Touring their latest album, Kill for Love, Chromatics have been creating a name for themselves, whipping their audiences up in to a trance like state at their live shows. When they passed through Milan on the European leg of their tour, Swide’s Ben Taylor caught up with them.
Chromatics were born back in 2001 and have changed their line-up as the band have evolved. Currently standing is vocalist Ruth Radelet, guitarist Adam Miller, Drummer Nat Walker and producer/multi-instrumentalist Johnny Jewel, who is the member I was lucky enough to talk to. Johnny Jewel is also a part of electronic music duo Glass Candy, who are celebrated for their dance-punk aesthetics and italo disco references. Chromatics are a darker, deeper and, considerably more, experimental sounding act, allowing space for their live sets to involve improvisation and ‘jamming’. The album, Kill for Love, was released earlier in 2012 on the Italians Do It Better record label, fronted by a single of the same name, which caught the attention of the music snobs, hailing it as a hypnotizing affair that got you begging for more from them. And here we are, in Milano, backstage, minutes after their live show.
You’ve just finished a live show. How do you feel when you’ve finished a live show?
It’s feel good. We love to sweat and it’s always a good release. We don’t ever have bad shows, well, for us we never consider them to be bad shows. Some shows click more than others but we’re up them and we’re improvising a lot so it’s always this creative release. We all work so much that on tour that we can’t be in the studio or working on visual art, like we normally are when we’re at home. So, the only creative outlet that we have is improvisation on stage. We always look forward to it and afterwards we feel like we’ve done something for the day.
So, as you’re on tour and, like you said, you don’t have time to get in the studio. Do you have time to look around you?
Oh definitely. Tour is kinda like exercise, for some people you’re tired and you work all day at the computer and you know that you’re supposed to exercise and eat well, but you’re tired so you don’t do it, but because you don’t do it you feel more tired but, when you’re forced to do it, you have an extra kick of energy. Touring is the same way. For me, creatively, I never want to leave the studio. I’m forced to leave the studio because of tour, which I don’t want to go on. But, once I am in the rhythm of it, I become am a sponge for architecture, painting, film etc and I come out of my comfort zone which is healthy for an artist. I’ve really strong hermit tendencies.
Probably some sort of fear of intimacy if you really get down to it or a lack of trust, something like that, you know? Or abusive childhood, that kinda of thing. I make something positive out of it. But, on road it forces me to interact with a foreign environment, which is a healthy thing even if it is uncomfortable.
Have you found yourself in an environment where you’ve thought ‘fuck this’ and wanted to go back into the studio?
Always. Pretty much constantly. The studio is very therapeutic for me and I record constantly, as a way of writing as I can’t write music down. The only way I can document ideas is to record and for me, there is something about balancing track upon track, like playing against yourself in an improvised setting.
So, you talked about improvisation. Was it something that you intended to be a part of your live performance
It’s always something that we wanted to take to stage but we weren’t sophisticated musically so we had to start out with our basic skeletal ideas and the stronger you get the more you can sort out tiptoe out in the unknown, keeping one foot on homebase. For a long time we couldn’t. We wanted to ry things but we just turned into a train wreck by the end. We’d have good moments in the middle but we couldn’t figure out how to swim back to sure. The audience was left confused and, now we can improvise, it is more like a rollercoaster ride for the audience with a sense of euphoria. The epicentre is really tight. It’s tight but is loose enough to cast ripples. But that’s taken a lot of time to become disciplined. The band started in 2000 and the current line up has existed since 2006. It’s like the scene from Blade Runner, he’s holding the dove in one and the other guy who is over the edge of the building in the other. As a human, you would combine both sides of our body and so, it’s been hard to find how to stay tight with one side of your brain and keep track of where you’re at but letting the other side act independently, too. We have these pockets where, base on what I’m feeling from the audience and also musically, I will gesture for the band to explore this for a second and then, when I feel like we’re going to the brink, I will say to bring it back. There have been moments when I’ve thought that everyone was feeling the same as me and started to go on one but realised that no one else is with me.
People dance in a sense of euphoria at your live shows. Was your intention to make people dance?
There was no intention other than to try and maximise each medium. In my opinion, I’m always pushing and there is always a goal in mind, but when I’m working on a record I have to except the limitation of the studio. In a live setting it’s important to know that you’re on a stage and not in a studio and also what type of stage you are on. So, it’s like, like what kind of stage are you on? I mean, tonight there were even people having dinner… is that what it was?
Yes, it’s a Salumeria… if you want, you can call it a sausage restaurant.
Oh nice, so I’ve been to a sausage party. A bunch of bros and one girl, she’s out numbered. So… it’s. In the live setting it isn’t necessarily the goal to make people dance but it’s more to have a real physical impact on the audience because I feel like that is acceptable for us at the moment. Yes, maybe there are one or two people who want to see a Drone set but I don’t consider it my job to educate the audience or to say that this is what the album is really like. We stick to the electro rock stuff live and that’s where we feel the attention span is for us and an overall consumption level is. And, this is something that I’ve had to just accept and arrive to, overtime. It’s taken me a lot of time. I’d be like, oh my god this song is so amazing, and I can’t wait to play and I play it, it’s like 10mins long, it’s minimal and it just doesn’t work.
Vocalist, Ruth Radelet
Why do you think that is?
Even if it’s not dance, people want to bob their heads. I think about it sometimes, it’s weird because their used to be such a type of action and reaction between the audience. And now, because of the constant exposure of multiple media all the time there’s no really major movement and reaction to it. Now, it just seems like there is just a big pocket of music that seems like it’s bubbling up through indie, through punk and through dance music which has always been there. I don’t know if it is going away. In the past, something like this has lasted a few years and it would go away. The natural reaction would make this happen… like, a folk movement or something to eclipse the electronic movement but that is not happening and even the folk stuff is joining in… Maybe it’s a sign and really big step in the evolution of music as we move away from the banging and making noise like the cavemen and moving into the realm of electronic. It’s like monkeys and magpies to shiny things… we’re now after the deep pulse and bass of music and it happens to be mostly found in electronic music.
You’re also an artist.
Yeh, relating to what we were saying above. I recently realised and began thinking about how everything that we look at, screens, books, printouts, framed art etc and it’s started to bother me because everything, especially on the screen is in right angles. You know what I mean. I feel like everything we are viewing is made of squares and in right angles and it feels calibrated. I think this is seeping into other areas. Even live music. Everything isn’t essentially ‘live’ anymore. Bands have their set lists printed from a computer. Obviously, it’s fine but as a kid, when I saw live shows, I liked it when the band interacted, deciding what to play next.
And with that, fans started to pass by and congratulate Johnny Jewel on an amazing set and I took my leave
To keep up to date with the band, check out the links below. I highly recommend that, if you already haven’t, you get your hands on a copy of ‘Kill For Love’, which is available on Italians Do It Better.
Interviewed and Written by Ben Taylor