When guitarist Mario Camarena formed his prog rock combo CHON 10 years ago with his kid brothers Esiah and Nathan, on bass and drums, respectively, and co-guitarist Erick Hansel, he wasn’t thinking long-term. “We were just having fun. Erick and I were just making music because we loved playing guitar, and we weren’t planning anything for the future.” Now, after two Weather-Report-on-Slayer-steroids albums (2015’s “Grow” and 2017’s “Homey”) he admits CHON is moving of its own volition. And, at two dates in Berkeley this week, adding a string quartet.
Why no vocals, since the beginning?
That was just because none of us sang. So that’s just how we did it. I mean, we’ve tried vocalists, and we were never opposed to it. But it just never really felt right. We have a couple of songs now with singing, and now we’re actually working more towards singing with our next album. Since Erick’s been singing live, we figured we might as well write some songs with him singing on the recording, so he can easily perform them live.
Do you have day jobs, parallel careers you’re pursuing?
Believe it or not, we just do CHON full time. We were never really interested in other careers — we’ve just been pursuing music, full time, since we started CHON. We always knew that this was what we were going to do. And our parents were always super-encouraging, because my dad played drums for a Spanish rock band. So our parents paid for my guitar lessons and always took us to concerts. Even now, they go to every Southern California show that we play. And only now, after 10 years, is that not weird to us anymore.
What are your musical influences?
Early on, we were learning a lot of shred guitar — basic metal techniques with alternate picking and all that stuff. But at the same time, we were really into jazz. So we kind of fused those two things together, initially, and our sound has just been changing and growing from there. So we were listening to a lot of Return to Forever and Robert Glasper but also listening to death metal bands. So we used death metal techniques on guitar, but then used jazz harmonies.
What’s your ultimate goal with CHON?
To keep CHON as my passion project, and not keep it as my actual job. I want to find another cool job doing music, like making video game music, scoring movies or making intro songs for TV shows. That’s my goal right now.
IF YOU GO
Where: Cornerstone Berkeley, 2367 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 13-14
Tickets: $28.99 to $34
Contact: (510) 214-8600, www.ticketfly.com
CHONErick HanselGrowHomeyMario CamarenaNathan CamarenaPop Music