Talking with NYC guitarist Marcus Machado is like catching up with someone you’ve known for ten years. Marcus Machado partnered with Soul Step Records this May to release his most recent album, Blue Diamonds, on vinyl. He first partnered with Soul Step for his debut album, Aquarius Purple, in 2021. Both albums have been an enormous success for vinyl sales and in the realm of guitar, R&B, funk, hip-hop, and jazz fans. This year, Marcus has played Jazz Fest, featured his music in an E! special, and collaborated with many artists in the industry. We sat down with Marcus Machado to discuss everything from his Prince influence, his vinyl collection, and his new album, Blue Diamonds.
Interview with Marcus Machado
PDLR: I love your debut Aquarius Purple and your recent release, Blue Diamonds, especially on vinyl. Can you talk about the backstory of those albums?
Marcus Machado: “The story with Aquarius Purple is that the album was eight years in the making because back in 2008-2009, I was living in Amsterdam for a couple of years. I had so many songs recorded for Aquarius Purple. Then around 2017, a friend of mine reached out to me about doing a score for a short film. I never had that opportunity before, so I recorded some songs for the film and had the idea to turn them into a soundtrack album. That’s where the concept of Blue Diamonds originated.
I brought in a lot of different musicians for Blue Diamonds. There’s a strings section, bass players, and drummers, and we recorded it all in one room. Once I recorded those songs, Blue Diamonds was finished in 2017. It was initially going to be my debut album. I hesitated when the pandemic happened because it was linked to the short film and a soundtrack album. Blue Diamonds was produced more, like the Super Fly soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield. It has a real 70s type of vibe. I realized I wanted to finish Aquarius Purple since it was more guitar-driven and felt like a debut album.”
Marcus Machado on Blue Diamonds
PDLR: What inspired the name of the new album, Blue Diamonds?
Marcus Machado: “It was just the name of the short film Blue Diamonds. I wondered if it should be called something else or if I should call it, ‘The Soundtrack to Blue Diamonds,’ but it just fit the whole approach.”
PDLR: You collaborated with many people on Blue Diamonds, like Brian Owens and Jermaine Holmes, and mentioned other instrumentalists and collaborators. Can you talk about that experience?
Marcus Machado: “Jermaine Holmes was the background vocalist for D’Angelo and The Vanguard. Sandra St. Victor is like my second mom. She’s the legendary singer from The Family Stand. They had their hit song called “Ghetto Heaven.” She collaborated with Chaka Khan and worked with Prince on the Emancipation album. Sandra is the only person he credited in the album notes, “Beautiful lyric by Sandra. Speaking 2 the heart…reflections live 4ever in mirrors.” I also worked with Miguel Atwood Ferguson, an incredible conductor and orchestra player. He does all the work that you hear from Flying Lotus. There are so many incredible musicians on this album, James Biscuit Rouse (drummer), Lez Lemon (bassist), and songs featuring Brian Owens, Kennedy, Rojo Lavoe, and TFox.”
PDLR: So far, I’ve pulled out “I Can’t Lose” ft. Jermaine Holmes and “Stop” ft. Brian Owens as the songs that caught my ear. Did you have any favorite songs during the writing process?
Marcus Machado: “It’s funny that you mention “I Can’t Lose” because that was the first song I started for this project. The film has a part with a funeral scene, and they wanted something bluesy but soulful. Immediately those chords and that melody started coming to me, and “I Can’t Lose” was written to music. I wrote it in about ten minutes. I sent it to Jermaine, and he came up with its whole concept. He made it like an anthem. Whatever it is that you’re going through, you can’t lose.
One of my favorite songs is “Pass Me By” ft. TFox, which just came out. I love “Thinking” ft. Miguel Atwood Ferguson. “Dig” is another favorite because I was able to be in the studio and experiment with different guitars, which I wasn’t able to do with Aquarius Purple. At the end of “Dig,” the engineer accidentally hit a button on the console, and the track immediately slowed down. I wanted to keep it in because it was interesting at the end, even though it was an accident. This album has a wide range of experimentation I hadn’t done on the previous record.”
Marcus Chats About Vinyl & Soul Step Records
PDLR: Did you collect vinyl when you were younger, and do you have a current collection?
Marcus Machado: “I’ve always been a big vinyl collector, vinyl head, and being young, my mom had a crazy collection. She influenced me in all the different genres. In our house, it was Earth, Wind & Fire, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, and John Denver. As I got older and into my favorite music, collecting and listening to vinyl was natural. I’m an 80s baby, seeing music evolve from cassette, CD, to digital. I loved going to the store and purchasing music.
A lot of my collection is in Amsterdam. When I was there, I was able to go to London and Germany, and some of the records they have there, we can’t get here. Even my grandmother has a crazy vinyl collection. My collection is spread out, and it’s something that has always been in the family.”
“Sometimes your music can get lost if you don’t have the right people, but it’s a perfect match once you find the right ones.”
PDLR: When and how did you team up with Soul Step for your first release?
Marcus Machado: “Naturally, when it came time to make my records, I knew it would go on vinyl. When I put out new music, I want to be strategic and not have it become old in a week. I want to try to change the narrative and put out good music but put it out on vinyl.
Once I had my music recorded, before partnering with Soul Step, I wanted to find a good company that understands what I do and my overall vision. At Soul Step, with Melvin and everyone involved, it’s a perfect match. They cater to the artist and understand the vision. They know the way to put it out and make it unique. Melvin reached out to me, and I told him I already had two albums, but I wanted to get them on vinyl. We decided on Aquarius Purple, and I felt good about these projects. He introduced me to the whole world of Wax Mage (exclusive vinyl variants) and their psychedelic artwork, which is up my alley. Sometimes your music can get lost if you don’t have the right people, but it’s a perfect match once you find the right ones.
When Aquarius Purple came out, I worried people wouldn’t buy vinyl because of the pandemic. It actually worked as a domino effect because people were taking the time to sit down and listen to records. When we launched the vinyl, the Wax Mage sold out in about 50 seconds, which surprised me because it was my debut album and my first vinyl release.”
PDLR: I like the concept of releasing an album on vinyl first, like you recently did for Blue Diamonds. I think it’s interesting to forego listening to the digital album and instead purchase the record on vinyl like you would when you were younger. You’re going to get a better experience than on Spotify.
Marcus Machado: “If you’re a fan of a certain artist, getting their new record on vinyl is such a surprise. You have to listen to all the songs to find your favorites without skipping through. With streaming, it’s fast consuming and skipping through the songs. If I would release Blue Diamonds on digital tomorrow, I know most people will skip through without listening to it all the way through. I feel it’s better to listen to the whole thing, and then you can start dissecting the details and pick out your favorite songs. So, whenever I put out my music, it will always be the vinyl first. It’s the whole experience, seeing the cover, holding the album, etc. The more music I put out, the more intricate I want to get with the vinyl aspect.”
Marcus Machado on Prince Influence
PDLR: Today is Prince Day, 6/7/2023, so I wanted to ask you if you have a favorite moment, song, or memory of Prince, something that impacted you when you were younger.
Marcus Machado: “Yeah, of course! My major influences are Jimi, and then it’s Prince, then everybody else. Prince is by far a massive influence on everything that I do. I have two standout memories of Prince. As a kid, my mom had Purple Rain, Dirty Mind, and Sign “☮︎” the Times. My favorite Prince eras are Dirty Mind and Sign “☮︎” the Times. My mom would play that record like every day.
When I was younger, around 1992, I was maybe ten years old, and I got asked to play at his club Glam Slam. They wanted me to open up for Alexander O’Neal and said Prince would attend. I don’t know how my mom set this up, but there’s a contract somewhere for Glam Slam that says “Prince” and has me opening for Alexander O’Neal. I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t actually end up happening due to a schedule conflict, but I was so close.
The second memory was in 2014. Rolling Stone named me the next upcoming guitarist, the “Next Young Gun.” So in the interview, they asked me some of my favorite artists, and this was 2014; of course, Prince was #1 on the list. When the article came out, somehow, he got wind of it. One day in 2015, or the beginning of 2016, I got a notification from HIM on Twitter. The tweet said, “Meet Marcus,” and it had the link to my interview. I didn’t believe it then and thought Prince wasn’t on Twitter or social media. So I shrugged it off, thinking it was someone with a fake account. I took a screenshot and saved it.
Then in 2016, I felt like more of his people were coming around, and I thought maybe I’d get to meet him by the end of the year. I wanted to play him the song “Her” from Aquarius Purple because he inspired that song. Then, unfortunately, he passed, so I never had the chance to meet or see him in concert.
About two months after he passed, we got a random call to do a popup show in Minneapolis. It was me and Jamie Lidell, an incredible artist from the UK. During the show, I noticed someone in the audience who looked familiar; she had long hair on one side with it shaved on the other. I met her after and realized it was guitarist Donna Grantis from 3RDEYEGIRL, one of Prince’s last groups he played with. She set it up for me to go to Paisley Park to see what it looked like back then, the way Prince left it.”
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PDLR: You recently played Jazz Fest in NOLA with Jon Batiste. What was that like?
Marcus Machado: “Jazz Fest was really special this year. It was the first time they had the festival since the pandemic. During the day, I rehearsed with Jon Batiste and then played at least two shows a night that week. It’s always fun being in NOLA and hearing all the great music.”
PDLR: Do you have any upcoming shows or festivals?
Marcus Machado: “Yeah! This summer is going to be busy with shows. I’m going to Europe in July, so I’m looking forward to that.”
PDLR: Anything else you are looking forward to in 2023?
Marcus Machado: “There are a lot of things coming soon that I’m excited about. One is a series called Black Pop. It’s a 4-part series that aired on E! June 19th & 20th. I had the honor of doing the music score for the series. Black Pop is about black culture, where they talk about everything from music, sports, film, and television. It’s executive produced by Stephen Curry.”
“The next album will be something else to contrast the first two. I try not to make the same type of music with each album. Making three different Aquarius Purple albums would be easy, but I want each album to stand for itself and evolve.”