At 17, Khea decided to quit school for a year to follow his dreams. It was that same year, in 2017, that his career began to flourish. By the age of 20, the Argentine artist born Ivo Alfredo Thomas Serue managed to scale the Billboard charts with his trap and hip-hop fusions and inked a deal with Interscope Records worldwide in early 2020.
But in the midst of his skyrocketing success, Khea lost himself and his love for his craft.
“I didn’t want to continue writing songs like that, which from my perspective, were somewhat empty,” he tells Billboard of his songs such as “Ayer Me Llamo Mi Ex” (2020) and “Wacha” (2021), both of which entered the Billboard charts. “I was already distancing myself from this world.”
He admits that he fell into severe depression during the pandemic but thanks to a solid support system and an understanding record label, he was not only able to pull through and heal, but also give life to his new studio album Serotonina.
The set — musically charged with R&B, salsa and EDM fusions and lyrically backed by deep content — is his first set in three years and his most ultra-personal production de yet.
Below, the Argentine act opens up to Billboard about his battle with mental health and how he’s coping today.
The powerful intro in Serotonina really sets the tone not only for the rest of the album but also sheds light on your own personal struggles with fame and depression: Why did you feel this is the correct time to open up about your mental health battle?
It’s really not about the “right time.” It was what happened to me and what I wanted to communicate. The moment happened like this. Clearly, I wanted to return to music and I did not want to come back with the message that I was communicating before. Beyond the moment, everything I want to communicate today is found in this album.
Can you take us back to the time in your career when you felt a disconnect with your music?
In the last months, before I fell into depression, I was already writing ultra-deep lyrics. But at the same time, I was releasing songs such as “Ayer Me Llamo Mi Ex” and “Wacha,” and similar songs that made me realize I didn’t want to continue writing songs like that, which from my perspective, were somewhat empty. I was writing other things, and listening to other types of music, like Silvio Rodriguez. I was already distancing myself from this world. But when this began to happen to me personally—looking down on myself and not being able to go outside because I had anxiety attacks—I really thought that one of the things that caused me to be like this was that I was no longer connecting with what my art said. So this whole process also went beyond a search to grow personally and it was rediscovering my musical self.
We know the album was born during a turbulent time in your life: Can you elaborate more on the creative process?
I went to the south of my country to a house in Bariloche for 20 days with my producer Nobeat, my engineer Mariano Bilinkins, and Spreadlof, a composer from Spain that my record label introduced me. Spreadlof helped me a lot in this new part of the composition, but he also helped me a lot personally, that’s why I decided to take him with me to do this album. We connect very well. The ideas and the demos of the album were created in those 20 days. Afterward, it took many months of work, production, and changing lyrics and melodies, it was a 10-month process.
You are an open book in every lyric on the album: Which of the 13 tracks would you say was the most difficult to pen and why?
Really, “Eclipse” was the most difficult. It was even the one that scared me the most to release and that’s why I decided to make it my first single because it was the only way to face my fear. I feel that I show myself super vulnerable and it’s a genre with new melodies and less autotune. I think that was the hardest to finish writing and also to release.
You’re known as a pioneer of the Argentine trap movement but this album is far from that—it’s the most experimental we’ve heard you: What motivated you to create EDM, tropical music, and other genres?
I wanted to create an experimental album. I wanted to travel to the south of my country and work on a conceptual album [inside a home] how artists such as Queen, The Beatles, and Rolling Stones, used to do. I feel that that way of creating music is incredible because it’s like locking yourself in a time machine and training every day to get the best out of you. I had in mind to create all the versatility you hear on the record, and I am very satisfied with the result.
In “Nunca Voy Solo,” there’s a phrase that says: “ya cai, ya falle, con los mios me levante” (I fell, I failed, but I got up with my people): Who would you say was crucial in your healing process?
Everyone in my personal environment, from my girlfriend to my friends to my family, gave me a very strong emotional containment when I was going through this process. My label, Interscope, knew how to give me my time and had patience. They understood that I was going through a very difficult time. I really believe that giving a person time—not pushing, not judging, and just listening and trying to understand that it’s a process and that he or she is going to get out of that place—is the best way to give containment.
One of the two collaborations on this album is “Para Amarte A Ti” with Tiago PZK—a colleague you have joined forces with on multiple occasions: What does he represent in your life?
For me, beyond the fact that he is a colleague in the industry, he’s like a literal brother to me. Since I met him we had a very strong connection. He’s someone who I lean on when I have to talk about something. I always call him and he’s the same with me. We have a very fluid communication and I really feel that people will like our joint track on the album. He is very special in my life and in my career.
How do you navigate depression today? Are there any coping mechanisms that helped?
First, talk things out. You have to at least have one or two trusted people in your life to whom you can tell everything and have another point of view. After, full therapy. I do holistic therapy, which requires spirituality and family trees. I do therapy with microdoses of mushrooms that are being studied and are very healthy for the mind and much better than Xanax and other pills. I meditate, train when I can, and really try to breathe. I think breathing is very key and a free tool that we all have. During any anxious moment, take three minutes to breathe, and it can really change your day. If you do it with constancy, it changes your month, and if you do it with a lot of persistence, it changes your life. I knew how to analyze all these factors and they help me every day.