CHROME: Damon Edge interview

Rock Magazine, September 1980

Chrome. A band from San Francisco. Without any prior knowledge of their music or history, I collect a copy of their freshly released album, Red Exposure, along with the press kit from the Beggars Banquet office, and arrange an interview with half of the band, Helios Creed. The other half, Damon Edge, is actually supposed to be in London that very week, but he hasn't turned up and no one knows where he's go to, so I am going to do a telephone interview with Helios, who is currently in Paris.

I get a phone call from Beggars Banquet the very next day: Damon has finally turned up! We change our plans and I am to meet him for an interview in two days' time instead. So please understand that this interview has been carried out after only 3 days of preparation on my side. I am sitting at the reception of a video studio near Carnaby Street on the appointed day, when a tall man walks in. Even though I haven't seen a very clear photo of him before, I immediately know it's Damon Edge from his strong aura. The receptionist was laughing earlier on about his peculiar name, but at least I find it very fitting.

Damon is here for the post production of the promotional video for the single New Age, the main purpose of his UK visit this time. I watch the whole process of adding various effects to the already edited video track - negative image from the independently produced film for the album - adding colours here, turning the image into positive there, and so on and so on. There are a couple of hiccups (the input colour selection not saved in the computer memory, the sound dropping out) and the session, originally booked for an hour**, drags on for two and half hours in the end. Watching the finished video once again, the person from the record label says that the bondage gear à la Clockwork Orange that the two of them are wearing in one scene will be problematic for broadcasting on TV if it's so clearly shown, and so the scene in question has to remain in negative. The strictness of the British broadcasting regulations is obviously beyond Damon's expectation. Those hiccups and restrictions aside, the finished video is very impressive. The San Francisco subway station scenery fits the music very well.

With the job done, we move on to the Beggars Banquet office, where we have some wine and start talking...

**I didn't know anything about video post production in 1980, but looking back now, booking only 1 hour for such a job sounds totally unrealistic in the first place! And I think the post production facility must have been Molinaire, in case you're interested in such trivia ;-)
Q: Tell me where the name Chrome comes from.

D: It's like Deco, Art Deco. It comes from the Surrealistic movement in the same time as the Art Deco movement. Kind of...surrealistic, it's like a simplicity, it's kind of dreamy to me, it reminds me of French opium addicts like Cocteau, doing all their stuff in the 30's.

Q: So you're interested in that decade? '

D: Yeah, 30's is, that's where it comes from.

Q: Tell me briefly about your background, how you came to play music, how long you've been playing and so on, that sort of brief background.

D: Three years we've been playing together. Helios and I met after the first Chrome album. The band that was on the first album broke up when we started with the second album. All the albums we do all the music ourselves. We met in San Francisco, in a really run-down hotel (laughs), and we just liked each other. We just seem to feel magic things in a certain way. So we started working together. We worked together so well. I had been doing music alone a lot of my life, so was Helios. When you meet somebody you can really work with, when you can work with somebody and it's what you want but it's better with him; like if you wanted to do something it's alright, but when you do something together it's better, the two people together, better than what you do by yourself, and that's good.

Q: Was your first album only you?

D: No, it had like three other people on it, and I and Helios started working together after that. But that album is out of print now.

Q: Here's a pair of questions; the first of which is, what is music (in general) to you?

D: Music to me, music mean what music do I like or what?...I mean music I like is something I can feel, or I'm inspired, I'm mentally, or emotionally or physically inspired, move me, makes me think, it affects, music is something that affects me.

Q: What is YOUR music then?

D: What is it?

Q: Describe it...

D: I know, I understand. What it is to me is like... well, I was in search, I was trying to find to dig out from ourselves' dreams. Trying to find them on tape or to make them real. If we do a song and it is like dream, it's like an audio track to our dream. It's like a soundtrack to a dream you might have had but you don't remember, but when you make the music and finish it, you start to see the dream that you had before. You didn't ever remember it but after you do the music then you remember the dream, because it's part of you, it's part of something that's way down deep in you, and you dig it out. Not every song we do gets that deep... Have you heard Alien Soundtrack?

Q: No.

D: No? That's the second album. Have you heard...

Q: No, the only one I've heard is the latest one.

D: The new one, okay.

Q: Then why did you choose music as your medium of expression?

D: I don't know, I mean...I used to paint a lot, and whenever I was painting I'd always be listening to music and always feel the music to my painting. I played music too, I thought I would be a painter but whenever I listened to music I liked music so much more than the painting, because painting I could see it and I could feel it, but music I could feel it more somehow.

At Beggars Banquet

Q: Have your songs got any messages to listeners?

D: Yeah, they do, but not like a preacher or something. Nothing like that. It's more like messages to ourselves, and then maybe to people, yeah. But I think we're maybe trying to talk to ourselves in our music. We talk to other people till they can see, people must see us talking to ourselves, and then maybe they see something in themselves when they see us talking to ourselves. But we're not telling anybody they should do this and do that.

Q: Whom is your music for?

D: Who is it for? It's for people. We make it for us, we make the music we want to buy and we can buy. If we wnated to go and buy a record, we'd go and buy Chrome, because that's the music we want to go and buy. We make it, so in that sense it's for people, because other people like us, they would want to go to hear a band like us. We do it because no one else was doing it, and it's needed to exist. I feel like we need to exist.

Q: I've read the lyric sheet of the album, and there seems to be a lot about perception of being outsiders.

D: Outsiders? Yeah, that's true.

Q: Do you think you want other outsiders to listen to your music, or is it not importat, it's just about you?

D: It doesn't matter if other outsiders listen. I mean I don't, I never thought about what you asked me. I don't know who listen to us, I don't know. I don't need a lot of people because I, we're always off making music, we don't need a lot of people. We're outside, a lot of people are outside, maybe there're three billion people on the planet, three billion outsiders. I don't know. Maybe everybody in the world feels like that. I don't know, but for us, we definitely feel outside. We don't fit in here. It doesn't matter, I mean we don't want to fit in, we don't want to be outside, we don't care one way or the other. We just do what we do, but we got a lot of projections on us about being outside. When we weren't successful, people said we were outside, our music was too strange. I would say 'fuck you', then we have been successful, then what are we supposed to say? Now are we insiders? (laughs) We're still outside, our lives are not like we're inside. We live in San Francisco, and people next door have no idea what we're doing. Most people don't know what we're doing. We become so involved with what we do, between Helios and I. We are outside and nobody can talk to us about certain things because we can only talk to ourselves. So then we're outside.

Q: Have you done any live gigs at all?

D: No.

Q: Is that because you're different from the others, you're outsiders?

D: Yeah, that's one reason.

Q: What else?

D: That's about it really. Other reasons are money. We're preparing something but we like to do things...because when we make records, we change the style, on every record we have a slightly different statement. For us to have people playing with us, to go through those stylistic changes would take us three times as long. And since we didn't have the money to play live in the way we wanted to play... if we don't have enough money to do that, we won't do it. When we can afford to do that we'll do it. When we can't, we won't do it. We're not going to go set up in a club for crap, you know what I mean. Forget it.

Q: What was the reason for signing up with an English label? I mean, did you feel like a change?

D: Yes, yes. We were very bored with the Americans.

Q: Then are you going to be based in England, or are you still going to be San Francisco-based?

D: I don't know, I live in Paris and in San Francisco, and the record company's in England, so...

Q: Suppose things are very different in America from England.

D: Oh, yeah.

Which do you think is better, England or San Francisco, for musical activities?

D: Oh, I don't know. I mean it's great to be here, I prefer to be here. I prefer to be in England. When Helios and I are in San Francisco, a lot of our music is inspired because we are so...there's nobody, hardly any people going to like us in S.F. People in Japan, I think, have the illusion that there are a lot of incredible people in San Francisco or something, but it's not like that. You know what I mean, they're brain-washed.

Q: Well, I went to an American school in Japan so I know lots of American people there, and I think their reaction to new things is just ridiculous, they just reject it.

D: Right, they reject it, right, I know. They need to be brain-washed, because in America the commercials and advertising and everything just convinces people that it's great. It has to be seen on TV like 100 times, and 'oh yeah, I gotta buy that shampoo' . But, God, you imagine them hearing a Chrome record! Now Americans, because we sold a lot of our records in Europe and stuff like that, then they started to recognise this and say 'oh yeah, Europeans, they're doing OK'. So now they start to buy our records.

Q: It's ridiculous.

D: It's really crazy. Even in San Francisco, the people in San Francisco were one of the last people to recognise us, they didn't want to recognise us because they were all into three-chord punk bands. Maybe we are a bit punk, I don't know. But it's like we're doing what we identify with... I'm sorry, I forgot what we were talking about.

Q: Do you think you're going to do any gigs in future, perhaps in England?

D: Yes, I think so.

Q: What are they going to be like? I mean are you going to use any visual elements like films?

D: Oh, yes. They'll be like plays, I think. We have designs for stages, like surreslistic sets, not like the normal set for just equipment and stuff. Things that are very surrealistic kind of stage settings. Sculpturous kind of, you know what I mean.

Q: Have you seen any other group who use films and that kind of visual stuff?

D: Yes.

Q: Which ones?

D: Oh, God, I saw a lot of 60's bands do that. And I saw the Pop Group...

Q: Do they use films?

D: Yes. There are a lot of bands using films and stuff, so I don't know if we can do that any more, because it' becoming standard in avant garde. We're not doing anything anybody else does. We never have done anything anybody else does. We never take ideas of other people. Us

Q: Do you think your music works visually?

D: For me, it' a visual kind of thing.

Q: Do you thinks it works on the audience in a live situation as well?

D: You mean if you play live, it inspires people visually?

Q: Yes

D: Yeah, yeah. But I think if you're going to be visually present, you should project what is visually there... no, I think an audience, a person that listens to our records in your home is more likely to see your visual kind of idea than somebody that goes to a concert, Like maybe you're at home listening to your record you really like, and you see something visual in that, especially late at night, lights are low and you imagine stuff. If you go to a concert, you're not imagining any more. You're in reality, you're presented with a visual image, so visual image is what you get... So that has to be as good as somebody's imagination is late at night.

Yeah, I think you can affect people visually live. You've got a lot more than a record. Maybe a video disc should be able to affect people visually very well, but I think ultimately, we're just people doing our music and just trying to do things right to us, and trying not to do anything that's cheap or crap or too soon, (just) because we're supposed to do it. If it's not right, forget it. We'll do it when it's right. We're just doing our project.

To me our records have always been very visual. This is the first time we've actually done a project that was a visual product. And this week I'll go to San Francisco, we'll make a video of a kind of live thing that I was talking about. That's actually really close to our performance thing, and we're just developing towards a live performance. Maybe our live performance visually will be the best thing we ever did, I don't know. When we play live we want to put people in a different world. We're not...I don't know how to explain it, but I know what it is.

At Beggars Banquet

Q: The editor of this magazine asked me to write something on groups that he calls 'alternative music', a sort of psychedelic, like magic or chanting... Do you have any objections to your music being called psychedelic?

D: No.

Q: Have you been influenced by psychedelic music?

D: Yeah, I like it a lot. I think that's exactly what we do. We do psychedelic music.

Q: It's about imagination, isn't it?

D: Psychedelic is something that inspires some sort of dream. I just don't think dream is always evil. I don't think dream is really a bad thing. I love psychedelic. Not like the 60's psychedelic stuff though. To me, when we are psychedelic, is something totally different.

Q: Can you think of any other groups which are doing psychedelic music?

D: Now?

Q: Yes, at the moment.

D: Hell, I don't know. al

Q: The Residents?

D: No, I don't think the Residents are psychedelic. Maybe a little bit, but I don't consider them psychedelic. Then what? I don't know what they are. I think maybe Snakefinger, maybe Wire, maybe Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle...I know Genesis, he's psychedelic. So many different bands are touching on different types of psychedelic music, but it's all got very New Wave influence. Our new album, we're trying to avoid the New Wave influence. I'm sorry I can't... David Bowie is psychedelic.

Q: Who's your favourite author?

D: Author? Favourite author...Arthur C. Clarke, Edgar Allan Poe, Arttaud...

Q: Are you political?

D: Sure.

Q: But what does the word 'political' mean to you? In what way are you political?

D: Political means to stay yourself.

Q: Do you think your music is polltlcal°

D: Yeah, sure.

Q: But it doesn't contain any political message, does it?

D: If you're talking about who's going to be the next President...

Q: No, not that sort of thing.

D: Ho. Yeah, sure it does. You mean in the lyrics?

Q: Yes.

D: No, not in the lyrics.

Q: Oh.

D: Yes, in the iryrics it does too, actually.n

Q: So it's musically political?

D: Musically it's political, and it's political psychically. It's psychic political. It's mystically political. Do you know what I mean? it's industrial mystic music. It's industrial psychic music, I guess.

Q: Where do you get the ideas for your music and lyrics?

D: We don't get them from outside. Sometimes from movies, but mostly from life. Feeling about things. Feeling gives me ideas.

Q: Are you and Helios equal in the group?

D: Yeah.

Q: Do you influence each other?

D: Totally.

Q: But you don't get influenced from outside.

D: Oh, that's not true. Sure, influence, that's different from getting ideas.

Q: What are your influences then?

D: The whole lot, I mean the state of the world. Then the world and my life, there are things happening around me, and there are books, movies and things, records and things that artistically influence me or that I might notice. Influence is a wrong word, because what I might like doesn't mean what influences me. I don't get too influenced, we don't seem to get too influenced by other people's music or anything. We might like it, but not want to sound like it.

So a lot of people I like, but I would never want to sound like them. I mean we are Chrome, we are not Devo, you know what I mean. We're not the Eagles, we're Chrome. The reason why we're Chrome is because it's real, we do what we do because it's us. It's not necessary for us to get ideas from anybody, it's us.

My mother, when I was a kid, I would tell her about some ideas, some visions I had, and she would say 'where did you get those ideas?' She used to say that. I used to get really pissed off with Mom. That was my idea, I was offended that she would think that I had an idea from somebody. Sometimes I think that's why we're outside, because I don't think most people are getting any ideas. I mean I see a lot of it in music. A lot of times I can listen to people's records and I can go 'God, this guy's totally ripping off this band' or I could look at photographs and say 'this guy's just fucking ripping off this guy', the whole thing. And it's bizarre to me, because it's so much easier to do something like that because you see something you like, to copy it is so easy. You have the formulated structure, right, and you don't have to think of it, you can just say - 'oh, I know exactly how to do that'. Like, to look at somebody's photographs and figure out exactly how he did that style and just go and do that.

That's the trap, and fortunately for us, our music is so complicated, our albums have so many layers of sound and production and different musical things going on, that it's not really possible to copy us. I haven't heard anybody copy us. I heard a lot of people who tried. A few bands in San Francisco, they tried to copy us, but they couldn't. They wanted to but they couldn't. Because we came out before the New Wave, our first album came out right at the beginning of the New Wave, by the middle of the New Wave trip wee were putting out records, what people call psychedelic records. By the time we started to get noticed, people were like 'oh, yeah, they're making it, we should do that'. But they couldn't, because we were already too developed. It wasn't simple what we were doing, it's very complicated. If you were a musician and you wanted to do what we did, you listen to our record, you wouldn't know how we got those sounds. You wouldn't be able to figure it out. That's what I mean. We're just lucky that we're like that.

Q: Are'you interested in, or sympathetic towards, electronic music, like Gary Numan and stuff?

D: Yeah, I mean, I like it. For us, we don't have any limitation of what we like. I might listen to Tchaicovsky, I might listen to classical music in my appartment, I might listen to Gary Newman in the car, I might listen to some new records in a record store, like that, might listen to my wife's band.

Q: So you listen to the kind of music that's totally different from yours?

D: Yeah, oh yeah. I listen to classical music, I listened to Ligetti with my wife lest week, and I bought this cassette of this bluesy Arab music. I listened to that for a week. Just anything. It has nothing to do with our music. But I heard some things there that I liked, that gave me kind of ideas, but nothing direct.

Q: Do you find any similarities to your music in any other group?

D: Only vaguely, but... yes, sure, I find similarities. But I find similarities with a lot of stuff, find similarities with Fellini, between our music and Fellini's music.

Q: The list of groups which my editor wants me to write on, are people like Joy Division, Chrome, A Certain Ratio, Glaxo Babies, Pop Group, Slits, PIL, and so on. What do you feel about being categorised with this lot?

D: That's okay, I mean that's just what's happening, so they put us there. Then that means maybe there's a collective consciousness of different people, that something is similar that's going on. But we won't go down the street and talk to Public Image and say what we're going to do next. They don't tell us what they're going to do next, you know what I mean. I like these bands very much, they're alright. I don't mind if they imagine us with them, it's okay, but I just don't care.

Q: You're an individualist, aren't you?

D: Yeah, I hate feeling part of things...

Q: What is your philosophy?

D: My philosophy?

Q: Yeah, I mean if you don't want to call it philosophy it's ok...

D: 'Don't think too much'. When you get done working, don't think too much. Just be... survive.

Sue (from Beggars Banquet): Are you nearly finished?

Q: Nearly, yeah.

D: It's wrapping up. This is cool, I want to just talk for a few more minutes.

Q: The film you've just done today, is it for the...

D: Single.

Q: Just a promotional thing?

D: Yeah.

Q: Have you made any other films?

D: Yeah, we've got the film for the album.

Q: What are you going to use it for?

D: Video cassette. That should be coming out in a month or so, a video cassette. So I can't wait to see the whole album on film.

Q: Have you got anything else to talk about?

D: Hope the world makes it.

Q: Do you like the States? I mean living in the States?

D: Not all the time, I find it a bit boring.

Q: But if you can ignore the whole environment it's the same anywhere...

D: Yeah, but I don't like to ignore environment, so I like to be in beautiful environments. I prefer to be in a beautiful palace on the beach, in a sail boat.

Q: Do you find it easier to work in that sort of environment?

D: No, I find it easier to have fun (laughs.) No, it's probably better to work in an environment that's almost negative, because we feel a lot of negativity in environment of San Francisco, and that's probably why our music is so fucked up and strange. We really feel alienated a lot there.

(c) Akiko Hada 1980/2020

There are a couple more photos of Damon on my Music Photography page

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