Going TikTok viral

As Fresno musician DustBowlChampion garners fans with his unique post-punk, darkwave sound, his videos hit over 1 million views
Jaron DeLaCruz performs to over 500 people, his first larger show as DustBowlChampion, in Riverside.
Jaron DeLaCruz performs to over 500 people, his first larger show as DustBowlChampion, in Riverside.
Courtesy of Jaron DeLaCruz

Starting off a career as an independent, one-man band musician is already difficult as it is for artists barely starting out, but not for Jaron DeLaCruz, self-proclaimed “DustBowlChampion.”

The local Fresno musician enamored listeners and fans with his unique post-punk, darkwave sound through creative, modern means: TikTok.

“I just wanted to make something that sounded like me, but also sounded familiar. I’ve always liked that nostalgic type [of] sound,” DeLaCruz said.

After months of posting song snippets, vlogs and videos of himself jamming out, one video in particular of DeLaCruz wearing a Fresno State hoodie, strumming his yellow bass and singing one of his most popular songs, “SHAKE,” garnered over a million views and more than 176,000 likes.

“That was crazy because I had never got any sort of recognition before that, so seeing people that dug it was crazy,” he said. “It felt really good. It felt really encouraging – made me want to keep doing it and I’m still doing it today.”

Since then, DeLaCruz has had more of his videos hit over one million views, gaining 82,800 followers and 1.8 million likes total in the process. “My first one, that was the first time I got like a million anything,” he said. “Eventually I got a couple videos that hit a million…[It was] really encouraging.”

The 22-year-old musician from Clovis said he was introduced to music after learning how to play guitar from his older brother, but didn’t “fall in love” with it until he stopped playing sports.

DeLaCruz said he was always avidly involved with sports growing up and loved playing baseball.


“When I stopped playing, that’s when I sort of switched my focus to music,” he said. “15-years-old is when I picked up a guitar, and then eventually started writing music like soon after that.”

Almost every instrument you hear on DustBowlChampion’s tracks played by him: bass, guitar, synthesizer and he’s currently learning how to play drums.

Max Aldaz (left), synth keyboard player, and Jaron DeLaCruz (right), DustBowlChampion lead singer, pose for a photo before a show at The Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood. (Courtesy of Jaron DeLaCruz)

However, when DeLaCruz plays live, his longtime high school friend and bandmate, Maximus Aldaz, plays synth keyboard while also making sure the technical side of the music runs smoothly.

“He originally asked me to just keep his backing tracks playing so it wouldn’t make it awkward between songs and eventually after the second practice he asked me if I wanted to play keyboard for him,” Aldaz said.

The two met their sophomore year at Clovis High School during physical education class and have been friends ever since. Aldaz said he thinks the two work so well together because their history as friends has allowed them to develop a deep understanding of each other’s work ethic and deep respect for one another.

“For me, being on stage with Jaron is super exciting. It’s a feeling I wish I could live everyday,” Aldaz said. “Just being on stage with everyone excited to watch you perform and work your craft is a beautiful feeling, and also just playing his music gets me in a rush ‘cause even when we practice I connect with the sounds and the melodies. It gets me hyped.”

Aldaz said he admires the growth he’s seen in DeLaCruz and that he inspires him to keep evolving as a musician as well, especially in his other band Katanastro, in which DeLaCruz also appears on a few songs.

DeLaCruz hasn’t always been DustBowlChampion. He started his music career originally part of band “Lonesome Twins,” a four person band, during high school.

Although he graduated in 2019, during the pandemic is when DeLaCruz said he really began writing music, releasing music and posting on social media as DustBowlChampion.

DeLaCruz said he chose his stage name because it sounded like a gamertag and wanted something memorable and easily recognizable for people.

“I was so shocked when I first did this because TikTok is honestly a really good way for artists to self promo, and it’s hard. There’s so many people out there trying to do the same thing,” DeLaCruz said.

The artist said any success or recognition is good on any platform and he is currently working on building up his Instagram now. DeLaCruz said the internet has drastically changed the music industry because of how accessible it is for an artist to put music out there.

“I think the internet is so important because there’s only so many record labels signing different artists and stuff. Independent music is really prevalent,” he said.

His first debut show as DustBowlChampion took place a year ago on the street in front of Thrift Demon in downtown.

Maegan Hopkins, psychology student at Merced College and girlfriend of DeLaCruz, said since meeting him last March he has not only grown as an artist but as a person.

“I admire the passion and drive he has towards his music. I think it’s reflected in how much he has grown all around,” Hopkins said. “Just to see him go from performing outside of Thrift Demon at ArtHop just last year to performing at places like the Paramount and The Roxy is surreal to see.”

Jaron DeLaCruz (left) and Max Aldaz (right) perform together as DustBowlChampion at The Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood. (Courtesy of Jaron DeLaCruz)

She said she’s really appreciative of the people who support him as a musician because she sees first hand all the time and effort he puts into his music every day.

“He truly deserves all the love and recognition,” she said. “He has definitely inspired me to be more driven towards the things I want in life, seeing that he knows exactly what he wants for himself.”

DeLaCruz said he draws inspiration for his music from sports and a lot of his favorite artists, naming Ariel Pink, French Police, Soft Kill but specifically John Mouse as his biggest inspiration.

“My first bigger show I did, it was in Riverside, I played in front of like 500 people. That for me, being a brand new artist playing that for the first time, I think I got a little shaky, but obviously you kind of thug it out,” DeLaCruz said.

When he began playing music he said he mainly made covers. Now, he described the creative process when writing songs as “second nature.”

“Inspiration wise, I guess it comes out of nowhere. I think every artist can agree with that,” DeLaCruz said.

Contrary to fan favorites, some of his personal favorite songs from his own discography are some of his newer songs, including “SHAKE,” “I THINK IM LOSING MY MIND” and “You.”

“I think over time you kind of get tired of listening to your old stuff, but I mean you come back to them. Eventually, I’ll come around to like them again,” he said, mentioning how he hated his first ever released song “Mess U Up” because it became repetitive.

By day, DeLaCruz works two jobs as a server and lives on his own with his girlfriend. He said it can be difficult to find time to make music, self promote and live his personal life.

He said any free time he can get in between jobs, in the mornings or in the evenings, he’s working on his musical career.

“It’s sort of difficult, but it’s doable. I mean anything is doable,” he said. “I want to be a musician and I want to be working. It’s also really good to be busy.”

DeLaCruz said he has one main reason for his motivation: his fans.

“Meeting fans and having fans in general. I never thought that I’d be at a point where people like and listen to my music and will come up to me and ask for pictures and sign autographs,” DeLaCruz said. “Like if I stopped doing it [music] right now, that’s probably the thing I’d remember most.”

DustBowlChampion will release an album in October on all streaming services, and his next show will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7 in Los Angeles at The Virgil. Tickets can be purchased here.

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