The Sessile Life of Bodies
"A man who finds himself among others is irritated because he does not know why he is not one of the others. In bed next to a girl he loves, he forgets that he does not know why he is himself instead of the body he touches." - Georges Bataille.
As in that dream where you keep vomiting blood and snakes and the syrup which holds your feet smells so sweet you could drink it all, Chokebore are delightful illth. Guitars of cancerous growth are slippery and cold, shifting and mutating atop the skeletal drum thwap and always eluding pop stasis. The plague to close the millenium, Chokebore excrete feverish guitar moans and wailing vocals which claw desperately at the inner walls of this body which swells and ruptures in erosive sway.
At the onset of infection, the paranoid guitars dizzily slip from note to note, as if uncomfortably shifting to avoid the icy slither of the rythm section's serpentine contortions. Seething, venomous drums mired in syrupy bass pulse with droning fatigue. In a quivering voice, vocalist Troy Bruno Von Balthazar opens their latest album, Anything Near Water declaring himself harbinger of the oncoming pestilence, "...and I will be relentless." His promise kept with virulent disgust, he finds his sweeping touch to obliterate all others. These sanguinary eructions, these lyrical and physical others gather as corpses of pandemic exposure.
For Bataille, all living things are elements of other living things. Being is not a totality, rather, it is loss of an element that is impossibly independent. Bodies coalesce in a mass of apparent others, but each carrying identical peptide chains which mutate form unrecognized in transferral from one to another and elder to offspring. In Troy's lyrical phrases, that which we hold in common is our malady which aims to destroy one another and in turn, ourselves. We are afraid in the presence of others because they may be ourselves, and one may escape so far into himself to reveal only all other people. "I've become someone else's nightmare", he intones on "Plus More", a pained stumble through another's dreams.
From a phone line somewhere in Los Angeles, he effusively explains, "I'm interested in the mind... a person left alone, what is this person thinking about?" In his own case, it might be his prized possession of distance which continues to elude. As on "Lemonade", a burial sequence of sorts, he disposes of his body in a last-ditch attempt to reconnect: "Chandra fucked my loneliness away / at least for a minute or two / Nothing else left here to do." Finding oneself at a locus of being, where one's body is an entirety of all bodies, he is relieved and violated. Unabashedly describing the song's inspiration, he says, "that was me wanking off one day. Right as I was about to come, I was thinking about this girl, she's really beautiful and I used to go out with her and for a second I was there. Like, just for a moment there was another person with me, although of course there wasn't and I came out of it. But for a second, sometimes when you get so far inside your head you can get to this other person."
Laughing over his obsessions, Troy declares, "I really should get out of the house more often, but I'd rather stay at home. All day long I play piano, I play guitar. This is what I want to do with my life. It might be nice to have money to go to the movies, but I don't want to go see a movie, I want to write songs." With this insular motivation, he fosters a mastery of intelligent songwriting which cannot wed itself to pop formula, but still wants to sleep over a couple of times.
As on the achingly plangent "Wash (You Glow)", the guitars grope myriad open expanses in crystalline formations beneath the crisp trilling vocals until violent cataclysm tears the song wide open to reveal pulsing feedback. Desperate to find any living thing, the song spills over with shuddering fear at discovering themselves as pop virus: "It's very simple, we live like centipedes and die like wasps... you are so sad, you glow", he mourns.
Focusing intently upon Troy's lyrical phrases, Chokebore make songs that sound like each instrument is propped in place in order to deliver the words. Where he shuffles and spins his rhymes and images, the guitar lines stammer in distorted minor chord blare. "I spend a lot of time on lyrics", he says, "and I think that's important, because I just can't get into songs with idiotic lyrics, they just don't interest me." Finding inspiration for his febrile vocals, he spends considerable time recording the images and feelings which comprise our dreams. "I remember lots and lots of dreams. I usually write them down and they become songs", he explains, "otherwise, I just obsess over some simple little thing, like shadows on a finger. I'll just write for hours about the littlest details."
As most all of his lyrics regard bodies and their states of connection and collapse, he is ensconced in a dream state which throws his physically and socially disconnected self into compromising empathetic gestures. "I had a dream I watched a big, huge bull die in front of me. It was me watching it bleed to death for like an hour, and just before it died, it smiled at me with this human face like it knew it was me dying." Confused and shuffling from body to body, Chokebore is a performance of our most narcissistic obliteration. Frightened, abnegating, resigned and chillingly comforting, their songs embody being in collectivity while sensing only our own irreconcilable solitude.
Describing their apparently ambiguous mood in live performance, Troy finds it difficult to convey the sensations of the songs in the rather one-dimensional realm of public performance. "It's pretty sad music, and live it's hard to project that. With all that adrenaline and energy, it sometimes does seem hard to express that mood." Which might account for his near-schizophrenic loping about the stage - vacillating between throwing himself to the ground in explosive gyrations and cold, disdainful murmurs while standing almost completely still. Likewise, the other band members are difficult to read by merely watching their emetic motions. Drummer 'none' fiercely swats at his cymbals slung high above his head and expends his tightly wound antipathy with each beat. Guitarist John, with head bowed, glares at the crowd and turns the same gaze back upon his amplifier, as if awaiting both to harmonize in a sibilant response. Bassist J. Frank P., boxes his shoulders in imaginary huddle and sways with the pulses of each song. It is as if each of us, both band and crowd, are awaiting some sort of transformation to take place, and none know to whom it may occur.
Birthed in Hawaii, Chokebore began as a three-piece hardcore band comprised of childhood friends who quickly outgrew their surroundings and musical trappings and opted to relocate to San Francisco to pursue expanded opportunities. Finding themselves further limited as a three-piece, they then moved to Los Angeles to add John as a 'lead' guitarist. They changed their name to Chokebore about two years ago after shedding their original moniker which so embarasses Troy, he wouldn't even mention the name. Their first single, perhaps the last in the AmRep picture-disc 7" series, was quickly followed with their debut album, Motionless. Having rushed into the studio with little knowledge of the type of sound they wanted, Troy feels the album doesn't seem as focused as Anything Near Water, but it shows their earlier, more meandering song structures which led to the driving, melodic-mosaic personality they have so quickly perfected. Chokebore then spent nearly an entire year touring, which included an auspicious opening slot on part of what was to be Nirvana's final U.S. tour.
They then went into the studio again, this time with engineer friend Biff Sanders to more carefully craft an album which would best represent their sound. With the March 1995 release of their second album, Anything Near Water, Troy sees them perched in fortunate position to be on a strong independant label unhampered by major-label imperatives. After years of writing, recording and performing, "now I know what a Chokebore song sounds like", Troy declares, "I think we've developed the sound we want." Although there have been, as Troy says, "people asking us strange questions", they are uncomfortable with the thought of jumping to the majors because they've been allowed the chance to forge their own personality with AmRep, a process completely alien to an A&R weasel.
"When we were recording the album, I had this weird dream that I was vomiting, and I kept vomiting these huge silver eels", Troy eviscerates, "There were all these thick, heavy eels flopping all over my room, and I realized it was all the music and strange feelings just coming out. I realized I just have a lot of this in me, and I have to get it out."
Your Flesh #32 (2nd quarter 1996)