Tritonal's Chad Cisneros on Dance Music and Sobriety: 'I'm Not Here to Judge Anybody Else's Value System'

Jason Fenmore


Sobriety isn’t common in the world of dance music, but Chad Cisneros has been making it work for a long time. Cisneros first got into the rave scene as a kid in Texas, finding a world of music he loved -- and developing a major drug dependency along with it. This addiction, in time, left Cisneros incarcerated, but through professional help and a network of sponsors, he turned his life around, getting into music production and onto a path of sobriety, health and wellness. Cisneros is now 13 years and six months sober.

His life now is focused on music, wellness and the crossover potential between the two. He’s a co-founder of Austin’s Infinite Recovery Center and, along with Dave Reed, makes music as Tritonal. The duo is ten years into a career as arbiters of progressive house, trance and dance pop. With this music, Cisneros aims to transmit everything he’s learned during his own evolution to audiences. But he’s cool if it just makes you dance.

Tritonal’s third studio LP, U & Me, is out Friday (June 14) via the duo’s own Enhanced Music. The 19 tracks are shimmery, uplifting dance pop and progressive house cuts featuring a slew of vocalists including LEVV, Lourdiz and Rosie Darling. A percentage of proceeds from the album merchandise will go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Here, Cisneros discusses his life and career.

You and Dave both have kids. What do they think of what you do?
It's funny, having your kids judge your music. They're so honest. They'll either love something so hard and want to hear it 500 times in a row, and it's their favorite song ever. Or they'll instantly not be into it whatsoever, which is so funny to me as a dad.

Dave and I, more than anything, want to write honest music and feel that what we're writing is what we really want to say. Having kids has made that more apparent than ever, because I'm teaching my kids the values I want to live by. I just want my spiritual life, and my parenting life, and my life within music to parallel one another. If you're not acting according to what you say and what you believe, there's going to be inner turmoil. I'm just trying to be mindful of having no inner turmoil, and that makes me feel like I don't want to write lyrics that talk about things I don't partake in, or I don't even believe are necessarily positive or healthy or promote wellness.

I think we all have an idea of what those things are, and each of us have our own value systems. I'm not here to judge anybody else's value system; I'm just saying we all have our own paradigm and I want my music to reflect the things I say I hold true.

It sounds like you’re saying that your values don't exist in a silo. If you're going to be a certain type of person as a parent, you have to be that person as an artist too, and so on.
I think a lot of people are willing to sacrifice that for the potentiality of having a big hit, or having a record that works or turns people up, and they don't really give a fuck. That's fine too. I don't necessarily say that’s bad; I just say it doesn't work for me. It doesn't promote my own internal well-being. What's the point of gaining all the money in the world if you sell your soul?

Do you feel that being a sober person in a scene famous for partying has given you particular perspective?
Sure. I think because I came up out of the rave scene as a 16-year-old kid who was eating lots of LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, ecstasy, all the psychedelic drugs and smoking lots of marijuana, I know what that's all about. I've been to the edge. I think drugs are a great way to open the mind in a way that allows people to connect with the music more deeply sometimes. I don't think you need to be fucked up to connect with the music deeply. That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that psychedelics open up synaptic passages in your brain that allow you to observe the mind in ways that most people are not able to in sobriety, without deep meditation.

But now that I have become sober, I think the answer to your question is yes. And it’s not just because I'm sober, but more because I do meditate, study, read and try to be mindful. You could be a sober, mad, mean, unconscious, for lack of a better word, idiot. Then you could be an unsober, fucked up, inebriated, loving, awesome human being. I don't think that sobriety is the key to your character traits or defects. However, in sobriety, I have a much higher aptitude for actually doing the things I say I want to do -- working out, making sure I meditate at night, eating the healthy meal I told myself I was going to eat, being present with the family, making financial decisions that fucking makes sense and just not being so caught up and run by unconscious thinking and identification with thought.

But you're not getting on the mic and breaking all of that down for audiences when you're onstage. You're telling them through the music, right?
That's true. Even outside of music, say I have this way to live that has revolutionized my life, and that I feel so happy and joyous and free. I don’t believe it's my position to call you or anyone else out and start throwing this at people as the way they should live. I think we can provide catalysts by the way we interact with human beings, and if they are inquisitive or want to know, then the teacher appears. I don't think it's being a good service to try to be preachy.

And so what's great about music is that we can point at these feelings through our melodies and our chord progressions and our lyrics, without having to really say much more than that. Hopefully if you've written a really good record, the music leaves you with a feeling of awe. You feel and you know you're more than your body. You're more than your mind. You realize there's more unification within the universe than there is duality. That's what we're trying to point. It’s high level. Some people are ready, and those people will gravitate and be like, “Wow, I think Chad and Dave are operating on a bit more than meets the eye.” For those people, we can give them a wink or a smile or a new record, and they'll get it and they'll be there. Some people, they just like the song, and that's it. And that's fucking fine. It doesn't need to be more than that for them.

You’re the co-founder of a recovery center in Austin. Does your career crossover with your work there?
We don't promote what I do as a producer, because I just don't think it's healthy. You're not in the best place If you're in a rehab and your life has gone to such a level with drug addiction that you're essentially in a mental hospital. It's not the best time to talk about how one of the co-founders and co-investors is this DJ.

With my sponsees and people in sobriety, I'm there at in that regard first and foremost. If there's a side conversation after the meeting and they ask me about [what I do as a producer], then there's a conversation. The people who I sponsor ultimately all find out, and a lot of them become fans. A lot of them, when they're ready, end up coming to shows. I have to be careful, because my role in their life at that point isn't to be a rock star. I'm not there to impress them. I'm there to work with them on making sure they're doing things in their life that promote sobriety. It may not be the best decision, six weeks sober, to go to a nightclub.

Proceeds from your new album are benefiting the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Why did you choose that cause?
Mental wellness and wellbeing, and just wellness in general, is a subject Dave and I are both passionate about. I mean, life is hard dude. Life is crazy. The world is nuts, and taking care of yourself is important. We want to be beacons of light in a world that can sometimes be dark and dreary.