Interview: Troy & Jon on Anything Near Water

Chokebore's second album Anything Near Water turned twenty in March 2015. To mark the occasion, we've asked singer/songwriter Troy Von Balthazar and guitarist Jonathan Kroll to look back on the album and the times when these songs were written, recorded, and performed.

When were the songs for the album written? In which places, in which situations?

Troy: From what I can remember, all of the songs for Anything Near Water were written while we were on the road touring. We did a lot of tours for the album before (Motionless) and had time backstage and between sound checks. We were moving almost constantly and really enjoying it all. I remember writing lyrics lying in the back of our little white tour van watching America speed past outside the little windows.

Jon: For the most part the writing was done in L.A., if I remember correctly, that was when we were sharing a practice space with friends in the city of Vernon, a warehouse, meatpacking, industrial area a bit south of downtown L.A. In between touring, we were just going in to write and practice, pretty much every day, and we would all work on ideas at home individually as well and bring them in to work out together.

Which state of mind were you and the rest of the band in when you made that record? Did you feel a lot of expectation from your label or from fans, or even from yourselves, to follow-up on Motionless?

Troy: We felt good. I don't think any of us felt any pressure from the outside world to do anything in particular. We were all just happy to be a touring band with the chance to make another album on a really fun label. It was a great time. We had no idea what we were doing but just having a chance to play concerts and record music was the best thing in the world.

Jon: We didn't experience any pressure from AmRep, Haze trusted us with what we were up to. We just wanted to make a record we felt good about, and I suppose that was our own particular sense of "good" which took shape, rather organically through the synthesis of our various interests, writing, and playing styles. There wasn't any preconception, other than we could conceive of it as a collection of music, an album… Which I think is fun, and exciting, writing music that you know is going to be released… you are making an LP. It made the song writing process very nice, they (the songs) had a place to go.

The album was recorded with the assistance of Biff Sanders at Motiv Studio in Los Angeles. How did the recording go? How long did it take?

Troy: I remember driving over there each day being really excited and happy. It felt good. I thought we had some good songs. The studio was really just a home studio. It was Biff Sanders' loft apartment but he had some nice gear and he knew what he was doing so we trusted him. We would go downstairs between songs and order big burritos at the Mexican food truck. I think they were $3 and they were so big you didn't have to eat anything else for the rest of the day or night.

Jon: We chose Biff for several reasons: we had worked with him on various prior recordings, we got along well, and liked his studio. I can't remember how long it took to do the record, but it was pretty much the right amount of time. Motionless was very quick, six, maybe seven days for recording and mastering. For the next record we were in L.A., where we lived, so we could take a bit more time, but we didn't drag out the process either, we had a schedule and stuck to it. We just had a bit more breathing room, a bit more space for experimentation and play.

Can you explain the album's title and the meaning it had for you and the rest of the band at the time?

Troy: A friend of ours was saying "If you can ever bring a girl to a lake you have a better chance of kissing." I remember writing down that basic idea and later, when we were thinking about album titles I suggested it. It kind of fit our music. Much of the words are water inspired.

Jon: It was something Paul Sanders from Hammerhead said when we were on tour together, I don't know that he would remember it… We were touring for Motionless and working on the next record, but didn't have a title. I guess we liked it, I can't speak for the rest of the band… I suppose that it's somewhat evocative, but also vague, as it's severed from the context of the conversation. Everyone has strong and different connections to water. I've always liked to be near water, but I guess many people do… not so odd. Usually the names are the last thing, there is either a working title, that mutates, or sticks or is thrown out, or someone just proposes something and if we all think, "okay…" And that's just for song titles, with an album we are trying to find something that works for the collection of songs as a body, even if the albums don't have a theme, they do perhaps have a mood, or there is perhaps something that fits with where we are at.

Was the release of the record a special day? Was it marked by a show or a party?

Troy: It was such a blur back then of touring and writing and we never took the day as a special day or had a record release party (maybe we should have).

Jon: I don't know what we did when it was released, I would imagine we celebrated it in some sort of way, even if it was rather simple, but I can't remember. It seems like it was in the middle of so much chaos, so much movement.

How was the tour that followed, and which eventually led up to A Taste for Bitters?

Troy: Those years were all really a blur of endless touring. It was great. We were getting better musically and trying new things. Meeting lots of people and really playing crazy shows. We played hard every night even when there was no one there. I remember playing somewhere on the East Coast of America one night. There was only one person at the venue with his dog. I think that was our best show. It was magic for me. I'll never forget it.

Jon: Yea, I guess we played a lot of shows around that time and got to play with some nice bands… I suppose we were enjoying being able to do what we had been wanting to do; make records, travel around and play our music… but we were also making hardly any money, and it's quite exhausting and can be boring too, it takes a toll, but, not to complain, it can be quite exhilarating and strange, you're really just sort of in a different space of sorts when you're moving all the time, almost always in nightclubs, or a van, and when you're back home, you're still kind of out of what's going on there.

Any things you would have done differently 20 years later? How did you imagine Chokebore's future at the time?

Troy: No. I wouldn't have done anything different. I know Chokebore did what it should have done. We made some good and honest music. It was never for one second compromised. We met some people at different times that could have possibly made us more successful but it always seemed that those people were not really listening to the music. They just wanted to make money. The music was more important for us. We never made any money with Chokebore and I don't regret that choice at all.

Jon: Last things first, I can't remember where I saw the band "in the future"… I think. I wanted to try to leave behind some good records. Just trying to make stuff I thought was interesting, and letting the band evolve with time. We really didn't try to appeal to radio, or whatever, we just did what we thought sounded right. I'm sure we've made countless bad decisions, I don't know how I should select one, but in regard to Anything Near Water I think I am pretty satisfied with it… it is a record, a record of where we were at, at that time.

Do you have some favorite tracks on that record?

Troy: Maybe "Bad Things": James wrote the music and it's just a really good pop song. Also "Cleaner": Jon wrote the music to that one. It's a good one. And I really like the "Dust" at the beginning and end, that was the seed for a lot of what we did next in A Taste for Bitters.

Jon: It's hard to say, I don't usually have favorite songs from our LPs, I focus on different tunes at different times… But, maybe, I would say it's nice… something like "Wash", maybe has a casualness that was new (for us) on this record, and maybe it appears on some of the other songs, but probably more clearly on this tune, if that makes any sense.

Are there any songs that you "rediscovered" when you played the record almost entirely during the 20th anniversary tour last year?

Troy: All of them. I don't listen to Chokebore or my own music usually. It was fun to hear them again though. Strange, but fun.

Jon: For some of the songs that I hadn't played in a long time, I had to listen to figure out exactly what I was doing, and that could be difficult when we use our sort of vocabulary of goofy chordings… So not so much rediscover but actually work a few out… But once that was taken care of, it was quite fun to play these things, and a song like "Well Fed", I don't remember if we played that when we originally toured for Anything Near Water, and "JJ Slow", and "Strangely Folded", we hadn't played either for quite a while, so it was fun to play.

Simon B. & Florent (June/July 2015)