Written by Colin Kirkland
Vector Xing, otherwise known as Steven Cablayan, has reemerged after two years of radio silence. With his debut EP behind him and his former songwriting partner gone, Cablayan’s new project is about finding himself in the depths of a quarter-life-crisis. As a black, gay man living in Los Angeles, he is establishing a necessary investigation: How does one become comfortable in their own skin? How do we learn to accept change and what power can be derived from it? Through a lens of funk and soul, Cablayan is embracing these questions and redirecting them toward current political issues, the digital age, and inner personal freedom. We talk calmly and passionately about his journey as a person and artist.
We begin the conversation by discussing “Bubble King,” Cablayan’s newest single; a brilliantly engaging tune that emphasizes his new perspective after coming out as gay. Departing from complex electronic arrangements, Cablayan is utilizing his knowledge and love for funk and soul music, creating something that expresses difficult situations through upbeat melodies.
“There’s a lot of naiveté that comes with your first project,” Cablayan explains in reference to his 2015 debut EP, “440Hz.” “You’re figuring things out sound-wise, lyric-wise, recording-wise and release-wise. This time I wanted to get back to the basics and strip down everything; it’s more of a funk sound – more R&B, more straight forward melodies, it’s less electronic.” Cablayan produced and arranged the song himself, bringing in friends to help craft specific sections. “The song is about rediscovering myself as a person, rediscovering the base of who I am,” he says. “I wouldn’t have been able to make this song unless I took the time to do some work on myself.” As we talk, I begin making a connection between Cablayan’s life experiences and the structuring of “Bubble King,” his insecurities having been removed with the former technology: extra synthesizers and other distracting effects are replaced by horns and sing-along capability.
“What messages are instilled in ‘Bubble King’ that relate to your personal growth?” I ask.
“Bubble King’ can be interpreted a lot of ways,” Cablayan begins. “It dropped when I was 25, which can be a big shift in one’s life. Things happen out of nowhere that you aren’t expecting about your personality. I started to realize how many things I was hiding from the world that didn’t even have to do with my sexuality, but how I present myself. Bubble King is about being okay with those insecurities and gaining power from them, gaining strength from being unique, being weird.” Cablayan tells me that “Bubble King” translates to everyone by targeting our desire to be comfortable in whatever skin we wear. By attempting to connect with yourself, “you’ll be the king of your own space.”
In terms of structure and sound, I am fascinated by how different Vector Xing appears in this new project. Cablayan’s first release in 2015 is moody and set back, perfect for a late night scene – a night club, perhaps. “Bubble King” breaks through the darkness with bright clarity, a groovy walk down the sidewalk with rays of sunshine, blue sky above. So how and why did this change come so suddenly?
“I feel like electronic is really cool but it wasn’t me,” he reflects. “There are enough people doing complex and crazy electronic music out there; I wanted to explore something different. For me it was more challenging to write a song with classic hooks and melodies.” Cablayan informs me that at first his biggest obstacle was getting back to his roots. The music that hits him hardest was created by Parliament Funkadelics, Ohio Players, Chaka Khan, and Stevie Wonder. He explains to me that their music is complex in a different way from cutting-edge electronic composition. “They’re complex in their arrangement,” he says, “and how they fit big sounds right next to each other – how they discuss real issues with an upbeat tempo.” This definition makes up Vector Xing’s reintroduction.
Track from Cablayan’s 2015 release.
We begin discussing change in relation to personal endeavors. “You have to embrace change,” says Cablayan. “When you try and resist it, things will start hurting. But if you know change is coming, it’s just another day.”
“Were you resisting it for a while?” I ask.
“I think I probably embraced it too much” Cablayan chuckles, “and sometimes it can stall you. I feel like I am constantly evolving.” He explains that part of being an artist is that you have to be better than you were yesterday.
“The music platforms are also constantly evolving? How do you stay grounded” I ask.
“I find that I’m most myself when I’m naturally creating,” says Cablayan. “I don’t naturally want to share all parts of my life. I don’t naturally want to post every day. But I do naturally want to create every day.” Cablayan uses Photoshop as a daily tool for this; by messing around with images, he has found his aesthetic. “You’re just coming straight from your gut when you’re creating,” he adds. “That’s how I stay authentic.” But however authentic one may be, it is still difficult to stay grounded in the digital age. “There’s so much instant gratification and it’s so fake,” Cablayan vents. Like I’m sorry, but who fucking cares? This shit is not real. The sad part is that I think there are some really great artists out there who would be getting more attention in a different era.”
Cablayan’s music career started in a miraculous way. Directly out of college, Cablayan was hired as Quincy Jones’ administrative assistant. Back then, Cablayan didn’t view becoming a musician as a viable option – mostly due to the fact that he was closeted and didn’t want people to find out that he was gay. However, he soon began to witness how much fulfillment Quincy got out of surrounding himself with musicians. “I saw how they could affect rooms and people in a positive way,” Cablayan says. “I felt like they were using their gift to affect the world.” That’s when he decided to leave his managerial position and become one of them.
“How do you think you will affect people with ‘Bubble King’ and your new record?”
“I think everyone has things in their head that they think about all the time,” says Cablayan. “They think things about themselves and the world that they don’t ever really say.” Cablayan believes that an artist’s responsibility is to display these thoughts for everyone else. “This coming album is full of things I’ve always wanted to reveal about myself,” he continues. “Finding creative ways to do that through music is what I want this set of songs to be about. Music has the ability to soften the blow. You reveal your truth through melody and emotion and inflection; once you do that, people see themselves in your revelation. The more intimate and vulnerable you can be, the more powerful you can be.”
Cablayan’s authenticity is taking shape through various songwriting changes. For his upcoming record, he has not only found his structural roots, but has also been writing about social justice in America. “It’s kind of difficult to write a political song that doesn’t seem corny or trite,” he tells me. “You really have to make sure you’re coming from an authentic place and speaking the truth as much as possible.” Cablayan is also shifting away from love songs, which were his main focus on the last EP. “If it’s a love song, I want it to be about sex or something.” he says. “I just think there’s so much music out there and Spotify allows you to have everything at once. You have to catch someone’s attention by being different than everyone else, while being true to yourself at the same time. That’s the fine balance.”
“What do you value most in your music career right now?” I ask.
“The ability to have free expression,” responds Cablayan. “I think there are a lot of important issues in the world right now.” Cablayan references police brutality and mentions how convoluted the conversation surrounding racism is in America. “People are in their social media echo-chambers and they’re not hearing each other,” he says. “They want to make a point that will be liked instead of having a discourse with someone.” Cablayan believes that artist’s not only must display their thought stream for others to relate to, but they must also take a stance on injustice and world issues. “I understand that it’s overwhelming,” he says. “24 hours a day you can be bombarded by shit that affects you negatively. Going back to how I want to write the next few songs: the beauty of funk or R&B is that you can talk about extremely heavy issues in a way that doesn’t feel winey.” This is in part why Cablayan is drawn to artists that made monumental music in the 70s, such as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gay. In his words, they have a “staying power;” they move past complaining. “I think that if you’re an artist that’s just complaining,” says Cablayan, “you’re not trying hard enough.”
Before we conclude our conversation, I ask Cablayan a massive question, one that makes him go silent for an instance: “Do you have a momentary solution for overcoming bigotry and racism?” I ask. After a brief moment he laughs a little bit and answers decisively.
“I think we’ve just got to be able to see people,” he says. “You have to see the center of someone, to know that if they’re yelling at you or calling you names, they are probably confused or hurt; see the center before analyzing their words.” In his high school drama class, young Cablayan learned a valuable lesson that he continues to live his life by. That is being able to take criticism without responding. “I think it’s something that people don’t do at all,” he says, “especially on social media. If someone calls a comment you make racist, there’s some truth to what they’re saying at some level. You have to take that before you respond and take time to come to the middle to see why they feel that way.” Cablayan believes that racism is still a major current issue because people don’t want to take criticism. “The core of racism is that it’s a system of things that have been built up over hundreds of years; it’s not necessarily a person-to-person thing. But people take it as a personal attack instead of thinking about it before responding. It’s a tall order for the current state of our country.”
Cablayan will continue to keep working on his new record. He hopes to have a few more songs out by this fall. He says that it’s been a long time coming and that he is eager to fulfill his vision. I’m excited for this new voice in society. It seems that the beauty behind social media and the digital age is that we are making the rule book as we go; Cablayan described it as “the Wild West.” However, I think he has stumbled upon one of the most useful tools we have: patience. By taking the necessary time to reconnect with himself, he has built something that will ring true for countless people. Without patience, something so avoidable in the progression of technology – something completely lost on President Drumpf – crucial conversations might dissolve and become clouded by shame and selfishness. So before it’s too late, take a second in your own space. Then get up and dance your ass off to “Bubble King” – it’s a jam.