¿Téo? Finds Comfort Singing in English and Spanish

¿Téo? stops at Gramps on Thursday, March 2.
¿Téo? stops at Gramps on Thursday, March 2. Photo by Moises Arias
Though ¿Téo? carries Spanish-language punctuation in his stage name, the singer-songwriter (born Mateo Arias) feels equally comfortable singing in either Spanish or English. His newest album, Luna, due out later this year, shows off his bilingualism with nine tracks in English and three in Spanish.

Growing up in Atlanta, Arias' Colombian parents hung around other expats.

"I didn't speak English until I was 4," he says. "It was like a pseudo-Colombian culture my family kept me around. I wasn't really around Americans until I went to school. My older brother started in ESOL. When he started learning English, he taught me."

The brothers proved proficient in English and showed enough acting chops that the family moved to Los Angeles to allow them to pursue acting. (¿Téo?'s brother is actor Moises Arias.) In between auditions and appearing in shows like Hannah Montana and Kickin' It, ¿Téo? became intrigued by the piano in the lobby of the apartment complex where his family lived.

"I was like 8 or 9, and every day I messed around with that piano," he says. "I didn't know how to read music, but I played every day until the receptionist kicked me out for playing the same three notes."

Undeterred, his mom bought him a keyboard. He continued to play and eventually started taking guitar lessons. Although it would seem acting would prepare him for a career in music, ¿Téo? considers them to be very different.

"There is some correlation. The two worlds complement each other, but I'd been in front of a camera for years, so acting was never scary," he explains. "It's a different set of nervousness being myself on stage. But there's a saying — I might be murdering it — that everything you desire in life is on the other side of fear."

Luna, ¿Téo? has found his firm footing with this third album.

"My last one, Sol, dropped in 2021. I had a bunch of other songs that didn't really fit Sol. They were more blue, so I saved them for this record — so I have Luna and Sol," he explains. "Both are 12 songs — 24 total like there are 24 hours in the day."
Previously, his standard songwriting tended to include a Spanish verse and an English bridge. With Luna, he decided each song would have lyrics in only one language.

"I'm not doing Spanglish anymore," he says. "Once I start working on a song, I know what language it is going to be in. Sometimes it's my surroundings and environment. Like when I was in Medellín, I was writing songs only in Spanish."

Thanks to his Colombian-American upbringing, ¿Téo? has a wide range of influences. "Frank Ocean is my hero musician-wise. Kid Cudi. I love Brazilian music. João Gilberto, and all those bossa nova legends. Rosalía I admire. It's difficult to speak on Kanye now, but his 2010 stuff was huge for me. Omar Apollo is a homie whose music I love. You can put Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli on there, too."

Currently embarking on his Sol & Luna Tour, ¿Téo? is set to make his headlining appearance in Miami and wrap up the tour with an appearance at Coachella, which he admits makes him somewhat nervous.

"It's different and the same playing a big show," he says. "I was blessed to go on tour with Justin Bieber — that was like my college for performing. We did 42 shows, mostly in arenas and four stadiums in Mexico. They gave me so much love, and it was great preparation playing for 50,000 people. I got to come out in Coachella once before for two minutes during Jaden Smith's set. I'm excited to see what it feels like with just me."

¿Téo? With Maesu and Arum Flowers. 8 p.m. Thursday, March 2, at Gramps, 176 NW 24th St., Miami; Tickets cost $30 via
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David Rolland is a freelance music writer for Miami New Times. His novels, The End of the Century and Yo-Yo, are available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland

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