“I do believe everything can be meaningful for those who seek meaning, even heartache and loss can teach us about ourselves,” says Cristian Machado. The former frontman of the hard rock band Ill Niño, explores love, from a different angle, on single “Die Alone” out May 8. It’s a love song, but one stitched together from suffering, heartbreak, and a search for meaning and growth in the face of pain, loss, and unimaginable challenges.
“Too many key elements of our perceived definition of love falls on the shoulders of beauty and sex,” Machado tells American Songwriter. “We all quickly forget how much the deep soul plays a part in true happiness.”
Brimming in lush melody and delicate instrumentation, the acoustic-driven “Die Alone” bares Machado’s soulful other side on his debut solo album, Hollywood y Sycamore (Chesky Records), schedule for a September release.
“I think it’s always been my first love, the melodic world, [and] also the acoustic guitar world,” says Macao. “I’m a lover of songs, above all. The approach to the instrumentation has become secondary to me the older I get.”
When Ill Niño started, Machado says he played bass and sang, and while most of the songs were written on acoustic guitar, the end result was usually a more “metallic” sound. Initially, Machado had the chords for “Die Alone” lying around but was going to leave the song off the album, because he thought it was too stripped down. In listening back to the track, he realized it was a perfect fit and summed the energy of the album.
“I’d write and write on an acoustic until I eventually made myself happy with a set of riffs and chords,” says Machado. “That ‘heart of the song’ approach perhaps allowed me to expand on to this. It’s always been something I felt I should do but never had the time, or the right opportunity, or perhaps never had the nerve, or the right people to include.”
Parting with Ill Niño in 2019, after more than 20 years, Machado personally felt it was time for change, and credits the support of friends Addasi Addasi and Conrado Pesinato and Jeff Lanier from Chesky Records for helping him push him through Hollywood y Sycamore. Recorded in California and New York, the albums’ title was inspired by a corner in Hollywood where Hollywood y Sycamore came to life.
It’s the section in Hollywood where Machado found himself driving to several times per week from his home in Temecula, CA, to flesh out the album, and hopping from Pesinato’s place to Brewer’s house, one block away, for rehearsals.
A milestone in many ways, it’s also the longest album Machado has ever recorded with 12 songs. “The songs were all self-written,” he says. “There are no ghost writers or writing producers, or hired writing musicians—none of that on any of my album.”
Produced by David Chesky and Lanier of Chesky Records, Machado also had a hand in producing several tracks, including “Die Alone.”
“Music, now more than ever has to be genuine, it has to be real,” says Machado. “There are no gimmicks here, not even copy, pasting of any audio was allowed on the album. It truly is a completely honest offering with no bullshit, no tricks, no hidden help.”
There’s no formula to Machado’s writing. It just has to feel good. It all starts with a feeling, and sometimes a lyric or chord. For “Die Alone,” it was the latter. Once the chords were in place, everything was written and recorded in less than four hours, says Machado.
“In my head, there’s definitely an endless stream of music to be created,” he says. “It’s always been hard picking the right ideas to develop but ‘Die Alone’ felt absolutely right the entire time. At no time did I have to alter anything, or change anything out of doubt or unhappiness.”
Musicians in tow—bassist Yunior Terry Cabrera, guitarists Conrado Pesinato and Stephen Brewer, violinist Ali Bello, and Oscar Santiago on percussion, the recording—“Die Alone” is the exception to the full band as Machado is the sole performer on the track, dubbing the piano, snare, and timpani parts after recording.
“It really was an instinctual, almost surreal experience writing that one,” says Machado. “I think it’s the more genuine way to introduce myself in this light. It really is just me, as vulnerable as can be. I’d lie if I was to say I am not nervous.”
Machado says there’s a subtle theme throughout Hollywood y Sycamore, but he prefers to leave its interpretation to the listener.
“There is a beautiful positive element underneath it all,” he says. “It comes form a very dark place but is walking towards the light. I’ve always written with hope in mind and this is the brightest that hope has ever been.”