Xeila combines the aesthetics of the dark and paranormal with the style of modern alt pop genres to create a haunting yet energetic world within their music. Xeila, formed by Ross Rocco, was a project in creation since early or mid 2020. It was heavily inspired by the artist PVRIS, wanting to follow in the footsteps of other bands and artists similar that would creatively blend electronic and rock elements into one song or album.
With Xeila’s first release of the song “Lifeless”, the song starts off this story of a character who died and woke up in the afterlife, only to fight their way back to the real world again. With newly discovering his place in the LGBTQ community, Ross often writes about feeling different from society and trying to re-discover himself in this new era of his life. A lot of these topics are found in the songwriting and storytelling of Xeila, usually symbolized heavily through paranormal and science fiction imagery.
We had the chance to ask Xeila a couple questions as part of The Refrain Interview Series. Check it out below.
Refrain Music Blog: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. You have a new single out now. Tell us about it? What’s it called?
Xeila: Thanks for having me. It’s an alt-pop/rock song called “Colors”. It’s a blend of a few genres. It’s like alt-rock, with modern influences of pop/dark-pop and has some pop-punk influences thrown in there as well.
RMB: What’s the single about?
Xeila: The song is about someone, or myself, living in the past and always reminiscing memories instead of living in the present and moving forward. I had a big life change around 2019 when I decided to pursue music as a career and take it seriously. I had no idea what I was really doing, and just felt so lost that entire year as well as going through personal issues. When the pandemic hit, that all got worse or maybe even the same, and brought forth a lot of feelings of how life didn’t feel the same anymore and started just living in memories. For instance, simply just listening to music that would remind me of a certain time that I missed, or looking through photos. It got worse during this time period, and it’s still something I do here and there, which I didn’t really feel like this was something I ever spent time doing any time period before. So as I was writing music for this new project that is Xeila, I wrote the lyrics to reflect those feelings. Over time as I wrote the song, it changed slightly to symbolize ghosts and shadow figures haunting me. The more I dived deep into memories, the more apparent it was to me I was sort of glorifying a lot of them when not everything was actually as great as I made them out to be in my head. Now it’s like sometimes those memories haunt me. As well as certain days just remind me of certain time periods of my life, sometimes good and sometimes bad. Also lyrically, it was discussing the idea of what would happen if I stayed in the memories for too long. Would I ever return?
RMB: What’s the story on how it was recorded?
Xeila: I wrote this song in the Fall of 2020, I wanted something that was like alt rock, but an equal blend of rock and pop. Originally I had someone different help me record guitars and bass, and then I ended up recording vocals and mixing the song hoping to release it sooner than later. Truthfully at the time, it was absolutely horrible sounding. Listening back to that version it didn’t even sound like the same person or song. A lot of the last three years was me perfecting my craft as a producer, mixer, songwriter, artist and singer. So it took me quite a bit of time before anything was truly good enough to be released. Over the summer I re-tracked vocals, mixed, and got a great sounding version of that before realizing how unhappy I was with it. So a month before, I crazily re-wrote everything with my current set of skills. I re-produced the entire instrumental with chord changes, synth design changes, and re-wrote half the melodies all in about a month before my deadline to submit this. I really cracked down and asked Ben McSherry, who does my guitar and bass on personal and client work, to track this in time to send to my friend Blake Mullens, to re-amp guitars in time to send to Isaiah Prather to master by early October. It was my fastest-worked song, but it was probably easier since it was mostly written already. I don’t think this would be as feasible to do with a song from scratch.
RMB: Is it part of a larger album?
Xeila: No, I don’t think I’ll be doing an album. I think it’s more important to me to write a sick song in a moment and then move on to something that might sound way different. That way each time, I don’t need to commit to one sound. Some upcoming songs aren’t even rock, some are pop. But at the same time, if I really wanted to do a larger piece of work, I’m still at an early point in my career that doing singles for a while makes sense. I guess anything can change but for now, the plan is song by song.
RMB: How does this single differ from your previous work?
Xeila: If we’re talking about “Lifeless”, the single I released in August, then “Colors” is just a better written song. A few people messaged me, even saying how much they liked Lifeless, it was just way better. If I could go back, I think Lifeless would have been a much different sounding production. Just because Lifeless was one of the first songs written where I was finally honing in that pop/rock alt sound, but I just wasn’t quite there yet. I think “Colors” really drives that sound I’ve wanted in my head forward in so many ways.
RMB: When did you start pursuing music?
Xeila: 2019. I’ve always been doing music, but at no real professional level until 2019. I was always writing music and singing before then but I don’t think I was at the right place in my life to take it seriously. I really wish I did take it seriously when I was younger, it’s a much different time and market now. Although, it was easier to sit down and really try to craft a skillset and do it quickly over a few years, because I had so many years of me fiddling with stuff prior, it wasn’t necessarily new but it was me learning fundamentals I never sat down with before.
Other than that, I really spend a lot of my time writing, or learning how to mix better, or how to write better songs. I love horror, and I’ll play video games or watch TV in my down time in between all that. Back when I saw the movie Grave Encounters, I found out ghost hunting was a thing so I gave it a shot and ever since I’ve absolutely been fascinated by dark aesthetics, horror and sci fi movies/games and the paranormal as a whole. Thus the dark aesthetics of Xeila.
RMB: Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
Xeila: It’s no secret that PVRIS is a big influence Haha. A lot of my playlist consists of different songs from different artists. I love dark pop from Halsey, Billie, Echos, and PVRIS. Then I’ll dig stuff from Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande, Lorde, CHVRCHES. Originally I came from poppunk/post hardcore, so the classics like Sleeping With Sirens, Too Close To Touch, Paramore. I feel like for my own music, I’m pulling influences from these different genres. I think some of the best music and even popular media blends a lot of different styles.
RMB: What’s the one thing you are most proud of in your career so far?
Xeila: Probably just where I’m at currently. The fact that I’m constantly improving and pushing myself to be a better songwriter and singer. Two years ago I didn’t know how to write a pop song or even write a song in the genre of “Colors”. I could barely sing to save my life. All this stuff is not easy. It’s easy to write a song and get stuck and not know where to take it. It’s easy to get discouraged when things aren’t working out the way you want it to as a musician. Some days working on vocals or a song feels like a huge improvement and the next day it feels like you took two steps back. That’s usually how this kind of stuff goes, and the fact I can continue to pull myself back and get myself to keep going after each setback is something I feel I can be proud of. Especially dedicating two years nonstop to that.
RMB: If you had to pitch your music to a potential fan in less than 10 seconds, what would you say?
Xeila: If you like alt-pop and alt-rock music that has spooky dark vibes about confronting yourself and uses a lot of paranormal symbolism in the lyrics, then you’d connect with my music really well.
RMB: What’s one piece of advice you’ve gotten that you think everyone needs to hear or that has meant the most to you?
Xeila: That’s tough because I’m always listening for advice, if it’s me asking or simply listening to a podcast. I guess a good one to share is, always try to enjoy the process and journey you’re on. I always hear Gary Vee preaching that, and it’s true. It’s easy to get lost in the final goal or success, and get frustrated in whatever we’re doing to get there. There’s so many goal points along the way, it’s impossible to keep track. There’s never a realistic point where you sit there and say “I did it, ok I’m done.” You just find a way to improve and or find a bigger goal after you reach it. Have fun and be authentic, essentially.
RMB: If you could go back in time, what’s a piece of advice you would give to a younger you?
Xeila: I’d probably try to tell myself to take music seriously sooner. That or, to try and convince myself that I had potential to create better music and be able to sing. The thing is I don’t really think past me would have listened, because a lot of people tried to give me similar advice and I just didn’t ever take action. Sometimes we’re not ready to hear things or ready to make those big decisions at certain points in our lives and that’s okay.
RMB: What’s coming up next for your musical project?
Xeila: Just continuing to put out more singles. The next upcoming song or songs won’t be quite the same as “Colors” as I’m trying to expand more into the dark-pop side of the music. I won’t ever not return to the sound “Colors” had. If anything I’d like to create more songs like it, but play with more uniqueness to the sound than what I’ve already done. I guess we’ll just have to find out what I come up with.
Ross Rocco – Vocals and Production
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