In a lengthy, candid, and exclusive interview, Ill Niño frontman Cristian Machado bares his very soul in answering questions pertaining to the band’s latest album One Nation Underground, their diverse influences and roots, and his personal take on the current political situation in the United States. I must warn you however, that this interview is damn long. In fact, having run for over 31 minutes, it’s easily the longest one that I have ever done. Nevertheless, in an effort to maintain the artist’s integrity (fuck the oftentimes misrepresentative music world) and also the awesome energy, excitement, and passion that Cristian put into each one of his answers, this interview has been in no way altered from its original state. So Ill Niño fans, fans of loud music in general, and even people who might want an in-depth look into the mind of one of Metal’s savviest of frontmen, please prepare yourself for a no bull-shit, straight from the heart, educated and even controversial interview.
Your music is undoubtedly one of the most original sounds in the loud music world. As a result, did you ever have difficulties finding representation or even being taken seriously when you first started out as a band?
Cristian: I don’t know if we had any problems being taken seriously… actually let me rephrase that. I think we were taken seriously right away being that we recorded one demo that was basically recorded with me and Dave. I played a lot of the guitar on it, wrote most of the songs; I arranged them with Dave together. We made a demo, it was only the two of us; we really didn’t have a band. We passed the demo around and it got… it opened up some people’s eyes, like local college radio stations and also Mike Gider who wound up signing us, from Roadrunner Records. So I think it was something that was taken seriously right away. But I guess there were people in parts of America that wouldn’t take it seriously right away. Obviously I wasn’t aware of that until we would put out a record and start touring… really realise how racist some people could be, but you know… whatever. Luckily we are where we’re at and we still have a career touring, we have our fans, and we’re very lucky to still be able to do this.
In September 2005 you released your 3rd full-length CD, One Nation Underground. What was different about the writing/recording process this time around and how do you personally feel about the album?
Cristian: I think that on this record we finally got to really experiment as a band. Having Ahrue in the band for the entire writing, pre-production, recording process definitely made a big difference on the sound of the band. I think you can pretty much hear those parts where you can tell that it’s Ahrue and he comes from a Bay area metal, San Francisco Metal, Slayer, Testament, type of influence. Obviously you hear that he comes from that metal influence, how he played in Machine Head. I think it’s a great thing that happened to us and it kind of combines the best of both worlds ‘cause we’re very influenced and founded by this whole New York Hardcore type sense. You know we grew up watching bands like Sick of It All, Agnostic Front, Biohazard… so it was pretty interesting to work with Ahrue and have Jardel, Ahrue, and I kinda sit around writing riffs and realising, “wow, this is a really cool meshing of East Coast meets West Coast riffing and styles.” I think that’s the main difference. The first record was pretty much written by me. You know I wrote all the songs and I wrote all the lyrics and we arranged all the songs with Dave together. And the second record was written really weird you know? I wrote “Cleansing,” “Te Amo/I Hate You,” and “Have You Ever Felt”… the more heavier songs on the record. And the other ones were almost written by the rest of the band and Mark Rizzo. I think on this record we finally got to just sit down and write as a team and really mesh our individual styles.
Your first two albums have approximately sold a combined 600,000 records worldwide – if not more by now. How has One Nation Underground faired in comparison and what has the feedback been like so far?
Cristian: The feedback for the record has been amazing. I think all the fans and most of the press that we have been getting back has been saying that they agree that it is the best Ill Nino record that has been put out so far. But you know, the music industry in is in a really weird place right now, it seems like the powers that be are really trying to separate everything and really divide the genres and divide the trends. If you’re metal and you don’t sound like Slayer would sound now, then you’re not metal. If you’re punk rock and you don’t sound like and preach about what The Sex Pistols would have preached about back in the day, then you’re not really punk rock. And if you’re hip-hop and you don’t talk about how you got shot, made a million dollars on your deal and wear fifty thousand dollar necklaces, then you’re not really hip-hop. And if you’re pop and you don’t talk about all the pretty things in life and having sex, then you’re not really pop.
So to me it’s kinda weird man. I’m kinda like the anti fuckin’ trend. I kind of say fuck all the trends, I listen to all styles of music man. I’ve played death metal, punk rock, hardcore, funk… I’ve done it all. And all there really is music and at the end of the day, anybody who has a record and puts out a record that’s basically the same song 13 times over on one record; to me they’re just cheating the fans. They’re not really writing songs that are original and individual from each other. And not just that, if you’re gonna come out and be a band and say, “we’re gonna be metal and just metal,” well, sorry to let you know, but there’s 30,000 other bands that are already doing that and perhaps maybe some people should take the time to be like, “How can I personalize my music? What can I do?” I’m a person, I’m not like everybody else, therefore, we as people in Ill Nino, we say, well how do we personalize our music? For example, Laz comes from a very Caribbean style of listening to music. He listens to a lot of Chango and African/Cuban bass rhythms and Salsa rhythms, so he incorporates them into the music.
Ahrue comes from the Bay Area Metal scene, so he incorporates his style into the music. Jardel comes from the Southern parts of Brazil where it’s like a very core style of tribal influence and his riffs kind of depict that. And when he was growing up in Brazil he also listened to Sick of it All and Agnostic Front a lot, so his riffing style kind of represents that. And with me, I grew up speaking English and Spanish. I grew up moving from country to country due to political, governmental, and social issues and just family atmosphere that wasn’t right to bring up your kid in a country where there’s a dictatorship or a communist type sense, so I incorporate that into our music and that’s kind of how we try to make our music stand apart.
In metal, there are a lot of great metal bands out there, but the ones that can actually say our music is very personal; if you listen to us, you know it’s us, it’s very few and I think that’s how the genre is going to wind up having its decline. Because it’s the same thing that happened in the ‘80s man, I mean even though I never really listened to Makeup Metal in the ‘80s like Cinderella and all these other bands… once they started coming out with the Wingers and the Britney Foxes and all this, they just destroyed the trend and the genre because nobody was just taking the time to just make it original and make it what it’s suppose to be. If you listen to music in the early ‘80s when the genres first started coming out, the bands stood apart from each other.
Like Metallica was Metallica and they didn’t sound like Slayer. Slayer was Slayer and they didn’t sound like Anthrax. Anthrax was Anthrax, they didn’t sound like Testament and Testament didn’t sound like SOD. And it was the same thing with hip hop, Slick Rick didn’t sound like Cool Mo De, and Cool Mo De didn’t sound like this other guy and everybody had his own individuality. And same thing with punk rock back in the day in the early ‘80s. Black Flag was Black Flag and Agnostic Front; you knew it was Agnostic front. The Sex Pistols, you knew the Sex Pistols apart from The Ramones. And it seems like now everyone just doesn’t care and doesn’t care to sound the same. You put on the TV and it’s the same friggin’ band writing the same song over and over and it’s fucking saddening because it’s like a slap in the face to musicianship… to originality, and that’s what music should be all about. Or else we’d all be still playing music that sounded like… “It’s been a hard day’s night…” [laughs] If the music doesn’t evolve, then where the hell are we going with it?
As musicians and writers you have always been very deep, seemingly transferring the hectic world around you into every one of your songs. Tell me, what were some of your motivations and focal points when writing this album?
Cristian: I think that the world has gone through a lot of really unstable changes in the last few years and I think that as people and as humans, our social pattern is to always run away from problems… as humans in general. I mean if you really think about it, yeah we all have brains and we’re all really smart people, but the underlying reality is that we’re really just animals and sometimes animal instinct takes over your capability to really think things through. I think the world is in a really weird situation where countries are starting to think that they’re being put up against other countries because of different religions, different political views, different governmental beliefs and foreign policies, all this crazy shit.
For me it kinda hit home about two and a half years ago. Prior to two and a half years ago, I would usually go about my normal life and maybe write songs about things that happened in my life, but being that I live the US and being a Latin American and taking pride in the fact that the US and even Canada was founded by people that came from all over the world. Either that or you’re a Native American and you really got screwed and really the only people that deserve to be called Americans are Native Americans, otherwise, I’m a Latino American, you know…. Anybody else… well where did you come from?
But to me it hit home when the US took away the pledge of allegiance from the kids in school. People that migrate to come to this country can’t learn to love a flag that means universal freedom no matter where you come from, you can come here to try and have a better life. And it was taken away for the stupidest reason because they didn’t want people saying the word God in the Pledge of Allegiance. And to me it kind of hit home, and it was like okay, I see what’s going on, they don’t want people in society to feel like they are under a creator, they want citizens in society to feel like they are under government. And that is just the epitome of Communism; you want your citizens and your civilians to think that the biggest thing you have to fear is your government coming to look for you, not where you’re going to go when you die. So it’s kind of sad to me to see society kind of swallow it up and even though I respect many different religions, I don’t really particularly just follow one. I think there’s a lot of great beliefs in the Buddhist religion, I think there’s a lot of great beliefs in the Christian religion, I think there’s a lot of great beliefs in no religion. It just depends on how you feel on the inside.
And people gotta really start opening their eyes and realize that the notion of all of us coming from one place is little by little starting to go away… it’s being taken away. And that’s really the only thing that we can all cling on to as people; that we can all relate to, is to say to ourselves, “Hey, we all come from one creator.” Whoever you might think your creator is, nobody can look at themselves in the face and say well Jesus Christ made me… no. We all come from the same circumstance, the same situation. Whatever happened billions of years ago, that’s what were we come from. For people who have hate and anger towards each other just because they’ve been socially conformed or socially… conditioned to their particular country, doesn’t mean that you’re not like everyone else in the rest of the world and doesn’t mean you should go around hating everybody.
I mean obviously, some of the reasons why Muslims would look down on America or even countries that have democracy, is because that’s what they’ve been taught all their life. And it’s not really their fault if you think about it, it’s their government’s fault for teaching people that America, them over there across the ocean, they’re the devil. And the same thing with some parts of Central America, those kids are brought and they’re like, “We’re Americans and “rebels” and anybody else who comes to our country and tries to search for a better life is really stealing our country.” And it’s all wrong man, it’s all wrong. People gotta wake up and open their eyes and that’s kind of like what I based my views on. Once the Pledge of Allegiance was taken away, I said to myself, “Wow, the country that is supposedly the freest country in the world… democracy is starting to become communism little by little.” And it’s just stupid!
Messages. From political insight to social observation, your work is constantly a far cry from generic song writing. What kind of ideas are you trying to convey with One Nation Underground?
Cristian: The one message that I would think that the music is definitely trying to portray is in the song “La Liberacion of Our Awakening,” there’s a small part that says, “…with open eyes we stare into our enslavement” and that’s pretty much what I think we are all doing. You know, to me I’m lucky to have music and to kind of have that release or at least that attempt at trying to get through to the youth of the world because I really think that the youth of the world is in charge of where we are going to be 50 years from now. So that was pretty much my attempt at perhaps making people open their eyes and realize that we are all being led down the same path and it really just depends on what country you live in. But, the overall intention of it is just, I would just take that phrase, “with open eyes we stare into our enslavement.”
Being a band who does at times delve in the political arena, what are your feelings about the current situation in the United States and how President Bush is handling his job?
Cristian: I think President Bush is a moron! I think that the only reason he was voted into office is because his family is a very founded political family and they have a lot of power in the world. They have a lot of power in the oil world and obviously to America that means everything. Oil runs America and it’s the sad reality. You know it’s the country with the most cars in the world, it’s the country with the most airplanes in the world, it’s the country with the most furnaces in the world. So therefore to me, all that really spells is more oil, which by the way is destroying our environment because there’s nothing we can do about it until our governments really really start caring about doing something about it.
And it’s not really in our individual hands because you can’t say to yourself, “well I’m just not going to drive my car anymore,” because how would you get to work? It’s the government’s job to come in and help their citizens and guide their citizens to a brighter future and unfortunately in America that’s not what’s happening. The higher classes are starting to look down on the middle classes more, the middle classes are starting to look down on the poorer classes more and vice versa. The poorer classes are starting to rebel against the middle classes and the middle classes are starting to say fuck the rich. So little by little, the government is really just drawing the line and saying if you’re poor that’s where you live and if you’re middle class your house should not have pretty front doors and if you’re rich, then you’re rich and you stay away from the other classes.
So to me, that’s basically my answer; Bush is a moron, he really really is, he doesn’t even know what he’s saying half the time, even if you watch him speak on TV, some of the times I wonder to myself… what the hell happened? And even when he was elected president, he said it, “this is a personal war, they tried to kill my father,” just on that foundation alone it’s like, man how could America sometimes be so blind and stupid? But it might have been the same if they’d picked Kerry. I know I voted for Kerry, but I was almost sure that Kerry was gonna win. But for a president to win over 2% of the country? How could that happen? That’s impossible. And most of the people that voted for Bush, you go up to them and ask why did you vote for Bush, they say, “I don’t know, because he was president already.” So to me it’s just a fear of change, a fear of really trying to make an attempt at changing your life or changing your belief, people are just too stubborn to admit that maybe they were wrong five days ago and I should really look at reality and say I changed my mind.
You stay true to your roots in that you incorporate numerous elements of your Latino heritage into your music. Tribal percussion, flamenco guitars, Spanish lyrics, it’s all there. What is your take on staying true to ones roots?
Cristian: I think like as I stated earlier, it’s the only thing that we have that really makes our music personal to who we are as people and that’s the only thing that can make music original. If you ask a lot of bands well how is your music personal to you, well perhaps they’d say, well I wrote a story about this girlfriend I had and it’s a story about her. And to me it would be like saying, well I wrote a song about my Adidas sneekers that I have, but you know, a band already did that so I wouldn’t write a song about an Adidas pair of sneekers.
To me, it’s a way of making music personal and truly original. Like System of a Down, as much as people may hate on System of a Down, it’s like, man they took their music and personalized it to who they are and unless people really do that, music is just going to be a one way road. Metal is going to be a one way road and if you’re metal, this is what you are and that’s it and the kids are going to buy the same record over and over because all the bands are going to sound alike. And if you’re hip hop it’s going to be a one way road and you gotta talk about being a gangster. And if you’re metal, you better be real metal and talk about dragons or having your heart broken. And if you’re punk rock which is the only thing I love about punk rock, that at least still maintains true, even though Green Day’s new record could have been a little tougher, I loved the fact that they stayed true to the punk rock belief, which is to rebel against everything that is conformed.
With all of these varied influences do you ever have difficulties when writing material or do these extra elements give you more material to work with?
Cristian: I’d say it’s more fun man, because it’s just more to pick from. It’s like, wow, we have all these cool things that we do with our music. We have a percussion player, Dave is a very tribal technical type drummer, he’s very on and tight. Jardel is like the very… he’s like the Slash of metal, he’s very loose within his playing, it comes very subconsciously, very fluid in his playing. And Laz comes from a very Caribbean point of view. Me, I come from a very tribal point of view, Samba point of view, but in my lyrics, lately I’ve been coming from a very anarchist type point of view. But in reality, I’m not an anarchist, I’m a realist. I’m not the type of person that’s going to go like this [covers eyes with hands] and say “that didn’t happen.” Like yesterday, my tour manager asked me, “what do you want the bad news first or the good news first?” And my answer to him was, “anybody who wants the good news first is just trying to lie to themselves… doesn’t want to face the reality.” So I go, always bad news first bro, come on!
I think that within our band it’s pretty easy. To me, I would think it would be harder to be in a band that says, “we’re only going to this, this is all we’re going to do,” because then you’re going to have a hard time really making each song sound separate from each other. And I put on a lot of records nowadays, and there are some great bands in metal, but it’s very few where you can put on the record and say, “wow all the songs are different from each other.” But when you put on our new record, it’s like each song is different. “This is War” is not like “My Pleasant Torture,” “My Pleasant Torture” is not like “My Resurrection,” My Resurrection” is not like “La Liberacion of Our Awakening,” and so on and so forth. With a lot of bands you can put on the record and you can’t tell which song is what. So with us, I think it’s easier for us to write music the way we do just because we personalize it, it’s just easy to say “who am I, where do I come from,” “how do I incorporate this into the music” rather than just saying “what’s the hot trend and what’s the cool way of riffing right now and let’s do that!”
How has this Ill Nino/ Static-X tour gone so far and how did it come to be arranged?
Cristian: It’s gone amazing. Before we began the tour, I was kind of sceptical as to how fans would react to us being on tour with Static-X, but I’ve learned to find out that we have a lot more fans in common than I thought we did. A lot of venues have been selling out, we’ve been getting a thousand plus draws everywhere, and the fans seem like they’re having a great time watching us play, you know warming them up for Static-X. And the Static-X crew and band members are just amazing people, they’re always on our bus having a good time. We have a great time together with their tour managers and their production managers. And their band members are just super cool and down to earth. We drink with Tony all the time, me and Wayne are hanging out all the time, if anything I think I talk to Wayne the most of the entire band. Wayne’s very reserved and quiet and Nick is just a maniac and loves to party. And Koichi is just like the Jardel of our band, of Static-X, he’s just very quiet and reserved, but if you talk to him, you get him to open up. And it’s kind of interesting touring with a band that doesn’t have the rock star ego; they’re not that kind of people who are always digging for attention. So to me, it’s awesome! We’re like the East Coast version of what they are, we’re just really friendly and outgoing… very New York. It’s very very cool; we both respect what each of us bring to the tour.
I heard there is a chance you guys might come in early 2006 to do a mini Canadian tour with local metal band No Assembly Required. Is this still going to happen and either way, what do you have lined-up for the near future?
Cristian: I know that we’re planning a One Nation Underground headlining tour for March; we’ll definitely be coming back. As far as No Assembly Required, remember that name, check in to it [pointing to tour manager], I don’t know, maybe we did speak to someone. Are they (NAR) from the Toronto area?
Yeah, yeah. I read a post on a message board. That’s how I came across it.
Cristian: Look into that, maybe we should have them out to the shows [again, pointing to tour manager]. But yeah, we’ll be back in March to do a One Nation Underground headlining tour, the whole thing, light show, it’ll be an Ill Nino show. I’m even going to throw some little hints in there visually for the people to see if they get it further than the lyrics on the record. But, we’ll see how that goes, and we’ll look into the band, we probably did speak with one of them but it was probably when we were here with Disturbed.
I’ve had “People Are Strange” by The Doors stuck in my head for a little while. On that note, being on the road you obviously encounter and interact with a ton of fans. Do you ever meet any bizarre fans or get any weird gifts while on the road?
Cristian: Well there was this one fan in Fresno, California that threatened our tour manager with a taser gun. She was video taping the show and Static-X wasn’t handing out photo passes and sometimes our fans don’t realize that when you’re opening up for a band, it’s not up to us whether you can bring in a video camera or a tape recorder, it’s up to the headliner. Because the headliner is worried that through using us, they can video tape Static-X’s set and we have to respect that. We have to pay respect to the fact that they are letting us come on their tour and that this is a very strong package, Static-X and Ill Nino and we wouldn’t want to do anything to fuck it up. So we didn’t give her a photo pass, she snuck the camera in regardless, and she’s this one fan that always comes to all the shows and it’s nice but she always does the craziest shit. Like she’ll park her car in front of our bus and won’t let us drive away. She’ll wear her gun permit around her neck and stand outside our bus and tell us how she’s certified to carry a gun. She’ll threaten Benji with her gun permit around her neck talking about how she’s going to tazer him. She’s probably the weirdest fan we’ve ever met.