrat, but in the world of music.
In the early 2000s there was already this fashion for Latin music with singers who became mega famous like Shakira, Ricky Martin, Thalia, etc. Now there is perhaps another look towards Hispanic and Latin artists, maybe more focused on knowing their music, their culture better, and with so many more artists being paid attention to. What do you think is happening? Suddenly all eyes are on artists who work with sounds from our country.
In my opinion, it all starts when people began making music and publishing independently. All this wave of bedroom pop, and all these people from the US. Kids who compose at home and are not supported by big companies but people find out what they are doing. We also started making music, and in Spain, the first time people talked about the bedroom pop wave was about Rusowsky and Mori. I think it's something that has to happen naturally if the music is liked. Why wouldn't it progress, you know?
I don't know if you have been asked about this. How do you think Rosalía has helped in this sense? She has reached incredible heights of success. She has also managed to reimagine some styles that were more difficult to evolve in our culture.
Rosalía is a huge inspiration for the album and for many people. In Spain we've always been like that, I think we've been copying sounds from abroad –like with bedroom pop. And somehow, we ended up introducing Spanish. We have a very rich culture, an incredible folklore, why shouldn't we use it? It's also a surprise factor for people from abroad.
Rosalía is the first person who suddenly hits the nail on the head. And she does a project like El Mal Querer, which at first doesn't make any sense but she connects it with pop music, and makes Kendall Jenner listen to it at home. She's like Kim Kardashian level of fame, you know? Listening to flamenco. Unbelievable.
In Bó, you use an element that we've been hearing for quite some time now that it’s become standard even in pop music, and that is the change of pitch in the voice –to very high or very low. Ten or fifteen years ago, it would have sounded like a bit of a joke. What does it mean to you to be able to play with voice and sounds in this way?
I love it! You can take on as many personas as you like. I can channel the voice of the singer with the deepest baritone, and then in an instant, I can transform into Ariana Grande and hit those high notes. It's like, I can truly become anyone—it's the real deal. It's all about expanding horizons and saying, let's explore this. It's like having a versatile tool at your disposal.
The Rolling Stones have released a new song that has received a lot of criticism because of Mick Jagger’s use of autotune in his voice. Many still critique this tool as a vocal correction rather than an instrument to create different sounds. The debate might be outdated already, but I’d like to know what’s your opinion on the matter.
For me, it is what it is—an incredible tool. Ideas always come first. If they're great and the melodies are cool, it doesn't really matter whether they're enhanced with autotune or not. Ultimately, it's about adding an aesthetic touch. I mean, if someone wants to sing incredibly, they can delve into replicating operatic works, you know? I'm not saying this to criticise anyone; I'm referring to those who might be a bit stuck in the past or have a somewhat closed-minded perspective. It's just that an out-of-tune piano can be quite cool, and a flute with an unconventional and imperfect sound can be incredible.
There has also been a lot of criticism lately about how TikTok is starting to overdo the use of samples and old songs to create new ones, and the length of the songs, which are getting shorter and shorter with very tiny choruses designed for the app. Has TikTok helped you in your career? Not only maybe in terms of getting the word out, but also in terms of rethinking how to approach music.
I've never really pondered why suddenly these one-minute songs are becoming a thing. I think it's cool to recycle and try new things. Creating something genuinely original can be challenging. It strikes me that just as trends evolve, people are now making one-minute songs, but in a couple of years, they might grow tired of it and shift to creating longer seven-minute tracks, you know?
Listening to something that's only 20 seconds long is unsatisfying. I mean, you can't really trim it down any further because it wouldn't make any sense. It's like listening to a repetitive loop, and eventually, it gets monotonous. So, our concern is that people might tire of hearing the same thing all the time.
I wanted to ask you if there are any authors or artists from other disciplines that have inspired you. When I was listening to Beso Bruma, I read the lyrics, and it's a very well written poem, a bulería.
In this case, Beso Bruma literally is like the beginning of a bulería. There's a song by Camarón, Una Gitana Morena, that starts off with some super frenetic clapping and says, ‘Let's go there!’ I love the flow of the ‘jaleos' in flamenco culture, but I also love Young Lean, he's an ultra-reference. Frank Ocean, Dean Blunt, Rae Klein. From the world of furniture and design to jewellery, fashion and decoration. They influence a lot of things that I create. Also, filmmaker Ulrich Seidl.
At what point in your life did you begin to show an interest in music? Was it some kind of complementary activity in your studies? Perhaps it was present in your family? Or something more fortuitous?
Some people have claimed that I studied chemical engineering, but that's not true. What I've said is that I was on the path to studying chemical engineering, but eventually, I pursued a degree in music. I believe that studying music is akin to studying chemistry, craftsmanship, engineering, or any discipline that refines things.
From a young age, I played the guitar, the horn, and percussion, but it was in the typical music school in my village. When I got to university, I was a bit lost, to be honest. I wasn't sure what direction to take. I've always had a penchant for creativity—whether it was making up dribbles in football or projecting plays in games, I loved being creative. In the end, I ended up studying music, and it was actually my mother's suggestion. She said, why don't you explore this field?’
During my studies, a pivotal moment occurred when I tore my cruciate ligament. I found myself lying there for three weeks with my leg elevated, and it was during that time that I decided to delve into this
Into the music or the album?
The project. The day I decided to call myself Ralplhe Choo, I was knee high.
Okay, why Ralphie Choo, if I may ask?
It's a reference that I thought was funny at the time; I love it because it has a great sound to it—short, succinct, easy to remember, and catchy. It originates from The Simpsons episode where Ralph,Chief Wiggum’s son, gives Lisa a letter for Valentine's Day that says 'I Choo-choo-choose you'. It's just an anecdote.
And why Supernova as the title of the album? Supernova is exactly a kind of starburst.
I usually choose the name first and let my intuition guide me, and then I look up what it means. It's something that happens a lot in my life. If I write lyrics, once I've finished them, I say to myself, ok, it actually makes sense.
When I released Lamento de una Supernova, I thought that the record could follow this whole story. Supernova, Supernova. And it was a word that started to resonate in my head a lot. It was clear to me from almost the moment I started making the album.
I really liked the final song, Metaverse, and it has a surprise, the collaboration with Wet. How did this unexpected collaboration come about?
When the album was finished, I was already obsessed with a song from their previous album called Blades of Grass; I couldn't stop listening to it. I kept passing it to Manu, my manager, and it occurred to us to send it to him. She (Kelly Zutrau) sent us a bunch of vocals to try out and so on, and in the end we reworked the song to include them so that it would all be in harmony.
I don't know if there's any song on the album that you're most proud of.
I think Voycontodo holds a special place for me. That song helps me keep going. It's also a bit of a message for people, urging them to trust that everything will work out, to give it their all, not to let opportunities slip away. Even when you feel like you're leaking like a sieve, there's still something left, you know?
And then there's Total90Nostalgia, which is like my little baby. It's a glimpse into my childhood, a nostalgic memory of me when I didn't care about anything. It's beautifully expressed now as an adult. I’m also very fond of Juan Salvador Gaviota because of the book. iIt's been a bit like my Bible, something I revisit from time to time to remind myself that I'm here doing what I love.
It's an amazing intro. It's quite deep, melancholic and so on, but overall the song is ever-changing. You can see all these instruments coming in, some of these angular sounding winds… Is there a reason why you decided to make it the opening of the album?
I don't know who said this about bossa nova and elevator music as a metaphor for going up to a plane where you're going to stay, a new place where you're going to discover this whole universe. I really wanted to do what is a classical overture, you know?
How do you plan to take all this to the live performance?
It's very spontaneous. Normally it depends on the moment. For certain gig I might bring in some mariachis and a pizza delivery guy. But the budgets are higher now, so I’d like to think of something bigger, create a cool format. We’re mentally working on it.
I was struck by the fact that you told me that it was your mother who somehow encouraged you to study music. I don't know if she's had the chance to listen to the album, I imagine she has…
She's very proud. She's had a week of news: Mum, I've just been followed by Rosalía! Mum, I've just been featured in Forbes! I don't know, she sees the advert in El Corte Inglés all of a sudden and she's very excited now that she's starting to understand it. She's very happy now, it was about time. I've been a bit of a little twerp all my life...
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