Chrome Dick's Raphael Alvarez on Absolutely Everything
It goes without saying, but "Chrome Dick" is a jarring phrase, image, and idea. The sounds Raphael Alvarez constructs as Chrome Dick are a little jarring too: harsh, experimental landscapes of sound that move like the ghostly apparitions and reverberations in a haunted house.
Following his recent performance at the International Noise Conference, we felt it was appropriate to post some emails we exchanged with Alvarez. Be warned: Like his songs, the interview is a dense one, full of epiphanies and smart abstractions. For us, it was a truly joyous exchange. Read on.
New Times: Can you tell me a little bit about your own personal musical history and how you started recording as Chrome Dick?
Raphael Alvarez: Well, I received my first instrument at 12 years old in 1994. It wasn't until late 1999 that I fronted my first pop-punk band called the P-Brains with my brother Will on guitar. In 2001, I played guitar for Club Q emo-punk darlings .ihatejulie. In 2002, the P-Brains guys and I re-formed to write more original songs. We called ourselves Forgotten Superheroes. We wailed like babies and rediscovered our instruments. We then changed our name to Traded to Racine in 2003, scrapped the old songs, and were a band for about six years.
Chrome Dick started during my off period. Traded... had broken up and I had nothing going. By this time, I had started to frequent Radio-Active Records and befriended Mikey Ramirez and Richard Vergez, got reacquainted with Brett Jason (a regular at shows, doing distro and such), and discovered Robbie's own noise project, Human Fluid Rot.
I had always loved experimenting with new sounds in the early Traded... days, and it was the recording session for our Fourwords EP that set off the idea of how free that music is. We had to record a track of just guitar feedback, so I let loose and felt this surge of energy. I knew then that I had to seek out, and make, this kind of music. My first recordings are quite typical for experimental stuff. I started in 2009 and have sporadically released stuff online. I now have a tape I put out on my own label Deserted Beach as my first official release.
What about the name, Chrome Dick?
The origin of the name is kind of stupid and boring, to be honest. I wanted a music-related name, so I thought of scales, one of which is a chromatic scale. I love a play on words, so thinking I was clever, broke the word in half to make two words: Chrome Attic.
"A man in his early thirties to early forties who thinks he can still pick up 21-year-old chicks. A Chrome Dick has slicked back hair, a gold chain around his neck and/or wrist, chest hair sticking out of the top of his Hawaiian button up shirt, with a cell phone (or pager) clipped onto the side of his pants. This type of man can be seen smoking cigars while driving his sports car on his way to the country club."
I thought this was hilarious and not at all like me, except I do have slicked-back hair and I'm about to turn 30. So, there you have it!
You know, I saw .ihatejulie. play when I was 14 years old...
Wow, I wonder if you saw IHJ when I was in the band. They were a three-piece for a while, so it's more likely that you saw the original lineup. Club Q was my CBGB. It provided my brother and our friends a place to check out what was happening under that radar. It was also the place where I first broke out of my shell and had to "entertain." Luckily the kind of music we played afforded me the opportunity to act like a fool, but it also forced me to try and challenge the crowd with my physical appearance, clothing, banter.
I'm really into the story of Mikey giving you those books, the fact that one of them is about Throbbing Gristle and how I can imagine you reading them in the lonely place that Orlando can be. Too much, maybe? Either way, I'm listening to "A Man Is a Urinal" as I write to you, and at the risk of sounding very cheesy, I want to know what you're feeling when you're recording. When you record, are you completely tripping out? Do you let the music guide you, or do you have ideas of where you want the tracks to go before you start?
When I first started this project, I wanted to compose music in a way I was not used to. At this point, I was tired of doing the same shit I had been for years: write a song with some people, learn it, practice it, then play it over and over. What was interesting to me was that I could tap in to the emotion of that song but, eventually, felt trapped.
Also, I wanted to make a clear distinction between my recorded and live music. Those are two completely different entities in which to express yourself as a musician, if you look at it that way. I feel that the only way to "repeat" what I do is to play it on whatever medium it is recorded on.
When I record, I generally come up with how I want to start the track and then see where that takes me so, yes, the music does guide me, because everything that is happening at that moment is affecting me emotionally and determines what I do next until it is over. I let myself go and say whatever comes to mind.
I think even thrashy and noisy music has transportive power, the way dance music does or the way good performance art does. I find that because noise is often performed in these very cathartic ways, it feels like you're watching performance art. How do you feel about that idea: noise music as something transportive and transformative?
I agree with the idea that noise music can transform or transport someone; it's just like any other music, really, that attempts to touch a nerve. We all react to certain sounds emotionally, intellectually. It would be foolish to think otherwise. I especially think that, because noise is essentially limitless, it can really set your mind adrift and take you to subconscious levels of thinking. It can shape what your experience is at the moment. It's like a soundtrack to your daydreams.
I'm glad that you likened noise to performance art. How can it not be? I mean, there are artists who play in a cold, sterile kind of way, and that's fine, but to me it's much more. I've always felt that music, and its power to heal, is important in daily life. When taking it to the stage or floor, I get a bit anxious and start to get into a head space of whatever I am feeling at the moment. I want to tap in to that feeling and let it loose as much as I can.
From what I have seen of performance art pieces (mainly by my friend Misael Soto, who is a huge inspiration) is how physical it is in its expression of emotions. Sometimes there is a soundtrack of sorts but the artist says nothing, almost trying to will their experience and feelings onto the audience. It is usually successful because after preparing your mind for weeks on end for what's to come, it is almost logical that the vibes are being sent out in an intense manner and people pick up on it.
Anyway, this happened to me once. It was at a house show put together by Isaac Amor of Ass Banana. I was second to last and was deep in thought about everything I absorbed the few weeks leading up to the show. I was inspired by a lot of the spiritual things I was exposed to starting with Easter Sunday. I was born Catholic but consider myself agnostic for the most part, although I can be somewhat spiritual, if that makes any sense.
Sum up for me what you are currently working on and what you hope to do as Chrome Dick. It sounds like I'm asking what you're hoping for your alter-ego-superhero-self to accomplish, and I guess I sort of am.
I'm working on a few releases at the moment. In between our e-mails, I was contacted by George Moore of Prime Egg Sample Records, which is an online label based out of Jamestown, NY, about putting out a digital release. We ended up deciding to do two: an expanding "Singles" collection of the non-album tracks from my SoundCloud account that is now uploaded to the website and a separate recording, called The Farther the Sun, the Holier the Spirit. Also, I am working on a tape release for Jay Hines' Iki Jime Owen Meany label called EFF -- I will be revealing what the title means once I know the release date -- and a split with Robbie Brantley's noise project, Human Fluid Rot, called Let Milo Open The Door.
With Chrome Dick, I hope to explore the realms of spirituality and sexuality, together and separately. I am not a religious person; for a while I considered myself agnostic, but now not so much and it doesn't really matter. I believe that my views will constantly be changing until the moment I die. For example, I have read up on Satanism and have agreed with a lot of their philosophy. That doesn't necessarily mean that I am a Satanist, or if I did associate with that, it wouldn't mean that a year or two later I wouldn't be considering myself something else.
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