I’m a sucker for weird, experimental music. So when I came across Alpha Chrome Yayo I was struck. A music industry veteran blending a synthy progressive morass. Glitchy aesthetics with grungy, versatile imagery. I wanted to talk to him about his new album Choke, his musical influences and the grey, lively streets of Northern Ireland.
One of the things that attracted me to your work is the idea of it as “experimental synth”. What’s the thinking behind this label?
Alpha Chrome Yayo:
Y’know, it’s a funny one. I guess first and foremost I tend not to describe my music as straight up synthwave as I don’t want to annoy anybody! Sure I’ve got tracks that are pretty much classic Outrun, like Cerberus 3000 (Killing Time), but I’d say the majority of my output is more accurately described as ‘synthwave adjacent’. It tends to land somewhere in and around synthwave, vaporwave, lofi and ambient, with some hot flashes of funk, metal and other assorted oddness.
I’m not too fussy when it comes to genre descriptors myself, and personally I love when the lines blur. But I know that’s not the case for everybody, and that’s totally cool too. So I figure ‘experimental synth’ is a good catch-all for what I do! I love exploring new territory with each release, and I often go down weird wormholes. One thing I am extremely grateful for is the warmth with which these new directions are welcomed and encouraged by synthwave and vaporwave fans and artists alike. It’s so freeing and refreshing to be able to break new ground and have whole swathes of communities interested in what I’ve got going on.
Following on from that question, are there any particular genres you like to blend into your music to give it that experimental edge? I get tinges of hip hop, industrial and maybe a bit of jazz from your work.
Oh man, just so many. So, so many. I’m musically fickle! On my most recent release, Choke, there’s a huge jazz influence going on as you mentioned, which is noticeable straight off the bat. I was listening to lots of Ryo Fukui while I was making it and, honestly, tons of Chuck Mangione. I love that guy! And of course, all the rest of the genres you mentioned too. The closing track, Facilis Descensus Averno, is overwhelmingly influenced by black metal, and I had such a great time with those vocals, and the lyrics. I absolutely have to tip my hat to the endlessly incredible Winterquilt for helping reignite my love of all things kvlt, and inspiring me to snake my musical tendrils in that direction.
Elsewhere though… ooohh where to start! A track of mine that’s a personal favourite is ‘Anchorage’, and it’s really just me doing a straight up slice of yacht rock, with some smooth grooves and soaring soft-shred, whereas Take My Advice is a whole EP dedicated to cop movie soundtracks. So lots of Lethal Weapon squealin’ sax, and sultry grooves a la Lalo Schifrin’s latter-day Dirty Harry scores.
I could go on all day, and that’s not meant to be a boast or anything. I think most people have a pretty rich sonic palette when it comes to the things they enjoy listening to. I love taking a snatch of an idea and running with it, in whatever direction it takes me. An album that is a huge influence on me is Imaginary Sonicscape by Sigh. I first heard it when it came out in 2001, and it really stuck with me, not just in terms of the music itself, but its approach. Ostensibly at face value it’s a black metal album, but it’s also full of weird woozy jazz, disco and funk.
So yeah, blame Sigh!
How do you pick your visuals? The promo video you made for Choke was incredible. It caught my eye immediately and had that kind of ‘experimental’ edge which drew me to you.
Hey that’s very cool of you to say! Thank you very much. Above all else, I really just want to paint pictures with my music. I’m a pretty visual person and come from a film background so, while the music does the talking, if I’m accompanying it with video, it’s hugely important to me that it’s also saying the right thing.
I spend a huge amount of time trawling through all kinds of footage, and one of my favourite promo videos I knocked together for Choke was for my track, Veins. It’s a real slow-burn of a track, no drums at all, heavy on ambient piano and strings. I wanted something on the older side of retro for it, that also captured something more ancient and primordial. What I ended up with was an edit of old ’50s – ’60s public domain educational biology videos.
They’re just wonderful; really quite macabre. They remind me of old ’20s German Expressionist films, like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Partly for pleasure and partly for inspiration, I spend hours watching old advertisements too, as well as late ’80s/early ’90s CGI. The kinda stuff that reminds you of bowling alley videos! And, eh, yeah, I watch a lot of bowling alley videos. I love all that Mind’s Eye kinda era animation, guys like Robert Abel, Tatso Shimamura, The Post Group… It’s just pure joy, and for me typifies an era of unbridled experimentalism.
And for my Komorebi EP I found myself diving deep into some performance art videos, particularly work by the legendary Roger Shimomura. I actually got in touch with Professor Shimomura during the making of that record, and ended up using – with his permission – an incredible image of him for the artwork. That was a real highlight of 2019 for me.
What aesthetics and vibes inspire you? Choke especially is really dark and heavy. I get a really strong ’90s industrial vibe from it. Like a cyberpunk kind of landscape of grungy tech and gaudy lights.
Oh you’re so on the money! Choke is probably the darkest release I’ve ever put out, and it originally stemmed from hearing an ice cream truck rolling around my neighbourhood late at night. There’s something so fiercely unnerving about that, something innocent and sweet turned suddenly sour under sinister circumstances. I mean, I don’t know what that guy is doing, but he sure ain’t selling snowcones!
The first track on there, Snuff ‘Em Out, really draws on that twisted carnival kind of sound, and that’s something that resonates throughout the whole record. I wanted it to sound like something for movie goons and henchmen to listen to; a soundtrack for those unsung denizens of the night.
But there’s inspiration to be drawn from so many sources. I’d even argue that Choke is probably the direct inverse of my previous release, Twirl. In fact, talking of which…
How would you say Choke builds on or develops from Twirl?
Heyyy good timing! Twirl was brilliant fun to make, and I love it so very dearly. It’s also so, so different to Choke. The whole thing is basically my love letter to the adventure that was the early internet. That beautiful time long before trolls and YouTube comments, when it was all the Information Super Highway and abstract software art. Where Choke is black, white and every shade of grey, Twirl is hypercolour.
In terms of sound, it’s also very, very different. Both have a sort of lofi jazz sensibility, but at opposite ends of the spectrum. Where Choke is noir, Twirl draws from the jazz fusion soundtracks associated with the Sega CD, and ambient work by guys (or rather, legends) like Spencer Nilsen.
Something that I haven’t really seen mentioned by many is the distinct lack of guitars on Choke. When they are there, they’re mostly very understated. Whereas on Twirl, and most of my other records, there’s a fairly hefty amount of shred going on. This wasn’t a conscious decision, it just isn’t that sort of record. But it did made me quite happy when I realised I didn’t need to have wild widdly solos all over the place; this particular record is stronger without ’em.
That being said, I’m already working on some stuff that has… SHITLOADS OF WILD WIDDLY SOLOS ALL OVER THE PLACE, so fret not, axe fans.
*Fret* not. Eh, eh?
Haha, so following on from that. How do you produce your music? What instruments and programs are you using?
I’ve got a modest little home studio with a nice mix of hardware and software synths, and I’m the biggest fan of Reason. Within ten minutes of first trying it, I knew it was for me; it just makes sense to me, and that’s not meant to be a clever play on words. The fact that it’s software that plays like hardware is awesome, and I adore it.
In terms of hardware, I’ve got a few trusted synths, and one particular favourite is the Roland D-05, which is really just a D-50 in a tiny little box. It’s perfect for the late ’80s/early ’90s tones I love so dearly; it can do new age, new wave, new jack swing… it’s just wonderful. And I recently became the owner of a Moog Sub Phatty, which I’m already in love with, and future records are going to be saturated in so much hefty goodness from that box of joy.
Other treasured synths include the Roland JV-1080, the DX7, the Casio CZ family… I’ve also got such a soft spot for slightly shitty sounding organs, which I do my best to emulate as I don’t have the room or the wallet to handle collecting them.
Aside from that it’s a lovely ice-white Ibanez that I use on just about everything, and the usual assortment of cables, stomp-boxes and oddities. I love to record live instruments here and there, the odd bit of sax. Today I was sampling a bosun’s whistle, used for naval calls. I think this year I’m going to make a concerted effort to dig into more found sounds and unusual instrumentation.
I mean, I say that, I’ve got at least two songs with a hurdy gurdy on them. But I feel like I’m only scratching the surface of where I want to go in terms of ancient instruments. Time to get weird.
You’re from Northern Ireland, what’s the electronic scene there like? Is it mostly online or are there fan meet-ups/shows and such?
There has always been a really rich musical heritage in Northern Ireland, and I’m proud to be part of that. You’ve got these bona fide heroes like Gary Moore, The Undertones, etc… as well as more contemporary – but equally excellent and important – acts like Ash, and Therapy? I mean, damn, Therapy? are just unreal.
And the grassroots scene is similarly impressive, with a smorgasbord of incredible artists. Punk, metal and indie rock have always been huge, and metal is the world I guess I came from originally. So the electronic scene is slightly newer to me, but holy smokes, the talent. You’ve got guys like Arvo Party, Carlton Doom, giant duo Bicep, to name but a few. And in terms of synthwave/retrowave/vaporwave, there are incredible artists like Danny Madigan, Tripp Mirror, Transpacifica, Asyne and Last Survivor. And then down south, Bart Graft. Who is, for my money, not just one of the finest musicians in the country, but in the world. Dude. Is. Incredible.
It’s a funny one, as I’ve never really thought of myself as a ‘local musician’. I mean, does anybody really like to think like that? At the very least I don’t think anybody has to think like that anymore, with the way music works today. Most of the people listening to my music are from other parts of the world, and that is just amazing to me. It makes me feel very lucky, and I’m thrilled to think of my music finding a home thousands of miles away from me.
But still, lovely support from people nearby means the world to me too. I’m honoured every time I pop a cassette in the post, whether it’s destined for ten minutes down the road, or to the other side of the planet.
Any plans for the future from here? New projects/ EPs / albums / experiments?
Ohhh yes. Haha I got a few irons in the fire. First up… and I haven’t spoken about this tooooo much anywhere else really… is a fairly ridiculous golf themed album. I’m talking Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge vibes, a little bit of PGA Tour Golf for the Sega Mega Drive… and more than a dash of Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore.
I would say it’s not an entirely serious album, but that wouldn’t be true, I’m deadly serious about it! But it is definitely pretty funny and very tongue in cheek. I’m loathe to say it’s a comedy record, because it isn’t, but if Frank Zappa taught me one thing, it’s that you can be completely 100% serious about silly subject matter. If anything, I’m taking longer to write and record these tracks than normal as they’re very different to anything I’ve done before. I guess that’s what keeps it interesting!
Apart from that, I’ve got a whole slew of collabs that I’m working on, and am very excited about. And one other mystery project that I can’t talk about yet. Haha I always get a bit pissed off hearing people say that in interviews, that sort of teasing vagueness. But hey, here I am doing it. It’s really cool though, completely different to anything I’ve done before, completely unique, and involves working with someone who I find truly inspirational.
So yeah, sorry for the vagueness. I know it’s assholey. But, keep your eyes on my Twitter or whatever for updates if I’ve piqued your interest!
Anything else you’d like to say?
I don’t know if this is the best place to say it, but this week I lost someone dear to me. Someone dear to a whole lot of people, an excellent musician and friend called Casey Platt, who released music under the name Shelf Black.
He passed away suddenly, and I’m still completely shook by it. So many people are. Anybody reading this who knew him, or even spoke to him once, probably realised that he was the kindest, most supportive, magnificent person, and a magnificent musician. There’s a Go Fund Me page to raise money for his family, and it is at over $10k in 24 hours. That’s a testament to the strength of character this man had, and if another two 0s are added onto it, it’s still not enough. We never met IRL, but talked online all the time. Shared photographs of our families, dorky videos of our pets, our hopes and dreams… real friend stuff, basically.
I don’t want to end this interview on a sad note… so I won’t! What I do want to say is, first up, a huge thank you to Casey. Without his effervescent enthusiasm and encouragement, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. I just straight up wouldn’t. I’m so grateful, and I’ll never forget you man.
And to extrapolate on that a bit further, I want to thank each and every person who supports me and my music in any shape or form. Shit, I want to thank each and every person who supports ANY music, in any shape or form. You are making real, literal magic happen and it is beautiful. You are so appreciated.
And I guess that’s it. Thank you very much for talking to me!