Blu Heaven: How “Chicago’s Finest DIY Hip-Hop” Is Just Getting Started

And why they’re not stopping anytime soon

By Kaylee Sugimoto

DIEGO TORRES, known onstage as Roman, burps into the microphone immediately as I start recording the interview. “Welcome to the podcast,” guitarist Zach Schwoebel says into the mic, who himself has admitted to seriously thinking of starting one (after some banter, we came to the conclusion that every white man has considered doing a podcast or stand-up at one point in their life). Amidst the commotion of voices, I’m trying to get the band back on track to saying formal introductions. “Sorry, we’re getting the giggles out now,” Ricky Gonzalez says. “I’ll start. I’m Ricky. I do vocals.” An awkward silence. We can’t keep it together…laughter fills the small, local coffee shop in Chicago. 

This is Blu Heaven. This is how they work. 

And somehow, the goofing off is paying off: the band has released an entire EP, Twin, along with seven other singles, eight counting “prep school” from Torres’ solo work. The group’s most popular single, “coffee eyes,” has over 2,000 streams on Spotify. With an adequate amount of music out, the band has created a solid setlist for their shows, where they’ve become a well-known name in the local university music scene. 

And Blu Heaven doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. With Torres and Schwoebel switching between guitar and beats, and Gonzalez writing lyrics through his own poetry, the band seems to have found their own groove within their own disorganization. 

“Some people are very methodical with their lyrics, but I just start writing,” Gonzalez says. “And whatever works, whatever sticks, I use that.” 

Their self-named genre of “Chicago’s finest DIY hip-hop” continues to interest audiences — what does it mean? To the band, that question is still a developing work in progress. 

“People call DIY music low budget,” Schwoebel says. “We’re like… no budget.” 

Gonzalez agrees. “We do everything ourselves, with no studio or anything. There is really no money being put into this,” he says. 

But the definitive label of Blu Heaven’s music is yet to be determined. Everyone seems to be waiting for an answer, even them. “We’ll figure it out as we go,” Gonzalez says. 

Ricky Gonzalez, Diego Torres , Zach Schwoebel

THERE IS TENSION AND TRANSITION within the way Blu Heaven is guiding their style. When the group first started producing, Bedroom Pop was one of the most popular independent genres at the time. 

“Cuco, Boy Pablo, that shit was hot when we first started,” Schwoebel says. “At the time, we were definitely pulling inspiration from them.”

The band didn’t even try and fight the eventual decline of the short-lived genre. “I think the biggest difference between us and a lot of other bands is that we knew when it was time to grow and change, and not try to keep a scene there that is not alive anymore,” Gonzalez says. 

Torres agrees by simply shrugging his shoulders. “We do what we want,” he says. 

YOU WOULD THINK that with a dynamic this casual and an outcome this productive that Blu Heaven formed from childhood friendships. But, despite the natural creative fluency that the group seems to form, their foundation is built on basic things like similar music tastes and attending the same high school. 

“Sophomore year, we knew this kid who was a drummer because we did baseball with him,” Schwoebel says. “He was a real dick,” Torres says. “But he wanted to jam. So we said…sure.” 

There wasn’t much effort put into that initial group. “After a few jam sessions we said fuck this, and Zach and I started doing our own stuff,” Torres says. 

It was obvious that Torres and Schwoebel had a strong link, since they’ve played in two previous bands together. The first time they hung out one-on-one, Schwoebel says it was “straight jokes for ten hours. Maybe ten minutes of music.” 

Schwoebel met Gonzalez in their shared geometry class through a Tyler the Creator hoodie. Once they began talking more, they realized they shared a lot of common interests. 

“Soon I was like ‘hey, who’s this Ricky fella hanging out with my best friend?’” Torres says.

From there, the music duo shifted — hence, the Blu Heaven trio was formed. 

For a few years, the band “milled around” (in their own words). They didn’t know what they wanted music-wise and jammed randomly. But by 2019, they started seriously focusing on a single project: Blu Heaven. 

“For the longest time, especially at first, I was a little hard-headed with Zach and Ricky and would never ask for their help,” Torres says. “But I realize that just down the line, these guys are like my brothers. A lot of what I learned musically actually comes from Zach. Being able to help each other out…I think that’s kind of what separates us from everybody else.”

IT’S NEARING THE END OF SECOND SEMESTER, and Illinois State students are gathering at the Coffeehouse for “Birdfest 2022,” an entire night of live music from bands all around the Chicago surrounding areas. Crowds come and go as they please, but a large one stays for Blu Heaven’s set. 

“We’ve always wanted to tour,” Gonzalez says. 

Torres agrees. “Our first shows really were post-COVID. We like to travel,” he says.  

And it’s been uphill ever since. Once live music resurged in the post-pandemic college world, the talent exposure for smaller, student-run bands rose. 

“When we first started, our Instagram had around 90 followers,” Schwoebel says. “Now, we have around 300. Playing shows has been a big help in growing, and I think it just goes to show that DIY stuff really helps.” 

When I ask them how much they’ve grown as a band, I get “around an inch or two” as a final answer. 

“I think we’re funny,” Schwoebel says. Torres and Gonzalez agree. At least they like to think they are. 

If you’re interested in listening to Blu Heaven, check out their Instagram at @bluheavenn for music related updates, video, and more.

Kaylee Sugimoto | Co-founder / Editor (she/they)

Hi! I’m Kaylee. Born in California, but raised in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest where I quickly learned how to drive 60 on the freeway and become an effective lactose intolerant. I’m a former Division 1 gymnast at Illinois State University, where I’m now focusing on journalism and mass media. I love to skateboard, play my electric bass and listen to the Beatles on my record player. | @kayleesugimoto

Charlotte Steiger | Co-founder / Editor (she/her)

Some know me as a film photographer, others as the Neuroscience major running a zine from California. Depending on the time of day I’m either inspired by indie skateboarders or the aftermath of mixing krokodil with crack. Music wise I’m within The Cure’s top 0.1% of listeners, so take what you will with that. Welcome to White Noise, where creation cannot be ignored. | @cssteiger

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