Matadors in a Land of Bullet-Laden Cars and Suicidal German Farmers

"Yeah we played a show with Sinead O'Connor and Asian Dub Foundation in a bull fighting ring, which was one of the coolest venues we ever played,"
Bassist A Frank G.

"And the dressing rooms were the same ones that the matadors used - there were pictures of them all on the walls - it was great."
Vocalist / guitarist Troy Bruno Von Balthazar

So these matadors known as Chokebore are about to embark on their first U.S. tour since late 95'. Starting in September, this tour will take Chokebore to the east coast and back, coinciding with the U.S. release of their fourth full length album entitled Black Black. Released in February of 98 in Europe, Black Black has already received much critical acclaim. Critics sometimes compare the songwriting craftsmanship on Black Black to that of the much revered Slint album Spiderland.

Bullfighting reminisces and coffee flowed for my brief encounter with the four men that make up the group Chokebore at a diner in Los Angeles, the city they've called home since 92, a city within a state within a country that hasn't really seemed to acknowledge the band, at least not with the same enthusiasm they've received overseas. And as the ketchup is poured on the fries that have been ordered, Troy is quick to explain, "It's all about how we want to spend our time and do the music and for us, over the last several years, we chose to spend it all over in Europe."

So the point is made that Chokebore just really hasn't given time to touring or promoting themselves in America over the last few years. Now with the Olympia, WA. based label Punk iN My Vitamins releasing Black Black, as well as a double seven inch this September, the U.S. will once again have a chance to embrace Chokebore's own brand of rock music.

The decision to go with Punk iN My Vitamins was a simple one says Troy, "They are interested in trying different things and they are really into the record... it's nice to work with a record company that is really into our music." "We don't have any pressures now, sure we never should have but being on Amphetamine Reptile records you know, everyone was fast. We were around fast music and we also played fast music, but we don't care anymore, we have nothing to lose," Troy explains when the point was brought up that some fans of Chokebore's first three albums have given the band some heat for bringing the tempo down a bit on Black Black. "If the songs end up slow then they're slow, if they end up fast then they're fast. We're just trying to write good songs, that's all. And if you try to do what's going on, if you try to second guess the crowd, then you're just going to ruin it."

I was a bit curious about them residing in LA... did it really have much of an influence on Troy's song writing? , "Sure it does, being in LA forces me to stay home and play my guitar. It keeps me good and paranoid and wondering why people do this or that." A Frank G interjects, "Everyone needs a good level of paranoia right?!"

The details of their European treks are their adventures overseas inevitably arose. Why did Chokebore become so fond of Europe? "Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden beat us to it, but we were the first American band to play in Sarajevo after the war," explains A Frank G. Jon described the trip there, "It was pretty intense... it was overly intense actually. We had to take a military jet in, we were sitting there with our guitars and stuff and there are these guys sitting right next to us in full army fatigues and have rifles and stuff." And after landing in Sarajevo the band was then transported around in a bullet-laden car. Needless to say the people of this war torn land were quite eager to have Chokebore play despite all the destruction that surrounded them. And Chokebore was ready to entertain despite (or perhaps because of) the intense nature of the whole trip.

One thing Chokebore didn't want to do once they were given the opportunity to tour in Europe was to play just a few select dates. They made sure that their manager knew that they wanted to go everywhere, and that meant to the Arctic Circle and back. Their tours would include stops in such countries as Finland, Poland, Bosnia, France, Yugoslavia, Germany and others.

Drummer Christian Omar Madrigal Izzo recalled another interesting moment for the band: "Remember that one time we ran over someone in a train on the way to Germany?" A Frank G continues, "Yeah it was some farmer guy that decided to commit suicide and he happened to use the train we were on to do it!" Troy paints the rest of the picture for us, "It was like the next thing you know we thought the train was coming off the tracks. We were going for something like 150 yards with this body rolling around under our feet. And then once the train stopped these guys came running out of nowhere with these poles pulling pants and this big bloody sweatshirt out from under the train. The ironic thing was that it was such a beautiful day outside."

Chokebore's third full-length titled A Taste for Bitters and their most recent, Black Black were both recorded and engineered in France. The bonus track on A Taste for Bitters features a French woman with a sultry voice reciting the entire album's lyrics... in French of course. When asked about their fondness for France A Frank G illustrates, "When you're in a foreign country, like France, where you don't speak the language you are automatically separated from the stupid stuff. For instance, you could be watching the news in France and not understanding a god damn word this newscaster lady is saying." Troy interjects, "She could be talking about the horrors of some third world nation, but you don't know... it just sounds beautiful, her voice is like music." It's not just France that Chokebore is attracted to though, it's all of Europe, as Troy mentions, "It could be a Tuesday night but you're in Italy going 'Yeah fuck, it doesn't matter!' because it beats a Saturday night in Fresno any day."

Not only has Chokebore played in many different countries over the years, but also with many different bands. The Butthole Surfers, Beck, No Means No, Killdozer, Girls Against Boys, and Codeine are just a few. Notably, Chokebore was also one of the supporting acts on Nirvana's final U.S. tour.

In the dictionary Chokebore is defined as; (in a shotgun) a bore that narrows toward the muzzle to prevent shot from scattering too widely. The band Chokebore however, is undefinable. To really try to describe their sound in words is rather difficult... sometimes noisy, sometimes quiet, sometimes chaotic, sometimes very controlled, but always different. One thing that definitely does set Chokebore apart from the rest is Troy's very distinct and original vocal delivery. Their live show can be described in almost the same way, as far as distinction and originality. (I've tried to describe Chokebore's live show before as, Jerry Lee Lewis on meth amphetamine's backed by a rock band on a mixture of Valium and speed leaving them a bit schizophrenic.) And lyrically Chokebore gives us an idea of what might enter Troy's head as he sleeps, "I am dark blue/ I'm my own death and locusts and dogs love me," from the song The Sweetness on the Black Black album, or what might be in Troy's head as he thinks of a past love, "Chandra fucked my lonelinesss away/ at least for a minute or two/ nothing else left here to do," from the song Lemonade on the album Anything Near Water. But really no words can do their music or their live show any justice, it's just something a person has to experience for themselves.

Dennis DeSmeth (September 1999)