Interview with Lionel Boy: “I started playing music when I was about 13-years-old”

We discovered Lionel Boy a few months ago and his debut album is one of our favorites of 2021. Lionel Boy mixes various influences: spacey synthesizers, impromptu breakbeats, contemporary rap, bedroom pop… We love the universe of his album and we wanted to know more about him. In this interview, you’ll discover his influences, his production process, and much more!

To begin, can you introduce yourself? How did you first get into music? 

My name is Lionel-Keone De Guzman, I grew up on Oahu, Hawaii and am currently living in Long Beach, CA. I’m 28 and started playing music when I was about 13-years-old. My first instrument was a squire Strat that my sister’s friend sold me. But I’d say from the ages of 15-21 I was pretty wrapped up in skating or getting wild with the boys. It wasn’t until my ACL/Meniscus injury back in 2015 that I had some time to self-examine and realize that I really wanted to be a recording artist/producer. It was a strange shift in interest. 

I only really hung out with skaters so that’s all I saw. I didn’t know any musicians or recording artists that I could ask for advice or learn from. Basically, I had seen a lot of peers make it in skateboarding but I hadn’t seen one established musician, so I definitely felt like I was starting off in the dark. 

How would you describe your music in 3 words?

Easy, honest, vibes. 

In a few words, what is your process to produce songs? And what are the essential instruments you use?

I’d say from 2015-2018 everything started with guitar but that got pretty boring really fast.  Most of the music I was listening to wasn’t guitar-driven so I had this disconnect from the music I enjoyed the most – I didn’t know how to develop it.  So I started learning to produce myself in Logic Pro and that’s when “Who is Dovey?” came to life. These days, I’m writing in Ableton and finishing everything off in Logic.

Usually, I’ll scroll through my sample library looking for drum breaks or weird sounds and go from there. A lot of Serum, a lot of sample manipulation in Serato and experimenting until I find a sound I like.  I’ve got no formula. Some days, I’ll sit down and feel like a monkey in front of my computer screen.  Other days, I feel like Lionel Boy. It’s just about showing up. 

What are the major influences behind your new album?

I get asked this a lot and it’s one of the toughest questions for me to answer. It’s because I honestly don’t know.  If I’m at the park or beach, I’m listening to my Pat Kelley/Phyllis Dillon/Susan Cadogen kind of playlists and I’d say that influences me quite a bit—though you don’t hear that in my songs.  When I’m working out/skating it’s all Griselda/Freddie Gibbs/BLXST/Kendrick etc… and that’s really my favorite kind of music, but once again, it’s not necessarily the music I make. 

Shoot, then there’s all the top 40 stuff I really enjoy…Honestly, the biggest influence is my life. The people around me, my own struggles, that’s what inspires me and shapes what my listeners are hearing. I have zero interest in sounding like anybody else.  If you were to look at my iTunes most played, you’d see all my demos and song ideas.  I’m usually listening to what I’m making, just trying to make it better.

How does it feel to see your album now released? What are your next projects?

It feels surreal. I never thought I’d reach a point in music where people would be excited to listen to what I’m bringing to the table.  I’m filled with gratitude and feel very humbled by the whole experience.  Last year was super tough for me personally. I did a lot of growing which is often a painful process. But, a worthy one. As for next projects, I’m sitting on a bunch of new stuff that I’m really stoked on.  All in good time though. 

Visual aesthetics seems to play a major role in your project, can you tell us more about your approach?

Visual aesthetics plays a major role in everything – but I just have an abnormal amount of photographer/videographer friends to help me execute all this.  If it wasn’t for the homies love and support, my artwork and videos would probably be trash. People like Basil Vargas, Christian Gonzales, Casey Liu, Leo Cabal, Joanna Nguyen….  I mean, I can’t afford what they’re worth.  I’m forever grateful to these individuals for seeing value in what I’m doing and making the time and giving the effort to elevate this project.  

The “Kam Highway” video is a perfect example.  If it wasn’t for Casey’s family being out of town and lending us their beautiful home, I would have never been able to afford flying everyone to Hawaii, paying to put them up in a place, renting everyone vehicles etc… On top of that, there’s still their day rates which I can’t afford either, haha.  Then, I think about locations, extra helping hands etc..  There was no budget for any of that.  Instead, everyone was willing to work for and with what was available, and that in itself was a huge blessing. 

What are your top 3 songs at the moment? 

Being a native of Hawaii, what is the thing you like the most there? And what’s your best advice to anyone traveling there?

I love the local people and their spirit.  We just do things differently here.  There’s a strong sense of respect for our land and our people which is why we can be so defensive of both.  I’m on Oahu right now as I’m answering these questions, and it’s beautiful outside.  Why?  Because we keep it that way. 

I remember moving to Long Beach and going to the beach for the first time and being blown away at how dirty it was. Trash in the sand, debris floating in the water, and people just passing by, pretending to not notice, but c’mon you have to notice – because when you come to our beaches, you notice how clean they are.  It might be the mentality of “oh someone else will do it” or “it’s not mine, I don’t need to take care of it” but all that is just stink.  If that is how you treat your own home, please don’t visit mine. I know that can come off as harsh, but it’s the truth.

People travel here and expect so much from our island. They demand nice sunsets, beautiful beaches, good food, perfect weather and feel entitled to a great experience.. but why?  Because you come with money?  Wake up.  Real families live here. Real people cherish this place and just because you don’t feel that way about your home, it doesn’t give you the right to displace or disrespect others from theirs.

My advice for those traveling to Hawaii is: please be mindful that you are a visitor. Try to leave a place in better condition than when you got there.  Treat us with respect and we will do the same.  Oh, and don’t try to scuffle with the locals, you will be bummed. 

Apart from music, what is your favorite hobby?

I used to skate a lot but lately, I’ve been boxing more—trying to stay in good condition. I spent most of my young adult years doing damage to my body so I figured it was time to take a 180-degree turn.  My spare time is spent at the park or working out in my garage.

Follow Lionel Boy on: Spotify | Facebook | Instagram | Soundcloud

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