Stage Presence: Tritonal's Dedication to Living in the Now
By Johnny Scifo
Chad Cisneros and Dave Reed are dance music's leading examples of being present in every moment of life. As the DJ duo Tritonal, they dominate the largest dance festival stages in the country with their high-energy sound and unparalleled stage presence. Balancing ten years of careers with family life and owning the record label Enhanced, they maintain their demanding schedules through discipline, self-care, and sobriety. I had an opportunity to interview them after a VIP set on Sirius XM radio at Rockafeller Center, which I jumped on as a fan and former DJ myself! Relating first on musical terms but sensing a deeper connection, it was not long until they began to discuss synesthesia, meditation, sponsorship, what it means to be great leaders and how to stay in awareness.
JS: Let's start with how you guys met.
Dave: We actually met online. We were both producing beats from across the country, and met on a forum about a synthesizer that had all these bugs. People would jump on there, figuring out how to fix it and share beats, and we did that - and then, “Oh, we should do a collaboration!” To cut a long story short, that one collaboration we ended up doing led to 200 - 250+ songs now.
Chad: Yeah! Ten years of music.
Dave: It’s crazy. We met in the MySpace days.
Chad: We became friends online for, if you want to think about as "the courting period", I guess eight months, maybe nine months. We were just [chatting] every day, all day about songs, or we would listen to radio shows together — dance shows like Armin van Buuren’s A State of Trance, Above and Beyond, and different acts that we thought were in the lane of what we wanted to do.
JS: I became familiar with you guys during the trance days, but I feel like your music has changed over time.
Chad: It has significantly. One thing about [trance] music that we haven't lost — and I don't think we ever will, because it's just what we get out of music is — one, the emotionality, and two, the melodic nature of it. We have, and continue to incorporate that sort of healing — just an embracing sort of vibe. The last record we just played on Sirius XM, it's called Diamonds and it's far from formulaic trance being 138 [beats per minute], four to the floor. It's very much like a 150 BPM broken beat. It sounds 2019, but the chords and the progressions, the use of piano, pads, strings and little plucks — stuff like that — that’s all taken from our lessons and our journey through that music in the beginning.
JS: Is there anything about your music that you would love people to appreciate more, the music nerd kind of stuff? Are you doing anything with frequencies or specific chords?
Dave: In terms of tuning to 432 Hz? I mean that is something we've talked about...
JS: I've messed around with it, and it's pretty shocking, but I don't know why.
Chad: It's a completely different set [of] harmonics; they're not as dissonant. So you get side bands that are super, super harmonic. That said, it's a different scale — it doesn't relax the same. At the end of the day, you could talk about all that stuff and theorize about it but I would forget about all of it! When you hear a chord progression or a hook or a melody, the first thing you need to ask yourself is, does this move me? You don't always need to try to analyze it and break it down as to why. I think more importantly you need to just go into that, search that and pursue it. You can get really heady, objectifying the experience to a degree, putting all these mental attachments on something that should just be felt, as opposed to thought about. And Dave - he's a lot better at piano than I am, and we know some theory, but we're ear taught, and we just trust our instincts. We're not from Berklee College of Music, with tons of theory. We didn't cut our teeth on composition. We threw ourselves as kids into trance and learned how to make that [music] first, and then we explored other things.
Dave: I agree with everything that he said, but if you want to break it down to elements within a track, you said, “Well, is there anything within a song that you feel you want people to hear more of?” Correct?
JS: Yes, or something specific listeners may appreciate more.
Dave: We spend a lot of time in sound — at least back when we were doing trance, and even some now; we spend a lot of time in developing sound and a lot of what we call "ear candy." It sits in the back harmonically to support a record. Some of it's just so enjoyable to listen to [alone]. It's just kind of peaceful. It’s fun. It's the fun part, to me.
Chad: It’s a listening experience. What you find with all the little candy is that, in a live setting or on the radio, it can kind of get lost in translation because most listeners want to hear a distinct, succinct melody.
JS: That's why I was curious because I feel like one of the parallels between sound healing and dance music right now is that we search for, say, a frequency, or certain scale. But you guys are looking for a unique sound, something that's going to get in your ear.
Chad: Yeah, a little earworm - but also a feeling! What are the chords doing, and why do they make you feel that way? I think that's primary.
JS: Do you think the chords are the narrative?
Chad: I think they set [the tone]. It's like a room — it's the paint on the wall. Is it a bright red room — major pop? Or is it nice and grey with soft lighting? It's kind of the mood, man. And then you build everything on top of it.
Dave: It’s a synesthesia happening right now.
JS: I was going to ask! Are you guys are familiar with synesthesia?
Chad: We both have it.
JS: You do! I noticed because I have it too — I see colors at high volume of sound - and both of you seem to dance with your hands to rhythms that are not in the music. There are certain moments that I noticed, because I was outside of the [VIP] box, that you're hearing and feeling more than just what's coming through the speakers, and that’s translated to the audience.
Chad: Well yeah! Everybody in there has an energetic vibration. So every human being in that room is putting off an entirely different vibe. Me, more than anything, I was trying to curate feelings for people that were right there, that I've never met. What's hard about a setting like [the live room at the radio station], you immediately have to try to create a personal connection while music is playing, without talking. That requires you to be confident enough to look the audience in the eyes and have peace and awareness in yourself — where you're okay with your own things, and you're not judging them. You allow the space for something to happen. It's hard because you're thrown in a cold room, you know what I mean? And you're like, go!
JS: You guys are always on the go — on the road all the time, balancing your record label, personal music careers, and families with children. Do you have any good habits — special rituals or things that you do on the road that really help you maintain balance?
Chad: Meditation, if you want to call it a ritual. It's a spiritual discipline to me, because it happens on tour and off tour. I really notice if I'm out of sync. I'm disciplined in that I'm not perfect at it, and I'm striving to be better. And exercise with the breath - finding that sort of mind/heart or mind/body connection through breath happens in physical exertion whether you know it or not. When you're physically exerted, you're forced to focus on noticing breath, because you’re out of breath, you don't have breath. So physical exertion — whether it is yoga in slow form or high intensity interval training classes — I love that. It's probably a bit abusive. But there's something, there's a fire in me that enjoys that. It's usually those classes, those HIIT classes, or those body attack classes that are always set to music. There's a rhythm. There's a synchronicity that happens in the class. You're also in a class doing movements and things on time with other people. So, there's unity in that experience. You're all kind of going through hell together in time. And there's something, when you're done, you're just like, "Wow, f**k, that was good!"
And I think it's worth mentioning that, you know, we don't really — I don't anyway, but Dave doesn't really either, — we don't drink alcohol when we play. And I don't think you would call that a ritual. I just think you would call it a lifestyle. That lifestyle allows us to regain strength faster when we're home on Sunday night. Mondays are hard, but I think if we were getting wasted all weekend, Monday would be impossible, and even Tuesday maybe, and you're always setting yourself back to have to try to get back on form. I know those are basic things, but some things are easy to say and are disciplined when you practice, to show up every day. Twenty minutes in the morning, 20 minutes at night [for meditation], and do that consistently over 365 days, workout five days a week, try to eat healthy, don't drink. It is a discipline.
Dave: I will say in terms of a ritual or habits, I like to have a transitional period from when we're done playing to when we actually go home. That transitional period for me ironically enough, is often on a plane because I tend to fly out a lot earlier just to get back. It's funny that you mentioned 432 Hz; I’ll listen to that on Spotify or something like it, just literally ambient. I've listened to jungle noise for three hours. It’s super therapeutic. It's getting out of the crazy noise and everything that you've done — you're on a plane full of random people that don't even care, you can just zone out there, and by the time you land and you're about ready to jump — I call it "agenda jumping," jump into dad mode or jump into the next thing, you’re ready. You’re transitioned. And for me that helps.
JS: Has sobriety always been part of your discipline?
Chad: For 13 years now, I have been sober. So, as long as I have been a professional artist, I've been sober. I’ve been sober my entire marriage, and I've been sober as a father the entire time, which is only 3 1⁄2 years, but my marriage is eleven, and Carolyn and I dated all the way back from when I was fifteen. She's been with me when it was really fun to experiment and explore psychedelics. I had some really paradigm-shifting, amazing psychedelic experiences early on that were beautiful and spiritual on so many levels. I don't think at the time at 15/16 years old I was mature enough to integrate those experiences into where I was, and that portion of my life, but I would never take those back. Carol's been with me from that, through when things got dark, through sobriety, all the way up to now. The healing and revelation in our relationship, it's been beautiful to be able to go through something like that with somebody and arrive on the other side without that relationship fracturing to the point to where it has to be a complete amendment or separation. I think that happens all the time in marriages, divorce and relationships, people become highly addicted to either alcohol, drugs, pornography or spending money on gambling, and those relations, it just gets to a point to where it's no longer mendable. It's no longer able to be healed.
JS: But you are a healer, establishing a recovery center in your hometown of Austin, Texas.
Chad: Infinite Recovery [Rehabilitation Center] was natural. I sponsored the CEO of the company, Michael Dadashi, for about six years. We worked the steps and he got sober, he got on fire, started sponsoring guys and I became their grand sponsor. I watched Michael take off from refurbishing cell phones in a warehouse with 25-50 employees in recovery, to within five years, having one of the United States top 50 most profitable small business companies! Infinite Recovery has expanded to have a full detox center with two full time medical doctors and five nurse practitioners now, with 30 beds. It started at 15. And there are five sober living homes and a community center. So, there's inpatient/outpatient treatment, there's detox, there's aftercare with the sober living homes. So, there's a full line of recovery, which is awesome. There's a yoga studio that they've started. Michael's wife is a yogi and they do classes at the community center.
"We try to communicate with our fans with more love and in passing, allow them to see the light coming through us from our actions and our words and our deeds..."
JS: Can we replace the mantra, “sex, drugs, and rock and roll?”
Chad: I don't think you need to think about it like that. I think you just need to be who you are, and allow people to resonate with that, and work with it or not. Some people want to go experience the things that you just said, and I think that they [may] very well need to go experience those things. I don't think that suppression is the answer. We try to communicate with our fans with more love and in passing, allow them to see the light coming through us from our actions and our words and our deeds without trying to be like — and I don't think that you meant this — but without trying to be preachy, or “You need to change your life!” You know what I mean? How do I know that they need to change their life? Maybe the thing that they're doing will lead to something in this lifetime or the next, and this is exactly the path that they should be on.
I used to be more like that, especially when I was early in recovery. Because I had such a revolution within me, I wanted everyone to f**king know what that was like and about. At meetings and in passing, I think I was probably judgey because I knew how dark it was, “sex, drugs and rock and roll.” I knew the loneliness. I knew the fear. I knew the f**kin anxiety. I knew all the angst and “isms” that come with that lifestyle. But people need to experience their own experiences and they need to see you for what you are, and be drawn to you, as opposed to being told. It’s like when we are kids, dude. How many times did our parents tell us sh*t? We did the exact opposite. Like, literally.
So people want to know for themselves. Is this real? Are you real? I think they see through it, too. More importantly, it's about leading with beingness and awareness, and consciousness, and trying to be aware of the awareness, man. I wouldn't try to replace a motto with another motto and be like, this is our motto. I don't know. Breathe in, breathe out? But I wouldn't put that online and be all, “Replace sex drugs rock and roll” with “Breathe in, breath out.” [LAUGHTER] People will be like, that's kooky and corny, and you're weird. You know what I mean? I think they would judge it because they would feel judged.
JS: In the yoga community we have a bunch of musicians who were touring professionals and they were in drugs, sex and rock and roll before yoga became their path.
Chad: That's awesome. But the moment that they go out and tell somebody else who's not on that path, that [audience] might take it differently. The best example is how they're living their life. Are they happy? Are they joyous? Are they free? Are they loving? Do you want to be around them? Is there an energy around them that's intoxicating, that makes you want to hang out with them? Leading like that is the example. You want to be around somebody like that. When you're around somebody who has that kind of energy, you gravitate to it, if that's your path. I love that, man. And we may be there. I mean, it seems like we're leading there!
JS: Is there any advice that you would like to offer, as a DJ, sponsor, or a spiritual advisor, that you don't get to say into a microphone during the show, but you really want the fans and others to know?
Chad: Love one another, treat one another well. Beyond that I feel like most people [still] identify with their body and their thoughts and their relationships and their psychological past and future. They identify with mind. Most people identify with their mind all the time. And I think what enlightenment is, if you can put it into words, is being the beingness, or being the watcher, being the awareness in the inner stillness and the presence behind the thoughts, behind the feelings. And that's why meditation is so good, because it brings you in touch with the now. It sounds simple, when you say, get present with the now. But they're still some mind identified that they're just listening to their thoughts. That they're not really experiencing the now as, "Whoa, I'm the one life that pervades all lives."
"Are they happy? Are they joyous? Are they free? Are they loving? Do you want to be around them? Is there an energy around them that's intoxicating, that makes you want to hang out with them? Leading like that is the example. You want to be around somebody like that. "
When you understand yourself as that, and as Source, and as a portion of Source, when you understand that you are the creator, creating along with every other creator, co-creatively, then love and peace and stillness flows through that naturally. I've experienced it but then ego grabs back on, “What about this? What about that?” And that’s what meditation is. That's what the path towards enlightenment is - it's trying to watch that happen. You separate from ego; then the mind grabs back, and separate from ego, and mind grabs back. That's where I am in my spiritual journey right now, is this sort of tug and pull of awaken, asleep, awaken, asleep.
I feel like since my awakening, since I realized that I'm in that flow, there's so much more excitement and love and joy and peace on what really matters, because what really matters is nothing. The point of life — there is no point of life except to be! And that's what’s so simple. The only point of life is to be and experience life. It's not to do. Stella, my little three-year-old girl, she's already getting these stupid questions of a little kid, and I hate it! I redirect it all the time because it's on little TV shows. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I have to say, you already are! You are going to do things, that's cool. But let's not connect being with doing, because that's unconsciousness. You're associating what you do with who you are. It has nothing to do who you really are when you understand that you’re the awareness and the stillness and inner peace, and the consciousness behind the form and mind. And that's a lot to say online to fans. You can’t. I mean, you can’t. You can put up little quotes, but they don't get it. They’re just like, “You’re weird.”
"I think you just need to be who you are, and allow people to resonate with that, and work with it or not."
Dave: I guess the only thing I can add on to that is I don't feel like there's anything to learn from ego. I have not learned anything good from ego. I feel like, just as Chad said, just being or existing, and really not even tapping into ego at all — you learn a lot more and you're open to a lot more. You are more accessible to your own emotions without the attachment of having any sort of egotistical viewpoint. And that, to me, resonates a lot because I'm able to adapt and learn and tap into someone emotionally. Read them, be more sensitive. I've been doing this for a while, maybe because my type of personality is very passive, and I have my own struggles with it, but I acknowledge the fact that ego does not teach me anything good. Maybe it's different for other people. The only thing for me is that I'd rather just learn and exist.
JS: If you guys ever do that an event like Above and Beyond with Elena Brower, will you call me?
Dave and Chad: [In unison] Yes!
[HIGH FIVES ALL AROUND]
Tritonal are currently on tour in the US, and their newest album, U&ME, releases June 14th. Enjoy their music and positive vibes at Tritonalmusic.com.