They Make Music the Old-fashioned Way... They Urn It.
photo by Lisa Auerbach
The story is all too familiar. A band from Nowheresville, U.S.A., moves to Los Angeles with visions of making it big. They play gig after gig around town and get signed to one of the hottest labels in the country. Then they have hit videos and groupies and lots of money in a matter of months. Such is the case with Chokebore.
Except for the last part. And thankfully so.
Chokebore is four guys from Hawaii who wanted to get the hell out. Each had spent time in various punk bands--then again, how many teens didn't?--and grew tired of their state's nonexistent club scene. So three of them went to San Francisco to write songs, get their shit together and play the occasional gig to stay loose. Within the year, the band was in L.A. and back as a quartet, trying to make it.
After a year and a half, Chokebore signed to Amphetamine Reptile (even though it does not sound like a single band on the label). Now the guys have an album out called Motionless and are in the middle of an exhaustive tour of the United States. How come you'd never heard of Chokebore, you ask?
Actually, Chokebore is still unknown because Motionless was just released, though the "Nobody" seven-inch, part of AmRep's now defunct Research and Development Series, has been available for you to savor for months. But for right now, the band is comfortable with its relative obscurity.
"I'd rather do it this way than just to somehow jump into something larger," says vocalist and guitarist Troy Miller. "I'd rather put my time in and really learn about what the hell is going on before I hit or get to a certain level."
Though Chokebore--Miller, brothers James and John Kroll (bass and guitar, respectively) and drummer Jungle Boy (a.k.a. Rice Cube, a.k.a. Rice T, a.k.a. China, a.k.a. Johnny Cat Litter, a.k.a. former world-class skateboarder Johnny Kopp)--will probably never become a household name (society's fault, not the band's), the foursome is the Minneapolis label's most exciting, most exhilarating--and dare I say best?--outfit. Playing heavy, structured songs that are kept frantic and edgy by Miller's warble/yodel/vocal stylizing, Chokebore will entrance you with its eerie sense of musical style. But don't daydream too much because the band will kick your ass with a tough-guy riff or rhythm section work that can force you into cardiac arrest as you drift to the music.
Live, Chokebore shreds, and all those who cut out of the AmRep New Music Seminar show at CBGB after Boss Hog's set can only be absolved of their sin by seeing the band on the "Clusterfuck '93 Tour"--which also includes AmRep's other two rookie bands, Guzzard and Today Is The Day--in a city near you this month. But don't expect Chokebore to put on a monster marathon of musical masturbation. For this band musical economy reigns supreme.
"I'd like to do 30-minute sets," says Miller. "Know what I hate? I hate seeing a band--no matter who they are and how great they are--play too long. I get burned out. We want to get in there, play real, real fucking hard, do a great show and get the hell out. Even so they (the crowd) want a little more. We never do encores and stuff like that."
But for now 45-minute sets are required of Chokebore, at least on this co-headlining tour with the other two members of the AmRep Class of '93. This tour is a big deal--cool screened posters from L.A. rock artist Cooper, a limited edition 7" featuring all three bands, 37 cities in 40 days. 37 cities in 40 days?
"When you're up there (on stage)," explains Miller about the wear and tear way of life on the road, "it's great, just so, so great. But before and after the show you're just pooped... It's a test. It's a test of endurance.
"I remember the last tour (with label-mates Cosmic Psychos). After doing 12 dates straight, I remember getting up to the mic and going, 'I don't have anything to fucking say. I'm so fucking burned out, I have nothing to say.' And it's weird. You feel like you can't play 'cause you're so tired. But you just force yourself to do it, and you're glad you did it. You learned that much more," he says.
Judging from Motionless, this band doesn't need to learn much more--this year hasn't seen a better debut LP than Chokebore's. Recorded at AmRep's studio by in-house engineer Mac, Motionless showcases Chokebore violently beating all that is lame out of hard rock, forging a majestic, original sound that evidences itself throughout the album's many moods and volumes, tying it all together, letting it all make sense. With only one of Motionless' 14 tracks more than three and a half minutes, Chokebore has created a collection of short reflections that work as separate entities or as a cohesive unit.
As sexy as it is dirty, as tongue-in-cheek as it is true-to-life, Chokebore's album starts with quiet, deliberate bass underscoring Miller's beautiful, haunting repetition. "All you've been is a piece of blood wrapped in skin," he informs on "Shine," the music and his voice rising in force until the song ends, at which time the band sounds ready to collapse from emotional and physical exhaustion, and you expect to hear Miller throwing up the guts he hasn't already sung out. You've witnessed a violent struggle and still feel the pain it caused you. Only 13 more tracks to go.
Though the whole record is virtually flawless (occasionally you want another refrain or a longer riff), the LP's last eight tracks stand out most. Chokebore mystifies you with one change after the other, climax upon climax, until "Cleaner" (a soft, lo-fi lullaby of a song that lets you hear Miller smoke pot between warbles) ends the album with a huge burst of guitardrumbass explosion that leaves you temporarily deaf.
"It was so easy I couldn't believe it," says Miller about recording Motionless. "We've done demos and stuff for ourselves, and it had been twice as hard to do. It was so good I couldn't believe when it was done. It was great. I mean (engineer) Mac has a video room with all the Ren and Stimpys on videotape."
Chokebore is no stranger to videotape. Back before it had a record deal, the band did the soundtracks to skateboarding videotapes for companies like Vision and Acme. After all, this is a band of Californians, man, and drummer Kopp was at one time ranked No. 2 in the world on a board. These days the skinsman, who according to the label is (by far!) the weirdest member of the AmRep family, teaches tennis to little kids. Miller doesn't have a day job now, though, as he rents out a room in his house, which was left to him by his recently deceased grandmother. How does Miller return the favor?
"We're taking my grandmom on the (Clusterfuck) tour with us," he explains. "She got cremated, so we're going to put her in this little bowling bag and take her out, give her one last bash... We're going to put sunglasses on the bowling bag and bring her to every show. It's gonna be pretty cool."
Chokebore-they make music the old-fashioned way. They urn it.
Magnet #2 (October 1993)