Photos and interview by Jules Muir
A little over a year ago, “Round Whippin’” premiered as Zane Lowe’s World Record and sent ripples across the radio waves. It was a persuasive anthem, one which narrated the allures of a late-night in Los Angeles perfectly. For most, the buzz began at that moment, despite very little actually being known about the Peruvian-born, East Coast-raised, and L.A.-based Alejandro Chal. Since then, Chal has caught the eye of many, including A$AP Rocky, who tweeted the first link to A.CHAL's single “VIBE W/U,” and OVO Sound Radio. The young artist built off this momentum and proved his songwriting strength and the depth of his talent on debut album Welcome to GAZI.
With GAZI, A.CHAL finds his power in honesty, cutting to the core of many of society's ills and triumphs by tapping into a deep well of personal experiences and anecdotes. The album is both reflective and questioning, but doesn’t waste time wallowing in simple angst and anxieties. Instead it serves as a complicated recap of the singer’s past two years, one that blurs the line between glorification and critique while undoubtedly remaining something to ride out to.
We’re standing on a cliff in LA’s Pacific Palisades neighborhood; the four o’clock sun is beating down on us as the Pacific Coast Highway buzzes along a few hundred yards below. Dust kicks up, and Latin music softly plays from a nearby iPhone. In front of me stands Chal, comfortable in a white printed jacket, Adidas track pants, a thick linked necklace, and colored shades. The music is coming from his phone, and it’s a fitting soundtrack. He moves to the sounds of South America as he readjusts his glasses.
A tattoo on his forearm reads “A Spiritual Being in a Human Experience.”
It’s a telling preface to the man I’m about to meet.
From the small amount information about you on the internet, one thing that is consistently mentioned is your birthplace, how much has Peru influenced you?
I would say it was a big struggle at first that turned out to be a great advantage in the end.
Do you associate with Peruvian side more so than your American?
Culturally I feel Peruvian, but I feel worldly. If you can understand a place like Peru and then understand a place like Beverly Hills, I think I can go to Lebanon, I can go to Haiti, and I can understand all that as well.
What’s your reaction to seeing a place like Beverly Hills?
I mean it’s really good looking, it’s attractive. But it’s like an outfit, I like clothes and I like wearing things. I might pay a lot of money for some things, but at the end of the day I don't need it.
“We roll through Cecconi’s, we ate like some mobsters.” It’s hard to tell whether you’re glorifying the glamour or really critiquing it.
Duality, it’s that duality. It’s weird for me because I was born in a place like Peru. The household I grew up in didn’t value any of those things, and then you come to LA and there are some households where it’s all they value. The first two years of my life we were living in a house where we used hay as our roof. I don’t remember a lot of it but I grew up with parents who lived like that for a while. But I get it! You can’t really judge people, I try not to make my music preachy or judgmental. Sometimes I like it and as I like it I feel guilty about it. I’m just telling you how I feel.
Just because I’m being distracted, I know I’m being hypnotized and I’m just enjoying the hypnosis.
What were some of the values in your household?
Hard work and loyalty. Peruvians are very giving people, they just got fucked over by the Spanish so they’re known to be a bit vulnerable.
What are your mom and dad like, and what do they think of you going this route?
At first they thought it was a joke. My dad’s a numbers guy though, and once the numbers came in he started supporting more. I’m glad he's like that.
On “Far From Home” you mention your mother telling you not to change, did she really say that?
Of course, she told me right before I left too. That was two days ago.
Is that something you’re worried about?
I feel like I’ll always worry about that. I’m not panicking about it I’m just always reminding myself, or keeping people around to remind me to always stay true because you can get distracted out here.
What was your first introduction to music?
My first introduction was Peruvian music. Not so much Latin and salsa music, maybe more so after I turned five. The first music I learned was indigenous, Andes, Inca music with flutes. Shit you probably hear at restaurants sometimes, you know?
You played it?
Played it no, but I danced it. It’s a thing you do, it’s normal. My dad was also really big into rock and roll. He was super into Woodstock; he had Woodstock posters and Woodstock films so I knew about Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana.
Growing up was this always what you wanted to do?
Yeah, I knew I was going to do some sort of art, music was the one where I liked everything that came with it. The fact you could push culture, you could live anywhere, I fell in love with music more than any other art.
Ballroom Riots was your first project and it’s not really on the internet anymore, is that something you’re trying to move away from?
Maybe that’s just not my vibe at the moment, but I see the similarities between Ballroom Riots and this project. My priority as a vocalist now comes first and before it wasn’t, I was more into the production.
So you first started out as a producer?
I first started rapping actually when I was about 12, I tried to sing but I wasn’t that good at first. Then I needed beats so I started producing for myself, my friend and me were making beats out of the Boys and Girls Club at the time.
How big was it to release Welcome to GAZI?
It was an interesting process, I learned a lot from it. I don’t really feel like I’ve done much yet but I’m excited for what’s to come, I’m just happy that this shit is out because it’s been sitting with me for a bit.
What was that process like for you, releasing one project and then starting to immediately work on the next. Was there a clear next step?
No there wasn’t. There’s a lot of personal shit that goes with it. When I released the first project I went through a set of things that changed my life. Now I’m going through this and there’s a set of things that are changing my life as well. Each project teaches me a set of life lessons, and I’m realizing that the life lessons are the most important part. Even if it would’ve been the number one trending album or song I would still be more grateful for the things that I’ve learned.
What does GAZI mean?
GAZI to me is a state of consciousness, people who share a common conception of modern society.
Is it a place; is it something that you can get to?
I think it’s a place. It’s a GAZI place. It’s how you feel about it, you may go to a party and it might not be GAZI, but if you’re GAZI it’s going to be GAZI. I feel like if you understand my music then you’re definitely GAZI, you get it.
Your music feels very carefree. There are different drug references, and a very live for the moment attitude, do you think much about the future?
I don’t know if I talk about drugs as much as I talk about greed, getting caught up in addiction, because that’s just greed. I talk about balancing greed and balancing love. I do live in the moment but in the sense that I may over analyze situations that most people would just have fun at. That’s just who I am as a person. I definitely try to live in the moment as much as possible; when you start to live in the future too much you start living in fear of it. I don’t think living in the moment is a bad thing like you’re trying to live fast, it’s more like you're really sponging everything that’s around you.
Now that you’ve released it, is there a clear next step?
I’m excited for the videos, I’m excited for the live shows. I have never done a full set ever. I’ve been rehearsing now for a bit, and I’m doing those shows hosted by you guys soon.
What are you thinking for visuals, because you collaborated with Nick Thomm for the album covers?
I met Nick around Ballroom Riots and it’s been an ongoing collaboration for a while. There’s a bunch of shit we have together, he’s amazing. It was natural, even though we didn’t talk for like two years when I saw what he was doing I didn’t even have to tell him or send him music, it fit.
What do you imagine a live set of yours to be like?
What would you imagine it to be like?
I think a single stand mic, a three-panel visual, all encompassing with psychedelics. Or it could be super simple and you could just be up there and sing by yourself with a mic.
My only goal is to just be transparent and as honest as possible onstage. I want people to feel it, I want it to hit you. You’re kind of close.
Are you ever worried you might give too much?
Uhh...I’m actually worried about the opposite, that I won’t give enough. Going back to the first questions there’s something about LA that makes you feel selfish. Everyone's chasing their own legacy. Am I helping enough? These people are helping me, am I giving enough? I try too.
Celebrities seem to all get to the point where everybody wants a piece of them though, is fame a scary thing to you?
It’s scary if you let it consume you. It’s not that deep, I think people want you to think it’s deeper than it really is. It’s almost like they sell you fear on that shit, people like feeling fear. Like oh shit he’s probably depressed, he’s got a hoodie on, glasses on, paparazzi up in LAX. But they think you’re the shit, you go in your car, you go to your nice crib, like it’s not that bad. [Laughs]
When you make it where do you want to live?
I was talking about this today, I would live in a more secluded area, like a ranch or something. That would be cooler, you can always get a hotel. You can get a room tonight like $150 and go out and spend the night in LA. But I love nature.
Have you started to see this working out?
I still don’t know if it’s going to work out. I have goals but I’m more driven by curiosity than accomplishments. I want to know what can I do with this, what can I do with that. I just hope everything else aligns.
Looking at the few articles online, they all mention you going through some sort of spiritual awakening.
Spirituality is kind of like your conscience, it’s how you feel about things, and your gut. That side of you is always living even after you die.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
Definitely 100%, there was a before life. You were in your dad’s balls before you just don’t know what that was like.
You think you turn into an animal?
I don’t think I could come up, or even envision what that’s like. Like we can’t envision what life was as a sperm, only a few make it. Maybe only a few make it out of this too. That might be the test.
Have you ever tried ayahuasca?
Yeah I did it with my mom and dad, that’s how I know about the afterlife. I wasn’t sure but I knew for sure after that. It’s so relieving man, you know when you get older and you're like damn, that high school test wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s like shit, this is not that serious. [Laughs]
What do you think of Zane Lowe?
He’s very supportive, and not just on the internet but also in person, he inspires me.
Are you working on a new project now?
I've got a lot of music to be honest, but it’s not about just throwing music out there.
More so than a new project I’m focused on bringing these songs to life. I want to touch the community I come from. I don’t look at myself as a cool figure or whatever, I try to be ground level and be out there doing things so I can directly talk to those people. That’s my aim with music; I make it for everyday people. Videos, live shows, parties, whatever it is. You guys are helping out with sponsoring three shows, so that’s a good start.
How do you want to touch people, do you want people to feel empowered or get to that Gazi level? Or just feel anything at all?
Gazi level! Modern society is so self contained, you’re on your phone, you’re by yourself, a lot of songs that are really popular are about how I fucked your bitch, I got the biggest shit in the club, I got the biggest house, I make this much money. I want to speak to the people and give them the consciousness that we’re all equal at the end of the day. We are here for a bit of time, let's just be honest about how we feel. I know that sounds really hippie, I get it! I just feel like it’s a more realistic discussion than what bitch you fucked last week.
Just be as honest as possible, that’s how you be better.
We're presenting free A.CHAL shows in New York, Toronto, and Los Angeles this month. More details here.