Curtis Waters, or Abhi to his friends and family, wants to be a tourist in this world—not in the “snap a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower” sense but rather a deep-rooted feeling of wonder and joy for all that Earth has to offer. I spoke with Curtis over Zoom a few weeks after the release of his sophomore album, BAD SON. It’s a deeply personal, multi-genre project that has been roughly 10 years in the making. The album explores his guilt-ridden search for identity and purpose, navigating the challenges that come with being an immigrant in America. With touching vulnerability, Curtis tackles the shame of internalized racism and speaks candidly about his struggle with bipolar disorder. In our conversation*, we spoke about his creative process, niche interests, harmonicas, and pecan trout…
*Edited for length and clarity
I’ve had this realization recently that I am on this Earth to learn and explore. There’s so much I want to try to do during this lifetime. I am overwhelmed by the amount of things that excite me.
EARLY RISING: Before we start, do you prefer that I call you Abhi or Curtis?
CURTIS WATERS: I’m fine with either. Whatever feels more comfortable for you.
ER: Your name is actually something I wanted to talk with you about. How does having an Americanized stage name affect how you see yourself as an artist? Does it ever bleed into your personal life or self-identity?
CW: I think when I was young, I had a lot of internalized racism. I wanted a name that was easier to blend in with American society. I was tired of correcting people about my name (Abhinav). As a kid, I saw how brown artists with brown names were typecasted so that was a fear of mine growing up. But now, I think the culture is in a different place where people are given more freedom and nuance to be fully themselves. So I might change my stage name to Abhi, but I don’t know. It’s weird.
ER: Yeah, I feel there are pros and cons to it. Your actual name is more authentic, but it might be nice to have a level of separation between your art and your personal life.
CW: Definitely. I think there should always be some separation. I think my career has benefited from having such a vague name. You can’t really tell what race, age, or genre it is. It’s allowed me to make all different kinds of music. The name “Curtis Waters” lends itself to being anything. It’s really like an empty canvas.
ER: So it’s been a few weeks since the release of BAD SON, how does it feel now that your baby is out in the world? How’s the reception been from fans?
CW: I thought it would feel a lot worse. I thought I would be way more anxious, but after the album came out, I was getting paragraphs non-stop from so, so many people. Really detailed responses, like people genuinely cared and opened up to me. So dude, I won. Responding to everybody after the album dropped made me realize I did it. Everything I set out to do since I was a kid was validated within the first 24 hours after the release. It feels like a massive weight has been lifted.
ER: That’s amazing, I’m so happy to hear that. What have you been up to lately?
CW: Just being a human, bro. I’ve been cooking, cleaning, yoga, buying books, and shit. I moved back to North Carolina with my family.
ER: What have you been cooking?
CW: Okay, I’m kinda lying. I haven’t been cooking cooking, but I make this Trader Joe’s bruschetta sandwich with a bunch of fancy shit. Hashbrowns with avocado and eggs, you know. During Covid, I would make pecan trout. I heard about it from a Lil Uzi song. Have you had it?
ER: Yeah! I’m actually from North Carolina too. Pecan trout is one of our signature dishes.
CW: Bro, it’s so fire. But yeah, just trying to be a regular ass human. The album is out, I bore my soul, and I feel good now.
ER: I know this album centers around guilt and the pressure that comes with being an immigrant. “American Dream,” for example, is such a powerful and vulnerable track about the shame and fear you overcame. Could you speak more about what this album means to you?
CW: Well, I think at the age of 23, I have definitely lost touch and meaning with the original meaning of this album when I first conceived of it as a 14-year-old who had just moved to Canada. The reason this album needed to be finished was because I didn’t feel guilty anymore. It feels a little odd to talk about it now. It doesn’t hurt so much anymore, which is a good thing. I’ll let the album speak for itself. The lyrics of “Manic Man” and “American Dream” are pretty literal. I don’t think I can add anything new to it at this point.
ER: What have fans been saying to you in response to the album?
CW: The response has been crazy. I think my favorite people to talk to are kids and teenagers. They see me doing this and feel like they can do it too, which is exactly what I want. I think the coolest thing you can do is pass the torch. The best possible thing that could ever come out of this album is seeing a bunch of kids make an album together inspired by my music.
ER: That’s a beautiful goal. Have you been back to Nepal recently?
CW: I haven’t been back to Nepal in over 10 years. I’m hoping to go now. Life kept happening with college, Stunnin’, Covid, and then this album. I don’t even know what it’s like, but I know a lot of people are proud of me out there. I’m nervous but excited to go back.
ER: How does it feel to be viewed as a representative of Nepal? Does that responsibility ever weigh on you?
CW: I’m not really a role model. I never intended to be. I mean, Stunnin’ is a stupid, vulgar song. It’s cool that people are inspired by me, but I’m not trying to be the face of a country. I’m just a guy, you know? Sometimes people get entitled in a way where they feel like I’m representing Nepal wrong with my music or my actions, but I’m not representing anyone. I’m not a politician. I’m just being myself.
ER: Now that the album is out, what are you excited for next? Have you been making any new music?
CW: I haven’t really been working on music. I want to make a videogame but I don’t know how to…yet. I think boredom is the most important thing for creativity, so I’m excited to be bored. I want to read and play games, just take some space for myself. I don’t have anything important to say yet. I need time to re-invent myself and create something new.
ER: Wait, a video game? What’s your vision for it?
CW: I’m thinking a side-scroller, beat-em’-up, kinda like Scott Pilgrim—I actually bought six Scott Pilgrim books today. It’ll be a retro thing. That’s the first thing I want to make
ER: Do you have a character in mind for it?
CW: It would be the Bad Son character. I have the whole thing planned out. The day after the album came out, my brother and I spent hours coming up with the storyline to BAD SON: the Video Game. Hopefully it happens one day. We’ll see, I say a lot of shit *laughs*
ER: I’m sure you could find someone to help you program that.
CW: Bro, fuck that though! Ten years ago, I did not know anything about music whatsoever. Never sung in my life. It took ten years, but I did it my way. I don’t want to hire people. I have to learn it myself. It’s gotta be my own thing.
ER: So you want to learn programming?
CW: Yeah! It’s not about the product, it’s about learning to do the shit. Life is pointless, so you have to make a grand goal and pursue it. The album’s out, but now it’s time to move on to something new.
ER: That’s a great mentality to have. It’s so important to enjoy the process.
CW: I’ve had this realization recently that I am on this Earth to learn and explore. There’s so much I want to try to do during this lifetime. I am overwhelmed by the amount of things that excite me. Like dude, I bought a fucking harmonica yesterday. I’ve been studying the history of harmonicas and looking into Stevie Wonder. Just random shit. There’s too much, dude. I have no idea what I’ll do next.
ER: My favorite thing recently has been finding obscuring YouTube video essays. Like I was watching this two hour long video on the dinosaurs’ extinction and the debate around it within the scientific community.
CW: Bro, you have to send me that. Seriously, I love shit like that. I was watching stuff on Genghis Khan, endangered animals, and the rise and fall of ancient civilizations. It’s so cool.
ER: What has been helping you cope with stress and anxiety? How has your mental health been?
CW: Coming back home. I was in LA, doing the race, but I had to realize I don’t care that much about satisfying my ego. I want to live a simple life. I want to spend time with my family and learn every day. I want to be a tourist on Earth, you know? I think in America, especially, we spend so much of our time thinking, “Who am I? What am I? What do I mean to people? Am I going to be remembered? Me, me, me, blah, blah, blah.” But honestly, the best things in life are going for a walk and smelling flowers. All the cliché shit is the best. None of that has to do with ourselves or our achievements. So I think I’ve had a really big shift in why I am alive—life is not about me. I want to be a tourist in this world. That way of thinking has been helping me a lot.
ER: It’s so important to have child-like wonder. We take so many things for granted. Gratitude exercises really help to ground me when my anxiety flares up.
CW: Man, I want to get back to the intrinsic joy that I felt as a kid. I want to be a conduit for that energy. For the next phase of my life—and I don’t know what that is—I want my art to be less based on my trauma and angst, and more on the feeling you get when you watch Spirited Away or play Street Fighter when you’re 14. I am trying to find different avenues to make art because I was ruining my mental health making this album. I would do things that would make my mental health worse to get into the headspace to finish the album. Going forward, I want my music to be more joy-based. Let’s have some fun, you know?
Curtis Waters’ BAD SON is out now, available on all streaming platforms.