Interview: Chrome Sparks
Posted in Interviews
YOU'RE TOO UGLY TO COME INTO THIS PARTY
This is a long interview. Chrome Sparks and I had never met before, but our 35-minute unimpeded conversation ended with his saying, "Damn man. I went off on some of those questions. You're not going to type that whole thing, right?" Yes, Jeremy, that's exactly what I'm going to do. "Good luck."
Jonathan spoke with the unconventional producer about his fascination with astronomy and the cosmos, why he likes composing more than DJing, Bent Fabricius Bjerre, and a whole host of other interesting and abstract topics:
So you’re kind of a master astronomer…?
That’s a stretch. I just really like space. It’s infiniteness. All right to get real deep real fast… space is the final frontier, it’s the future if we’re going to stay a human race beyond the end of the earth, which is going to come. We’re going to have to make a few technological advancements first, but if you watch Cosmos with Carl Sagan, in one episode he goes over how nuclear power can be used to make humongous space ships that can travel close to the speed of light. These nuclear spaceships have the power to make humans interstellar beings. And that I think is just the most exciting thing on the planet, excuse me, the universe.
What’s your favorite galaxy?
The Milky Way because you’re apart of it.
What do you spend time thinking about?
Music. I spend all day working on music, and listening to music, and trying to find new music, and working on remixes or collaborations or stuff that I’m hoping to release or stuff that I’m never going to release just for the fun of it like to see if I can make trap music and stuff like that… Watch out 2013. Kidding. I have a track that’s kind of trappy, but I feel like now would be an awful time to drop it because trap is everywhere. But it’s definitely left field trap because the feel kind of gets weird. It’s syncopated. It has hemiolas. It’s flowing. It’s off. It’s not straightforward trap. I have a lot of really weird tracks that I’ve been working on randomly that just don’t fit into anything.
Where do you write your music?
In my bedroom. But now that I’ve moved to Brooklyn, I have my bedroom and a separate practice studio space. It’s 3 subway stops from my place. That’s where I can make noise, have amps, have practices… But it’s essentially the same size as my bedroom. I’ve always been a bedroom guy at heart.
How do you know when you’ve finished a song?
It’s really, really hard. I’m definitely one of the producers when I finish a song and send it to any number of friends and then two days later you send them, “Wait! Wait! Don’t open that. I’ve changed it to something better.” I can do that forever. So now I’ve just decided to have a deadline for when I finish a track. I usually change it after that anyway. Even after it’s out I’ll go, “Oh shit. I should have changed that.” I very rarely feel like a track is finished. If it were finished, I would be content with it.
What was it like moving from Ann Arbor, MI to NYC?
Thankfully I had been going to NY a lot throughout my whole life, making friends there, and staying in touch with them. So when I moved I had this whole network of people that I knew and people that I loved and people that I wanted to spend time with. I didn’t have to go through a weird phase of not knowing anyone, being alone, being lonely, and feeling confused and upset. From the get go it was really fun. The first couple of weeks I definitely had too much fun and had to tone it down a bit. I had to remind myself that I’m here to work and step up my game. So I settled down a bit.
Do you prefer composing or DJing?
Oh man. I don’t know why I would have to ever pick, but definitely composing and doing my own stuff. DJing is the most fun in the world, but producing is where I started. I would record my own tracks on a boombox and then multitrack with two boomboxes.
Playing in bands you get to the show before it starts, you hang out during sound check, and you watch the other bands perform. It’s always rude not to. There was the one venue in Pittsburgh, this little indie place, where all local bands would come and check out the other local bands. DJs will support the other DJs, but they don’t hang out. So it’s not nearly as supportive.
For example, I was opening for Rusko as Professor Purple a while back. He came in for my last track, gave me a high five, and said nice job. If it were another band, we would have gotten beers together, talked about each other’s equipment, each other’s set, etc. We would have gotten a lot more personal. Maybe that’s because it’s every man for himself as a DJ as opposed to cliques of 5 people hanging out with each other, which you think DJs would be doing because they’re all alone.
Tell me a good tour story.
Oh man. Well that one is way too inappropriate. I played drums for Stepdad on the band’s Warped Tour. Everyone knew there was going to be a drug checkpoint one night. So there was a party every night and the night before we hit the drug checkpoint, there was so much weed everywhere – edibles, vaporizers, weird kief pills – everyone was faded out of their mind that night. We finished everything that night. Everyone was just powering through smoking and eating as fast as they could. I’ve never seen joints that big before. Kief pills, that was a different level. Oh yeah! And Bert from The Used was a part of that. My inner seventh grader was FLIPPING.
What’s the last great movie you saw?
I just saw this movie on Netflix called Klown with a “K”. I think it’s Swedish. It was about this guy who is about to have a child with his girlfriend, and she wants to leave him because she doesn’t think he’d be a good dad. He has to prove that he will be, so he takes this family friend on a camping trip with his other buddy who is the biggest pervert on the planet. Hilarity ensues.
There are scenes with this guy Bent who wrote this song "Alley Cat". And there’s actually this guy Bent Fabricius Bjerre who did music way back when. "Alley Cat" was this old timey, ragtime, dance, piano tune. And he made music under the name Bent Fabric, the beginning of his name, and they made loungey, funny, jazzy stuff but it has this old timey feel to it. He was using delay pedals on the piano or something. It was kind of trippy. I sampled that on "So Far 2 Go", the track I did with Steffaloo. So seeing this guy in this movie as an old man who runs a book club was a trip. When someone doesn’t read a book he does this really weird thing where he puts the back of his index finger on the bridge of your nose and smacks it down. He gave this guy a nosebleed doing that. So he’s a ruthless dude. He has a sex party in the movie and tells the main character that he can’t come in because he’s too ugly.
Do you think social media is good or bad?
It’s fantastic. I would not be making music if not for social media. I’m an artist that social media likes. It’s great to know that if I come out with a track people will share it with each other, as opposed to coming out with a track and sharing it via… I don’t even know what exists outside of social media at this point. Without it, I would be screwed.
I made a track in high school in music technology class in Reason. I called it “Waves”. Later on I found that track, chopped it up, and put a new beat on it. I called it “Waves 2”. I also recorded some weird indie rock tracks a while ago with a friend. I took some vocal samples from that and chopped those up too. I wanted to use sampling, but I was too nervous to get sued and too lazy to have everything cleared, I was also pretty naive on the whole subject anyway, so I just sampled my own stuff. So that effort turned into “Doubt, No”, and I used the vocals from that indie rock album all throughout My <3.
"Marijuana" uses the sample from one of my favorite tracks in the world, Idris Muhammad’s “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This”. And when I love a track that much, I want to do more than just listen to it. So I loaded into Ableton to chop it up and get my hands dirty with it. I wasn’t even thinking of it as a track that I would release. It was half original song, half remix because of the heavy sampling that was going on. But I just added some drums and synths and released it. I couldn’t believe how much people love it and now it has over a quarter of a million listens on SoundCloud! I can’t believe it.
What’s in the future for Chrome Sparks?
I’m finishing up this EP and putting together a 3-piece live band for SXSW. I don’t want to go to SXSW and hang out with my laptop. I want to make the music live. I want to play a bunch of synths and samplers. My buddy is playing some hybrid kit made of some real drums and some triggers. We want to take it as far as we can. That’s how I have the most fun: brainstorming and getting headaches figuring out how I can do this live. Who knows what’s up after that.