Fear And Loathing Fanzine
June 2014

Chrome were one of the great bands from the San Francisco music scene of the late Seventies. Formed in 1975 by the enigmatic Damon Edge, they released their first LP ‘The Visitation’ before being joined by guitarist / vocalist Helios Creed. It was this collaboration that really focused the bands’ direction and their next two albums, ‘Alien Soundtracks’ and ‘Half Machine Lip Moves’ defined their musical approach and remain highly regarded to this day. Interest in the band grew steadily, resulting in their fourth LP ‘Red Exposure’ being released in the UK by Beggars Banquet. Unfortunately, at this point the band very rarely played live and it was quite possibly this lack of performance that held the band back from reaching a wider audience. Regardless, they released several more albums, including ‘Blood On The Moon’ and ‘Third From The Sun’, before Damon moved to France with his wife, effectively ending the classic Chrome line-up. He continued to release albums under the Chrome title, but opinions on the quality of this material are mixed. Helios Creed, meanwhile, continued to record and for the first time tour, under his own name.

  Damon Edge eventually moved back to California, but died in 1995. Helios was at that time still immersed in his own music, as well as his ambient side-project Dark Matter, but several years later decided to form a new Chrome line-up, primarily to play live. This proved to be a considerable success and lead on to further tours and releases of both old and new material. But, although they did finally play a short tour in Europe, they didn’t make it to the UK that time. So, when a further, more extensive European tour was announced this year, I was greatly relieved to find out that they were indeed finally going to make it to London. I made further enquiries and managed to set-up an interview, so I was feeling rather good for myself.

  On the Saturday afternoon before the gig, I head down to the Electrowerkz venue at the time arranged, expecting to find the band in the middle of soundcheck. Instead, all is quiet. It turns out that they’ve had difficulties with the ferries, coming over from Europe, but are still intending to make the gig. At first, it isn’t too much of a worry, but as time draws on, further phone messages come through and it becomes clear that they’re going to be cutting things fine. In the end, their van arrives just twenty minutes before the doors are due to open and fans are already beginning to queue up outside for the gig. Introducing myself, I promptly end-up helping to carry equipment up several flights of stairs and onto the stage. Yup, instead of a Chrome interviewer, I become a roadie. No problem, they set-up quickly, soundcheck with the minimum of fuss and it’s all sounding great.  I speak with Helios and he’s still happy to do the interview but wants to postpone it until after the show. Again, no problem, I can do that. Time now to enjoy the evening.

  Support comes from MXLX, which turns out to be one guy and various electronic effects. Musically, it’s pretty enticing, coming from a noisier direction with use of tapes loops and repetitive rhythms. The occasional vocals are the only weak point, sounding a little unsure of themselves, but otherwise, this was a good start to the gig.

  Chrome themselves eventually assemble onstage, making it look positively crowded amongst all their equipment. But from the outset, a stunning version of ‘New Age’, they sound magnificent. Very loud but with an amazing clarity, this is very powerful indeed. Plenty of old material, from ‘March of the Chrome Police’ through to ‘Third From The Sun’ and ‘Dangerzone’, with several new tracks like ‘Prophecy’ fitting perfectly into the set. Helios forces sounds from his guitar like a crazed Hendrix, twisting and distorting notes to create some-thing truly other-worldly. The climax comes with an awe-inspiring version of ‘Firebomb’, closing the main set in great style, before two more songs take the encore even further. It had been a set beyond expectations.

  Afterwards, I wait a while to let the band wind-down, before heading backstage for the interview. As it turns out, this doesn’t go exactly to plan. We’re kinda limited for time (as the venue re-opens for a club-night after the gigs have finished) and there’s also various friends dropping-by to meet-up with Helios and the rest of the band. But we forge ahead as best we can, and when time eventually runs-out, I’m also able to arrange to follow it up by email. So, what you’re getting here is a hybrid interview, a mixture of real conversation and cyber-space communication. Somehow, this seems totally appropriate for Chrome !

  I started by remarking that the first Chrome album, The Visitation, was released before you actually joined the band. Did Helios actually know the band members when they made it, or was he aware of what they were doing ?

  ‘I knew Gary Spain, their bass player. He played violin with Chrome, too. I used to play gigs in North Beach, at the coffee shops where the Beat Poets read, and Gary was my violin player. We’d been doing that for a while when he told me he’d cut an album with his band, Chrome. I was really eager to hear it ‘cause back then, I didn’t know anyone who’d made an album. So I insisted he bring it to me and I was really taken by the production. I knew I had to meet the producer, who was, of course, Damon Edge. There were things about the music that wasn’t really my style, but I could hear where it could go and what I could add to it. I just knew that Damon was the guy I’d been waiting for, and Chrome were the band. There was nothing else like it in the Bay Area at the time and I was really impressed by that. They were totally tripping out at a time when Blues, usually not played very well, had taken over the live music scene. I found out that Damon was looking for a new guitar player and singer, so I insisted that Gary set-up a meeting between us. When we met, I liked him right-off, and when I auditioned that was it. We all just knew it was a fit.’

  I think most fans agree that the Chrome ‘sound’ didn’t really start to come together until you became a member of the band. Do you think there was already a sense of direction in the band before you joined ?

  ‘I like ‘The Visitation’ a lot, regardless of whether or not I played on it. Damon had a way and I guess you could say the band didn’t work as well just with him as when he and I worked together, but I still liked the direction they were going in. The production was wild ! Damon taught me everything I know about production… but, yeah, I do think they already had a chemistry between them.’

   Chrome are often cited as the first ‘Industrial Rock’ band, although the bands that gets called that now are pretty different to the stuff that was around when you started playing. Obviously, Chrome were contemporaries of Throbbing Gristle and The Residents…

  ‘We never just wanted to be like Throbbing Gristle, although they were one of my favourite bands. I’d rather say that we were like Throbbing Gristle, but with a rockin’ drummer and a bass player. They create the groove and then I can mess up your head with my guitar sounds. To me, the music needs to move. It has to move. You get the drummer and the bass player and they get into a groove and that goes on and on. The Indians would do that – I’m part Native American Indian, you see. They’d just beat the drum while they were tripping on psychedelics, keeping the beat, and for a while, they’d be on another level. That’s what I want to do with our audiences, take them somewhere else. That’s what I try to explain, ‘We’re going up to another level now.’’

  Certainly, those sorta tight, minimalist rhythms can create an almost entrancing beat…

  ‘Exactly ! I mean, look at Neu! I wouldn’t want them to be playing any other beat. It’s totally mesmerising. Time disappears. You can reach a state of mind where there is no time. That’s what we really try to achieve. We don’t want an audience that sits around and tries not to think. We think !’

  What was the kind of music that you were listening to when you first started playing ?

  ‘I liked really good lead bands. Things like the Jimi Hendrix Experience, I liked Martin Barre from Jethro Tull… he never got enough credit, but he was really good. He and Hendrix were best friends, they even toured together. I liked Shawn Phillips, all those good guitar players. But later on, I started getting into some really fucked-up stuff. I love the Butthole Surfers, I love Paul Leary, me and him are good friends. We used to do some really weird shit together. Then there was the Ministry thing… they all ripped off Chrome in one way or another, but it doesn’t bother me. The only thing that was a bit fucked up is that they made it big, but none of them ever let us open up for them.  Where’s the fucking love in that ? It was as if they were afraid, you know, they didn’t want to play with any band that might be better than them… I can understand that, but sometimes if you get a band who are one of your heroes to open up for you, then you’ll have a much better show. They’ll warm it up, but you’ll still be much bigger than them. Although I opened up for Hawkwind once, as Helios Creed, and they hated me. I went up to Dave Brock afterwards and told him I was so happy that we’d played with them and he virtually said, Fuck you, get out of  here ! Saying that, a few years later I met him again and he apologised and smoked some hash with me. I think maybe he’d just been put back a little because I was so forthcoming. I mean, we were just a little band and I’d got that gig by begging, borrowing, stealing and threatening, you know what I mean ? We really wanted to open up for Hawkwind, but in the end, I was pretty disappointed. They just played a bunch of Blues stuff. That’s not the Hawkwind I know, but Hawkwind now isn’t the same as the Hawkwind I love. It’s just his thing, now, but we got along well the next time I met him.’

  There’s a famous quote from you, that your guitar style was inspired when you listened to Black Sabbath on acid…

  ‘Yeah, that’s what made Chrome ! I was going to see Black Sabbath, so I took two hits of Clear Light. I got so scared that I ran out of the place, thinking that the Devil was after me. I went on a Devil trip with Black Sabbath, right ? I was screaming, ‘He’s gonna send me to Hell !’ I was looking for my friends and my brother, but some guy said he’d take me to my seat instead. Then Black Sabbath came on and started playing the best songs… I was just blown away. I was in Zen space, it was so cool ! Afterwards, I went home but ended up on a bad trip, so my friends took me surfing. By the time the sun rose, all was fine, but I was out in the water and I could hardly swim because I was still tripping. Suddenly I caught a wave and tumbled all the way to the beach. That was a weird night !’

  There was a lot of interesting music coming out from San Francisco around that time. Although it was a place most associated with the Summer of Love, you had a really interesting Punk scene in the mid Seventies, as well as more experimental music from the likes of The Residents or Tuxedomoon…

  ‘I always thought that Punk should go more towards psychedelia. I mean, where else was it to go ? They started out radical like that, going fucking crazy with beer and speed, so the next obvious thing to do was take some acid and listen to Chrome. I mean, that’s what I did ! When I first took some acid and listened to ‘Alien Soundtracks’, I was just thinking, Holy Shit, what did we do ? But at the same time, people were really digging it… we were getting good reviews, even though we thought nobody would like it. But a lot of the bands that we considered friends in San Francisco, like The Residents, Tuxedomoon, MX80, they were all originals. They were original and then other people copied them, same way that some people copied us. There’s always been freaks like that in San Francisco. For some reason, San Francisco always attracts them and helps them to flower before they go away... It seemed to happen again and again… I don’t know if it’s going to happen anymore, but that was why I moved there in the first place, from Hawaii where I grew up. People told me I should go to LA because that was where all the music business was, but I thought, fuck LA, I’m going to San Francisco ! People heard that I played guitar and asked me to join their bands… ‘do you wanna play some Blues, bro’ ?’ But I’d say say, No, I’m tired of that, I wanna form a Rock band. I just carried on until I finally met Damon and it just all came together. We both hated the Blues ! Our first Chrome poster was a picture of Eric Clapton with a fucking safe falling on his head ! The end of the Blues, you know ? That was Damon … he made me laugh ! He was so real… I really wish he hadn’t died. We just wanted to transcend the beer and the fights, the blood and the guts, to get somewhere else. That was good for people, I thought, and not in a hippy way. Me and Damon loved psychedelia, but we always hated the hippies because they were all so flowery and everything was nice and shit, you know what I mean ?  In the real world, it’s just not like that. You can still have a really good trip, even as a punk rocker, just by getting into that intense, hardcore blast. It’ll take you to the stars !’

  It seems that, early on, Chrome set-out to use the studio almost as an instrument in its’ own right, and you certainly seemed to have a fascination with what you could achieve with guitar effects…

  ‘Oh, absolutely, ever since I was a kid. I was reading Heathkit magazines, and it was not easy to find them back then. But they came out with early effects like the Fuzz Tone. I read all about them and tried to get my parents to buy me one… I was only 14, but I was already fascinated with effects and what they could do to a guitar… I’d listen to the early 60’s bands and love some of the neat tones they could get. They’re starting to reissue those effects again, now. The stuff I used on our new record, I borrowed from our bass player, Lux, because he buys lots of effects and trades them around. He gets all kinds of things he’s like the effects-box lending-library ! We also used Pixtronics on our new single, ‘Prophecy’ and on a couple of other songs. It’s a really neat effect… people might wonder if we’re using a synthesizer, ya know, but it all comes out of the guitar. It’s very cool.’

  Were you involved in the lyrical side of the band, or was that mainly Damon ? What sorta things were influencing the way you wrote ?

  ‘If you listen to ‘The Visitation’ and some of the outtakes from that which ended up on the next two albums, it’s all about space aliens and contact. All that kinda shit was right up my alley ! But that was before we got into conspiracies and the dark side of it all. We both wrote lyrics… I wrote things like ‘Dangerzone’, ‘Firebomb’ and ‘Meet You In The Subway’, while Damon wrote things like ‘The Stranger’, ‘New Age’, ‘In A Dream’ and even ‘Big Brats’, which we’ve just recorded for the new album. A lot of times, we also write lyrics together.’

  Was William Burroughs an influence on the band at all ? The early Chrome albums certainly seem to use cut-ups, and there’s always been a lyrical slant towards the darker aspects of science fiction…

  ‘Yeah, well, you heard him tonight ! (…tapes of William Burroughs were used on the intro to ‘Prophecy’…) I think we maybe used that on a couple of albums… for me, it just sounded neat to cut it up. But I’m not really a follower of anyone who doesn’t make music, I just always thought his voice sounded cool. We liked the way it sounded really demonic ! But Damon and I just got really into cutting everything up. Damon influenced me a lot with that. He always said he was a year and a half older than me, but I did the math recently and he lied ! He was four years older than me ! I was still pretty young when I joined Chrome and four years is a lot when you’re young ! I’d already been working on my approach to guitar since I was a kid and I’d seen every artist that I wanted to see live, so I’d learned from them. But what I really learned in Chrome was the production methods, and I learned most of that from Damon.’

  Your early albums got some really good response, and good press reviews, in the UK…;

  ‘Yeah, that’s right. The UK is what made us what we are. The UK was the first place to really pick up on it. The Americans usually thought we must be crazy. I mean, when ‘Half Machine Lip Moves’ came out, I gave a copy to my neighbour, and the next day I found it in front of my door, broken into a million pieces with a note that just said, ‘This Sucks !’ Well, I guess that was the consensus on our block… I took a copy along to a friends’ party and stuck it on the record player, but it only lasted about twenty seconds before someone tore it off and replaced it with some Hillbilly music or something… you know, those Southern bands that were big around then, Lynyrd Skynyrd or something like that. By then, I just started thinking to myself, well, I know it’s a beautiful record, maybe they’ll like it somewhere… Actually, San Francisco became really cool in the early Eighties and that was when Chrome kinda made it big. All these Europeans were coming to San Francisco in their droves and that helped to make it a cooler place… There was every drug you could imagine, every girl you could imagine, every guy you could imagine… it was a meat market ! It was like a party everywhere, lots of fun, but eventually it seemed that everyone left and it disappeared. Sometimes it just happens like that and attracts people from everywhere else. It was kinda funny to see it happen, like, word getting around that something cool is happening in a city and it attracts people from other places. It was just the same as when I’d been attracted to Berlin or England, because of all the shit that had happened in those places.’

  Chrome rarely performed live in their early days. Do you think that held the band back from reaching a wider audience, particularly in Europe…

  ‘Oh yeah… We only played two shows while me and Damon were both in the band, one in Italy and one in San Francisco, and they were great shows. John and Hilary, who were also in the band back then, were top quality, just like these guys that I play with now. It was a pleasure to play with them. But it was always a major frustration for me that Damon wasn’t into live shows. It’s the main reason why we remained this cult phenomenon, just simmering under the surface. But Damon was very agoraphobic. He was afraid of people, he was afraid of the outside, he was afraid of me being more successful than him when I was playing guitar and singing… I finally realised that his big fear of playing live with me was because he thought I’d try to take over. I had no intention of doing that because, to me, it was always a partnership and I was really sincere about it. We each had our own talent and we complimented each other. I think he did have a little stage-fright, but the times we did play he seemed fine to me and he later went on to play shows on his own, in Europe. But I think he was paranoid. He’d grown-up very different to me and he just didn’t trust anyone. I told him, I wasn’t going to try to overshadow him, but he didn’t believe it. His girlfriend convinced him that I was going to try to take over the band, so we broke up. I continued playing as Helios Creed and he continued as Chrome. He carried on until he died, but I don’t think he could ever do it properly without me. It just never sounded right. Whenever I spoke to him, I’d say, why are you doing this, what are you doing it for ? Finally, he came around and got back to me, saying we had to get back together and make new Chrome records again. But then, three months later, he died. It’s too bad, but that’s just the way it went.’

  How did you feel about Damon continuing to use the name ‘Chrome’ after you were no longer in the band ?

  ‘I was pissed, because that was half my band, and then he went and did it with other people, without even telling me. For him to use Chrome, without me, was pretty hard to take at first. I always thought it was just as much mine as his, but then I started to get into my own solo work. I finally got to tour and played live like crazy, so I developed more as an artist. I needed to do that to grow, musically, so I guess these things have a way of working out.’

  You recorded the two albums as Dark Matter before you decided to play again as Chrome…

   ‘Well, Brian, who ran the label, said he wanted people like me to come together to record an ambient record. I thought, well, I love that stuff, it could be interesting. Then he told me there had to be no vocals and no guitar. I thought, hmm, great, just up my alley… So I didn’t play much guitar, I just played keyboards, even though I’m not a great keyboard player. I’d actually like to do more work like that. I’d be able to do it just by myself without any other musicians, my side project ! It was actually pretty well-liked and it was fun to do.’

  It was until some time after Damon died that you decided to play live again as Chrome…

  ‘Well, I’d heard that there were some other people talking about playing as ‘Chrome’. I thought, fuck that, I’ve gotta go and do it ! So we played across America, very successfully, and we also played in Europe. We had to do that because other people were trying to take the name. I just thought, I can’t have that, so I had to get out there myself. I had to say, we’re Chrome, the one and only, and as soon as we did that, those other bands disappeared.’

  This is the first time Chrome has ever played in the UK, and it went down really well. Has that been the usual reaction on the rest of the European tour ?

  ‘They’ve all been good shows, not one bad one. I just can’t believe that we’ve played 22 shows in such a short space of time. There was one club in Switzerland where they didn’t like us, but that was the club, not the audience… After the show, I was talking to the promoter and asked if she’d liked the show. She said, ‘I didn’t. It was too loud and noisy !’ So I have to wonder, why did she book us ? The audience loved it, but the club hated it ! They thought we were evil or something… we’re not evil, we’re just noisy ! That was the only weird one… But they don’t even have any political problems over there, it’s all just very nice. It’s like heaven over there… everything’s clean and everything smells good. Maybe that’s why they couldn’t understand us ?’

   Do you have any plans set for when you get home ?

  ‘I think we’re all going to rest after we get home ! But I’m not really sure what will be next after that... We’ve released the new album, we’ve completed the tour, so I guess I’ll have to sit down and think about what we’re going to do next. We’ve done a lot of work together, so we’ll just have to decide where we’re going to go next. I’m open to ideas… I really do have the best line-up of Chrome right now, so it’s great to keep working together !’

    Just to finish, I’d like to give my thanks to Helios and the other Chrome members, plus Monet, who went beyond the call of duty to help set-up the interview !  Also, I’d like to mention the staff at Electrowerkz… at a time when so many venues around London are becoming more and more corporatized and run by people who have no interest in the music they host, it was really nice to be in a place where the staff and promoters were both helpful and friendly. More strength to them !