For rising alt-pop artist Chaz Cardigan, standing still is not an option. Between a global pandemic, the pace of the streaming market and a record deal with Capitol Records and indie publisher Loud Robot, the 25-year-old upstart says that he has a clear job for the forseeable future: keep making music.
“Especially this year — if I want to tour again when the pandemic is over, I’ve got to do as much as I can right now while everybody’s stuck at home,” he tells Billboard.
On Thursday (Oct. 22), he proved exactly what that means with Holograma, his brand new EP and the second he’s given his fans in 2020, following February’s Vulnerabilia. The new project sees the singer embracing a bolder pop sound and still bolder subjects, like panic, pressure and your own self-image.
Music isn’t the only thing that’s propelled Cardigan to success throughout quarantine: over the last few months, the Nashville artist has garnered a TikTok audience of 93,000 followers, where the star occasionally releases original music (incuding his viral sensation “Fascist Police State“) and short comedic videos.
But Cardigan has also used that platform to help educate his fans on the inner workings of streaming services, and how artists make money when touring is no longer an option. In a recent video, the singer explained to his fans why artists are always asking fans to pre-save their albums on Spotify, saying, “Spotify looks at how many people pre-save albums, and that helps them determine what songs to give more playlisting support to. Songs getting good playlisting on Spotify is how they succeed or fail right now, because we can’t play shows.”
Cardigan answered 20 of Billboard‘s burning questions, including how he pulled off two EP releases during a pandemic, his preferred methods of coping with stress and anxiety, and what he hopes his fans are voting for in the 2020 presidential election.
1. What’s the first piece of music that you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?
Relient K’s Mmhmm, on CD.
2. What was the first concert you saw?
My mom was really into CCM for a few years and took me to see Third Day and David Crowder Band at the Louisville Palace when I was 8. The first concert I got to choose tickets for would have Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball Tour.
3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid?
Dad was an electrical contractor, and Mom was a travel agent.
4. Who made you realize you could be an artist full-time?
My parents used to tell me that I could do anything, I didn’t necessarily have to go to college, I just had to really work at whatever I wanted and find a way for it to make money. They were always super supportive, and instilled a kind of reckless ambition in me to go out and work for things.
5. What’s at the top of your professional bucket list?
If I ever put out an album that really does well, I’d like to buy a house and take an extended break. My biggest goal is to make something so good that I can relax, be a human for a few years, and really take my time crafting whatever comes next. I want to live in the woods, chop my own firewood, and not have a phone. Not retiring, but I definitely want a different pace of life from the music industry.
6. How did your hometown/city shape who you are?
Growing up in the Midwest really pushed me to be curious about what else existed. Not having immediate access to things in cities, and feeling like I learned about the world through television — that really pushed me to ask questions. I was really lucky to have a large Muslim population in the town I grew up in, so when I started questioning religion I had just as many perspectives on Islam to pull from as I did Christianity; that was super important for me. I also think there was just enough political diversity for me to know that there was never just one side to any policy issue.
7. Holograma is your second EP released in 2020. What made you want to do two releases in 2020?
Just having music complete and ready to come out. Vulnerabilia was complete for over a year before I released it, and we kept waiting for the right moment to drop it and really launch the project once I signed to Capitol. The streaming marketplace moves quickly, so until you knock something out of the park there’s no option to stop releasing music.
8. I recently saw a TikTok where you explained the inherent problem with your song “Room” not getting playlisted upon its release, while your riffed “Fascist Police State” clip continues to go viral on the app. What has it been like, translating success on TikTok to success in your solo career?
A war against algorithms.
9. Your recent string of singles, like “Everything’s Wrong” and “Live a Little,” have focused a lot on anxiety and learning to cope with panic. Do you have a preferred method for navigating mental health spirals?
Therapy and meditation are non-negotiable for me now. It’s criminal that the United States does not have some form of socialized healthcare that gives everyone equal access to therapy. I have a panic disorder that basically gives me panic attacks out of the blue whether I’m happy, sad, anxious, excited, whatever; my routine at this point is just to meditate when I’m starting to have a panic attack, and to get outside and walk every day. Anytime I can get away from my phone is medicinal.
10. With the November election on the horizon, what do you hope is motivating your fans to go vote?
In an effort to be optimistic: I hope that people will vote for the candidate who is not actively destroying the lives and liberties of refugees, queer people, the poor, and women’s bodily autonomy. I hope that people will vote for a candidate that at least acknowledges the realities of climate change. I hope people will vote for a candidate that did not murder 215,000 Americans by publicly lying about the reality and danger of the coronavirus, and actively working against any plans that health officials suggested to mitigate the pandemic. “Oh, but the economy” — frankly, f–k the stock market as an excuse. Most Americans don’t have money in the stock market, and it’s a paper thin way to feel better about voting for someone who’s joked about firing squads, military parades and installing himself as a president for life.
11. What’s the last song you listened to?
“Cotton Candy” by YUNGBLUD.
12. If you could see any artist in concert, dead or alive, who would it be?
Prince or David Bowie.
13. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in the crowd of one of your sets?
I wish I had a wild story for this one. The craziest thing I’ve seen is just kids on each other’s shoulders singing the songs at Forecastle last year.
14. What’s your karaoke go-to?
Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” or Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
15. What movie, or song, always makes you cry?
This is so stupid, but I cry reliably every time I watch Avengers: Endgame.
16. What TV series have you watched all the way through multiple times?
I get stuck on certain seasons of shows rather than watching them beginning to end over and over, but I have seen all of Bojack Horseman at least three times now. Perfect TV.
17. What’s one thing that even your most devoted fans don’t know about you?
This is tough! I tell a lot of stories on my livestreams, and I’ve tried to be pretty transparent about my life. Oh: I can’t whistle, or blow bubbles with bubblegum, totally incapable.
18. What’s a cause that’s important to you right now?
Climate change is an irreversible existential threat to the human species, and it really burns me up that we live in the only country debating whether or not to care about it. Deregulating vehicle emission standards and water pollution, doubling down on oil and gas drilling when retrofitting and upgrading the power grid would create more jobs, expanding offshore drilling, lifting bans on dumping power plant waste into rivers and streams — it’s disgusting.
19. If you were not a musician, what would you be?
Either a screenplay writer or a social studies teacher.
20. What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
None of this is about you, relax.