Interview: Christian & Troy

Chokebore are a band from Los Angeles (by way of Hawaii, a fact that will no doubt become achingly clear to any person foolishly willing to thumb through the press given to this particular rock group), but don't hold that against them. They've put out a handful of truly great records you've never heard on labels like Amphetamine Reptile, Punk iN My Vitamins and Redwood Records. They are almost completely unknown in their home country (despite touring with well known bands like Nirvana and Unwound) but are surprisingly popular in Europe (where they mostly tour). In fact, their newest album, It's a Miracle, was recently released exclusively in Europe by Pale Blue. Fear not! You can order a copy of the CD via this link: http://www.namskeio.com/Mailorder/mailorder.htm or you can just sit tight and wait until the album is released in the U.S. (not a bad idea as the price of ordering the new CD is somewhat steep). It's a Miracle features some of the band's most accomplished songwriting along with a sound clean enough to eat off of. It would be impossible and pointless to try to describe the band's sound in a neat little paragraph like this one, so it's best to just say that the band's music is absolutely life changing (hyperbole? No, sir) and leave it at that. What follows is an interview conducted via email with Chokebore's singer, Troy Bruno von Balthazar, and its drummer, Christian Omar Madrigal Izzo.

So... Tell me about Hawaii. (No, please don't -- I'm just kidding.) If you wanna discuss a little of the band's history here, though, please don't hesitate to do so...

Christian: Well, I am from L.A. and Mexico. I've never been to Hawaii yet.

Troy: We started in Hawaii and soon found that it is impossible to do any touring as if you drive too far you end up underwater so we split for California where we've been ever since off and on...

If you had to describe Chokebore to someone who has never heard of the band, how would you describe your music?

Christian: Dark-pop? Gothic-grunge? Dark-light?

Troy: I would say it's beautiful melancholy music for people who like to think....

What are the chances of It's a Miracle coming out in the U.S.? Would you be working with Punk iN My Vitamins again? [Note: Chokebore's last album, Black Black, was first released in Europe (as their current album has been) and then released in the U.S. by Unwound's Punk iN My Vitamins label a year or so later.]

Christian: It will be released in the USA soon. Also on LP.

Troy: I really hope it will come out in the USA.... that's kind of next on our list of things to do..... no idea who will put it out yet but soon, soon.

Are you aware of the fact that there's a religious television program in the States called It's a Miracle? I was wondering if this is a coincidence or some supremely ironic statement of some kind that you're trying to make by naming the new album after that show...

Christian: No, we had no idea, really.

Troy: Dadgummit, we had no idea...... for us it's a miracle to have music in our lives -- for them it's a miracle to have Jesus, I suppose.... totally different, the self versus the idea of something more than the self.

I realize you probably get boring questions like this all the time, so I will apologize in advance for asking it...: What about touring in the U.S. -- can we expect any in the near future or maybe when (if?) It's a Miracle is released here? Chokebore hasn't toured America very extensively in quite some time and it's a crime bordering on tragedy, by goddess...

Christian: Well, we did a little U.S. tour on Unwound's final tour last year. We do plan on playing the west coast soon. [Visit] http://www.chokebore.net for more info.

Troy: We... would really love to do more [touring, but] it all depends on the album release, I suppose..... if anyone knows any cool clubs give us a holler because we really do like to play good music every day.

What's the most memorable show Chokebore ever played?

Christian: For me it would be either Japan [in] 2000 or [the] St. Malo Festival last year in front of seven or eight thousand people.

Troy: Playing in front of 20,000 people opening for Nirvana was nice. Also playing in front of one guy and his dog on the east coast is a memory that still haunts me and our last show in Paris was very, very nice.....we have a lot of friends in Paris.

The band seems to be known for its live show (many fans have called Chokebore gigs "life changing", something you don't hear too many folks describing rock concerts as being these days [unless, of course, the person saying that kind of thing is telling a story about losing an eye at some show or something...]) -- has the band ever considered issuing live shows (say, on CD like an official bootleg)? I know you guys have sold videos of your live shows before, but what about something like a live album?

Troy: Yes, we're thinking about it for this year or early next if all goes as planned.

Christian: We do plan on releasing a live album soon. Maybe a double CD.

How about a b-sides album? You seem to have a lot of b-sides going around that are rather hard to track down...

Christian: B-sides will also be released. We will also re-release all the older records as well.

Troy: Hmm..... damn, I don't know..... I just write the music but these are all good ideas..... the business has been our weak point and the music our strength.

You guys seem to like to mix up a lot of four track stuff with the slicker studio stuff on your albums ("Never Feel Sorry Again" from Black Black would be an example of this approach) -- what's the deal with that?!

Christian: It's just flavor and different textures. That's all.

Troy: Sometimes it just sounds much better to me...... I write everything on little recorders and they have such a small nice sound.... it works for the atmosphere of our music also.

When not touring or recording, does everyone in the band work straight jobs? What does everyone do to make ends meet?

Christian: Yes, we all do very odd jobs or very straight jobs, whatever it takes.
We all know music = no $.

Troy: I've released a solo CD on my web site [www.sweetreceiver.com] and sold every one I had, so that was nice.... not really enough to live on but I'm so damn used to not eating that it doesn't really affect me anymore.... the others have odd jobs when we're not on tour but it's getting really good out in Europe now so we have no worries.

Do you think you will ever be able to make a living off of playing music?

Troy: A question I ask myself many times a day...... yes, I think so. I try to write beautiful music and I believe that in this world it should be worth something....... yes, definitely.

Christian: That's the dream, that's the idea, that's the plan.

What influences your songwriting the most (each other, other bands, depression, whatever...)?

Troy: What is in front of my eyes and lots of traveling and the people I meet.... these things are interesting and the fact that I love nothing as much in the whole world as writing music..... it's my life's work.

Christian: Depression helps at times. But for myself I get turned on to writing when I am on tour, and just moving around all the time, place to place. It's hard to write at home sometimes.

Would you like to talk about any of the various Chokebore related side projects (Bis Ende, Troy's Sweet Receiver CD, etc.)? If so, please knock yourself out!

Christian: Well, Bis Ende is my own solo project thing where I do everything but sing and [play] guitar. I am lucky enough to work with great vocalists like Gitane Demone & Doriandra-Pica. I am also a current member of EXP with my old friend Paris of Shadow Project. Folks can email me at bisende@yahoo.com for more info.

Troy: Well, as I said [before], sweetreceiver.com is going crazy and I recently did some work with Melissa Auf Der Maur on her solo album and made a cool video [for] a song she's using and [I] will be touring in March/April all over Europe as B. Balthazar...... it's very fun.

Name five of your favorite bands right now.

Christian: Kurt Cobain, Peter Tosh, Rozz Williams, Aimee Mann, Inger Lorre, Joy Division, The Kinks.

[That's seven, Christian!]

Troy: Air, The Beatles, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, old Bowie.

Do you ever listen to music while having sex? If so, what do you like to play to set the mood as it were?

Christian: Music is always on in my room twenty-four [hours a day]. I think Massive Attack is perfect sex music. Also: Portishead, Tricky, Björk, Bob Marley, Yind [?].

Troy: Tricky's first album...... on repeat and Massive Attack Vs the Mad Professor!

Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?

Christian: Not that I remember.

Troy: What the hell are you talking about?

Joseph Larkin (June 2002)