Originality and Persistence: An Interview With Xavier Omär

An interview with one of the hardest working, most original acts in modern R&B.

Xavier Omär
Source: Johnny Fan/Never Sleep Music

Xavier Omär seemingly created success solely out of being himself and constant persistence. He went from a mere unknown R&B singer out of a seemingly nonexistent San Antonio R&B scene to getting shout outs from big names in the genre. Through sheer hard work and determination, Xavier Omär has arrived on the R&B scene, ready to be mentioned with the best of them.

Shortly after he delivered a jaw-dropping performance at Austin City Limits, we caught up with him under the blistering Texas sun to find out about his sound, his influences, his motivations, and whatever else that makes Xavier Omär, Xavier Omär.

So how would you describe your music to people that haven’t discovered you yet?

I think it’s best to say that its R&B, but it’s also infused with pop, so an R&B pop infusion; but not in the way of like a Jason Derulo. It’s still very much rooted in R&B. So, if you think of Bryson Tiller as trap soul, you can kind of think of me of pop soul. That’s kind of the best way to describe it. Its mid-tempo, its slow, its party, it’s sad, its happy, so I would just like to think it’s a wide spectrum of R&B.

I’ve read that you moved around a lot as a kid, because you were part of a military family. How do you think that effected your sound?

I would like to think that it helped in the way that I connect with people; because I’ve been in different parts of the world, seeing what connects to them. So, when we lived in Misawa, Japan, even though that’s still an American air base in japan, we had an opportunity to step outside there. When we lived in Waldorf, Maryland; the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area is very unique in the sense that they claim each other as sister states and areas and they have their own sound in go-go music. So, I learned from that sound or what connects to them. Being born out west, obviously when you go to California, they have their own thing going on. So, seeing what connects to different people and letting that connect with me. It basically makes me who I am. So, I feel that when I release music, a part of why so many people can connect to it is because I understand what they connect to.

You moving around a lot, did you sort of take in a lot of influences from different scenes, like the Atlanta hip hop scene, or others?

For sure. I absolutely love trap music, the south, bass. It’s a big piece of what I do, and I’m a drummer myself so I love bass. There is no other way to describe it. It’s a sound that I think drives feeling in a lot of records. When the bass drops are when people get most excited, and when it hits is when people feel it the most. So, living in Georgia or in the south, because I lived in Texas as well, I have that experience. Also having the experience living in the east coast, where what you talked about mattered more than how it sounded, is where I got my lyricism. So, each area has given me something to become the artist that I am.

So, I am a huge R&B and Neo-Soul fan, and I noticed that there is this new revival of R&B in modern mainstream music with Anderson. Paak and Jenelle Monae, and they seem to have this old-school retro sound. But a couple tracks in your new album, The Everlasting Wave, you go a different direction, more towards hip hop is going. Mixing hip-hop with R&B through heavy beats and a jazzier feel. How do you feel about the progression of R&B towards the more retro sound, and why you decided to go the other way?

I purposefully go the other way, because my idea is if everyone is doing something, even if I’m talent or do great, it’s not going to stand out as much. And it won’t stand out for as long. So, if I can genuinely and purposefully do it in the opposite manner and still be effective, then do that because that is what’s going to stand out. So, when I put out The Everlasting Wave ep, the R&B sound at the time was dark trap. And I noticed that and decided to stay away from that and do 8 different kinds of R&B. And when I wanted trap, we did it with live instruments instead. And today, there are a lot of nostalgia acts coming up in R&B, which is beautiful, but there are still people who are stripping it down and slowing it down like H.E.R. and Danial Caesar. And that is becoming a big sound now. 6LACK, those guys. That’s the vibe, that’s the feel, that’s what we are looking for.  While everyone is doing that, I’m doing my new song “Running around” which is up-tempo. It’s the exact same feeling, just as honest and open; but rather than going in the way of everyone and making a ballad, I made an up-tempo record. So just I pay attention to what the stream is and what’s happening, and a lot of times that music comes out after I’ve already decided what this is what I want to do, but I still pay attention to the direction of it and purposely do it in the opposite and genuine way so that my records will stand out at the time they come out.

Special Eyes is one of my favorite songs on The Everlasting Wave, could you take me through your song writing process using that song as an example?

Well Special Eyes was kind of weird cause the horns were always there. So, I really wanted to make sure when there’s such strong lead in the production, I want to match them for the most part. I don’t want to take away from what they’re doing. So, if they have strong moments, like when I said, “Are you going to be here with me”, the horns were like [hums horns melody]. So, I want to match the moments, so there’s a lot of times where production will aid the songwriting. So, in that particular song, I wanted to accent what was there rather than put an entirely new feel in. The Brass tracks did that, they were amazing, the drums as well. And then I just started going through trying to think of what subject makes sense in my head. Cause all I had at the time was just matching the chorus [humming chorus melody], so I knew I wanted to follow that line, it was such a catchy line it didn’t make sense to change it. I said what can I do here, what can I talk about in a way that maybe I haven’t before. So eventually I just kept listening and listening and it just comes into my head, “Special in your eyes to me”. So, I’ll let it happen as it does. And once I get that piece that I know is going to stick as the chorus, so in that song, in that song once I got that piece, I said, “cool, so what’s the story.” It doesn’t work that way with every song. Sometimes I already have that story and then I’ll try to figure out the chorus. The chorus won’t make sense without the rest of the song. Sometimes the chorus comes first, and then you try to figure out what the song is. And that was the case with “Special Eyes”, the chorus came and now I wanted to figure out what am I going to write about here. The process is different each time, but that one I really let the music lead the way.

The Everlasting Wave Album Cover
Source: Never Sleep Music
I’ve read before that you tried out for American Idol back in 2011, and you didn’t get passed the preliminary audition. But, now you sort of exploded on to the R&B scene, and you are what I would consider a big-time artist with over a million listeners on Spotify per month. So how do you think that experience effected your current success?

It just made me mad. I felt that I did well. I almost felt like there was an omen because when it was my turn to go up, all the judges stopped and got up and went to the back to talk. And I was like, “Ok they are about to regroup on what they want.” When they came back, I kind of did what they might want me to do, so I sang “Animal” by neon trees. And I sang it well, and the lady complemented my look and everything, and then she cut my wristband and told me I didn’t make it. I was upset, and it was a 3-hour ride from Houston back to san Antonio. After that, I bought some equipment and started working in my room. I just started making music again. I hadn’t made music for probably a year at that point. I used to rap, but at that point I wanted to try singing. And that fueled me because I know that I’m good and I did good there too, but I went on to fail the exact same way at the voice; fail the exact same way at America’s got talent. I was trying to get into the position to – honestly not even to win the show – but so that someone can hear me and think, “Wow! I see something there.” Now I can get some type of connection, but it turned out being the very old-school grind from the bottom for me. And it still is. I’m signed to an Indie label. My manager is the label owner. It’s just us two. We go back and forth. But we’ve been doing this together; building this thing together. So, to be where some of my peers are and they’re signed to major labels is pretty cool. We’ve literally done it grassroots style from the absolute bottom, and I still have that fire from American Idol to thank for that.

You have a lot of collaborations with Sango, if you had a chance to collaborate with any active artist, who would it be?

Pharrell. He’s got this longevity that you can’t deny. He’s so innovative. He can adjust to you and still be great. We saw that with Uzi, we saw it with 2 Chainz, we see it with Future, we see it with No Doubt. You could be a rock band, a rapper, a trap rapper, a pop rapper, a singer. It doesn’t matter if Pharrell figures it out and finds a way. So, I know that we can make something really great together. And, you know, it’s that childhood dream to do something like that. And obviously Daft Punk as well [points to daft punk tattoo]. Those guys, same way. To hear what they did for themselves and then to hear what they did for The Weekend, I’m like, “Oh snap. OK. They can switch gears at any time and really make it work.” So those are lofty goals or more like dream goals and dream collabs. But even in the spectrum that I hope is going to be more possible soon, I’ll love to do a duet with Daniel Caesar, or an up-tempo record with Chance. And just get in with some of the guys who are leading today’s generation.

So, who would you want to open or go on tour with, if you could pick from anyone?

At the moment, Khalid or Anderson. Paak I think would be really great. They are both on a track that I would want to be on very soon. I’ve met both of them. Anderson was the one who gave me the advice and confidence to do my name change [Xavier Omär was formerly known as SPZRKT]. Cause he did his name change, which is why I asked him. He was very readily available to hear me out on it. So, Anderson. And Khalid, Man! He’s been a great friend. He shouted me out and stuff. A lot of my followers I’ve gained, I want to say a good percentage of them is from him shouting me out. So those two guys, I would want to open for. SZA as well. I haven’t met her. I don’t have any type of way to connect to her, but SZA for sure.

You’ve played at both festivals and venues, which do you prefer and why?

Festivals, because I feel like what I do is made for a big stage and a big audience, and I get to have my whole band. Now, I don’t get to have my whole band at every venue show; but because festivals are so rare and spread apart, we get to prepare more, and I get to have my band. Festivals are fun. I haven’t had the chance to quite get in front of one of those huge crowds yet, but you know that the people that are there are absolutely there for you. They are not there because right after you is the person they are here to see. When you are first of the day, man, people got in line early and they made sure they were there to see you. So, I like festivals more, but I don’t give venues any less. I feel like what I’m doing sometimes is too much for the venues. That’s why I like festivals.

Xavier Omar at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng
You mentioned during your show that this was the first time your parents watched you perform live. What did they think about it and did them being there make you feel like there was more expectation on you today?

No, because at this point, they heard me scream and sing and record songs in the room, practice in the shower. They’ve heard me coming up playing drums, singing in church. So, it wasn’t anything new to put my talent in front of them. It was just like, “cool, they finally get to be here to see it.” My mom was like, “That was really good.” I was like, “Thanks mom”, almost like she didn’t expect it to be as good as it was. My dad was out there being a fanboy in the crowd, which was pretty cool. So, I know they’re proud of me. It wasn’t some new, heavier expectation. It was just good for them to be part of it.

2016 was a great year for you. You dropped 2 projects, The Everlasting Wave and Hours Spent Loving You with Sango. What can we expect from you for the rest of 2017 and going into 2018?

We got the tour coming up, so I want to just put out a couple songs for the fans and a very short project. I’m not holding it as this huge deal, but I think people will still enjoy the music. I think I’m still a couple years away from making my best music, but I don’t want to deter that from me making music for my fans that I know they will enjoy. So, I want to put some more out, hopefully really soon. I’m not putting a date or time, I’m just trying to get everything done. Maybe, hopefully before the tour as well. We start touring November 28th. After that, me and Sango, we’ve already said we are doing part 2. We’re kind of late behind that. We’re behind the 8 ball on that because he’s got to put out his album first. We’re waiting on him to put out his album before we can truly work on ours. We have ideas. We’ve already got a single that we kind of know what we want to lead with; so, we’ve been working on it. That’ll be 2018. I don’t know if I want to do anything else that year. It depends. Anything can happen. Business wise, at that point, well see where we are, but 2019 is going to be when we release the first album. The official album. I’m looking forward to that. I make music every year. I learned that from Prince. Prince dropped every year, even if you didn’t know it. He dropped every year. So, I’m going to put stuff out every year, even if it’s a short 5 song release; or if it’s a 10,11,12 song album, I want to give the people something every year.

I’ve noticed that you wore a Stone-Cold Steve Austin vest on stage today. Why did you choose to wear that?

It’s my festival thing now. At my first ever festival, Afropunk, I did my Austin 3:16 shirt. And then at Lollapalooza, I did the Austin 3:16 football jersey. And then they even had beers in the dressing room, so I did the beer thing. I would have worn the Stone-Cold vest last week, but it didn’t come in in time. So, I wore it this week. I’m not breaking my streak. Honestly, he’s not even my favorite wrestler. My favorite wrestlers are Sean Michaels, AJ Styles, CM Punk, and Randy Orton; but what he did with Austin 3:16, the moment that he made that up, he was just trying to break through his character and get people to recognize who he was. So, every time I go on these stages and I’m first and its early and all that, I want to be able to kind of have want to be able to have a look back in my history of doing festivals as we go further and further. Wearing Stone-Cold every time, I want to look back at it and realize where we started and where we are. The attitude of “it’s my time now no matter how you see me” – when he had that moment, he already had in his head what he would become now. So, I go in there with the same attitude. When I get on stage, I give it to people. So hopefully, we’ll look up and I’m going on at 6 or 7, and in maybe a few more years, I can headline. And that’s the attitude going into it.

You tour with a live band. Is that the same live band you go in the studio with and what is your selection process in picking the members.

I haven’t had a live band.  In the studio, the only time I did that was in Chicago. But other than that, I haven’t had too many live elements on the record. My band are my friends from San Antonio. Me and Matt, we worked at Bill Millers together. Me and Josh, I met him at his church when I was trying to find a church when I first moved here. I met Corey through Josh, his parents have a church and he plays bass there. We just kind of brought all of our friendships together and made the band happen. It’s been a cool experience and you just pick guys that feel the music the way that you can. That have confidence in what they’re doing and can adjust at any time. So that’s all it really is. And I wanted to keep it San Antonio based because it’s cool to see multiple people come from your city and do something that nobody was doing at all. To see more than just me, to see other people also doing it I think is a big deal for the city. Those guys are great, like I said we’re friends. I hope that I can take them to many more shows with me. So far, we are only able to do the big ones. But hopefully much more.

What advice would you give to an aspiring musician that was in your shoes 10 years ago, that is just starting out and doesn’t know what to do?

Nobody knew what to do. Nobody did. So, you are in the right spot so far. Keep doing it, keep going. Everything that you are striving for, there is no rule book to how to get it. There’s no guide book with how to do it. If you’re an artist and you’re recording songs and all that, be original as possible. Have a specific brand that you want to present, so that when they think of you they think of this. When I think of Travis Scott, I think of a party; because when I go to his shows, that’s what it’s going to be. When I think of John Legend I think of class. What do I think of when I think of you. I need to be able to have it in my head. When I think of ASAP Rocky, I think of smooth or fashion. Same thing with Tyler the Creator. So, what are people going to think of when they think of you? Have that in mind and let it flow through your music. And it should be unique, it should be yourself. You don’t have to go and create a persona. I learned from trying to do that. You don’t have to go create it, as much as you just have to be yourself to a very maximum level. I’m a vulnerable guy, I go through a lot of things. I’m expressive and passionate. So, I just maximize that in my music. And there are so many people that feel that way. And they feel like maybe they shouldn’t share it, so when they hear me do it, they connect to it. So right now, expression and strength are connected to my name. but that was a conscious decision as well. So, think of how you want to be thought of and go from that and be yourself to the maximum; but you just have to keep going and you have to keep working. You meet people when you get a chance to connect with people. Keep those numbers, keep those relationships, be humble and kind as you can so that people will want to work with you. Yeah, it’s a long grind, but there’s no other way to say it.

Mason Cheng

Music Intern

I like music. Sometimes I write about it.