A.CHAL Talks About New Album 'ON GAZ' and His Ayahuasca Experience
If you’re not familiar with A.CHAL, there are a few things you should know—he’s Peruvian-born, with prominent Incan roots, he’s an independent R&B triple threat, writing, singing and producing his own music, and the first time he said ‘I love you,’ to his dad was when they were both high on ayahuasca in the Amazon rainforest.
The musician prides himself in his heritage, with good reason, standing as a source of inspiration for many young individuals in the Latinx community. In fact, his musical heroism proves particularly appropriate today, where not only are hispanic communities underrepresented within media, but also victimized within politics. With all of that said, at the end of the day, A.CHAL, along with his laid back attitude and recently released album, ON GAZ, admits that “Sometimes, I’m just having fun, and it’s not that deep.” Check out the full interview below.
So out of curiosity, to start, how was the name A.CHAL developed?
That’s kind of a long story.. My name was supposed to be Ichal, which comes from the native Quechua language, which is my mom’s origin language, but it was a mountain that my dad grew up around, and he gave that name to my brother, who was born 11 months after me, and he died two weeks after he was born because we were too poor to get proper care at the hospital, so I took the name A.CHAL with the period because my name is actually Alejandro.
That’s a nice ode to your brother. Congrats on your new album, ON GAZ, by the way. I feel like the album all came together very cohesively, from each song, to the video, to the album artwork. Can you talk about what it means as a body of work, including the title?
ON GAZ is a term for me that comes from our crew, GAZI, and it’s just focusing on the things that are true and ignoring the things you can’t control to get to where you want to be. All the songs kind of play as a soundtrack to that, whether you want to go to college, you want to be good at a sport, whatever.
And what was the process like putting the project together?
I’m always recording. Like right now, I just recorded three songs—I just got back from recording in the Dominican Republic. I’m always recording, so it’s never like a start and go process for me, I’m always working. But you know, I just put it together.
Right, and I had read in your interview with Schön Magazine that you don’t like to disclose your writing process.
Yeah, I don’t. Well, it’s me in the booth, you know? Drinking, smoking, sometimes sober depending on the song. I’ve never written anything down. I just stay in the booth until a song comes out.
Super organic for you.
Always, always. 100 percent.
So then going off on that, because art in general, whether music, visual, etc., is very personal–it comes directly from you, which is exactly what you were expressing, so do you find most of your work to be this intimate labor of love, or not really?
Sometimes, I’m just having fun, and it’s not that deep. Sometimes, it’s deep. It depends on my mood, you know what I mean? Sometimes, you don’t want to get into your feelings, there’s too much.
Yeah, and how has the reception for ON GAZ been so far?
It’s been overwhelming for me. I actually didn’t expect much from this, I actually don’t expect much from anything in life, I just do my best and keep doing my best. But yeah, it’s been pretty good, there’s been a way better response than I expected and it’s motivating.
So putting that into consideration alongside how personal your work is, what’s it like for you to share that?
For me, it doesn’t mean that much. Just because, I’m a pretty open person. I’m not really shy, at all, but I will say in the same breath, it’s important for me maybe to communicate things that other people are feeling, but don’t say. Giving a voice to people. Especially to people who look like me, too. I have a lot of Latino fans who are second, first generation people. I got a direct message today from this kid that said ‘You make me proud to be a Mexican. Me and my friends, who are looked down on for being brown, are inspired by you to do what we want to do.’ And on that note, it’s very important to me, one thousand percent.
And going off on that, how do you feel about your Latino and Peruvian heritage playing such a big part on your identity as an artist?
I feel like me being a Latino, or Inca-rooted, it plays a part in everything I do in life in general. They’re very spiritual, relaxed people, overall, I feel like that’s how I am. My music is just part of that expression, but I think it’s cool to infuse that with the things that I’m surrounded by whether it’s hip hop or R&B, or American culture, I think that’s cool.
Clearly your culture and heritage influences your music, but would you say it’s something that’s sought after and produced, or is it more intrinsic?
Nah, I feel like the more you think about things, the more you start filtering out the purity of it, so I really just try to go off a whim. I try not to think about it too much.What role did music play in your upbringing?
Well, none of my parents are musicians. They hated the fact that I was trying to pursue music as a career. I got thrown out of my house for that at 17, so I went back to New York from Boston. I mean, my dad played a lot of 70s rock and I didn’t like it at the time, but looking back, it has influenced me without me even knowing. He used to always play Woodstock 1969, the movie, every day after he’d come back from work and I think he lowkey wanted to be a musician, but just didn’t have the balls or he just couldn’t. But yeah, I would listen to music a lot because me coming to the cities that I was coming to from Peru, I didn’t have too many friends at first, so I would be alone a lot. So music is what we would listen to.
When was the last time you were in Peru? Is it still a part of your present?
2 years ago, absolutely. I’m going back this year. 2 years ago, me, my mom and my dad went to the Amazon and we did ayahuasca with a shaman. It was fucking cool. That was the first time my dad and I said ‘I love you’ to each other.
That’s cool, did the experience influence your music at all?
I will say… you know in Incan art, or Dia de Los Muertos, it’s a very neon, nighttime sort of vibe–I always thought it was strictly an artistic decision, but it’s not. That place actually exists. When you see it, it’s fucking breathtaking. It’s reminiscent of Avatar almost, you know how it’s a neon world? And it just stuck to me. I was like ‘Wow, people don’t know that this is real. This is another realm.’ So it doesn’t affect me just in my aesthetics, but in my music, I try to make you feel like you’re there, which is a vibrant, peaceful, place. It has influenced everything I’ve done. Everything.
Speaking to your aesthetics, because visual components clearly complement or supplement your work, how do you consider your style and the visuals?
I’d say authentic, vibrant, shamanistic. And that complements my music. I feel like it’s soothing, a lot of people tell me when they’re driving, when they want to chill, when they’re walking, they listen to my music and it makes them feel good, and that’s what everything I’ve been talking to you about made me feel, so it just happens.
Images courtesy of Dan Regan.
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