By: Stephanie Stevens
When I first got introduced to CRISTIAN MACHADO he was the front man of the up n coming band Ill Nino. A band bringing a fresh assault to the metal world with their Latin Metal sound.
Through the years I have watched that band grow, watched countless high energy live shows these guys put forth to their fans and had the honor of many interviews with CRISTIAN throughout the many albums & tours they have been on. And one thing that was always centered and relentless about him was his pure emotion and how real he was.
Now we get to hear all of that put to music on his solo album HOLLYWOOD Y SYCAMORE. An album that captures pure elegance from the acoustic display of beauty and the layering of piano, strings and much more to make the album feel as passionate and genuine, just like how he felt writing and recording it. Then we have his voice this man for so many years poured the aggressive side out of him and to hear him stripped down and vulnerable is probably the best thing to come out of 2020. DIE ALONE was the first single he let the world digest and My God it just laid the foundation to a truly epic and stunning 12 songs of timeless beauty. I was captivated by tracks like PASE LO QUE PASE, BRING YOU HOME and WEEDS. I am blown away that an acoustic album can sound so diverse and atmospheric.
I had a chance to catch up with CRISTIAN and chatted about the new album HOLLYWOOD Y SYCAMORE along with him letting me in on a few life stories. I think this album was something that was always meant to be and I am so honored to have had an opportunity to learn more about this truly outstanding artist.
Q: Chatting years ago with you in Ill Nino I remember you saying you wrote on an acoustic for songs you came up with for them. This album seems like home for you in writing + creating. Back in the day did you always have a vision of doing an album like HOLLYWOOD Y SYCAMORE?
A: Woah! Pretty awesome that you remember something like that. I also remember it a bit, I think we had a discussion about writing on acoustic guitar, the simplicity of writing alone on an acoustic guitar, and the ability of making things electric after presenting them to the band. I’ve always been a very simplistic writer at the core but my mind drives those ideas a little further under a more metallic umbrella. On this album you are absolutely 100% right, I was able to write some songs really focused on the intent, the message, and the beauty of the song and itself. It’s not wrapped in any kind of niche or instrumentation approach or audio production trick. I think the older I get the more I appreciate the simpler things in life. It sounds cliché to say but it really is true, especially in a year like 2020. One thing is certain I wouldn’t have been able to make this kind of album back then, it obviously took all the situations and circumstances I have been through in the last 10 years for these words and these feelings to make themselves real. It took the bad and the good and the growth to get to here and I am grateful for this weird ass ride, hahaha. But yes it has absolutely always been in the back of my head.
Q: How were your emotions finishing the album, getting ready to put out the single DIE ALONE being known as the front man for the crossover metal band ILL NINO?
A: Well, I won’t lie, being known as a singer and songwriter of a hard rock and metal band can be a little terrifying when releasing an entire acoustic album. I suppose I justify this under “musical curiosity”, hahahaha. Truth be told I’ve always been a wanderer of thoughts and feelings and conclusions and especially of music. I love all kinds of music. Always a metal head at heart but always curious. But I wasn’t sure how it would be received, at all. It was always a huge what if. I kept bringing myself back to the thing great artists say, if it is profound to me, it might touch other people the same way. Still so it was terrifying to think that all my fans could simply just tell me to go fuck myself. Like literally take this acoustic guitar and shove it right up your ass hahaha. I won’t say none did but the percentage is 97% positive so that’s very eye opening. I’m blessed and very grateful for the open hearts, open ears, and most noticeable, the open minds of all my fans and friends.
Q: DIE ALONE is utterly beautiful and so very vulnerable. When writing songs like this is it a harder element or does it get created easier knowing its true emotion being released?
A: I’m impressed by how much attention to the creative process you’re paying. I dig it! Let’s see, well, DIE ALONE is for sure a special song. Just when I had lost faith in music magic, this song appeared to me. It felt like the song literally fell out of thin air in a moment of expression and seclusion. The chords are not foreign to songs I’ve written in the past, but they come from a different intention, they’re squared differently. In being influenced by broad stroke of music and always looking for the in-betweens, you begin to find where lies the unknown, the place that presents a song completely finished to your mind. From there it took about 3-4hrs to understand it, decode it, and track it. In DIE ALONE I speak these actual personal experiences in order to accept them and to finalize the transition within me. It’s a song that can definitely make some people feel uncomfortable. Like you’re in a room with a person that is telling you how they feel about you breaking their heart. Then they begin to tell you how the pain you put them through is what they needed to live through in order to let go of you. When you let go, that person no longer controls you and the cycle is reversed. Did I mention how weird it is that the song literally fell out of my head. Once I had the chords, the time signature, the voicings, everything else literally came together in a matter of couple hours. It was recorded finalized before I could second guess anything. Safe to say I second-guessed a couple other parts on the album but DIE ALONE we kept it pure to its initial birth. It didn’t need anything else. You can say it’s a sad song that has beauty & hope behind it. That by accepting the things we cannot control, whether they be about love, friendship, loss of a loved one, we let go of resentment and pain that may have been the cause of our suffering.
Q: With the message attached to DIE ALONE. What is the best advice you can give people about personal development and growing? For you what has been the biggest growth within yourself?
A: Sometime around 2018 I started having life affirming realizations, both dealing with my love life, my business life, and myself. It became more and more apparent and inevitable that I would need to go through a challenging phase, both is my separation at home, and also moving past a band that I found, developed, and established. I knew that in accepting a new beginning also came a lot of liberation. I think one of the biggest life experiences that drove me into a world of wonder and confusion, was the death of my grandmother. My grandmother was always the heart of the family. Her love was so sincere and so profound that she changed people with her personality. She had fought long and she knew it was her time. When she passed my mother, my sister, and I were with her. I am so grateful for that. We were able to hold her, hug her, talk to her, tell her how much we loved her, we did that until her very last breath. After she died we thought the hospital would kick us out immediately, but they knew the weeks long struggle my grandmother had gone through, they knew how much it had affected the family. So they let us stay in the room holding her, we prayed, we cried, we were grateful for her life, for having had her in ours. In my mind she was an angel. I can’t really say I’m a big religious person but I am always in search of the guidance of the spirit, whatever that may be. Losing my grandmother began a long path of growth into what you hear on my acoustic album. The road has been a little bumpy and some emotions fly high, but it’s all genuine, there’s no gimmick here.
Q: In the past you have bilingually sang on this album it tends to be more prominent. What is the biggest obstacle writing in this fashion?
A: I can’t really say that there is any obstacle. I think that having grown up in mostly Spanish-speaking countries until the age of 13 helped me dissect words a little bit different by the time I got to the United States and learned how to speak English. This album, I suppose the Spanglish a little bit more prominent, perhaps because there’s a very strong personal and genuine quality about the music and the lyrics on this album. That in itself drove me deeper to the core of what I really am, simply a Latino American. And then the words fell out of my head. Hard to explain but, I came to this country as a young boy who adored what America culture and American beliefs stood for. This country afforded my family everything that we have now. We are not perfect but together we have an amazing Country. My family fled Venezuela right before Hugo Chavez unraveled his communist ideals and later power. My family comes from a long tradition of political involvement. I don’t if out of stupidity or out of necessity. In South America it’s like that. But we were a political family. We were part of the political party that opposed Chavez during his campaigning. It was a conservative movement perhaps but it was for democracy. Venezuela during those times was an amazing prosperous nation. Sadly, little by little with each new politician that made oil money the country’s life blood, ultimately 50% of Venezuelans wound up living in poverty. My mother, my sister, and I were very lucky to get out when we did. They did not allow my stepfather to exit. He still lives there till this day with his wonderful wife. Unfortunately, he struggles to get simple things like clean water, food, and medication. The medication for his diabetes has to be shipped by someone else in our family from Uruguay. It’s safe to say that the circumstances in Venezuela are tragic. Looking back, it was my grandmother who first came to the USA, she fell in love with an American gentleman who eventually sent a letter to the Venezuelan government pleading that they let us go visit her grandmother. Everything after that is history. They gave us visas, we got flights, we came to the USA and we stayed past our visas. Soon as we had a chance we applied for residency, my sister and I enrolled in American schools, became A+ students, and grew into the culture of New York City. The Spanglish and NYC are synonymous.
Q: Recording wise it looks like you took some new approaches as in live recording, single mic style, were these approaches something you needed and wanted for the overall vibe of the album? What was the biggest learning experience in the studio with this disc?
A: After recording 10+ years using multi-tracking recording techniques, it was a little scary. There was not going to be any punching in takes a dozen times, or recording every instrument separately, or copying and pasting performances, or fixing individual performances in the box, none of that, all of that was out the window. I think the scariest was using only four microphones to capture the entire performance. But it all worked. David Chesky, Jeff Lanier, and Nick have a way of doing things and they sound great. We knew the way they make every album nowadays, and we were doing everything that was the opposite of that. As cool as it “felt”, there was a lot of responsibly that came along with accepting that. We knew we wanted to make an acoustic album, acoustic guitars are unrelenting, you hear any subtle mistake. And we knew we wanted the album to be as organic as possible, as genuine as possible. We did about 3-5 takes per song, really kept it simple. Lots of focus and true heart put into every note. The proposition to record how they used to back in the day, felt great and sounded fun. That being said, it was challenging and helped me grow tremendously as a musician.
Q: I love you threw in a new version of HOW CAN I LIVE! one of my all-time favorites, and NUMB What made you want to attach these songs to your solo album? What have these songs meant to you through the years?
A: Well those are two songs that as Nino we could never figure out how to do in an acoustic environment without it feeling over tried or not genuine. I admit I myself struggled with it back in the day, but the bulk of the issues stemmed from the way the band wanted the guitars tuned, and also the voicings of the chords, where the chords are played on the neck, inversion, suspension, blah blah blah!!! Hahahaha! I definitely got to give my homie Conrado Pesinato credit, being the guitar ninja that he is, he worked tirelessly with me in order to get the chords and the voicing to represent this song the right way. NUMB was not as challenging. This one we had to reach and stir and massage. The irony was that it all simply needed to be done on a standard tuned guitar and worked backwards more delicately.
Q: What do you hope fans walk away with after hearing this album and learn about you through these songs?
A: I hope they walk away thinking that this is an album that they will want to keep listening to forever. That this is an album they can adore and keep coming back to listen to for decades. That this album connects with them on a deeper level. That’s why I make music I guess. It’s not for the money, it’s not for the glamour. So I guess if they consider my album a “timeless record”, I would consider it a success. Music is mainly made to connect us more to each other, to our own feelings, and I’d love for these songs to last as long as possible and to reach as many people as possible.
Q: 2020 has been a real downside to the music world other than working on this album. I saw you joined up with the guys in Dopesick for a song. How was that and how was it when you get to contribute on tracks with other bands?
A: I love working with other bands and contributing to different approaches in other artist’s music. I do a lot of production with regional acts. The Dopesick track came out of being in Ill Niño. Adam liked the band, Dave was helping him, and he asked me to lend a hand. I did so. Was very grateful to work with him. I’ve also co-produced a Monuments album, a Leeway album, a Voodoo Terror Tribe album, also an Amerakin Overdose album.
Q: What is the most important thing about music/art that can help people in your opinion?
A: Probably one of the most important things would be to help us understand the distances and also fine lines between reality, fantasy, consciousness, and our emotions. Music really is what our feelings sound like. I suppose in a world where there is beauty but still so many people suffer, this is a piece of the ying and yang of it all, music.
Q: Empower another artist by telling us someone you admire and why you admire them?
A: I admire the band called Ours and Jimmy Gnecco. Before I was in Ill Niño I was in a band called headclamp. We used to play with Ours in the Hoboken NJ music scene. Always truly a unique and genius band. They later went on to sign a record deal and make albums with Rick Rubin. And despite not having reached the true stadium status they deserve, they will inspire artists forever. Thank you Ours.
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