Katya — Find out who you are — what makes you unique — and work to where you can stand in any room and be proud of your ethics. Do what feels right to you and don’t judge it. Not everyone will like it and you have to be ok with that.
Chris — It’s not about the tools, it’s about what you know. I used to obsess over these things and would actually get down about not having a top of the line studio. Now that I do have a few gadgets I’ve realized that I’ve always been equipped to make great work, I just had my eyes on the wrong prize. The quality of my work changed when I developed the drive to actually learn how these tools work and when I needed them.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chris Hierro and Katya Diaz of Break Out The Crazy. They present a powerful combination of musical talent and influences to create what can only be described as a kaleidoscope of sounds and vibes. Both Katya and Chris have toured Europe, America, and Mexico singing background and/or dancing for numerous artists including Beyoncé, Snarky Puppy, Thalia, Lindsey Lohan, Jerry Rivera, Obie Bermúdez, Don Omar, and many others. The two met in 2012 while on tour with multi-Grammy winner Alejandro Sanz and began songwriting together, eventually culminating in their debut release (“Hold On”) as Break Out The Crazy in 2017. Ebro Darden showcased the song on Apple Music’s Beats1Radio show remarking, “infusing pop and great stories…it’s a thoughtful cross genre production… they got a movement started.”
Together they have composed the jingle for a worldwide Samsung campaign, penned the carnival hit “Body Talk” for KES The Band, and composed the score for the Netflix comedy series It’s Bruno. They garnered much praise when they lent their voices to the song “Lejos De Ti” featured as the theme song in the 2018 remake of the classic film Overboard. Their first EP, Pause Rewind (2018), won them their first Premio Indie Dominicano (Dominican Indie Award) and set them on the path as the duo to watch in the independent music scene. Other notable mentions include collaborating as songwriters/producers with several artists like Jhoni the Voice and Eli Jas of the Latin world, The Voice finalists OneUp Duo, Malagasy bassist Patrick Andy (on his worship album Mifalia), and alongside the legendary Wyclef Jean and Jazz pianist Meddy Gerville as BOTC was featured on the song “At Your Feet”.
Individually, the pair are no less forceful. Katya’s performance credits include Saturday Night Live, Late Night with David Letterman, The Latin Grammys, MTV, The Carson Daily Show, Good Morning America, and Weekend Today. Chris reached the #1 position of the Billboard Tropical Airplay charts writing & producing the hit “We Never Looking Back” for bachata artist Toby Love featuring French Montana. Most recently he co-produced the collaboration between Alejandro Sanz and Carlos Vives “For Sale” currently topping the charts and has scored the Indie critically acclaimed Action/Comedy film Full Circle (E One Entertainment), the Netflix series It’s Bruno, and HBO’s Stanhope.
Break Out The Crazy has now released songs ranging in styles from timeless love songs to tropical and pop/dance. As the chemistry grows so does their range of styles — something to anticipate as the duo lines up several releases for 2021.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born and raised in Manhattan watching my mom dance at NYC ballet and my father singing at the Met. Always surrounded by the stage I trained a lot dancing and singing as a young girl but actually shied away from the profession for a while. I guess you can only fight your genes for so long. I fell back into dancing for about 10 years and then took on singing / songwriting full time.
I was born in New York City. I grew up in Washington Heights. I’m the middle child of 3. My mom and dad migrated here from the Dominican Republic. My dad is a musician/producer songwriter and though my mom wasn’t a professional singer, she had a beautiful voice, so growing up in our home was a very musical experience. I was also an avid artist, so between drawing and music, that’s pretty much how I spent my years.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I never considered myself a “singer” much less an artist. I guess it wasn’t until I could articulate my point of view that I actually knew there was something I wanted to share. I started songwriting and while I wasn’t great at it I knew If I worked at it I could improve. Meeting Chris was pivotal as he was already an accomplished singer/songwriter/producer and we were thrilled to find we had great chemistry together. With his patience and talent we have had a lot of fun exploring what we love about music together. Originally we thought we would just write for other artists but found we needed to get our music out by any means necessary. So here we are!
When I was a sophomore in high school I caught the music bug really bad. Up until that point I was pursuing a possible career in art which is why I was in LaGuardia High School as an art major. While I was there I met a bunch of super talented musicians and we decided to start our own Latin band. At this point I knew it’s what I wanted to do. But the transition was easy since at home I had all the tools available to go deeper into the music world.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
We have lots of interesting stories of course having worked with some incredible talents. As a dancer I can tell a funny story — Beyonce used to borrow my heels for rehearsal. She was always super considerate and kind making sure I got them back lol. She once asked me where I got such comfortable heels and embarrassed, I honestly responded: “downstairs, they were like 15 dollars”. Probably singing with Lalah Hathaway when she sang “Something” — a Grammy winning performance. I mean, I don’t think anyone was ready for her polyphonic overtone singing.
I’ve been blessed with a long career with numerous incredible stories. But one that comes to mind is when I was touring with Latin pop idol Alejandro Sanz while also trying to get my own band off the ground. One day I walked into rehearsal looking sad and Alejandro himself walked up to me and asked what was wrong. I told him about this contest I had entered with my band and we were doing well but from one day to the next we dropped to the bottom of the list and it looked like we had no chance. He asked what was the prize and I told him the winner would get to open for Mexican singer Julieta Venegas. He said: “well then, open up for me”. My eyes lit up. And to top it off he told me “name the venue”. I didn’t even think twice before saying “Radio City?!” he said, “Done, you’ll open up with your band at Radio City Music Hall”. I couldn’t believe it. It was one of the most awesome experiences of my life. The rest is history, I got to play one of the most iconic stages of all time with my own band aside from accompanying this legend I admired growing up. Definitely a highlight.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Honestly, I learned early you need to know your place and that it’s always better to not say too much. Don’t make excuses or explain things. Take your notes and show up. Being a team player is often as important as the talent you bring to the table. You don’t have to be too shy but you should never be the one people can say talks too much lol. Also if you are the person with more knowledge you should step up, knowing your place can also mean stepping into a leadership role and knowing your worth. Just always do it with grace.
I’ve made many mistakes, hard to pick just one!
I’ll tell you about one of the few times I got to perform at the Latin Grammys with Alejandro Sanz. I remember being super excited to get on stage. That year’s soundcheck was very early. We got word that Alejandro wouldn’t be coming and I would have to stand in for him. No big deal, I had done that before several times. The only difference was that this time he was programmed to sing a song with none other than Shakira. When it came time for rehearsal I stood in the position I was given and waited for the curtain to raise. I didn’t think Shakira would soundcheck with me being it that Alejandro wasn’t there so imagine my surprise when she jumped on the stage and started doing her signature pelvic thrusts right up on me. The funniest thing was that the audience was full of musicians I knew from other bands and I could see them all laughing at my awkward face. I didn’t want to disrespect Shakira but I couldn’t just stand there.
What did I learn? be ready for anything.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We have put out some stuff with Oneup Duo — they are incredible and happen to be great friends as well. We will be doing more stuff for their project and are super excited. I am also currently working with Stuart Matthewman and of course Chris and I are always inspired to write. I am always most excited about our songs as they are the ones we can really let loose and have fun with. We are also exploring new ways to attach visuals to our music and Chris is drawing from his art background to help with that. It’s incredible to see what he can do!
Well, currently we are promoting our new single “Fool For You”. Katya and I are always busy working with other artists so it takes lots of planning and focus to put out our own music, but it is the most satisfying feeling. “Fool For You” will be out January 29th and it will be available to stream everywhere. I’m especially excited for everyone to see the video which we made ourselves drawing inspiration from the designs of the 80s synthesizers we used in the production of this retro sounding slow jam. Other than that, we’re continuing to write and record, so stay tuned for more!
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Honestly I’m mostly interested in diversity of viewpoints. We have had a lot of fun meshing our different musical tastes and honoring what we think are the best qualities of those who came before us. More styles to draw from only makes music interesting. We are grateful for having been exposed to many genres of music from a young age. I personally think authenticity is more important than anything when creating. We should learn about each other without one thing being valued over the next. Being free to experience a wide variety of people, things and perspectives is a great privilege and super inspiring.
Diversity is great for the arts because it allows influences from different countries, cultures and lifestyles to bring life into them. It’s all about the stories we tell.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Honestly I think we all have to walk our own paths and learn as we go. You can only be told so much — many things you will learn on your road and as you dedicate yourself to your craft.
1. Don’t measure your success by others or other’s ideas of what success is. Many of my favorite gigs paid the least. We are often so distracted by how we perceive others we can get thrown off our own track.
2. Focus on learning how to recognize where you need to improve by choosing the right teachers and mentors. Your teachers will guide you if you are consistent. Don’t expect anyone to help you or take you seriously if you are half-assing it.
3. Make many mistakes and follow through. It’s not how many times you fall but how many you get back up. You don’t learn if you don’t finish anything.
4. BE REAL. Be authentic. It’s the one thing no one can take away.
5. Find out who you are — what makes you unique — and work to where you can stand in any room and be proud of your ethics. Do what feels right to you and don’t judge it. Not everyone will like it and you have to be ok with that.
I won’t write lyrics I think are harmful or disrespectful or overly anything negative. My choice and I sleep well. To each his own on that note.
1. Stay out of your own way. So many times I edited myself, thinking I “had to” do something a certain way, because I thought someone I looked up to did things that way, interrupting my own creative flow for the sake of some unattainable goal. The years have taught me to trust myself. If it feels good, it’s right.
2. Don’t overthink. Kind of the same message as the first but more of an emphasis on time. Years of working with other people have taught me that some of the work that I’ve taken the most time on has been most unpopular. As opposed to the ones I did in minutes. Again, gotta trust your gut.
3. Don’t work for free! This one has been a tough lesson to learn. You see, I am one of those “nice guys”. I struggled for years with saying no, or simply charging the price that I know I deserve from fear of being rejected or making someone upset. This led to a lot of underpaid work, long hours with maybe a slice of pizza as payment. Katya is actually the person who came into my life and taught me to stand proud and own my greatness. For that I’m eternally grateful.
4. It’s not about the tools, it’s about what you know. I used to obsess over these things and would actually get down about not having a top of the line studio. Now that I do have a few gadgets I’ve realized that I’ve always been equipped to make great work, I just had my eyes on the wrong prize. The quality of my work changed when I developed the drive to actually learn how these tools work and when I needed them.
5. Don’t be a follower. Carve your own path. This one hits home right now in this age of social media. I think the political events of this last year have truly tested this one for me and Katya. We see everyone jumping on the newest trends to the point of lacking originality. I don’t say it’s bad to follow trends, especially if you are aware that you are doing it and why. The problem for me comes when your real life starts suffering because of it. I wasted a lot of time trying to be what I thought others wanted me to be. With Break Out The Crazy, Katya and I fell into a nice groove where we let things flow and we release music as we see fit without looking at the charts or who’s currently trending.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Do it for you — for your soul. Not for money or fame cause those might never come. If you do it like you breathe you never get tired of breathing right? Do it for you. Because you have to breathe.
Know the why. Why are you doing what you are doing? Is that still the reason why you create? Not to harp on it but, are you simply trying to be cool? or stay current? Maybe just try to find that part of you that always enjoys his/her craft. If you’re suffering too much then that’s a sign that something isn’t right. It won’t always be easy but it shouldn’t always be hard. Finish your ideas. Having sketches is normal but, force yourself to complete your ideas. I feel this is the only way to develop a style which then you can form a career around.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
From researching altruism I’ve learned the things you think might be the most helpful often are not. With that in mind, I would hope to inspire everyone to stay interested. Stay curious and humble. Respect those who disagree with you and engage in dialogue. Don’t be quick to judge someone based on knowing one aspect of them. I think that would do the most good to most people.
I would absolutely do what Katya said as well. I would add that I would work to fix our educational system which is extremely lacking.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have SO many people that I would need to thank. All the people who believed in me before I did. So many but I guess best to start at the beginning so I would have to say Jermaine Browne. He gave me my first job as a dancer and was the first teacher I studied consistently with. He taught me etiquette, discipline, attention to detail and encouraged me by inspiration and guidance. He taught me that hard work can get you anywhere you want to be. I have carried these lessons with me and am so grateful for his example.
I also have lots of people I gotta thank for getting me to where I am. I would say my parents. They raised me in a home full of love. They were my first role models and taught me to work hard. But they also enjoyed what they did very much. My father who was an accomplished artist himself by the time I was born once told me “You guys don’t have to be musicians just ’cause it’s what I did. I want you to develop and follow your own passions.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t Think” is tattooed on Sia’s wrist. It’s been my mountain to climb all my life. But man when you stop thinking and start feeling — that’s where the magic happens.
If you want something you will have it.
Although I went to a high school which was specialized in the arts. That was the most schooling I did for art or music. I honed my craft through years of self discipline. A fire grew inside me that nothing could put out. I see a lot of people making excuses for themselves, expecting some sort of external catalyst to make their dreams come true. That’s not how it works. It’s all up to you.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’ve had the honor and pleasure of meeting so many amazing people, very famous and not, and feel that everyone has something interesting and valuable to offer. I’m not sure how to answer. Probably a Buddhist monk. Know anyone?
I’ve been watching a lot of Coleman Hughes, he is an incredibly inspiring young man. He has become known for his political views but I heard that he is also a jazz trombonist. I think a conversation with him would be incredibly enlightening. I would hope anyway.
I think that’s Katya’s real answer lol. We talk about it all the time.
How can our readers follow you online?
Break Out The Crazy
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Katya and Chris:
Thank you for having us!