Updated: Oct 2
Ricky Somborn’s ukulele covers are blowing up the inter-webs! His laid back style, dapper vocals, and winsome smile make him an inspiring force in the online ukulele community. He’s performed at the LA International Ukulele Festival and recently at the 2020 Winter NAMM show. I was able to catch up with Ricky Somborn as he is hunkering down in Florida during this global pandemic. Today is also his 32nd birthday. Happy Birthday Ricky! Since it’s his birthday, I wanted to do a deep dive/candid interview with the man himself.
So here... we... go...
What is your full name?
Ricky Somborn: My full name is Ricardo Somborn.
When is your birthday?
Ricky Somborn: My birthday is June 28, 1988.
Now where were you born?
Ricky Somborn: I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
What are your ethnicities?
Ricky Somborn: My ethnicity is Argentinian. So I consider myself Latin American.
I was actually adopted. My dad is Austrian and my mom is South African. So it's interesting when people are like, what do you consider yourself? I consider myself Hispanic. Whenever somebody's like, “Where are you from?” I say Argentina, even though I grew up since I was like two in New York and then moved to Florida.
Are there any hobbies or hidden talents that you have that nobody really knows about?
Ricky Somborn: I think my hidden talent and hobby was music. Before that, I was strictly corporate business orientated. Wanted to climb up that corporate ladder. So I think music was my little secret.
What is your morning routine? What does the average morning look like for you?
Ricky Somborn: I usually try to get up by 6:30am. And then usually I play with the dogs for about half an hour, and then I go straight into either uploading to YouTube or Instagram. I try not to get those two on the same day. Otherwise, I’d be working till like four in the morning! So pretty much it's probably by 8:30am I start going through what I have to do in the day, and then I usually upload to YouTube around 11am. Then I want to make sure that the video is fully uploaded to YouTube, thumbnails done. And then I'm pretty much gonna be filming from noon to 4pm. And then it's usually hang out with family and then I go back to editing because I usually have to upload the next day. It’s a pretty full day!
I don't think many people who watch YouTube realize the labor of love it is to do this kind of work.
Ricky Somborn: Yeah, and if it's a day after upload, it's usually busy spending a few hours responding to comments and emails, and that kind of stuff. Then I’m also learning the next day's tutorial and how I want to structure it. Everyday it kind of varies because it's like either upload or learning day. Learning days are usually between uploads. So yeah, it's pretty interesting but I enjoy it. Keeps me busy.
Now, these questions are gonna be a little more ukulele related and about your YouTube and Instagram journey. Hopefully a little more introspective. As you get closer to your birthday are you more reflective or anxious about what's to come? So do you do you look back at the last year? Are you the type of person that like looks forward into the next year?
Ricky Somborn: I've been reflecting a lot on the past year because it was was probably the biggest life changing year of my life. In a really positive way. I think when I broke my ankle it was a turning point. And I didn't know what was gonna happen afterwards. That was to me a low point because I didn't know what was gonna happen. But I turned it into one of my high points because I was able to learn the ukulele and that turned into something that I thought would be impossible!
And then thinking about it now, it's pretty crazy to look back at the past 365 days, and to see what has gone down and where I've been and what I've done because of this instrument is pretty amazing. So I think I'm reflective but then I'm also really excited for the next 365 days. Where do I go from here? If I've done all that in the past year and it wasn’t even a part of my plans, I can’t even fathom what the next year will lead to. And now that I'm have my goal set for the next year, obviously I want to keep doing this and I want to keep growing. I want to keep growing my skills with the instrument and with social media. Very Excited!
What was the hardest song you had to learn on the ukulele for YouTube and Instagam?
Ricky Somborn: Hardest song? I think for me it was a Taylor Swift song. I'm not a huge Taylor Swift fan. But I appreciate her music. It's just that I don't listen to that style of music so then it takes me forever to get the rhythm, melody, or the just the lyrics down. The hardest thing for me is not the actual chords or whatever. It's the genre that throws me off. I remember the song having a really fast part. Taylor sang the lyrics really quick. It was basically a rap. It had a minute of no breathing! It took me while to nail it down. Yeah, that was probably the hardest.
Who are your musical influences?
Ricky Somborn: I mean I grew up in Florida so I feel like it's a staple to love Dave Matthews Band. Yeah, as a Florida guy you have to 100%. I've been to 16 of his concerts. I count because he plays in West Palm often. He's played in West Palm every summer and does two shows Friday and Saturday. I would go to both shows. I did this for eight years in a row. I just love the way he performs and he's such a great singer and a performer in general.
I’d also say Phineas, Billie Eilish‘s brother. The way he composes and the way he writes music is really awesome. He incorporates everyday sounds into his music, you'll hear this beep and it's from a random traffic light. He records it on his cell phone and then incorporates it into the music. It's unique. This uniqueness is something I look up to.
What amazes you the most about the online ukulele community? Anything surprising?
Ricky Somborn: I think I'm just amazed at how welcoming and supportive the community is. I've seen it firsthand myself when I first started playing, everybody was super welcoming. And there was no ego in the ukulele world, I mean, I can't speak for everybody but like from what I‘ve seen in the guitar community, I feel like there's a lot of competition there. For the ukulele community, it's just you play and whether you have 100,000 followers or 10 followers, you can feel that your on an equal playing field with everybody. You can DM anybody, and they will most likely answer. I mean, I try to answer every message. And people are always surprised when I answer a DM when they have a question. But when you have that support system of strangers who just love the instrument as much as you do, it's really cool to have that sort of community.
Right! Along with that question is what is it like being a music/ukulele influencer? The good, the bad, the ugly?
Ricky Somborn: I think the good is working with companies like you guys and being a part of growing the community.
It is strange though I don't consider myself an influencer. I think that's a “no, no”. I don't think I would ever consider myself an influencer but to be able to grow the community and to have a voice in the community is really cool. Though sometimes comments are not so positive, like the DM’s that that say “you suck”. Which I know is just surface level stuff. So it never really gets to me.
I've had conversations with followers and they shared that because of my videos they also decided to start uploading to Instagram or YouTube. Some people have 25 followers and were like, I was inspired to make this video because I saw Ricky singing a Billie Eilish song, and they upload it.
One time this girl messaged me and was like, “I don't know what to do. I'm getting so much hate on my video.”
I'm like, oh why?
And they said, “It's these kids from school. They're making fun of me because they saw my video“. I told her to not to worry about it. Shake it off. I know it's easy for me to say because I've already gone through that and learned how to process it. I know that at the end of the day that person is saying something negative because they are probably going through something negative. And they're going to try to hang it on the other person. But to see other person hurting and they don't understand why they are getting put down... it's a frustrating for me and you know, there's only so much that I can do. That's the negative part about this social platform. There is always gonna be negative people.
Following up with that question let's talk about what was maybe the worst day since becoming a ukulele player and being on YouTube and Instagram? Did you ever wrestle with the question of giving it up?
Ricky Somborn: I have thought about stopping, like once a month. It usually revolves around technology. I had my external hard drive completely crash at one time, and that had everything on it. So now I have everything backed up. Now if my drives crash I still good! Too bad I had to learn this the hard way, which is I guess a good thing now that moving forward, I have backups of backups.
Also issues with the microphone not working, lights breaking. Yeah for me a lot of it's technology, it can be super frustrating. And sometimes I don't have great days, sometimes I'm just not into filming. I mean, everybody has bad days. And I think what I've learned now is to just step back and if for some reason I don't upload on a day that I'm supposed to upload, I tell myself it's not the end of the world. Even though I'm the type of person that wants to get things done, that stay up all night to film it right mentality.
One time I remember filming a video at night. I was done at like 12:30am. I started editing and I realized that it just didn't sound good. It was my singing. I set everything back up and literally refilmed it again at one in the morning. I just wanted this video to go out, but I was SO tired. I finished filming at like 2:30am and then had to edit the video. I think I stayed up until nine in the morning and then uploaded at 11am. And I still wasn't happy with it, but it just gonna have to do. If your interested it was Billie Eillish’s ‘Everything I Wanted”. Watch that video and look at my eyes and try and see if you can see how tired I am. Funny thing is it was actually my most viewed video on Youtube! I wasn’t planning on unloading it after that all nighter. And now it's has over 200,000 views. Crazy right?! The videos you think aren't gonna perform, they actually do better than the ones you're like, this is gonna be it. This is my big break. Yeah..... right!
So you need some more three in the morning sessions! Haha! But you know Ricky, many young people reading this will definitely find hope and inspiration through that. Now we're going to move in a different direction. These questions are not ukulele related. This is just about getting to you know you better.
What was your first job?
Ricky Somborn: My first job was literally down the street. I could walk 30 minutes to and from my house and it was was like a deli/restaurant. It was an Italian place called Leon's. It's not open anymore but I remember that was my first job because my cousin got a job there. And then I was like, I think I want a job because my cousin got a job and I think it's time that I got a job. I was in ninth grade! So making sandwiches at Leon’s was my first job. It was interesting!
That‘s great! I’m getting hungry. Leon’s was your first job... so what would you say was your worst job?
Ricky Somborn: I was a dishwasher at a retirement home. I was the ‘dish washer’ guy. I actually applied for the server position and they said I got it and then on my first day, they're like, actually your a dishwasher. And then they put me as a dishwasher and I was there for a few weeks. I was like I can't do this. I'm gonna go back to my Leon's job making sandwiches. So much better!
What was your favorite subject in high school?
Ricky Somborn: My favorite subject in high school was oddly enough government. Because of my teacher Mr. O'Neill, he was really awesome. And then US history was also really awesome. My teacher for that class was Mr. Adams. They were cool with me being a couple minutes late because that's usually my style. I'm always a couple minutes late. So Government and US History were my favorites, even though I was never into politics, or whatever. These two teachers really wanted to make it fun to learn topics that weren't necessarily the most fun. You know, for the average 11th grader.
Are you watching any Netflix? Streaming? I know your time is tight with editing and uploading but do you watch streaming shows?
Ricky Somborn: Truthfully I don't. I literally don't watch anything. I think the last thing I watched was LOST on Netflix. This was a year ago. As soon as I started creating content I stopped consuming content. But yeah, LOST was the last TV show that I actually binge watched. I want to watch more so I am up for recommendations or suggestions. And then its the same with music. The only music I listen to is for my content. I don't really listen leisurely anymore which is kind of a bummer.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
Ricky Somborn: My earliest childhood memory? For some reason I remember when my family first moved to New York when I was like, two, two and a half years old. But I remember sort of doing like a walkthrough of the house that we lived in. It still is my favorite that we've been in. Because it was so old, and it was I think 100 years old at that point. I just remember it being super bright when we did the walkthrough. I don't know why I always think of that. Whenever somebody is like, what's your earliest memory, that's it. It's literally just walking through a house. But that's what I remember and it was impactful!
I remember after we moved I always told my parents I'm was gonna buy that house. I don't know how much that house costs but I am gonna buy it one day. It's gonna be mine!
Did you ever go back later when you went back to the New York? Ever go to the street and see the house afterwards?
Ricky Somborn: I mean I grew up in Tarrytown, which is right on the border of Sleepy Hollow. So the Headless Horseman tale. I used to love thinking our backyard was Sleepy Hollow. It was in the woods and was really secluded. It was cool but terrifying at the same time. Especially at night.
I remember when I was in New York for six years, I think I went back there, maybe three times because it's literally like 30-40 minute train ride out of Manhattan. I remember going there and I walking on the same route that I used to walk. It was up all uphill. We lived on the steepest hill ever! And I definitely feel like it got steeper.... as I got older. Haha!
What are the movies that define your childhood? You are a 90’s kid.
Ricky Somborn: My favorite that I could still watch today is ‘Space Jam’. I grew up loving basketball and Michael Jordan. ‘Liar Liar’ was like one of my favorites as well. I used to love Jim Carrey.
So do you have any siblings?
Ricky Somborn: Yeah, I have an older brother and an older sister.
So if I were to call them, okay, what would they tell me about you?
Ricky Somborn: They would say that I am definitely the ‘youngest’. You know of the “youngest child syndrome”? I'm the baby in the family. I feel like I probably get away with more than they ever did when they were younger. So that's probably what they would say. And that music is super unexpected. That they never thought that I'd be doing this. So that's probably what they would say.
So when you grew up, were you singing around the house? Did your siblings know you could sing?
Ricky Somborn: No! Haha! I could have just been not talking the entire time. I never really showed any interest in singing. My grandmother was opera singer so I would hear her, but I would never, you know, join in. I was more into basketball and that kind of stuff growing up. Then I was in the corporate world, and not really being creative at all. I think that's when I was just like I need to do something. Be more creative. Whether that be taking up pottery or drawing. But in the end I got into music. I just wanted to do something that wasn't analyzing numbers.
So what was the craziest thing you've ever done?
Ricky Somborn: I don't really do that many crazy things. My brother was always the person that would always push the limits. For me I was mostly hanging out friends. I was part of the student government. I would just stay in my lane in terms of like not getting in trouble with the parents, but I would also have fun with my friends. Very low key.
But YouTube is pretty crazy, right?
Ricky Somborn: Well yeah! I mean this now my whole career. I think my family's still doesn't truly understand that you can make a little bit of income and make a living off of the internet. I try to explain it to them the best I can. You know, it's like when your parents are trying to figure out what an iPhone is, there's only so much you can do before you get frustrated. So for me we have these conversations and we have them quite often. I'm like, you know there's people that watch the content and there's people that you know, that watch the content. And that's how I grow! And then it goes over their heads and I'm just like, you know what, just know that I'm making an income. Haha!
So I have some really funny closing questions.
So you have two teleportation devices. Ricky, do you walk through this door and you can exit to the other door? Okay, where would you place these two teleportation devices?
Ricky Somborn: Um, I think one would be where I am now. I always want to come back to family. A second one would probably go to Switzerland. I really I love Switzerland, and then my other side of the family's there as well. So I'd probably go back and forth between Switzerland and Florida.
If your house was burning and you could only save one thing, what would that one thing be?
Ricky Somborn: Probably save my Kumu ukulele. It’s one of my favorite ukuleles. I'd probably take that but if I had that on me already, I would say my laptop or camera.
If you had a ‘do over’ button, and you could press it. And you would be transported and go back in time. What would you change?
Ricky Somborn: I would probably start getting more interested in music earlier on. I was thinking about this earlier, where would I have been if I started playing music 5 or 10 years ago. But I mean, obviously I can't really think about that too much. But I'm always thinking about what could have happened. Where would I be today if I had made that change. I’m sure this is same with many people and their passions. But you know what, your never too late to start. If today is that day, then today is that day.
What is something that you used to believe that you no longer believe?
Ricky Somborn: One of them is that perfection doesn't exist. And for me striving for perfection was hindering my productivity. I was the type of person that wanted everything to be perfect and clearly when I stayed up until nine in the morning filming and editing that Billie Eilish video I was like I don't even think I want to post it because I didn't like it. But I posted it anyways and it was one of my most successful videos! That taught me that you're never going to be perfect. I let that go and adopted a new mentality of just do the work and if it's good just post it.
Nobody expects everything to be 100% all the time. Even the people that do this, artists on billboard or hot 100 or whatever it's called are taking multiple takes and getting produced to sound the way that they do. How can you compete against that. Literally it's just me recording this entire song in one take. If I screw up, have to do everything over again. If I knew I could just take like every slice, every perfect piece of the song and merge them into the perfect version, then of coure it's going to sound amazing! So I had to get my mind over that and realize that getting something done is better than striving for perfection but not finishing.
Ricky, great answer! Before we sign off I have a 5 question lightning round. You have a few seconds to answer. Got it? Here we go...
Favorite ice cream flavor?
Coffee or tea?
Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings?
Christmas or Halloween?
Last question, tacos or sushi?
Ricky Somborn is a 32 year old self taught ukulele player and singer from Florida who started playing the ukulele in the summer of 2018. Since uploading his first covers on Instagram in March of last year, his social media following has grown to 55,000+ followers on Instagram and 30,000+ subscribers on YouTube. Check out his videos on YouTube here. And follow him on Instagram at @rickysomborn. I want to personally give a huge mahalo to Ricky for agreeing to do this interview and for sending these personal photos. Mahalo nui loa!