Zachary Bour, better known by his middle and stage name “Caragan,” has come a long way since his debut single “Cozy” dropped in 2020 and solidified his status as an artist.
We caught up with Bour to talk about his latest single “Cool W You,” how the past year completely changed his creative routine and identity, and what it means to be confident in his own art as an Asian American.
WHO IS CARAGAN?
“I know everyone refers to me as Caragan, but I’m definitely ‘Zach’ first, the human being,” he said. “I’m a student at ASU, a friend, an athlete, a musician, someone who wants to find a way for everyone else to have fun while having fun in the process.”
Bour says the procedure behind “Cool W You,” was completely different compared to his previous releases, and it stemmed from a summer full of writer’s block. It was a lot of nothing at first, having just finished an internship at the end of June.
“I just realized I want to have fun with what I’m doing and enjoy what I’m doing, and that’s how ‘Cool W You’ came about,” he said.
Unlike other songwriting sessions, Bour says he was really present while creating the song and wasn’t focused too much on what other people thought.
“To me this song really represented enjoying the process and enjoying what happens around me rather than being extremely nitpicky about every single detail,” he said.
In true “you are your own worst critic” fashion, although Bour released his debut single, “Cozy,” in 2020 and his latest EP, “Eve,” in Spring of 2021, but he says he’s not the biggest fan of how those songs turned out.
“My music is really formulaic, and I don’t like that,” he said. “It represented the sound of what I was going through at the time, but a lot of what I found in retrospect, is that that’s not the music I want to make long term.”
For the longest time, Bour had a certain formula that allowed him to craft his EPs. But by the end of 2021, that formula began to feel repetitive and cookie-cutter.
“My process starts essentially with me grabbing my uke in my room, and then finding four chords that work, and then a melody, and then words, etc., and then that’s how, like, every song was made essentially for both EPs, except for one of them,” he said.
“I know everyone refers to me as Caragan, but I’m definitely ‘Zach’ first, the human being.”
“I didn’t like that. I didn’t like how every song was made the same way.”
Even ‘Cool W You’ was not immune to his ‘cookie-cutter’ critique, but he doesn’t want people to get the impression that he hates his music–for him, it’s a sign that it’s time to grow.
“As an artist, you’re always changing your perspective on what you want to make,” he said.
IDENTITY IN HIS MUSIC
“Unity” was the first word Bour used to describe the impact of being Asian American through the art he makes.
“I feel like a lot of my music lately has drawn influence from a lot of Asian American artists,” he said. “Or rather, a lot of the stuff that stands out to me just happens to be by Asian American artists, like H.E.R and BOYLIFE.”
Bour also credited being Asian American as an opportunity to reclassify norms along with other people in the same industry. In his case–being a business student who also wants to pursue music.
“I just did an application for an Asian American artists’ guild where I referenced Simu Liu and Eric Nam, both people who followed a traditional business route and actually had jobs with, like, really top name accounting firms, and then just hated it and did art,” Bour said.
Unlike Eric Nam and Simu Liu, however, Bour wants to prove that people don’t have to force an ultimatum on themselves.
“I wanted to show that you can do one thing for years and learn stuff from it, but also apply it as an artist, rather than throw it away, in a sense,” Bour said.
Comparison can be a killer SOMETIMES
Although his identity has given him a chance to break norms, the expectation that Asian Americans have to be “the best of the best” or hypercompetitive still gets him, even if it is self-imposed.
“It’s unfortunately an evil you’re gonna have to live with, comparison is always gonna happen,” Bour said. “I think the way around that is just to appreciate what you put out and understand that you’re on a different path.”
He name-dropped Anderson .Paak as an example of an artist who went at their own pace, someone who, ten years ago, at the age of 30, was nearly homeless but worked hard and got lucky with a breakout record.
“If you commit yourself to a path then you’re gonna get where you want to be, but it won’t necessarily be the quickest,” he said.
Bour doesn’t shun the idea of comparison. In fact, he sees it as a tool for motivation rather than negativity.
“I have friends who also do music and I’ll find myself comparing my work or what I’m accomplishing to them,” Bour said. “And then you realize, ‘Well I’ve also worked on this, this and this,’ not necessarily rationalizing, but coming to terms with what’s happening in your life.”
Honesty in confidence
Being humble is a staple of Asian and Asian American culture. With it, though, comes the challenge of feeling confident and proud of your work without letting your ego get too big.
Bour believes being honest with yourself is the best way to balance the two emotions.
“I am honestly the guy who will always downplay my stuff,” he laughs. “And it’s actually one of the things I’ve been trying to work on, but I think it’s being honest with myself and other people. You’re not exaggerating anything, you’re really just telling people what you’re working on.”
He says the difference between showing off and being honest is when you’re blowing up every little factor of your success.
“When you think of it as being honest with what you do, then it’s not seen as, like, showboating,” he said. “Showboating is like trying to blow up everything to the largest amount. ‘Oh I garnered X amount of streams and X amount of followers,’ you’re not wrong, but what are you accomplishing by telling people all that stuff?”
Bour has been in the music game for only a couple of years, but he says his biggest motivator is knowing how far he has come, and not wanting all that effort and self-discovery to go to waste.
“Stopping now, what is that saying about what I’ve done or what I can do?” he said.
“I really do enjoy making music, being able to find words to experiences that maybe some people can’t necessarily put into words, or just make music that people enjoy. The entire world of being an artist, I think, is something that intrigues me and it’s something that keeps me going seeing other artists succeed.”
Bour’s music is felt by other creatives as well. He said it was very touching when Drake Presto and Ivan Tonido taught their original choreography to “Cool W You” for an AZNA Dance meeting back in November 2021.
“Knowing that other Asian Americans, and Asian American creatives can appreciate my work is always such an honor,” he said.
“That’s another reason I want to keep going is, like, wanting to be someone who other Asian Americans and creatives can look to; knowing this path is not as respected by the current older generation of Asian Americans, and so that transition is something I want to be a part of.”
what’s next for zach (and what’s next for caragan)
Despite the many things Bour achieved last year, he says the accomplishment he was most proud of was being able to act like Zach the person, instead of Caragan, the artist.
“As time went on from releasing ‘Cozy’ and releasing music, I found myself, like, doing actions and living life as a musical artist and catering the way I post, live and interact with people towards that, rather than live life as a person who happens to release music,” he said.
The musical hiatus he took from “Eve” to “Cool W You” was also his hiatus from trying to live his life constantly as an artist.
“I did a lot less music in hopes of just living and being with my friends and trying to lose sight of, like, ‘Oh I have to do this as a musician or as an artist, I have to do XYZ in order to meet certain expectations of an artist,’” he said.
“I think now, my expectation is just, you know, be Zach at the end of the day but also release music as Caragan.”
The way he posted on social media was a big factor in switching his mindset.
“Before, I wouldn’t post anything about, like, my personal interests that wouldn’t somehow cater into people listening to my music,” he said. “I was like, ‘Alright fuck it I’ll just randomly post manga panels. I’m a person at the end of the day.”
Bour, now in Caragan mode, still has plenty of goals for 2022, including more live performances, a full length project and a merch drop.
“I want to do a small show, probably in a coffee shop or something, but I want to make a whole production out of it,” he said. “I just want to get back into performing live and singing, and a small merch drop with it too, nothing too big.”
Since then, Bour has performed with a live band (named “Caragan and Friends”) at tiny desk concert at Barrett Student Center, a standalone show at Sozo Coffeehouse and at Sino Tayo, a cultural event hosted by the Philippine American Student Association held this year at FABRIC Tempe.
As a result of the Caragan and Friends project, his entire view of music had changed. He now appreciates music for its own sake, and knows he doesn’t have to do it alone.
“You don’t have to shoulder everything,” he said. “Working with a band they were able to help with the direction of a song. It eased my mind.”
And if the cheering crowds at each performance are any indication, Bour’s set on bringing old and new fans along with him on his journey as Caragan.
“I learned that I’m capable. I had a lot of doubts about what I can and can’t do. Having done a concert, making songs over the summer, I know I’m capable of being an artist. It’s now about what I do from here.”
He admits that at times, he’s been a lot more polarizing than he needs to be.
“I was trying to be a separate entity of Caragan, Zach, and Zachary the son. But I’ve really enjoyed being me,” he said.
“I’ve gotten, you know, those random DMs from people that say your music means a lot to them and you know, you never really believe it, but you’re like ‘thanks!’ and it humbles me in knowing there’s so much I can work towards. I don’t wanna settle here.”
As for Zach, he has plenty of personal and professional goals at the ready.
“I’m moving to the Bay Area in the fall for work, so re-establishing myself back in the Bay because I’m originally from there,” he said.
After a long conversation about sharing a hometown, we got back on track.
Bour says a show he watched inspired him to be more self-centered and meticulous on what he writes and produces.
“I want to hone back in on, like, doing stuff for me,” he said.
He says he’ll be in San Jose indefinitely, back to his roots of recording in his bedroom.
“I don’t want this move to have any negative impact on my music,” he says.
As for the friends of Caragan and Friends, they’ve mostly gone their separate ways. One member moved to continuously pursue music, but everyone else is adulting.
“I think there’s only 2 members of the band left in AZ,” he said. “I told them I still wanna keep in touch with them. They’re the real reason why I found music fun again.”
“I always preach doing that now for people, whenever someone’s going through something I’m always like ‘Do stuff for you, do stuff for you,’ but it’s one of those things when you give advice you don’t necessarily take. It’s just continuously living for me, rather than living for something else.”
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