Pioneers of the Acid Punk movement Chrome emerged from San Francisco in the late-70s. Their fusion of bad sci-fi movies, noise, UFOs, and heavy rock laid the groundwork for a genre that would become known as Industrial music; however their obvious influence has been obscured by the passage of time. Upon listening to Chrome for the first time, the impact that their sound had on future musicians is obvious. Chrome’s cut-up techniques created a market, a market that they were admittedly too early to corner.
In his formative years Helios Creed set out to out-weird Hawkwind, give Psychedelia a dark side, and force an evolutionary shift away from the status quo of the late-60s hippie culture. Fueled by the curiosity of what would happen if Punk did acid, Chrome went on to create the sounds that influenced the electro-industrial movement.
Chrome has experienced many shifts in its lineup since those formative years, and has a new album out, Feel It Like A Scientist. Helios answered a few questions for Paraphilia and shared the creative process behind the sound that he and Damon Edge shared during their formative years, and where Chrome is headed in the 21st century
DF: Obviously, without denigrating the rest of your output, the two albums Alien Soundtracks and Half Machine Lip Moves were quite unique. The Visitation displays a few hints of what was to follow, and the albums afterwards seemed almost like an attempt to anchor something inexplicable in more familiar territory. Where were your heads at when you created those two albums?
HC: It was very comfortable in Damon’s living room; he had art on the walls, and the reel-to-reel set up in a homey environment. It wasn’t a studio environment. It was a do-whatever-you-want kind of space, where you felt the freedom… that anti government Psychedelic vibe. That was the atmosphere that Alien Soundtracks and Half Machine Lip Moves were created in. The way we worked was not rehearsed; it was off the top of our heads. I read an interview with Shawn Phillips in the 70’s (who wrote for Donovan) just before I started in Chrome, and he liked the guys to be spontaneous and not over-rehearsed, and I thought that was really cool. It really inspired me and then I met Damon and he thought and worked the same way. It was the only way Damon could work and I enjoyed it. Up until then, I had been more traditional; write it, rehearse it and perform it, which is also good, but I liked the methods that Damon had been steeped in at Cal Arts. I understood the philosophy, like automatic writing, it’s the same thing, but I had never come at music construction that way. However, earlier in my teenage years I already had the goals of being weirder than Hawkwind and, I had also wanted to be a part of the change that I knew was going to come in Rock. I didn’t know what the change would sound like exactly in the early 70’s, but of course Punk, Industrial Rock, Art Rock… those became the change. I was a serious student of Rock for years before meeting Damon. Our methods were totally different, but then we came together our ideas kind of merged together. He started seeing things like I did and I started seeing things like he did.
We were both dedicated Punk Rockers and we both agreed we hated the Blues. We knew we had to make a Punk Rock album, when you hear “Chromosome Damage” you hear the era, and we made this whole Punk Rock set and “March of the Chrome Police” was one of the Punk set. But we wanted to be more than a Punk band, ‘cause everyone was doing that.
I said to Damon, “don’t think we’re gong to just be a Rock band or just a Punk Rock band, we’re going to be weird we’re going to be original,” and he was totally on the same page. Punk was so much about getting drunk and partying. I proposed what if Punk did Acid and listened to something crazy? And what if we brought a dark side of Psychedelia to counter the dogmas of the hippie scene? And we both just dug the idea right away. Not that we hated hippies, but we just wanted to evolve from where things had gotten stuck. The new young people had evolved and that crowd wanted to listen to Devo and Pere Ubu and The Sex Pistols and Throbbing Gristle. I could see a whole band there that was missing, and it was Chrome.
We weren’t under any kind of pressure whatsoever, we were just kind of painting this picture. We didn’t know what we were doing, yet we had a vision and had our own label and it worked. I’ve been saying in other interviews that Damon and I were into the same things, bad B Sci-Fi movies, UFOS, weird sounds, noise for noise sake, heavy rock, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop, the new Punk Rock that was coming out at the time, the Ramones who were Punk way before anyone else, Psychedelia… When we played we were just totally into the same parts. We were blown away that our first collaboration together, Alien Soundtracks, instantly worked so well. We patterned Half Machine Lip Moves after it wanting to make a better Alien Soundtracks. I think we succeeded, for me anyway. People really responded to those two albums. They might like our other studio albums and they get really into them too, but then they always come back to Alien Soundtracks and Half Machine Lip Moves.
They are so dense and the titles are like mnemonics for entire myth systems. What was your working process like?
Damon had recorded material he had made at the same time as Chrome’s first album, The Visitation, which I wasn’t on. It was stuff he’d done with Gary Spain and John Lambdin. We cut bits of those sessions into Damon’s and my new material, and we spliced in other sound bites form Soap Operas or movies etc. Sometimes we just screamed and banged on things then ripped into heavy riffs, Damon on his Moog Liberation and me on guitar of course. Other times we worked out songs in the more traditional since, but then in the post-production we fucked it all up. Damon and I loved to discuss our theories about music and noise, and each of our songs for hours. We were both fascinated with each other’s creative perspectives. It was a whole process.
While you were making them did you feel you were in a headspace nobody else could access?
Yah pretty much, yah we talked about that how no one else sounded like us and how Alien Soundtracks cornered the market. For any Punk Rock band we were selling a good amount of albums. I saw us in a way like Pink Floyd, in that they could do their thing and corner a market. They were original, they created the market they cornered, and they’d never let anyone take their market. Not like us. Before us there was no Acid Punk and we wanted to corner that market, but we were too early. We fell apart before the wave broke with the Butthole Surfers, Ministry or any of the other bands that made Punk Rock kind of Psychedelic and allowed noise to exist in a new way. Now there are tons of Acid-Punk style bands. Fans would say, “I heard this band on the radio and I thought it was you and I was so happy for you, but then I realized it was another band called Nine Inch Nails.” I think we were just too early for the audiences to get into our headspaces and get that big, but then again these first two Chrome albums have lived on in big way. I appreciate the bands that have kept the wave alive and continued to build on it. I feel like there is another big wave now and we’re on it, me and my current line up of Chrome. It’s the third wave for me. The other one was in the mid-nineties when I was working as a solo artist in the Noise Rock scene.
Half Machine From The Sun – without asking you to explain the chronological events that led to the tape disappearing and resurfacing physically – where does this fit into the mythical soundscape of Chrome?
What it represents to me is the total maturity spiritually and musically of Damon and my collaborative efforts as Chrome. Some of the best songs that I got to sing are on HMFTS and some of Damon’s best songs vocally are on HMFTS. So we developed the mythological Chrome character, the guy that’s ‘looking for your door,’ the guy that ‘sometimes feels the rain’ to full maturity. The sad part to me (I don’t know how Damon feels about it because he’s not around to tell me), but to me it is that those songs didn’t get released at the time they were created because I think the maturity that is there would have taken us to another level. Damon had a big fear of losing credibility to our sound and he wasn’t ready for our maturity, nor a certain kind of success that I feel those songs would have brought us. But for me those songs were the best I could do, I did everything I could do to make the best Chrome character I could make. I was trying to make a great band. But it’s a blessing in disguise to have it released now.
At the time you were making those two albums – and Red Exposure (which is only slightly less frenetic) – there were very few bands working in territory even slightly similar; Pere Ubu, The Residents, later on Einsturzende Neubauten and Skinny Puppy. Was there any communication between any of you? Or did this similar cut & paste approach occur independently to several of you?
We had communication with The Residents and all the Ralph records artists like MX-80 and Tuxedo Moon. We’d all hang out and share ideas. It was a part of the Cold Wave, Gary Numan and all that. We called David Thomas once, Damon and I, ya know the lead singer of Pere Ubu. We were very aggressive. He was very normal guy and we got along very well. He was one of Damon’s idols and actually very similar to Damon, and I looked up to him myself. So we were stoked to get a hold of him on the phone. We did reach out as a band to other bands to hang out, especially Damon he was very social in the early days and into the dialogue. Skinny Puppy and Einsturzende started doing their thing after Damon went to Europe and took the name Chrome with him so I was going into a different direction by then starting my sound as a solo artist.
You have been consistently cursed/blessed with the label of ‘influential.’ Do you yourself see any such lineage?
Oh sure I see it.
Chrome’s most current album is previously unreleased, older material; please tell us about the new album?
Well, I already discussed how it represents our maturation. I think it’s wonderful it’s coming out now, because it’s a time capsule back to this radical, changing era in Rock. So its significance has more dimensions now then if it had been released in ’79 and ‘80. I’m getting letters from the older fans and it’s almost as if it’s the blueprint of their souls, because now at this age, they are having the experience of hearing a new release for the first time of music made in the time period of their youth. It’s really cool. Then HMFTS is there also to help develop, entertain and inspire the young people. People are digging it like we did it yesterday. It’s amazing how fresh it is, like it belongs in the contemporary music climate.
Some of those songs I really didn’t remember at all. How often to you get that experience as an artist? Never! It’s magical. It’s a gift for sure. We work so spontaneously in Chrome we don’t always remember what we’ve recorded and I’m having that situation now where my current backing vocalist Monet Clark, laid down actually a lead vocal track on our new album, that she just told me last night she can’t quite recall how it goes because see she did it in one take on the fly. She made a masterpiece that day… She wrote the lyrics, while the band was laying down the bottom tracks. Then put her in the vocal booth and recorded her top track and she just went in and nailed it in one take. That is how to do it!
So this new album I’m talking about is actually Chrome’s most recent album… Feel It Like A Scientist. It’s coming out this April 2014. I’m deep in the final mixing stages of it now. It couldn’t have happened without each of the members that are with me right now. I haven’t felt this kind of chemistry with a group since Damon and I added John and Hillary to our line up to play live. It is also magical. Tommy Grenas my keyboard player and Aleph Omega my drummer have been with me for years. Aleph is the best drummer you could ask for, just solid. You are only as good as your drummer and he’s studied Damon’s unique style of playing. Tommy like Monet is another creative genius in many aspects. He also helps in composing the melodies for the choruses of songs etc. Keith Thompson aka Lou Minatti is our youngest member a really talented guitar player. Monet aka Anne Dromida is performance/video artist and she brings this art element to the mix much like Damon’s energy, which I’m just into. Plus she can sing! I knew her for years, but we never worked together until she had me guest in one of her video pieces where she did vocal work. I was blown away with her performance that day, so I invited her to do some work with Chrome. And we have Steve Fishman on bass. He is a seasoned pro and who he’s played with makes me awestruck. Currently he is also with Hugh Cornwall of the Stranglers. He’s just a top-notch bassist. He sought me out. He wanted to work with Chrome and we needed a bass player. He is our newest member and when he landed, the group’s alchemy was complete. We go into the studio and just write and create on the spot and what we’ve come up with in those sessions is the alchemical process that makes gold. I can’t tell you enough how pleased I am with the chemistry of this band.
I had the intention to make the best Chrome album ever with this project. We all could feel the momentum rising and this new wave swelling. Not one of my band members doubted the mission and everyone rose up to the challenge of it. The process of creating it has been very special and all of us in the Chrome camp are just really excited now at the quality of the new work.
In a recent interview you mentioned that the government is withholding information regarding the universe, and that you welcome the opportunity to discuss it. Anything you would care to share with us?
We’ve all known the government is withholding information forever about so much shit. That isn’t new. When we are at risk for being hit by fallout like from the winged comet Ison that recently hit the Sun, it’s just not advertised. Well they don’t want everyone to freak out. I’m always searching the Internet for clues. I’m fascinated by Planet X for instance, also called Nibiru and I found this NASA photograph of space for instance with this blank space cut out in the image. It was obviously censored. The thought was that it was Nibiru behind that space. And the cover up going on around Fukushima, my God, I mean it’s still melting down and there’s no media coverage. I’m always glad to see people question the idiots that run everything because they aren’t any smarter and aren’t anything special and aren’t any good. So don’t bow down to their authority. I‘m not saying everyone in the government is evil but the entity of it is inherently evil. It’s so interesting about the American government, how it’s this evil genius. The people that own the government, the elite, have been ousted to some extent, but you wonder how much more there is to out about them! So much more. I’m not against anyone or contrary to anyone, but the government has a lot of money and makes a lot of bad decisions. I’m not their enemy or their friend, they are like family that has a lot of weapons, and money and power that we’ve let them have. It worries me. And like some family I just don’t want them over for dinner anymore!