INTERVIEW: A.Chal Explores Psychedelic Existentialism on ‘ESPÍRITU’

Photo by Xavier Scott Marshall.

After his 2021 album Far From Gaz, A.CHAL started feeling like Hollywood life wasn’t a fit for him. What followed was a two-year hiatus from music spent soul searching in the mountains of Trujillo, Peru. A.CHAL, born Alejandro Chal Salazar, reemerges with his newest album ESPÍRITU, one that remains evocative of his introspective nature yet more grounded and purposeful than ever. 

Known for his emotive lyricism, Salazar has sharpened his ability to push listeners into the depths of their own minds and connect with the world around them. But feeling like his music was becoming monotonous, Salazar decided to leave Los Angeles during the pandemic and spend the next few years traveling. He began in Punta Mita, Jalisco, where he embraced a surfer, “jungle-boy” lifestyle, as he calls it, before hopping over to the countryside of Milan, Italy, followed by the Canary Islands in Spain, and even Qatar before ending up on his grandfather’s ranch in Peru. 

“I needed to go back to exploring what I genuinely like,” Salazar tells Remezcla. “But I don’t see myself as a person on a mic. I see myself as a visionary and want to create a world. I needed to go and just pull from different places, but I didn’t know what I was looking for.”

Parallel to his travels, Salazar also decided to separate from Epic Records and become an independent artist. “The music I made was because I needed to sustain my lifestyle, and it felt like the story was getting boring,” he shares. “Everyone’s talking about being toxic, coming from the bottom, and it’s just boring.” ESPÍRITU, his upcoming tour, and the visuals for the album have all been self-funded. It symbolizes Salazar betting on himself and his vision.

“My value at this moment doesn’t come from giving listeners a hit record that they’ll hear everywhere,” he says, adding that his value comes from creating a meaningful project that offers listeners an experience. “I feel like I haven’t seen many people like myself doing what I’m doing — especially not from Peru.”

Moving to el campo in Peru, the singer reconnected with his rural roots and extended family. During his time there, Salazar’s grandfather passed away, forcing him to confront the realization that life is short but that he still has time to do what he wants to do in life. “My grandfather was a real caballero. When he passed, his whole village came out and filled the streets to say goodbye to him,” he shares. “I’ve thought about the generational traumas that have been passed down and questioned why things had to be so violent. But my grandfather was also a man of his word. He didn’t compromise who he was. He had a community, he had a farm, he raised my father, he was very varón. It just made me think, ‘I have to man up.’”

The ideas of “community” and “being a man” are ones Salazar explores through his music. Comparing and contrasting classic boleros to today’s love songs, he notes that though they both have inherent violence, boleros contain a power that men have over women, which he doesn’t see much of today. “When I say power, I don’t mean committing violence against women. I mean that in boleros, the romance, the chivalry, the way that vulnerability made women feel, that was men’s power,” he shares. “I see how that music makes the women in my culture feel now, and that’s how I want to make people feel, too,” A.Chal says.

I don’t see myself as a person on a mic. I see myself as a visionary and want to create a world.

Coming to terms with these newfound life experiences, Salazer concocted ESPÍRITU, an album heavily inspired by psychedelic ‘70s rock, post-punk, and hip-hop, as well as ‘60s boleros and classic romance ballads. The LP opens with “Trujillo,” inspired by the Peruvian city that Salazar was born in — “the most random city in the world,” he notes. The quick tempo of this gothy track is layered with eerie synths and an upbeat punk drum beat accompanied by gritty guitar riffs, the perfect headbanger. “Trujillo” also instantly shows off Salazar’s knack for riffing in and out of Spanish and English verses.

In many ways, ESPÍRITU is the album Far From Gaz was supposed to be, and it also allowed Salazar to flex his producer muscles. Doused in psychedelic inspiration, “Saico,” “Walk On Everything,” “Trust,” and “Always Around” are introspective explorations of desire, self-medication, materialism, and relationships, romantic or otherwise. All are threaded together by echoing guitar riffs and sound effects like vocal echoes or underwater submersion sound effects that transport listeners to an aural setting unique to each track. 

The album closes with “Saico” and “Aldo’s Interlude,” the latter of which opens with the sounds of a serene campo breeze and cowbells, followed by the voice of Salazar’s uncle Aldo, who tells listeners that we all have our own, unique kind of magic. Magic mushrooms helped spark a heart-to-heart conversation between the singer, his cousin, and his uncle. They opened up to each other about overconsumption, emotional vulnerability, and being present in life. “It was just being in the mountain, being with my uncle… who has seen me evolve and who I’ve seen evolve, and we were questioning each other on the ideas we grew up with. I thought it was beautiful,” he says. “I haven’t felt that way since that day.”

ESPÍRITU captures a clear evolution in Salazar’s sound compared to his previous projects. Instrumentals like piano keys and acoustic guitars are stifled under the bass and percussion of trap beats on Far From Gaz, making the album feel more superficial than intended. “I was frustrated because my label told me that they didn’t know how to market me and they would have never let me experiment with rock like I did in ESPÍRITU. I don’t feel like this project would feel the way it does had I not fully produced it,” he says. 

“In previous tracks, I would push my vocals beyond the natural keys I sing in. And for this one, I’m able to sing in my speaking tone, so it feels like I’m speaking to the audience. I’m excited to perform this album live because of that.” 

ESPÍRITU is out now.