EXCLUSIVE: How "Confident" Newbie Carlos Vara Beat the Odds

EXCLUSIVE: How "Confident" Newbie Carlos Vara Beat the Odds

The budding pop divo has lived through tongue-speaking congregations and Tourette's.

The budding pop divo has lived through tongue-speaking congregations and Tourette's.

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

Carlos Vara has worked hard to get here. On a recent call, “here” is Los Angeles, a week or so before releasing his new single, “Confident,” which he'd written after relocating from Nashville a year prior. Despite its title and upbeat tempo, “Confident” is in fact a diaristic anthem inspired by social anxiety—the kind that torpedoed Vara’s early, substance-fueled forays into West Hollywood nightlife. “I [was] like, ‘Holy shit, everyone is cool and beautiful; I’m hanging out with all the cool gays,” says the South Carolina-born 21-year-old. “I would be getting drunk and smoking weed, more than I ever had, and feeling really great and badass—before it slowly would start to fade. I remember one night, someone commented on how confident I seemed. I was like, ‘Oh my god, if you only knew…’ Afterwards I cried in my Airbnb because I felt like a fucking loser.”  

Such clubby scenes were foreign to Vara prior to moving to L.A.; he’d spent the previous three years toiling away in Nashville, supporting his songwriting as a waiter for hire. “I’ve worked at like every restaurant in Nashville; I tell everyone I feel like 'Latina Cinderella,'” he laughs. But the nightlife serves as an ironic book-end in Vara’s winding path to confidence—one that begins at a club, albeit not the kind likely found in West Hollywood. “My parents met because my dad owned a nightclub [in South Carolina] and my mom was the bartender. And then surprise...Me!”

But his father drastically reversed course when Vara was young, becoming the town’s Pentecostal preacher. “When I was 7, my dad randomly pulled over on the side of the road, doused himself with a bottle of water, closed down all the clubs the next day, and became a pastor.” His father’s newfound vocation was gobsmacking to Vara, who was aware of his sexuality from a young age. “Literally every week, I’m just sitting in church, with people speaking in tongues and passing out and all that. That just [became] my norm,” Vara recalls.Then you hear all this stuff like ‘Being gay is a sin, [gays] go to hell.’ I always felt that I was damned because of that one aspect of my life. It was really traumatic for me.”

To make matters worse, Vara began exhibiting signs of OCD and Tourette Syndrome as a pre-teen. Music provided a silver lining, both at church and in his increasingly embattled mind. “[We went to] a super soulful church," he says. "These people just had so much soul and [would] sing their faces off, and I think that always inspired me.” On the Internet he accessed a different sort of "faith"—that of George Michael, and other secular idols like Freddie Mercury, Whitney Houston, and Britney Spears. ”What I loved about [them] was that, whether they were crazy or out there, by being vulnerable and honest, they were able to create this spiritual music that could change people.”

PHOTO BY MARCUS COOPER (COURTESY WARNER BROS.)

Eventually benched from church and school by self-injurious bouts of Tourette’s (“My body would just twist and turn over and over and over again,” he says), Vara started songwriting at 16, using his mother’s keyboard. Two years later, with his Tourette's mostly under control, Vara had saved up enough for a month’s rent. “I knew I had to get out of South Carolina... It just wasn't for me," he says. "A music producer in Nashville hit me up on Facebook and suggested I move [there]. I didn’t know anyone but him, but I just worked, and worked and worked.”

On the line from L.A., “here” is another glitter-smeared morning after. Vara reports that he is wearing his outfit from the night before—cowboy boots and an embellished leather jacket—one reminiscent of the “Confident” video, in which he winds through a typical Hollywood gathering, repeating the drug-laced lyric, “Puff, puff, pass.” But Vara says that nowadays he’s better equipped to handle the overstimulating WeHo milieu. “Last night I went to Flaming Saddles—one of the first [clubs here] I ever went to,” he adds. “I walked in and saw these half-naked cowboys. I literally thought I was going to have a heart attack... It was amazing.”

Credits: Main image: Photo by Marcus Cooper (courtesy Warner Bros.)

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