Interview: Christian & Troy

Interview with rock band Chokebore -- how can you resist?

Chokebore is a band from Los Angeles, but don't hold that against them. Actually, the band is from Hawaii, a fact that will no doubt become achingly clear to any person foolishly willing to thumb through the modest amount of press given to this particular rock group. Chokebore's singer, Troy Bruno von Balthazar, explains the band's reason for relocating to the sprawling urban hell known as L.A.: "We started in Hawaii and soon found that it is impossible to do any touring [there because] if you drive too far you end up underwater..." Imagine Bolt Thrower being sodomized by a lead pipe-wielding That Dog and then rejoice as Chokebore sounds nothing like that. Their sound is completely unique in spite of their willingness to cite such diverse influences as Kurt Cobain, Peter Tosh, Rozz Williams, Aimee Mann, Inger Lorre, Joy Division, The Kinks, Air, Otis Redding, The Beatles, Al Green, Stevie Wonder and "old Bowie." In fact, putting into words what this band sounds like is akin to dancing with razorblades in your shoes -- it's a difficult task to undertake. Even Chokebore's drummer, Christian Omar Madrigal Izzo, has trouble pinning it down: "Dark-pop? Gothic-grunge? Dark-light?" Troy's description is probably more accurate: "Beautiful melancholy music for people who like to think...." Let's just say that the band's music is absolutely life changing (hyperbole? No, sir) and leave it at that.

The band has put out a handful of stunning little albums you've never heard on labels like Amphetamine Reptile, Punk iN My Vitamins and Redwood Records. Here's the rundown: Motionless leaves the man with the same feeling he might experience after ejaculating a line of black centipedes as a result of hours of frenzied masturbation. Anything Near Water is the sound of a giant cloud of insects buzzing just above your bed all night long as you try in vain to sleep so you can get up early for work the next day. A Taste for Bitters is the most "rock" of Chokebore's releases -- it spoils the rod and the child. A Taste for Bitters is a pair of razor sharp fangs hiding behind a pensive frown. Lastly, Black Black (named after a brand of Japanese chewing gum) is Chokebore's masterpiece. Hearing Black Black for the first time is akin to learning your worst enemy has been gunned down: the record is unquestionably beautiful and disquieting at the same time.

Chokebore is presently thinking of future releases including a live CD, a b-sides collection and they also offer that the band "will also re-release all the older records as well," which would be nice seeing as most of their earlier output is out of print and somewhat difficult to track drown as a result. The band is even more prolific if you consider the fact that its members have various noteworthy side-projects. Christian has Bis Ende, his own solo project where he does 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 information." Guitarist Jonathon Kroll is an active member of the group Microinternational, which is described as "a group of artists that come together to execute various events, avoiding a concrete basis of identity while generating several concrete manifestations." Troy recently put out an excellent three song solo EP which he sold through his website. He also recently did some work with Melissa Auf Der Maur on her solo album (the two even made a video for a song off it) and will be touring in March/April all over Europe as B. Balthazar. "It's very fun," Troy reports.

Chokebore is almost completely unknown in its home country (despite touring with well known bands like Nirvana and Unwound) but is surprisingly popular in Europe. In fact, they do most of their touring in Europe -- Chokebore hasn't toured America very extensively in quite some time and it's a crime bordering on a tragedy, by goddess...a crime which may be vindicated soon as Christian explains: "We do plan on playing the west coast soon. [Visit] chokebore.net for more information." Perhaps a testament to Chokebore's success in Europe is the fact that their newest album, It's a Miracle, was recently released exclusively there by Pale Blue. But fear not, Americans and other non-Europeans! You can order a copy of the CD via this link or you can just sit tight and wait until the album is released in the U.S. as the band promises that It's a Miracle will be released soon enough in the states on CD and vinyl, though they don't know what label it will be on just yet.

It's a Miracle was not named in honor of the religious television program in the states of the same name; in fact, Troy was somewhat stunned to learn of this coincidence: "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." The new record features some of the band's most accomplished songwriting to date along with a sound clean enough to eat off of -- the record sounds considerably less bombastic and claustrophobic than previous albums. The songs are more straight-forward than those found on past efforts and they twitch like an itchy trigger finger. It would be a good place to start for those curious if it were only more widely available... Instead, one might want to track down a copy of A Taste for Bitters or Anything Near Water.

And now for something completely different: a short interview with Christian and Troy to tidy things up.

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.

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 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.

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

Pataphysics Research Laboratory (2002/11/09)