If by now you’ve yet to familiarize yourself with the buttery smooth sounds of instrumental masterminds Chon, you are really doing yourself (and your ears) a huge disservice.
Bursting out of the gate with their sensational debut album Grow and later coming into their own with the experimental, feature-heavy release Homey, Chon has slowly but surely cemented their place in music as one of the key influencers in the instrumental music scene.
Now with their highly anticipated self-titled album on the way, Chon is looking to take things back to where it all began by letting their instruments do all the talking.
“It just ended up like that,” says guitarist Mario Camarena about their brilliant and simplified forthcoming release Chon. “Probably like a month before we finished it, we realized that it ended up being like that. We planned on doing a lot of collaborations and features and all that, but it just didn’t end up happening. And so when we started to realize that, that’s when we brought up the self-titled idea. Because it’s pretty fitting.”
“And then also,” Camarena added, “it gives us room to go even crazier with experimentation the next time because we have this as like, ‘Chon bare bones.’ Now we can experiment and do all kinds of crazy stuff that you’d never expect and people will still have this to listen to.”
Talking more about their upcoming album plus their recent Coachella collaboration with jazz legend Kenny G, Camerena filled us in on everything Chon has going on in 2019. To read what the mesmerizing musician had to say about Chon’s new music, upcoming tour and even about winning a recent Super Smash Bros. tournament, be sure to see below. Afterward, make sure to grab tickets to see Chon out on tour and pre-order their forthcoming album here.
Before we dive into the new record, let’s talk Coachella. How was the experience, especially getting to play with Kenny G?
MARIO CAMARENA: That whole experience was really surreal. [Kenny G] was the coolest, nicest dude ever. Seriously, I’m not even joking. Such a nice dude. He’s a real shredder too. During soundcheck, he was just shredding like I’ve never heard before on the sax.
We met him at soundcheck and we were talking and stuff. He told us he really likes our music. We told him the same thing. And then yeah, we just started jamming and came up with some ideas during soundcheck for the actual performance. I have this little lead in the song that he did and [at first] he wasn’t going to play over it ‘cause it’s like a little guitar solo thing. But during soundcheck, he was just joking around and copied the part with me. And I was like, “Yo, you should do that!” And he’s like, “I don’t want to play over you.” I’m like, “No, it’ll be sick.” He’s like, “Okay, how about you play it the first three times and I’ll come in the last time.” And so that’s what he did. Super cool. Such a surreal moment seeing Kenny G on stage playing my guitar part with me.
Was it nerve-wracking that you guys are about to play one of the biggest festivals in the world and you’re just getting plans together during soundcheck?
No, it wasn’t really nerve-wracking. Because I mean, we know the songs. And I have full faith that Kenny G would pull it off, you know? I wasn’t nervous about the performance. I was just kind of nervous in general, you know? Just with all the pressure and whatever.
So how was it hanging out at Coachella afterward?
That was really fun too. Saw a bunch of artists that we like, had a bunch of friends there. Met a bunch of cool people. It was a really fun time.
Did you meet anyone you could maybe create some future collaborations with?
Yeah, hopefully. I met BLACKPINK. I hope I can play guitar on one of their songs one day.
Back to Kenny G: Looking through your Instagram, we saw you did a special shout out with him for your mom. Is she a big fan of Kenny G and was that what inspired the whole collaboration?
Yeah, my mom loves Kenny G. So definitely wanted to do that for her. She was at the performance too. She got to meet him.
So you and your brothers pretty much won “sons of the year?”
Growing up, was Kenny G the kind of music that was played throughout the household?
That’s part of it. My parents played seriously all kinds of music. Yeah, that was definitely a part of it.
Do you think their musical interests were a big influence on you growing up?
Yeah, it was. And I didn’t realize that until pretty recently, like the last few years.
What other artists were they listening to that influenced you?
I can’t really think of specific artists because they just listen to so many types of music. Motown. They listened to a lot of Spanish music, like Spanish guitar music. I don’t even know the names of the genres. But lots of Spanish music; Spanish rock, Spanish pop. I don’t even know if it’s mariachi or not. But stuff like that. And then, R&B. All kinds of stuff.
It’s interesting you bring up the Spanish music because, on your new record that’s coming out, you actually have a Spanish guitar intro on “Pitch Dark.” Was that also for your parents too?
Not really. That was honestly kind of a joke at first. Eric [Hansel, guitarist] and I were just in my room. We had the whole song, except the intro. And I have this mini classical guitar in my studio. And Eric started playing that riff and we’re like, “What if we started with some stupid, scary intro?” And so we did it. We recorded it my room and threw it in the song – just like the demo, like what we’re demoing everything out and writing. And everyone we showed it to actually really liked it so we were like, “Oh wow. Guess we’ll keep it.”
Is that how a lot of your guys’ songs get written? Not necessarily like you’re not taking it seriously, but just sort of noodling on guitars until you find something you like and run with it?
Yeah, that happens a lot. Some of the coolest ideas come from us just messing around and having fun, not trying to make something really cool. Just trying to make something fun.
Do you think it’s pretty important not to take things too seriously when you’re writing? And as your band progresses and gets even bigger, that you guys keep things as fun as possible?
Yeah, definitely on the music side. Because otherwise, I feel like if you’re always trying to make something that’s just like, the best shit you could possibly make at all times, it’s going to come off that way. I feel like you have to make music in all kinds of mindsets. Like sometimes we are trying to write the coolest, most complex thing we could write, but then sometimes we’re just writing something for fun – something that makes us laugh in the moment. It’s good to have all kinds of mindsets when you’re writing.
Does it ever frustrate you if the challenging complex song doesn’t get as good of a response as the song you wrote joking around and just having fun?
No, I don’t really care what [song] ends up doing better. We like all the songs pretty much the same, especially on this album. So we just do what we do. And then whatever happens, happens after that.
It feels like with this self-titled record, especially compared to Homey, you guys sort of went back to the basics a little. No features, no samples, none of that kind of stuff. What was behind the decision to go that route?
It just ended up like that. Probably like a month before we finished it, we realized that it ended up being like that. We planned on doing a lot of collaborations and features and all that, but it just didn’t end up happening. And so when we started to realize that, that’s when we brought up the self-titled idea because it’s pretty fitting. And then also, it kinda gives us room to go even crazier with experimentation the next time because we have this as like, “Chon bare bones.” Now we can experiment and do all kinds of crazy stuff that you’d never expect and people will still have this to listen to.
Do you have a favorite song on the record?
It changes a lot. I feel like right now it might be “Pitch Dark.”
This could be a stupid question, but do you have trouble keeping track of the song titles? Especially when you have a song that’s called “If”?
It’s tough to remember [for] the first month after we name it sometimes. Because [during] the whole writing process, we have working titles and they’re usually way different from the actual name we choose. So then we think of the song as the working title. When we change it for the album, we keep calling it the working title and forget what we even named it. But “If” was actually the working title the whole time. We just kept it because we never heard a song called “If.”
I’m looking at the working titles right now from this album, I don’t remember them from the other ones. But for this one, one of the songs was called “Weird Polly.” “Pitch Dark” was called “Jump Scary.” One of the songs is called “Knee.” Like, as in your knee. Yeah, one of the songs was called “Fuckin’.” Like, the word fuckin’. We just name it the most random thing when we save the project in Ableton.
Is it challenging to come up with song titles when you don’t have lyrics to pull from?
Sometimes. But sometimes, it’s easy because we have even more options since there’s no words. So it’s kind of free association. “Pitch Dark” has kind of a scary, dark vibe. So that’s why we thought of “Pitch Dark” as the title. [It] kind of fits with the scary intro. So that’s how we do it. We either keep the random working title or we just use free association and choose the word that fits the vibe to us.
So let’s talk about the animated video for “Petal.” Where did that come from?
So that whole concept was originally made by Eric. Eric wrote the whole thing out. He worked with the animator. We were kind of short on time when we started working on it. We wanted to release the video close to when the single actually came out. So they had to change some of Eric’s ideas. Eric and the animator both came to a compromise on the concept. And that’s what it came out to be. It’s kind of cool because I had no part in that. I was just seeing it happen.
And what was your initial response after watching it?
I was like, “What the hell is this?” Like, it’s cool though. I don’t know. We don’t have to take the video too seriously. You know, it’s a cool visual.
Fans seem to really enjoy and really relate to you guys for not taking everything so seriously all the time. Is that something you notice too?
People have told me that same thing recently.
That brings us to our next question: You’re signed to Sumerian Records along with a lot of pretty serious metal bands but still play the likes of Coachella or tour with Dance Gavin Dance. What space do you see Chon living in in the music world?
I feel like we kind of fit in somewhere between all the music that we like and listen to ourselves. I feel like if we just keep making the music that we really want to, we’ll just somehow be able to play or fit on a show with all the music we like. We listen to a lot of different styles of music than what we play. I think all that influence lets us fit into things like Coachella, but then still be able to play a metal tour. I think we’d be able to play a show with Flying Lotus and then play a show with Meshuggah because we listen to both of those artists and I feel like that’s how it works somehow.
And for the metal fans reading this, you guys definitely want to stay active in the metal scene and do shows with metal bands?
Yeah, we have some plans to do some metal stuff. That’s where our roots in guitar were. We started out playing metal. So that’s always going to be a given. And depending on what bands are available to tour, we’re always down to do any type of tour. I’d love to do a tour with Meshuggah. We actually have one kind of metal tour lined up later in the year. We haven’t done anything in that world for a while. So that’ll be cool. I love metal shows. They’re pretty unique. The crowds have so much fun at metal shows.
Who are some of your favorite metal bands currently or that you might have listened to guitar-wise that you grew up learning to play?
So there’s a band called Necrophagist. They’re a legendary tech death band. That’s kind of where we learned a lot of our metal chops like sweeping, ultimate breaking, string skipping, and stuff in general. They’re a huge influence on us. Eric [and I] had tabs of them. And I would learn one part and he’d learn the other. And they do a lot of really cool harmony stuff. They never do the normal third harmonies with two guitars that most metal bands were doing back then. They would do random stuff that somehow worked. It was like, two guitars playing two different parts that somehow equaled one guitar part. The two guitar players just had a unique style together. That was a huge influence on us. It still is. That’s kind of how that influence comes out in our music and in mine and Eric’s writing.
Yeah, I’m trying to think of other metal bands. I remember that one song from Between the Buried and Me with sweeping in it. “Selkies” or something?
Oh yeah, that’s it.
Yeah, I like that song a lot. I think I learned that one too.
Between the Buried and Me is just such a crazy impressive band, especially with all their 10-minute songs.
Yeah, that’s so insane. We can barely write songs over three minutes. That’s insane to me.
So we’d be remiss not to ask about any video game talk that’s currently going on. Have you been doing any Super Smash Bros. tournaments?
So there’s this pretty well known Smash tournament in Hollywood. It’s a weekly tournament. A lot of good players go there. I randomly went a couple weeks ago for the first time and won somehow. I actually won. It actually was my first tournament win in the new Smash game. So that was cool.
Were the regulars there just like, “Who the fuck is this guy?”
Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. I have a stupid gamer tag too. My name is Bacon Master.
Everyone’s all like, “Who the FUCK is Bacon Master? How are we letting some random guy named Bacon Master win the tournament?” And I’m like, “Yo, it’s not my fault. I just came here. I wasn’t even trying to win.”
Which Smash character do you usually use?
Yoshi. Yeah, I’m a Yoshi main. He’s just too fun, dude. He throws the peace sign. And you can eat people.
Would you change anything about the latest Super Smash Bros. game?
I would just make Yoshi better. He’s already way better than the last game, but I’d make him even better.
Are there any other games you’re into right now?
I’ve been playing Overwatch lately. The whole band is super into PC gaming. They got me into it. And I’m just starting to learn how to aim good. Aiming on a mouse and keyboard is so hard. And I’m starting to land shots now and it’s sick.
PC just seems so challenging because there’s such a big setup and you can’t always take that out on the road with you.
Yeah, I got a gaming laptop. I’m definitely bringing that on the road. That’s what made me want to do it because [my bandmates] all have gaming laptops and after shows, they’d be on the bus all gaming together. And I would just be like, “Damn, I can’t join.” So I got one.
Speaking of the road, is there anything you want to say about your headliner that’s coming up with DOMi and JD Beck?
Yeah, just for anyone who might be going, definitely check out JD Beck and DOMi before us. They’re crazy. They’re future jazz legends, honestly. They’re going to be crazy.
What was the inspiration for taking them out on tour? Considering they might not be as well-known as some of the other bands you’ve toured with.
Just ‘cause they’re future jazz legends. They’re crazy. They don’t even have any music out yet – like recordings, just live videos. I’ve seen a lot of them on YouTube. And they’re just so insane. I can’t wait for the actual album to come out. I feel like once that album comes out, they’ll definitely gain a lot of fans.
How did you hear about them? You just found them on YouTube?
Well, the drummer JD Beck, I’ve known for a few years. I remember when he was like, 10, 11, 12, or something like that. I would just always see him on the internet and at NAMM. I met him a couple times when he was a kid. And we just knew he was gonna grow up to be super good. And now he’s just one of those prodigy kids. And so that’s how I knew him. And then he went to one of our shows last year in Dallas and he brought DOMi. And that’s when I met DOMi. We were just hanging out, didn’t even know who DOMi was or that she played keyboard or anything. And then after they left, she added me on Instagram. I looked at her videos and I’m like, “Holy shit! She’s insane on keyboard.” I had no idea. So yeah, that’s how I met them. And then luckily, they were down to do this tour. I’m stoked.
Do you think it’s crazy when kids come up to you and tell you that your guitar playing influenced them or that they’re a huge fan of your band? Or when you think about how Chon has helped bring notice to instrumental music?
Yeah, it does. I don’t think about it that much. But yeah, it’s cool. It’s one of the reasons we wanted to keep this new album instrumental too. Maybe help influence young players and let them know that you can kind of go crazy on your instrument and still have some success. It’s a cool thing to be able to influence and inspire young players. So we definitely thought of that for this album.