Musician Brian Carmona sits with his face pointed squarely at the balmy glow of his computer screen as looping beats and rhythms swirl around in his headphones.The 31 year old nods his head gently and then picks up his guitar and improvises a warm lick over the cold bass and drums: synthesis. It's a fickle balance that eludes him occasionally— but today, he's found just the right notes.
To the rest of the world he's Xplor but in the comfort of his Fargo apartment, and in the presence of his wife and children, he's just Brian or “Dad.” If you ask him, they are his world.
His music is a dreamy blend of nostalgia-pop and melody-driven sonic experimentation.All tracks are chiefly inspired by the women in his life and his experiences growing up in Los Angeles as a Mexican-American.
Brian started writing music at a young age around the neon glow of the Sunset Strip. Like most other kids of his generation, he was heavily influenced by the emo rock scene as it was taking over the airwaves in the early 2000’s. Carmona recognized emo rock's raw emotion similar to values from his culture.
As he navigated his teenage years, learning about his ethnic roots, he embraced somber overtures and started to write his own songs. In both emo-rock and latino balladry, popularized in the ‘50’s, its somber melodies and honest lyrics cut its listeners to the core.
Most second and third generation Chicano (a person of Mexican origin or descent, especially a man or boy) live with an evolving sense of belonging. You're either too American to be Mexican and too Mexican to be American. The cultural strife is a perfect breeding ground for artistic expression and emotional outpouring, something Carmona is keenly aware of.
"Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s my parents have told me stories about going to school and they weren’t allowed to speak Spanish,”Carmona says. They'd get swatted for speaking Spanish in the classroom.”
Because of the physical attacks, Carmona says his parents' native language felt forced out of themselves and their classmates. "It trickled down to our generation."
It's somewhat of a regret for himself and his father who wished he would've taught Brian how to speak the language. "I had to immerse myself in the culture after the fact."
After several years of writing music, his big break happened: His hit single "Recover" was featured on MTV's “Teen Wolf” series and things quickly changed for him. Overnight, he got an explosion of online followers with the single being streamed a total of 443,000 times via Spotify. He was living in Nashville, Tenn. with his daughter and pregnant wife.
As Carmona recounts that time, he says when they found out about the pregnancy they realized they needed support. Their relatives lived near Fargo.
“We didn’t have anyone around us,”he says. “From my wife’s perspective, it would’ve been really hard for her to be alone with me gone all the time."
Carmona reluctantly agreed to move — not knowing Fargo well, but focused on taking care of his girls.
After spending a few aimless months, he got curious. He started poking around the art scene and realized its opportunity — especially with the lack of cultural representation such as the low latino population. Just 3% of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino according to a recent census.
"You get to a certain age where you’re no longer trying to impress people. As kid you’re trying to find your place in the world, where you’re supposed to fit in,” he says “Now as an adult, I've learned that I need to be who I am and take it upon myself to get immersed in the culture and create it if necessary."
He received a grant from the Arts Partnership to produce an art and music installation show which was held at Fowler's Heritage Company, a woman's clothing store in downtown Fargo.
As odd as it may seem, this setting was perfect. The store transformed to feature a static filled television with projections of John Hughes films on the brick walls as ambient light glittered behind a haze of white fog, accompanied by his music. It painted an ethereal picture.
As winter creeps up, Carmona is hard at work on new Xplor music and plans future shows to compliment the growing art scene in Fargo. The new music plays well against the endless snowdrifts and sub-zero temperatures. Perhaps, Fargo could use some technicolor hues and loving warmth.
photo credit: Andrew Stone of Fargo