Simply looking at a calendar marked with concert dates fills Carla Huiracocha with joy. The Ecuadorian indie artist, who is now based in Denver and performs under the name Neoma, says that after a year of livestream concerts, she’s thrilled to be performing for in-person audiences again.
Though she's missed the stage, it hasn't been a lost year for Huiracocha, who was on tour in March when quarantines started. Instead of performing on the road, she turned to creating collaborative songs with Ecuadorian artists over Zoom and Notebook. And she started experimenting with new instruments and producing her own songs.
The twenty-year-old, who has topped the charts in her native Ecuador, moved to Denver in 2018 with the hope of building a greater international presence. She garnered attention in the Denver music scene after the release of her first studio album, Real, in November 2019. And she was starting to tour nationally in the United States in early 2020.
“We were on tour right when the pandemic started. We couldn’t go to South by Southwest or Treefort,” Huiracocha explains. “It was very frustrating to not be able to go to these festivals.”
Instead, she and her bandmates got stuck in Phoenix for a number of weeks on their way back to Denver from a final show in Los Angeles.
"I didn’t know what was going to happen," she says. "I work a nine-to-five normal job."
As the pandemic continued, she found herself getting closer to friends in Ecuador. Like many, she'd begun to have an online social life, but hers was one that extended beyond borders. She’d previously planned to return to Ecuador for some musical collaborations, but now the creative process had turned virtual.
“It was crazy, because [my collaborators] were in another country,” she says. During a collaboration with Lolabúm, an indie pop-rock band, she watched one of the members produce their song while screen-sharing on Zoom. The single, “Cuando Quieres Jugar Conmigo,” was released in July 2020.
While some of the collaborations were planned, she had never met a few of the other artists. And they didn’t meet in person until she was vaccinated and went on a mini-tour in Ecuador. On that trip, she visited with family and friends she hadn’t seen for roughly two years.
“Reunions are very special right now,” she notes.
Nevertheless, the April tour itself was challenging because Ecuador is in a different place with the virus than Colorado. “Over here, things are starting to reopen. There, vaccines aren’t even a thing. It’s definitely something [where] they have to live day by day still,” Huiracocha explains. One of the main ways the government is trying to prevent the spread of the virus is by enacting curfews, but restrictions can change quickly from one day to the next.
“We didn’t even know if we were going to be able to play [each] day,” she continues. They’d check the government page or the president’s Twitter feed to learn the daily restrictions.
In the end, the shows were able to go on. “My crowd, my family, my friends: I know that most of them are in Ecuador, the people that have been supporting me,” she says.
In the absence of physically connecting with collaborators and fans, she spent much of the last year making music that may serve as a connection in the future.
“I definitely don’t want to feel that I’m making the same song twice,” she says. “I’m changing my style and being more aware of my lyrics and production. I’m moving toward producing my own songs and learning different instruments and different genres. As an artist, I feel like you always have to look for something, that missing part, or learn something new. Otherwise, you get stuck.”
Huiracocha is currently learning bass and gaining a better understanding of drums. She’s been drawing inspiration from hyper-pop and boleros — combining very sad guitar and bass songs with metallic, almost electronic mixes.
“It’s kind of crazy,” she admits, but she’s enjoying the process and receiving helpful critiques from her bandmates.
“I love to be with my band. I love practicing with them," she says. "It’s like a party to me."
And she's eager to bring that party to her headlining show at Levitt Pavilion on Friday, June 4.
“I’m just so excited to finally be able to play a big concert,” she says. “I’m just so ready to play live, to feel the energy from the crowd. I want to see people’s reactions to the new songs. I hope I will just put on a great act for them, that everyone’s vibing.”
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