Damien Escobar knows about perseverance. Once a member of the two-time Emmy Award winning group “Nuttin But Stringz”, Damien became a millionaire and a commercial success at a young age. That is, until 2012, when he found himself in poverty after the group disbanded. We sat down with Damien to get insight on his inspiring story.
How did it feel to have Stevie Wonder call you “the greatest musician he’d ever heard”?
That was definitely one of the greatest moments of my career. He had me as a part of his toy drive concert. He came up to me on stage after introducing all of the performing artists and said, “I want your bow.” I thought, “Okay? I don’t know why he wants my bow.” But he was really aggressive about it. He said, “You are the best musician I’ve ever heard.” I thought to myself, “Wow.” Stevie Wonder was definitely one of my inspirations as a kid.
As a musician, do you prefer Hip Hop over Classical music or an equal mixture of both?
I appreciate all of it. Where I’m from, South Jamaica Queens, I had the opportunity of being exposed to everything. In my household growing up, my mom played a lot of Chaka Khan and a lot of dope things. From a genre perspective I do everything—but my love is in creating original music. Like “Awaken” and “Freedom”. I just started playing covers over the last couple of years. My love is playing my kind of music, and I wouldn’t know what genre to classify it as to be honest.
You wouldn’t classify yours?
I wouldn’t know how to. It doesn’t fit into any certain box. Like if you listen to my singles , it’s difficult to try and classify them. I just kinda call it, “soul food”. You know, it’s a new kind of music I created for people. However they interpret it is totally up to them.
What emotions do you feel when you play?
I mean, it changes. It totally depends on where I’m at in that moment. But I really just close my eyes and go somewhere else. I don’t really know where I go but I know when my time is up on that stage and it’s over, then it’s just over. I pull from a lot of different emotions: whether I’m sad or happy or whether it’s something I watched on TV that day, I pull from everywhere.
Recently you’ve started playing mainstream music. How has this change affected you?
I spent about 10 years in a group and we never played popular music, so when I crossed over or started playing popular cover music, it was so necessary. Before this happened I had a niche market: it was for music lovers, not the same people that listen to Drake. Now, from playing music from mainstream artists over the years, I have an audience that listens to songs on the radio and it’s given me the opportunity to do interviews on New York City radio stations like Hot 97 and the 101 FMs. That has been a blessing.
Was 2012 a pivotal year for you musically?
Yeah. I mean deeper than music. Just as a person. I mentioned before I was in a group for 10 years and we were really successful. We sold millions of records together, we won Emmy awards together, got a Grammy nomination, all types. I was rich, I was young and I was a millionaire, but I was totally misguided. And when you put those things together it’s a recipe for disaster. When the group broke up I didn’t have any money saved, and after a while I literally had to go from living in a million dollar condo overlooking the skyline, to back in Jamaica, Queens where I had no money. And it was a rough year, it was the year my son was born. Aw man. I remember going home and living with my mom again. And being depressed, being extremely depressed. A career I worked on for 10 years was gone. And I’m the type of guy where I take care of my family by any means necessary.
I remember sitting in the welfare office, and all I was was a musician at that point. I remember seeing a McDonald’s commercial come on the TV in the office and that was like a “wow” moment for me. So I spent the next four months depressed and not doing anything. Until my daughter walked up to me and said “Daddy, what are you gonna be now?” In that moment I realized I had someone else looking up to me. I didn’t know what I was gonna do, but I knew I liked real estate so I went back to school and got my real estate license, and I was happy that I quit music because I didn’t wanna play any more. But a friend of mine came to my job, looked at me like I was crazy and was like, “What are you doing with your life?” She motivated me to give music another chance.
What was it like having to start all over?
I didn’t know what I was gonna do, I was at the beginning of my career again at that point. Nobody really knew my name outside of the group. But I gave it a try and started from the bottom, and in three years I built myself back up to being one of the best crossover violinist in the world. I sold over half a million records, toured, did concerts with Oprah, and it’s just been an amazing ride, but I had to find that courage.
For me, 2012 was so pivotal because the decision that I made to get back into music wasn’t about the money anymore. It had to be deeper than money because I had no money at that point, and I had to learn to live without it. So I wanted to do it for the people and I wanted the music to have a purpose. Now, three years later, I see the impact that it has on people, and it’s everything I’ve ever wanted. I mean, the money side was cool–but I was extremely depressed. And right now I’m happy.
Now being where you are, what would you tell the you that was indifferent about his music in 2012?
You’re going through this for a reason; you may not know what that is right now. Just keep your head up, because when you’re down then up that’s when you know God is up to something.