Ill Niño Singer: "I'm a Metal Hippie with Strong Roots in Arizona"

Ill Niño is a fitting name for a heavy metal act that has been whipping through festivals and speakers non-stop since the year 2000. It was in 2003 that the American Latin metal band garnered the attention of the mainstream with their second album Confession. Over the course of seven studio albums and two EPs, the band has sold more than 1.4 millions units worldwide. They’re notorious for playing festivals, from Ozzfest in Europe to Grass Pop in Belgium to Vive Latino in Mexico to Download in the UK.

Now, currently touring to promote their 2014 release Til Death La Familia, Ill Nino is finally returning to the U.S. to rock fans with their Spanish guitar riffs, Latin rhythms, and shredding vocals. The six-piece act has the ability to intertwine melody and thrash in a reliable yet refreshing way. They’re pioneers of Latin metal, and Machado focuses on bilingual lyrics and philosophical song themes, like growing up without a father and trying to find one’s place in society.

New Times talked with lead vocalist Cristian Machado to preview Ill Nino’s show at Club Red on Tuesday, June 23. The self-described “metal hippie” has strong roots in AZ, and it’s not just because of the relevance of the Latino metal scene. His fiancé lives out here, and he attests that over time he’s probably spent years and years in and around the Valley. He also claims that Sedona is one of his favorite places on earth. Needless to say, he’s super pumped for Ill Niño’s show in town.

Since you come out to Phoenix pretty often, are you familiar with the strong Latino metal scene out here?

Yes I am familiar with it. I’m excited to see a lot of the Latino American metalheads come out to the show! There’s a huge scene out there and I’m hoping to see a good turnout.

It’s almost been a year since the release the band’s last album, Til Death La Familia. What has the band been doing since then besides touring?

We’ve been doing a little bit of everything to be honest. We got to do some shows in the Caribbean and went over to Europe and did a Russian tour. A lot of international stuff mostly. It’s been a long time since we’ve toured in the U.S., and I’m super excited to be back in the country. We’re hoping our fans will come out and represent and get a little bit of Latin metal vibe going on across the country.
Yeah you guys do a lot of festivals overseas right?

We’re actually going to do the European festivals after this U.S. tour. We’re also playing the Gathering of the Juggalos, which is notorious for its craziness. Then we’ll be going straight from Chicago to Europe and doing a bunch of the European festivals, playing with a lot of great metal bands.

Have you ever played the Gathering of the Juggalos?

No, it’s the first time. From what I know, and a lot of bands tell me this, that it’s an insane experience to play it and witness it. There’s a lot of great bands playing it this year. And it will be a completely new experience for us. Hopefully we can make some new fans there. As far as American trends and music go, it seems like it is much more acceptable to bands that crossover slightly from hip-hop and rock.

So you feel like that acceptance is much more prevalent in the U.S. than in other cultures?

Yeah definitely. The whole hip-hop movement and culture, and the rock culture, has always been more predominant in America I think. So it’s only natural to cross breed music and cultures, and to accept that.

So have you guys been doing any songwriting as of late?

Not really, but we don’t often write on the road. With everyone living on one bus in close quarters it’s not our recording environment. But we will probably start that discussion soon about when we should release music, which spurs writing. Then we send our music we’ve written to each other. It’s interesting; hopefully we can expand on the last album we put out, Til Death la Familia. I’m looking forward to a similar work flow as on that one. We also just shot a video for “Blood is Thicker Than Water,” which is the second single off the album. I’m super excited about that and I think it’s the best song on the album. It’s really meaningful to me.

The last album’s message was centered on the people that have helped support you guys over the years. Do you think the songwriting will possibly still be in that vein?

We wrote that album in just a few hours. I mean, I would hope that at least it’s a step forward in a more mature way. Um, we definitely didn’t want to put out an album that was… that didn’t have some emotion tied to it. And definitely that album was in many ways, a, a, a tribute to those people who have stood by us. And to a lot of the youth that are facing a really intricate and crucial time in today’s society, in trying to find their real own voice. I think that Til Death la Familia title definitely refers to a lot of the sister and brother hood that people can have amongst each other.

You know, we just really really grateful. Obviously as musicians we create music that we love and want to create, but at the end of the day we do it for the fans.

What has really stood out to you about the evolution of the Latin metal genre?

Early on when we formed a band we were definitely influenced by culture in general — being Latino Americans. Having this amazing opportunity to come to the U.S. to live the creative musical American dream. And I think we were just influenced not just by music like Sepultura; we just wanted to be ourselves. We’re extremely proud and grateful to be Americans and also proud of our ancestry. The most creative way for us to have music was from a more bilingual level. We didn’t try to reinvent the wheel. We just basically spin the wheel a little bit differently.

Latin metal is very vast and multi-cultural. You can also say the New York City music scene influenced us as well; it’s very fast and multi-culturally. Lot of Latinos. Also, a lot of bands that aren’t considered Latino metal music have Latino metal musicians in them. That influence is spread far and wide. I don’t know what it is, but a lot of Latinos seem to gravitate towards metal. Maybe it’s just that rebellious side of us that wants to put on a leather jacket and break our necks. Laughter.

And you know, whenever we travel to different countries we always encourage the fans in the audience to be proud of their cultures and heritage. And some places, like in South America and even India, bands are pushing the boundaries in their own cultures that they might not have felt comfortable doing. I feel proud that we could be united by that possibly have influenced those musicians to speak out and push the envelopes.

Ill Niño is scheduled to play Club Red in Mesa on Tuesday, June 23. 
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Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.
Contact: Lauren Wise