Making music is one thing, wholly impressive in and of itself. However, it is entirely another to make art, transforming the beauty of sound into a universe of stories. Curtis Waters is undoubtedly accomplishing the latter — completely redefining what it means to be an artist in today’s complex world. And seamlessly succeeding at that.
Born Abhinav Bastakoti, the 23-year-old Nepali-Canadian artist transcends traditional boundaries of genre to create emotionally explorative art. Both lyrically and sonically, Waters covers an incredibly expansive range of sound, jumping from lively dance hits like his TikTok viral song “Stunnin'” to powerfully electric, bass-driven music like “RIOT.” He also proudly gives a voice to his own lived experiences and personal perspectives, whether exploring his life growing up as a first-generation immigrant or more.
In the process, Waters isn’t just falling into one pre-defined category as an artist, but personally carving out his own space within the music industry. However, even while already reaching international success, he’s just getting started.
Gearing for the release of his sophomore album, Bad Son, on June 23rd, I spoke with Curtis Waters to talk about music, life, and everything in between. You can check out Curtis’s music here, and be sure to stay on the lookout for the release of his long-awaited album, Bad Son!
[Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity purposes]
It’s been three years since you entered the limelight with your song “Stunnin’,” but you’ve been making music and writing songs far earlier than that – can you speak on your journey beginning as an artist and how you got started with music?
Yeah, when I was 14 living i Nepal, I pirated programs on my computer, because I didn’t have internet, so I was just watching YouTube videos and trying to figure out how to make music. I used to do graphic design, used to draw, used to make comics. I used to just do a bunch of random stuff. It wasn’t until 2018/2019 that I started taking singing seriously.
And then I got really lucky with “Stunnin’.” It was crazy. I was really anxious because it was my first time going viral like that. So it’s pretty insane. I remember me and my brother were just like, refreshing it nonstop like ‘Oh My God,’ you know? But since then, it’s been amazing, I’ve been able to do this like full time.
What was the inspiration behind picking the artist name, Curtis Waters?
I was really into Ian Curtis from Joy Division and Frank Ocean of course. But it was also sort of like, I just needed a name. I just needed something that would help me be vulnerable and say anything I want because you know, releasing music about the American dream, I could never really fit under my government name, you know, because that’s too personal. That’s too naked.
I also used to write these comics. When I was a kid, I had this comic character called Curtis Waters, and the name of the comic book series was “Bad Son.” And I mean, I made that when I was 15/16, I still have the book here somewhere. It’s cool, you know, damn near 10 years later being able to see it come to life in this way.
Growing up in Nepal and moving around from Germany to Canada to North Carolina, how have your experiences living in such a diverse range of places shaped the music you write?
A lot of times, it’s not necessarily the sound of the music that’s influenced by my lived experiences, but the themes. You know, themes of alienation or feeling like an outsider have sort of permeated my mind. I think I definitely take a lot of themes from Nepal, like I have my mom speaking Nepali all over [Bad Son]. It’s not that I’m like ‘oh, I’m in North Carolina, so I make Southern music or whatever.’ It’s more just my personal life and memories that I can remember that deepen my music, I would say.
When people ask you what musical genres you fall under, how do you answer that?
I honestly say a bunch of bullshit. Like, just gotta check my music out. But, I don’t know – I just think I don’t really operate under genres. I feel like it’s just like colors, right? Like love can be blue or whatever. I feel like I’m just so excited about all the different colors. And I mean, I like to paint these super dynamic, vibrant pictures. I like to have all these different scenes and climaxes and down points and all this stuff. So I don’t know, I think genre is sort of an irrelevant question sometimes. I think it’s more or less, what is the goal? I guess, what is the motive or the emotion that you want out of it?
It’s like when you watch a movie, obviously there’s themes and genres. But more specifically, there’s also a really intense scene or there’s a funny comic relief scene or there’s a sad scene, right? It’s not just a one dimensional character the whole time. I think people often expect artists to be like this, neatly packaged, pressed, plastic product. But I feel really limited by being one dimensional like that.
You mentioned Joy Division and Frank Ocean and how you were inspired by them – are there any other artists that you look up to or inspired by?
I’m really into Odd Future, Tyler the Creator, and Kanye West. They always were like huge inspirations. I’m also really into The Front Bottoms and Modern Baseball like a lot of Midwest emo stuff. Death Grips, Mac Demarco, a lot of artists.
With your newest album, Bad Son, coming out so soon, what was the process of writing that album like?
Well, I’ve been working on Bad Son since I was like 15/16. I’ve had this album idea since I was a kid. I dropped a mixtape when I was 17 called Prom Night. It was supposed to be Bad Son. My album in 2020 called Pity Party was supposed to be called Bad Son. So I’ve had the idea and the themes and the narrative of the album since I was a kid.
Now, it’s sort of just like, okay, I know the colors. I know the themes. I need to fit all that in with music. So every time I would make a song in the back of my head, it’d be like, does this fit into this larger narrative of like, the American dream or immigrant guilt? Some songs might sound kind of silly and fun like my song “Himbo,” but it also ties into the American dream, you know?
How does it feel to see all of these little moments from your childhood come into fruition through Bad Son?
It’s crazy. I think about that a lot. But it’s also taken a lot of discipline and force, because there’s a lot of times where I kind of gave up on this idea, because it was too grand for me when I was a kid, you know? But I’m ready now. I’m 23. If I wait any longer, I will have moved on from that phase of my life, like coming of age, immigrant guilt, experiencing all of that. In a few years, I’ll have other thoughts and turmoils.
It’s almost getting to a point where I sort of lost touch with what it felt like to be a poor 11-year old dealing with racism for the first time. And that’s sort of where a lot of these emotions come from. I think at 23, I’m dealing with different things. So I just thought, okay, if I don’t get this done now, it’s never gonna come out, you know? So yeah, I’m really proud of it. I’m really happy it actually did come out because there were so many times in my life where it felt like such a grand idea as a kid, and I was beginning to doubt it would never come to fruition.
Was the feeling of writing Bad Son different from when you released your first album, Pity Party?
Yeah, I think so. It’s weird. It’s like having a baby. I guess people would be excited about having a baby, because it seems like a big deal. But it doesn’t hit until the moment, with a lot of things like this. It’s like going on a roller coaster. Some people get really anxious and excited all the way up, but until I’m there, I don’t feel anything. And then when I’m at the top and feel the drop, I’m like, oh shit. We’re here.
But, you know, I feel more at peace now. I think when I was dropping Pity Party, I was sort of burdened with a lot of the pressure of going viral. I was really anxious, and you know, I had all these people with these expectations for me. But right now, I feel like I’m just making the art I want to make. I feel happy about it.
How do you bridge together your identity as an artist, Curtis Waters, with your identity as an individual person?
You know, there’s moments like if I’m on stage, I’m very like “Curtis Waters,” like I’m very riled up, excited, crazy, brutally honest, and all this stuff. Same with music videos. But I don’t know, like I hate when I talk to an artist friend, and online, they might be mysterious and cool, and then that permeates into normal life, and they’re still keeping up the brand when you’re just hanging out. I don’t know, I’m sort of over it, there’s still a performance to it, you know what I mean?
I think, being fully authentic, there’s a different way to approach it other than getting caught up in the brand. I feel like I’m very authentic as Curtis Waters, but still, there’s exaggerations, you know, ideas to be more entertaining and evocative.
But I think it’s not actually a facade, it’s more of a shield, right? Like, making a song is such an authentic process. But only Curtis Waters could make that, because there’s a shield and there’s a protection and I guess, invokes more emotion than me talking to you in person, right? So there’s a lot of things that go into building this play, you know, like the production of it all. It’s like a movie. I think art in general is like a performance, but you can still be authentic even if you use a different name, you know.
Visually, do you have any inspirations or ideas behind where you want to take your music?
It honestly depends on the song. We’re shooting a video for “Inner Child,” and for that, I wanted to be really nostalgic, and I wanted to capture my Nepali family and us cooking. The idea is like three generations of immigrants. So we’re gonna have my little cousin, me, and my dad as the three roles in the video. But yeah, I guess the aesthetic vision just depends on each song. But I do think nostalgia is something that I go to a lot, especially for an album like Bad Son.
You recently finished your Bad Son tour – how was that experience and what was it like performing live to your fans?
It was life changing. You never really realize how much people care or who cares or what’s going on. You know, the internet is very deceptive, and I think you can get really caught up in algorithms and numbers and comments.
But I think when you see people in real life, the impact isn’t really quantifiable. I guess like, you really just feel it. It’s very emotional and no amount of followers or comments can make you feel that until you see somebody in real life. Yeah, so that was eye-opening for me.
Did you have any favorite memories from your tour? Anything that stood out to you?
I had these two fans that traveled to different tour dates to see me in different cities and they would give me gifts every time, which was insane.
I also had this grandma in Vancouver who doesn’t have Instagram, doesn’t have social media, but like she loves all my music. And she was crying and telling me how much my music means to her. So I talked to her, got an email, and I was sending her some exclusive music. It’s cool. I think just like talking to these people that have these complex lives that you wouldn’t even know. It’s just surreal.
Wrapping things up, it is UCLA Radio, and one of the things all our DJ’s first do is pick their DJ name – aside from your established moniker as Curtis Waters, what would your DJ name be?
You know what’s crazy, I was working on this sort of mixtape idea called “Mr. Nobody Radio.” So I think I’d be called DJ Nobody. But I’m gonna think of a better name, and I’ll hunt you down when I do find one.