Cola Boyy (Matthew Urango) has been changing the dialogue that mainstream music is willing to confront since his debut. A self-described “disco deviant,” his vibe is eclectic, to say the least. Incorporating styles and influences from hip-hop to French disco, he’s always trying to look past conventions to make music that is undeniably his.
Hailing from Oxnard, Calif., Urango, who is Latino, Black, Native American and Caucasian, began teaching himself guitar after years of longing to make his own music.
“I had this urge to be a performer and to play instruments from a really young age. I didn’t have to discipline until I was a teenager, but I’ve been singing as long as I can remember,” he said.
Growing up surrounded by the punk rock scene imbued in Oxnard, he focused his music heavily on social issues. He’s not afraid to talk about living with a disability—he was born with spina bifida—or about hating capitalism. A lot of his music is anthemic, with calls to fight for community and against systems of power and disenfranchisement on tracks buzzing with electric guitars and synthesizers.
After gaining attention for his groovy 2018 debut EP, Black Boogie Disco, he began writing and collaborating with artists like The Avalanches and MGMT to make his first full-length album. Prosthetic Boombox (our now) was nearly three years in the making and a timely, heartfelt collection of songs about resilience and acknowledging one’s roots.
RIFF: How was crafting this album different than your EP and singles?
Cola Boyy: I was coming into my own as an artist and as a songwriter. I had more confidence and an understanding of what I was doing. On my first EP, I was really new and it was more like I’d be happy with anything. But with this album it was much more calculated, and I spent three years on it. And all that hard work, precision and delicacy I put into it really shows.
Where does the name Prosthetic Boombox come from?
Cola Boyy: I have a prosthetic leg, so there was that aspect. At the time when I came up with this name, I was resolving internal struggles and issues I went through when I was younger for being disabled. I was very angry, very upset at everyone and I was very self-conscious. So, I think having the word prosthetic in the title was really a way for me to just be more open and show changes and confidence in myself.
With “Boombox,” all the songs kind of have different genres to them. There’s no one specific style all the way through. So, it’s almost like you’re changing a radio station or a boombox. I think I just kind of saw myself as a “prosthetic boombox,” I don’t know. It just came into my head.
Was the album crafted in different studios and cities or did you find yourself working well in one spot?
Cola Boyy: I was working on it a lot when I would go to Paris, like four times a year. But I would also record in my room at home, and I was doing a little bit remotely. … I was recording in Paris, a little bit in New York, a little bit in L.A. and a little bit in Oxnard. So, it’s definitely an international record. … Then the pandemic made it all remote, which was more difficult and extended the process.
Do different areas and cities inspire you differently?
Cola Boyy: Anywhere there are people will inspire me. I think it’s the people that make the places. Even if there are nice buildings or architecture, they were built by people. I’ve been able to make a lot of great friends and musical partners in Paris. And the same goes for L.A. or Oxnard. I find inspiration in the people that I interact with or even just everyday people on the street.
How was working with The Avalanches on “Don’t Forget Your Neighborhood?”
Cola Boyy: They were somebody that we wanted to produce my first EP, but they weren’t available to do it. And then a couple years down the line, I get a message from them asking me to sing on their last album [We Will Always Love You]. In return, I was like, “Are you guys down to sing or produce a song on my record?” They were like, “Hell yeah, of course!” So, they came to L.A. and we recorded. They’re the sweetest guys, everyone I’ve worked with is like family at this point.
What about the album’s other collaborations? Where did you meet artists like John Carroll Kirby or MGMT?
Cola Boyy: John Kirby Carroll worked with my record label before, so I met him through them, and he played on my EP as well. He’s become a close friend of mine and we’re always collaborating. With Andrew VanWyngarden from MGMT, they asked me to go on tour with them and we became close as well. We were hanging out and were just like, “Yeah, we should work on music together.” It was natural. It didn’t feel forced or like a playdate that was set up. I think all the collaborations on this record have been very natural and organic and both parties really wanted to work with each other.
As a person of color and someone who’s disabled, have you felt challenged to align with mainstream music industry standards? How have you been able to maintain your own voice?
Cola Boyy: I’m mindful and strategic about the things that I say, but I’d never hold my tongue or compromise my beliefs or position. And maybe things are more difficult for me because I am disabled but I don’t think I even realize it. My whole life there have been obstacles. The struggles of my artistry are secondary to everyday struggles like housing and food. Those are the things that keep us alive and what I focus on. I tend to not even think about the obstacles of being a disabled artist and working in the industry.
You’re very vocal about politics, about disliking capitalism and often feature that sentiment in your music. Do you think social changes in the last year have emphasized your feelings?
Cola Boyy: I think it definitely has to do with the conditions of society. Capitalism is in decay; it’s rupturing and it’s unstable. It’s just crisis after crisis and those really affect people. But they also get people to mobilize, stand up and rebel. It’s really an amazing point in history to be alive and to see this evil backward system in its dying years. More consciousness is going to be raised and there’s going to be more resilience and unity among the people. I’m really looking forward to that. It’s really inspiring me as an artist, to be vocal about it in a way that in a way that’s helping unite people even further.
A lot of your songs incorporate throwback sounds of French disco, rap and R&B. What styles have you been inspired by recently and how do you work them into your music?
Cola Boyy: I take influence from all kinds of music. I love hip-hop, rap, funk and disco. I love pop music and there’s some country that’s even good. A good song at the core is good, regardless of the genre. I think it’s a fun challenge to experiment with other sounds and try to either mix different styles together or pick a style and try to do it, while still being able to tell it’s me. I think Prosthetic Boombox has a lot of styles put into one and I’m definitely still going to be on that road in the future because when an artist pushes themselves, it keeps them exciting.