If Giniling Festival and AOUI drummer Franco Malaya had his way, he would’ve stretched out his first visit to the U.S. in 2015 to catch all his favorite bands. But given the amount of time he had, he had to choose from his dream list; at the top of that list was San Diego-based act CHON. Lucky for him, timing was perfect, and he would be one of the 300 people at Jack’s Patio in San Antonio, TX to witness the instrumental act’s upbeat jams live as they shared the stage with The Contortionist and Auras.
Malaya recalls the experience clearly. CHON had just released their debut album Grow under Sumerian Records, which peaked at No. 1 on the Heatseekers Albums Chart, and of course, he already knew each track by heart. He recounts his experience, “The place was packed and Auras and Contortionist were awesome, but CHON is number one!”
Shortly before CHON’s set, Malaya met guitarist Mario Camarena and former bassist Drew Pelisek. “I remember telling Mario that I came all the way from the Philippines to see them, and he was like, ‘Philippines?! Really?!’ He couldn’t believe that they’re quite famous here.” When it was time for CHON to hit the stage, Malaya rushed to the front, tingling with excitement, as the instrumental act delivered the entirety of Grow. The intimate setting was perfect to say the least, and with that, he made a promise to himself to catch CHON again when he returns to the U.S.
It’s been two years since Malaya saw CHON in action, and a lot happened within that time frame: from parting ways with Pelisek, hitting the road with the likes of Polyphia and Periphery, to claiming the beach to write new music. In a month’s time, one of San Diego’s best will deliver their sophomore album Homey, a record that reflects the sunshine and feel-good vibes Southern California has to offer. BillboardPH caught up with Mario Camarena to talk about the coming-of-age story of a trio of 20-something year olds who trust ridiculous ideas to produce the album that would take home with them wherever they go.
It’s so exciting to see a follow up to Grow so quickly! In what ways would you say you guys have grown in that span of time, between writing and recording Homey, touring, and life back at home?
Looking back I think we’ve grown in many ways. We’ve learned a lot about what it means to have the job we have, and now we’re just trying to do it as best as we can.
Who did you work with on Homey?
We recorded the album with Eric Palmquist, who we’ve recorded with before, and we collaborated with a few different electronic music producers that we’re fans of (Go Yama, Giraffage, Masego, ROMderful, Lophiile). We also had one of our all time favorite bassists Anthony Crawford kill a few tracks on bass. Other than that, it was just the usual us and our homie Brian Evans who we always have play drums on a few tracks.
With Drew out of the picture, who did you recruit to record bass for the album?
Our other guitarist Erick (Hansel) played on a few tracks and Anthony Crawford played on the others. It was pretty dang surreal to watch Anthony track and be able to kind of produce certain parts. The tracks he did bring those songs to a new level. Erick killed his tracks as well.
How did the writing process for Homey start and when did you start recording?
We started really going hard writing in the Fall of 2017 and wrote all up until we started tracking this January. We have a practice space near the beach where we live, so most days we would go there first thing in the morning and start writing music.
Tell us about the album art.
We’ve been working with an artist named Daniel McBride since we released our first official EP back in 2013. Since then, he started working with Sumerian Records as their director of art and we signed a record deal with them, so at this point we consider him a part of CHON. The concept for this album to us, is we wanted to make music that would remind us of home every time we listened to it. We’re from Southern California and whenever we think of home we think of sunny weather, the beach, palm trees, and burritos…so we wanted the album art to reflect that. We also had some aesthetic ideas for the graphic design stuff.
We absolutely love “Sleepy Tea!” Why did you pick that track to announce Homey and whose idea was it to make an animated video for it?
Thanks! We wanted to roll with “Sleepy Tea” as our first single because it’s super high energy and isn’t too far off from what fans know as our sound. The video idea stemmed from Erick who had the idea of a guitar shooting off and flying. From there we all basically created a storyline of this guitar going on a crazy adventure. We also thought it would be cool to have the video be animated in 8-bit, so we hired an 8-bit artist to create the animation.
Tell us about that teaser you posted on Facebook (in April). We’re getting a lot of mixed sounds and new influences here. Could you break it down for us?
Well, the teaser is basically 5 seconds of every song on the album…and we purposely chose those particular clips so our fans would be surprised when they heard the full songs.
Your buds Tim and Scott of Polyphia are coming to the Philippines in May. Any plans on dropping by for a visit sometime soon?
Yeah, Tim told me about that the other day! We don’t have plans as of yet, but we would love to! Hopefully it happens soon.
Being as young as you are, with this great opportunity to write and share music with the world, what kind of advice would you give an aspiring artist?
I would say, if your end goal is to make really cool music, then figure out what you need to learn to be able make the music you envision and go for it! Take all of your main musical influences, listen to them so you really digest their work, learn the technicalities of what is going on in the music, and try applying those ideas yourself until they become a natural part of your musical vocabulary. Then find out the artists that influence your favorite artists, and do the same thing with them! From there, it’s all about working hard at your craft, and trusting your gut. There are a lot of instances where we have seemingly ridiculous ideas that we trust, and they end up working out. Those are moments that will fulfill any artist!
Do you still study, freelance, or work day jobs? Or is CHON your only focus?
At the moment CHON is our only job. We all study and write different music when we’re not working directly with CHON stuff.
Are there any new releases lately that have caught your ears?
Thundercat came out with a new album Drunk that has to be some of the coolest music I’ve heard this year. Aside from that, I’m always stoked to hear anything the duo Tennyson comes out with.
CHON’s second full-length album Homey is set for release on June 16th via Sumerian Records. Pre-orders available here.