The singer-songwriter Kevin Kaarl spent his life in Meoqui, Chihuahua, a state in Northern Mexico filled with farms and norteños. The town is small (barely 70,000 people, Kaarl tells Rolling Stone), but the region’s quiet calm — and it’s music — rubbed off on him. His home even inspired his latest release: “Prenda del Alma,” a cover from corrido legend Chalino Sánchez.
The Spotify Single was recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York City this summer. While the original “Prenda del Alma”’ was composed by Pedro J. González in the 1930s, Chalino popularized the song in the 1990s, making it an enduring classic that has experienced a renaissance in recent. Kaarl’s version replaces a mariachi ensemble and instead subs in his voice, an acoustic guitar, and his brother’s rich trumpet melodies — a three-pronged staple common throughout Kaarl’s discography.
“Chalino’s style is not like everyone else’s. His style is different and unique. That’s why I like it,” Kaarl explains. “I’m from the North and he’s from the North. I feel that he made a mark in his genre.”
The 22-year-old artist has been working to leave his own mark. Three years after releasing his first song, “Baby Blue,” Kaarl dropped his most ambitious project yet: a 13-song album called Paris Texas, released last month. The LP is abundant in sounds, bursting with alt-rock and dream-pop that add new layers to Kaarl’s style, which has often been rooted in folksier traditions. The story he traces through these songs is a deeply personal one that captures an inner journey he went on himself.
“The album is a story of someone who lost interest in himself and then rediscovered themselves,” he says. “It makes you feel more human that someone who was lost was able to find themself.”
Paris Texas opened him up creatively and also gave him an opportunity to test new songs on the road. Kaarl wrapped up his first U.S. tour in August and is currently in the midst of his 2022 International Paris Texas Tour, which includes performances in Europe and Latin America. Even with all the touring, he sometimes finds himself on stage forgetting the lyrics or mixing the parts in his songs.
“My thoughts go somewhere else because of my attention deficit disorder,” he says. “So in a concert, if you see that a song is not right, it’s not that I forgot. It’s because I lost concentration because my mind went somewhere else,” he chuckles.
Despite the occasional on-stage difficulties, Kaarl has sold out every market during his first U.S. tour and will be announcing his second U.S. tour on Nov. 2. But even with such success, Kaarl’s journey with music hasn’t been a straight shot. At one point, he actually dropped music and walked away for years. “I loved music, but there were times when it got on my nerves,” he admits.
Kaarl started singing early: When he was about six years old, he entered an elementary school competition performing the song “Casas de Cartón” by Marco Antonio Solís. He ended up winning first place. He played in a marching band for a few years, and later found himself in a band from Sinaloa that played traditional Mexican music. But in middle school, a switch flipped. Kaarl dropped everything related to music.
“When I got into middle school, it’s like I left everything and I didn’t want to dedicate myself to music anymore. My whole time in middle school, I didn’t do anything with music, but I got into photography, movies, and I wanted to dedicate myself to that,” he says.
Kaarl saw himself becoming a photographer or movie director, but he returned to music in high school. His mother wanted him to pursue a career in music, and his twin brother, Bryan, played trumpet and wanted to help him develop his voice (Bryan now plays with Kaarl.) It was finally in college that Kaarl began turning to music more consistently. On certain days he’d grab his guitar and pluck random strings with no intention of forming any songs or chords, he says, playing to de-stress.
But string by string, chord by chord, Kaarl found himself reconnecting his musical tissue. His interest in filmmaking and photography ultimately sparked his interest in songwriting and creating his own sounds.
“I wanted to make a music video but I didn’t want to steal anybody’s song. That’s why I said to myself, ‘I’ll write a song and direct the music video myself.’ That’s how ‘Baby Blue’ was born, it was my first song,” he says. “Baby Blue” now has over 33 million plays on Spotify.
Still, when it was time to work on Paris Texas, Kaarl found himself struggling with music again. It took him a year to finish the album, he says, because he couldn’t get inspired. He couldn’t even settle on the title. Then he watched a movie that helped things fall into place for him: 1984’s Paris, Texas, starring Henry Dean Stanton as a man who sets out to rediscover himself and recuperate a life left behind.
Kaarl loved it not only for its acting, directing and aesthetics, but for the way the rolling credits made him feel. Kaarl took those feelings and finished the project, naming the album after the film.
“I connected with that movie and it made me feel good because I could relate to the guy in the movie,” Kaarl says. “I feel I saw it at the right time and it helped me a lot creatively. It helped me a lot — a lot to finish this album.”
Kaarl unlocked new momentum by trusting his impulses and finding ways of writing that work for him. “I’ll write how I’m feeling at that moment – the things that I’m thinking about in my life at that moment and a message that I want to give out… There are singers that can sit and compose a song like nothing — in a given sitting. But it’s more difficult for me because I have to have inspiration. If I don’t have the inspiration at that moment, it’s very hard for me to write the song,” Kaarl says.
He continued, “If I have that inspiration, I 100 percent use it — right there and then.”
“Como Me Encanta,” one song that he struggled with for months, and “Por Qué No Me Comprendes?” ended up being his favorites on the LP. He’s especially happy with the melody for “Por Qué No Me Comprendes?” – no small task for a musician who isn’t easily satisfied with his work. All of it, in the end, was a learning experience for him.
“In this song I’m describing a situation: Why I cannot comprehend or understand that things are not going to be the way they were before,” he says. “I have to keep going on my path. I have to accept change.”