Cristian Machado (ex-Ill Nino)
Fans of Cristian Machado don't have much longer to wait for new music from the ex-Ill Nino vocalist. His debut solo record Hollywood y Sycamore will be released on Chesky Records on September 25. Far from the pounding rhythms of Ill Nino, this record contains 12 songs all stripped down and presented in a beautiful acoustic format, dripping with emotion and featuring Machado's distinctive voice.
The record is largely original material, written by Cristian and delivered in a manner which allow the powerful lyrics to be front and center. It also features two re-worked Ill Nino songs that showcase the strong songwriting after the hard-edged trappings are stripped away. In addition, several surprising covers (Post Malone, Life of Agony & Pink Floyd) are given a facelift that should delight fans of the original versions and new fans alike.
It was a great pleasure to speak with Cristian to talk about the creation of this record, the intense period of time that inspired much of the subject matter, and to end off, some exciting news for fans who enjoy the heavier stuff.
antiMusic: Congratulations on the record. I love it from beginning to end and it's no surprise that this kind of format could work for you since the melodic aspects of all your songs were obvious through your whole career. So for you to do a set like this makes a lot of sense so congrats, it's great.
Cristian: Oh thank you. It's an interesting album. It's a little bit different from things I've done but it's the evolution of a musician. We're all curious and we want to feel like we're doing things differently from album to album. A musical curiosity I guess, has a lot to do with it. And beyond that, just being a lover of all kinds of music, it drew me a little bit closer to something a little bit different than I had done in the past.
antiMusic: How far back did the seeds of this record take root? Were you harboring thoughts of branching out when you were still in the band?
Cristian: Well it's definitely something that I had in the back of my mind for a long time. Acoustic music is very dear to me. I love a lot of acoustic artists and I'm especially a fan of artists who do covers of songs acoustically and strip away at the instrumentation and things like that.
In the back of my head I always felt that this is something I should play around with . I had always written on acoustic guitar. I mean, I was the main songwriter in Ill Nino for the first two albums and most of the those songs were written on acoustic guitar. Then I would present them to the band and we would make them more electric. But it was something that I always felt I wanted to give it a try --- to do acoustic songs and strip away some of the instrumentation.
But I never had the time. And also I didn't know how it would affect the band if I did. It really wasn't the right time until now, I suppose. I definitely didn't want to go to my grave and say "Oh, I never tried that and I should have." That's one of the worst things you can do as a musician, is to leave something undone.
antiMusic: Considering the way things went down at the end of Ill Nino, is the premise of this record possibly more of a reaction to the dynamics of a full band and thus avoiding the conflicts that sometimes go hand in hand with many personalities. Or did you envision the material in a more stripped down, basic format from the get-go?
Cristian: Yeah, the whole idea was to do a whole album with this kind of vibe. It would have been easy for me to say, I'm going to write a couple of heavy songs and program drums and just go into my studio and record them. I would say about 2½ - 3 years ago, I began messing around with some acoustic songs.
The guitar player who worked on the album, Conrado Pesinato, him and I had worked on a song and it had really worked out great. The song sounded amazing. It kind of gave me a little bit of confidence in saying, "You know, my voice can sound good in an acoustic atmosphere." Then I started experimenting a little more on the acoustic guitar and chord progressions and stuff like that.
But I think it came out of musical curiosity and support from my friends. The record label asked me if I wanted to make a solo album. When I sent them the acoustic demo of the song I had, they loved the style and felt that it was perfect for Chesky Records. So it all sort of worked out in a magical way, to be honest.
I imagine having no instrumentation, no drums perhaps is a response to having been in a band atmosphere for so long that this felt like a good fresh offering from me.
antiMusic: Also, after the last few years you've had, it really feels like you're venting through the music as well, like almost perhaps as an exorcism?
Cristian: Yeah, I think I let a lot of things go in the music for sure. Hopefully it will be like an exorcism and allow me to get past some of the moments in the past few years like having to leave the band and going through a separation, having to file for custody of my kid and all of these really challenging things that are...challenging is definitely the right word.
I don't feel let down by anything. I really have nothing to complain about. I had an intense couple of years and a lot of obstacles and challenges that I've done my best to try to meet but I'm lucky I have friends on my side who support me. My family supports me. I've been able to resort to music for some kind of sanity in all this craziness.
antiMusic: What's the significance of the album title?
Cristian: Well the title, Hollywood y Sycamore is a cross-street in Hollywood. It's a cross-street where we did all the rehearsals for the recording of the album. My good friend Conrado lives right on the corner of Hollywood and Sycamore and Stephen Brewer, the other guitar player who played on the album, also lives a block away from there.
So it was definitely a location that summed up a lot of what appeared on the album. Most of the songwriting would happen at my house but then I would take the songs to Hollywood and we would rehearse them on that corner. In the beginning, I thought that I wanted to give the album a title that meant something. I was considering naming the album after my daughter and stuff like that. In the end, I wound up going with this more artsy title --- that defined where the music was created and where these sentiments came to be. It just felt like a good, natural title for an album and it was genuine. I wasn't trying to say anything with it.
antiMusic: "Say Hello Again" kicks the record off and finds you dropping some Spanish. How do you decide which lines you want to sign in Spanish? Tell us about writing this one.
Cristian: I really have no idea what I'm going to say in Spanish. Things like that just appear to me in my mind and I vocalize them somehow. I really have no explanation about how creatively this happens. The best explanation I have is just that they just appear in my head. I listen to music and play guitar and things appear. Sometimes they're in Spanish and sometimes they're in English and perhaps that's part of being bilingual. Being completely 50/50 bilingual. I'm not sure if a thought will come up in English or in Spanish.
But "Say Hello Again" was one of the first songs that I had written for the album. It is a song about the separation that I had to go through and not being able to see my kid for months and having to file for custody. And being able to see her after a long time, It's really about that. It's about her. The love that I have for my daughter and the devastation that I felt when I couldn't see her.
And the reasons that I couldn't see her were not anything that I had done but a circumstance that I had to take up in court. My daughter had been taken out of the state and I didn't know where she was and I had to find out and things like this. So for me, it was a good three or four months of devastation where I was just in utter depression.
I didn't know where my kid was. I had to file court paperwork to try to get the court to help me. It was a really complicated situation and for me that song is about that moment when I got to see her again. And in the chorus it explains it, "I never want to let you go. She never wants to let you stay."
antiMusic: "Die Alone" is the first single and it's a perfect representation of the record. Tell us how this one came together.
Cristian: "Die Alone' was a really stripped-down kind of song. It has chord progressions that I had for a very long time but I never really got to try them. I had them in a 4/4 time signature and pattern but after having had recorded most of the songs for the album, every song was in the 4/4 time signature and I felt that the record could really use a 3/4 thing just to move it away from where it was. I started playing around with that chord progression and when I put it into 3/4 it really seemed to hit well. And once I did that, it was literally about 3-4 hours and the song was completed --- written, tracked, everything,
Yeah, it was really a surreal experience, It was something that just came to me. It was a spark of creativity and I was lucky enough to be in the studio when it occurred so that I was able to get it tracked and completed.
Lyrically it really speaks to the sentiment that I was going through at the time. I felt really...secluded is probably the right word. I wrote the song way before the pandemic happened but I had been gong through some of these obstacles already. It's a song about a relationship but not so much about resentment and pain but acceptance in letting go. And realizing in these obstacles and going through this pain would be a lot of growth. It's kind of like you said, in writing lyrics about this, perhaps it was some form of therapy for me and I can hopefully let it go.
antiMusic: I love "Die Alone" but possibly beating it out for me are a trio of songs. First up, the melody on "Better You Know" is just beautiful. I love the strings on this and I could imagine this done live with a huge string section. How did this one come together?
Cristian: Oh yeah. Well, "Better You Know" is in the first set of songs that I wrote. I remember sitting in my back yard doodling with the acoustic guitar. I wanted to try to write something that had a classical guitar kind of feel to it. Most of the guitar on that track is plucking with fingers and then there's some strumming that sits on top of it. I wanted to do something that had a classical / flamenco kind of feel to it but wasn't like things that we had done in the past in my old band.
The sentiments of the lyrics really explain more of how I felt at the time. It's another song about family and my kid and letting her know that despite all the strife that I had gone through, I would still love her forever even though my heart was so sore. It was just so painful to see her put in the middle between two people. So for me, it was a song about pain but also about letting go. I guess, it's just a lot of self-reflecting. So that song is pretty much about the love I have for my daughter and how that will never fade despite anything I go through or challenges I may have in my life.
antiMusic: "Bring You Home" is equally as compelling. I love the chords that kick it off. What do you mean by the line, "The fool's gonna bring you home."?
Cristian: Well after having gone through so many years in a relationship where I felt...perhaps the right words would be alone. Distant. Not connected to this person that I thought I was in love with. That I was in love with. Who had turned into someone else basically. And "the fool's gonna bring you home" is basically me. That despite everything that I had gone through, I would still consistently give this person a chance.
No matter how much pain you feel sometimes, the need for love is so much greater that we keep putting ourselves in situations that we should not be in. That we should walk away from. And the song is a realization of that. A realization of saying to myself "At some point, you shouldn't continue." And I am the fool.
antiMusic: "Good Mother", to my ears, is the most emotionally expressive song by you on the record. You're really emoting. I can only assume this one is also about your previous relationship because the pain in your voice really comes across. What can you tell us about this one? Did you do something else on the vocal for this one? It sounds slightly different to me.
Cristian: Yeah, it is a little bit different in the vocal. It wasn't recorded differently but some of the mixing effects are different. With "Good Mother", it really is a song about the women out there who have given to their kids and despite whatever obstacles they may have in their lives, they have really shown us as children --- especially my mother who had dealt with so much. She traveled the world with me. Went from Uruguay to Venezuela to Brazil to America. She really gave all she could in order for me and my sister to have a prosperous future --- any kind of chance of a happy life. And it came out of that sentiment.
Some of the lyrics do have a hint of my relationship in it and perhaps not understanding why I had come from such an amazing mother and why I had these trials and tribulations going on in my personal life, But it really is a song about women who give us the tools to which we can sculpt life out of.
I grew up without a father so to me, my mother was my everything. She still is. And through the hardest times in my life, it's been really her who, in just talking to me, has been able to make me feel better about things.
And there was some different tonal things done there. When I recorded the song I wanted it to have this, "O Brother Where Art Thou" kind of feel. But when we went to mix and master it, it started sounding a little too thin. So then I had to strip away some of the effects that were on the vocals and things like that.
But we kind of came to a middle ground that you hear where the vocal sounds a little bit thinner. The guitar sounds a little bit thinner. But I think that allows it to have a little more old-school sentiment and a blues kind of vibe. I would say, it's one of the more bluesier songs on the album and it's my favorite song on the record too.
antiMusic: "Blame It On Me" is a real surprising choice for a cover in one way but not in another way. It totally fits the vibe of the record and I love your version a lot more. What struck you about the song that made you want to cover it?
Cristian: The beautiful melody and the lyrics, I guess in being a songwriting fan. Being a fan of the art of the song, I maybe listen to songs from a more core perspective where I'm listening to the lyrics and melody more than the instrumentation and things like that. And as I get older and as a musician, I find myself doing that more.
So I suppose when I heard the Post Malone song, it felt like I could have been writing it. Even though I didn't feel like I was a guilty person, I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders and "Blame It On Me" was an amazing lyric. It was heartfelt to me and felt like it was a personal lyric, believe it or not.
The fun part of doing that song was definitely restructuring it and finding the cool things that could stay and things that we could experiment with. The fun part of being a musician is things like that, being able to experiment, throwing the ball around. Thinking and trying different creative ideas. And like I said earlier, I've always been a fan of artists that can cover songs but do them differently and do it in their own way and move it away from the instrumentation that the song was originally written in.
And that's kind of what I tried to do with "Blame It On Me". I didn't want to destroy the song completely so I kept the chorus the same but we added a lot of passing notes. But I think we were pretty true to the song without destroying but giving it a new, fresh spin.
antiMusic: "Weeds" is a complete shocker. I wasn't familiar with the song by Life in Agony so when I went back and played it, it was a real surprise. I didn't like their version and yours is just excellent. Did it strike you right away to take the song in that direction?
Cristian: (laughs) That was another one of those songs. It was an epiphany. I don't know how it happens but over the course of an hour or two, I had the song in my head and the first thing that came to me was the piano part. I never sat down at the piano to try to play that song and I hadn't heard the song in a long time.
But for some reason or another, music pops in my head constantly and in this particular moment it was "Weeds" that was playing in my head. Somehow the piano part was stuck in my head and I began singing the melody of "Weeds" over in my head. And it took me a minute or so to realize what I was doing. I didn't know that it was the chord progression of "Weeds" that I was thinking of and the piano part that I was playing in my head was the part that would actually fit as an overdub over the chord progression.
Once I realized that it was the melody of "Weeds" coming into my head, that this piano part was like a subconscious thing, than I sat down and started playing around with the song. Within about 20 minutes, I had the whole song figured out. I mean, it's not like the piano changes too much. It's a very simple song. But once I knew the approach I wanted to take with it and I had that piano part in my head, it was really just a matter of sitting down and working out a few details.
It's an incredibly beautiful Life of Agony song. And I can totally understand someone who may hear this stripped down version and then hear the full tempo rock version and go, "Oh, that's really different." And it's not so much that it's different from mine I just heard this amazing, beautiful song from one of my favorite bands a little bit differently.
I just wanted to show that this was an incredibly beautiful song and it stands the test of time. Maybe the instrumentation on the original song is not as timeless but the song itself is a timeless song and I hope that I was able to do justice to the song by doing it this way. I hope I didn't ruin it. (laughs)
antiMusic: "How Can I Live" and "Numb" are no-brainers to return to the format in which they were written, I assume. Was it an easy decision to include them when you first thought about songs for the record?
Cristian: Well those two songs I felt like they would fit into an acoustic format well. There are other songs that were done acoustically in Ill Nino, but I didn't want to just redo a song the way we did in the past. If I was going to do any Ill Nino songs, I wanted to give them a refreshing spin. I wanted fans to listen to them from a different perspective. They already had the old versions, they could listen to them any time they want. So if I was going to give them something fresh, I wanted it to be in this well-thought-out context of acoustic instrumentation and Latin percussion and things like that.
There were a couple of different options. I could have covered one of the other mellower songs that were more acoustic based and things like that. But I felt that the album Confession really could relate to a lot of the music that I'm writing now, simply because those songs were written in similar ways. An acoustic guitar at home, thinking of lyrics. Thinking of melodies. And it's exactly how these newer songs were written except it's 15-20 years later.
And without saying, they're some of the coolest Ill Nino songs. They had great melody in it. I think the fans will enjoy it. I don't think we chilled them out too much. The songs sound great acoustically. I added some slightly different melodies and some different things so that the fans could have some ear candy. So that the song was refreshing to them. And hopefully they won't hate them too much this way.
antiMusic: You've been a part of a band for a long time. The attention and responsibility could be divided up by committee. Now you're the guy and being an established name, you draw a lot of interest. In the past, you've described yourself despite the public face, you're actually an introvert. Are you dreading all the other facets of creating records like promotion since now you're the one shouldering the whole load?
Cristian: It's something that I've gotten more used to, I suppose. In a band atmosphere, I used to feel like an introvert more. Perhaps it had a lot to do with my unhappiness with the situation at that time and it made me become a recluse and turn inwards and all that. I'm still an introvert. I'm not the kind of person who likes being in big crowds too much. I don't like too much attention on me. But I think I'm better than I was before.
Doing it on my own is a lot of responsibility on me but I'm really connected to these songs. I think there's something timeless that anyone who enjoys music can digest. And at the end of the day, I was just really happy that I had music that I could enjoy with my kids. I have a teenage daughter who loves the album. And my six year-old loves the songs. I wrote the record for me and spoke about some of the obstacles that I had gone through but I realized that I wound up making a record that was a little bit for everyone.
And I'm trying to learn from the experience, if anything. In the past, I've definitely been the kind of guy to go into a deep depression at times when I felt challenged. But I think this time I got so much out in the music, hopefully without getting too personal. I think the music allowed me to go through a growth that I may have not been able to in the past in the band atmosphere where the themes are a little bit more watered down. Or people come in and say, "Try this thing or that thing". Where you've got to work a little more with other people. And it's not that I don't like that kind of thing. I do love chemistry as well.
But in letting go so much of the personal trials and tribulations in the music, I think it allowed me acceptance in what I am doing. I'm really enjoying and learning from the process, I'll be honest with you. I got to learn from the musicians on my album who are incredibly talented. Their humble attitude and perspective on life just allowed me to grow as a person, if you will, a little bit more. It's been a long career that I've had and there's still a lot of growth ahead of me. I'm never in life going to say, I've gotten to the point in life where I want to be. I think it's all a part of where I'm going. I'm just not exactly sure where that is. (laughs)
antiMusic: They say time heals all wounds. Can you ever foresee a time when fences with your old band mates can be mended?
Cristian: Perhaps. I don't see why not. I'm not holding onto any resentment. I've never been one to hold onto grudges. I'm terrible at staying upset at someone. I'm always the kind of person to give them the benefit of a doubt. I'm not really a judgmental person.
But in having gone through so much, having the ill feelings that I had, I would say perhaps it affected me for awhile. But I'm not one to hold onto resentment. If anything I made the decision to let it go and put my energy into doing newer things. Things that I feel are closer to my heart where I am in my life now.
And yeah, I don't see why not eventually being acquaintances with the guys. I wish them well and hope they're able to do what they want to do. I hope they're musically happy with what they're doing. The fans will always have the music that I wrote on the first couple of records which I think are the special albums of the band. The music will always be out there.
There's no reason for me to hold onto resentment. As upset and betrayed as I might have felt. It's really just about music now. It's just about me making music now and I can't be unhappy about that.
antiMusic: Is there anything that we can look forward to with you and the other guys?
Cristian: Yeah, Ahrue, Diego and I are actually working on songs, They're amazing heavy songs.
antiMusic: I was hoping to hear that!!
Cristian: Yeah, they've written some pretty amazing, heavy songs man. We have half an album almost done. We're back in the studio next month. We expect to finish the album. I don't know if we'll finish it the whole way or get three quarters of the way and have to come back the month after but anyway we're going to have an album done in a couple of months and then we'll be looking to see what the best scenario will be.
Maybe looking for a label. Maybe releasing a single. Maybe just doing it ourselves. I really don't know yet but the songs sound phenomenal. We wouldn't even be messing around with putting out anything heavy unless it was next level and something that was massive and could connect with a lot of people. We really want to do something that is the next step musically. I feel like acoustically, I've done the best that I could with these songs and I wouldn't want to take a step into the rock world again unless the songs were on that the same kind of level, except with a rock instrumentation and a metallic approach.
antiMusic: This whole COVID thing has totally changed the picture and screwed things up so it's really hard to judge what kind of impact this record will have when you can't go out there and promote it live. But can you see when things clear up that you'll be taking this out to present it live to people?
Cristian: Yeah absolutely. My first show was supposed to be September 11, the first of a tour. But a month a half ago it got moved to March 2021. Hopefully I'll be able to keep those dates. I'm thinking the country should be in a better place by then. Testing should be broad and the schools hopefully will be open and we won't have as much concern.
But it is complicated in having an album during times like these. That is for sure. Not being able to tour is possibly the worst scenario a musician that has an album coming out can have. But we recorded the album in November of 2019. If we had waited a little more, we probably wouldn't have even been able to record it. And we wanted it out around March and then....there you go.
Obviously given the situation we held it off as long as we could But we just didn't want to keep waiting. The label had it for a long time and they just said we should just put it out. Why wait? And I agree. What I'm gong to try to concentrate on is just keep putting out content. Putting out videos until I can go on tour in March. And hopefully by then, word will be out there. People will have heard and will know some of the songs. There's been a lot of interest internationally in shows so it's going to be a long touring year for sure, for me next year if things get back to normal as far as venues allowing people in. But if they do, for sure I'm going to be out there playing --- a lot!!!!
I want to make it an intense experience for everyone who goes. I know that a lot of my songs are very deep and personal. I really want to offer my audiences a kind of storyteller vibe where they really get an understanding of what the songs are about. I also want to make them smile and laugh between songs. And I want to offer whoever comes to the shows, the same way that I had writing the music --- a purge of emotions --- letting it all go at the venue, whatever it might be. If it's something negative, I want to help people let it go like I'm learning to let go of things in the past.
Morley and antiMusic thank Cristian for taking the time to do this interview.
Pre-order Hollywood y Sycamore here