DIY Artist of the Week: Chicago Musician Esta Vivo

esta-vivo It wasn’t a surprise that starting up the DIY Artist of the Week series would generate interests in the artists featured. The first DIY Artist of the Week for 2012 was 20-year-old Florida lo-fi musician, singer and songwriter Thad Kopec. His profile on IRC got a pretty strong, positive reaction from listeners.

The second Artist of the Week, Ronnie Slogun, didn’t get the same degree of love as Kopec has, but Slogun’s self-recorded and self-released tracks did still manage to drum up kudos from folks who enjoyed his music – again keeping in mind these are young DIY musicians.

This week the spotlight turns to Chicago solo musician and singer/songwriter Ryan McMahon, who releases music under the moniker of Esta Vivo, and like Thopec, is only 20 years old. His work, all DIY to this point (with some very small indie label involvement), has gradually been receiving more recognition with each song he puts on SoundCloud and Bandcamp. However, we actually first heard Esta Vivo after he submitted some tracks via the IRC music submission form.

Esta Vivo, which means “is alive” in Espanol, sent us that new single, along with a couple of others that we’ve included below. McMahon’s music is a terrific mix of styles, including tropical, pop, folk, and new wave – with plenty of songs that are ripe for lazying on the beach, by the pool and summer playlists.

McMahon was previously in the electronica band Bearries which he toured with in 2008 and 2009 during his late teens, opening for artists such as Justice, So-Me, Bloody Beetroots, Danger, Don Rimini, Yelle, and Acid Girls. When Bearries dissolved, McMahon went his own way to create Esta Vivo.

One of his newest tracks, “Smile Back,” released May 4th via his Bandcamp page, is the first single off a planned album release, which McMahon desires to release on his own if he’s not able to find a record label. We think he has a good chance to get picked up by a label, but he may also want to consider Kickstarter to raise money to master and release the album on his own.

“Smile Back”Esta Vivo from single

His melodic, tropical pop sounds, including the use of xylophone, on “Smile Back,” got our attention right away, and which we have spun numerous times in recent weeks. As he wrote on his LastFM page, “I use everything and anything as an influence leaving myself with no limitations to encounter. While mostly writing folk/tropical type tunes, I ultimately just create by feeling and what comes out is what comes out. If I can guarantee one thing about my art it’s that it will always remain unattached, open, and free-spirited.”

Some of his earlier songs, like “We Do The Skies” and “African Run,” from the self-released album Split, dropped in late 2011, demonstrate McMahon’s terrific talents in composing sunny, upbeat and memorable compositions all on his own. Split is available via Esta Vivo’s Bandcamp page on a name your price basis. We can only hope that music lovers will pay what they can to encourage artists like McMahon to remain DIY and keep putting out terrific music that you’ll never hear on the radio or MTV.

“We Do The Skies”Esta Vivo from Split

“African Run”Esta Vivo from Split

It’s something when a band puts out stand-out music, but when one guy does every aspect – from the songwriting and instrument playing to the recording and mixing it all together by himself – it’s nothing short of amazing.

Little by little, we are getting to hear more of Esta Vivo’s terrific talent manifest itself, as he reveals more songs from his upcoming album release. As a follow up to the release of “Smile Back,” McMahon released his latest single, “Sweet Tooth,” on June 12th, under the Esta Vivo alias. The track is a departure from his more sunny, upbeat songs, with a darker, lo-fi electronic intensity.

“Sweet Tooth”Esta Vivo from TBD

McMahon described his songwriting process, telling IRC that he usually begins with a melody, but rarely starts out a song on an instrument. Although he does the majority of the tracking and mixing himself, McMahon says he has a collective of music-loving friends who help out and play with him live, even though he is considered a solo artist.

“After I have a pretty good understanding of it set, I’ll start figuring out the melodies on the instruments I use in the arrangement.” The instruments, he said, include guitars, bass, drums, pianos, xylophones, violins, congas, shakers, bells, trumpets, synths, and midis.


“Once it’s all worked out I usually sit on it [for] a while and try out different variations and ways to play it until I finally choose the one that stands out to me,” McMahon said. “From there, I record in basements, forests, bedrooms, etc. Really wherever I can go that specific day haha. Some songs I track all the instruments myself with the occasion of having a friend do a bass line or guitar.”

McMahon has opened for a number of bands, including My Brother, She’s My Sister and Radiation City. Among his top musical influence include artists like Devendra Banhart, Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Vetiver, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Nina Simone, The Zombies, Vashti Bunyan, Edward Sharpe, and The Flaming Lips, among others.

Esta Vivo Bandcamp Page

Esta Vivo on Soundcloud

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