Courtesy of Nicole Velarde
The El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region has produced internationally recognized artists such as Juan Gabriel and Khalid, but the borderland is also home to budding musicians like Nicole Velarde, professionally known as TOOTHS.
Music has always been part of Velarde’s life. As an El Paso native, Velarde grew up with the sounds of mariachi music at every celebration. Feeling inspired by El Paso’s culture, music and art, Velarde said her home gives her music a more personal taste.
“I absolutely loved growing up on the border. I think about how lucky I am to have grown up with mariachis in my life,” says Velarde. “They’re a fine example of musicianship and I have so much respect for them — their professionalism, talent, dexterity, their ability to multitask, etcetera. I could go on and on. I hope to embody that same level of grace when I perform.”
After learning how to play guitar at age 10, she was inspired to join a choir group. While studying at the El Paso Conservatory of Music in high school, she challenged herself to learn as many instruments as possible like bass and piano.
She continued her musical career by obtaining a vocal performance degree from UTEP after changing her major a few semesters before graduation.
Soon after, she began to play with different local bands such as Hope Riot, Pet People and most recently, with Stay at Home.
She describes her work as “some kind of pop variant.”
“I like to play with textures and finding a balance of hard and soft,” Velarde said.
Being a female musician from the borderland brings Velarde comfort because she feels liberated every time she performs. However, the artist still describes her experiences as a woman musician as weird.
“In the end, I just hope my defining characteristics as a musician is that I am a musician first, woman second,” Velarde said. “For shows I like to play with not only my femininity but my masculinity as well, and all the parts in between.”
In terms of music experiences at the border, Velarde appreciates all that she has learned from El Paso artistry.
“The music community has been very kind to me,” Velarde said. “Over time, the faces at shows have become more and more familiar and it’s a great feeling. Not to mention, many of my most treasured friendships came out of the music community and appreciation for the borderland music community and I think it reflects the border community overall.”
Her alias, TOOTHS, has offered Velarde an alter ego where she can truly express herself through music. She gave herself the name a few years ago.
“I just like having an alter ego of sorts, although at this point TOOTHS and Nicole is really one in the same,” Velarde said.
After recently releasing her new single “friends // lazy,” TOOTHS hopes to encourage artists in the city to continue to look for their true calling.
TOOTHS’s single can be found on your favorite streaming service and on Bandcamp with tapes and other merch available for purchase.
Victoria Almaguer may be reached at [email protected]