In this blog post I’m going to give you a brief sort of abstract history of San Francisco’s underground punk hero’s Chrome through different articles, quotes, videos and album artwork that was made by the band’s own Damon Edge. So sit back and soak in these other worldly transmissions and mentally prepare yourself for March 27th at RIBCO with Chicago’s HIDE.
When it comes to influential underground rock bands, San Francisco is (was) lousy with them. Throw a rock randomly into a crowd on Market St. and you could end up hitting a member of the Flamin’ Groovies, Crime, or maybe even one of the Residents (though in the case of the Residents, you couldn’t confirm it). Out of all the Bay Area bands to have been declared seminal, Chrome is probably the most influential while having the least to show for it. Founded in 1975, their Stooges-meets-synths-and-experimental-noise sound is credited with being the beginning of industrial rock music — the stuff that that made careers for Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, among countless others. – from KQED’s article Chrome At 40
Being on the cusp of just about every rock’n’roll crossroads you’d care to mention, Chrome’s debut THE VISITATION is a particularly strange hybrid, having been conceived and executed during that unforgiving hinterland between ‘The Death of Prog’ and ‘The Birth of Punk’. Recorded in San Fransisco throughout 1976, and replete with poorly-photocopied lyric sheets and generally arty detritus, this self-released first LP’s home made sleeve implied far more vicious contents than the opening tracks delivered. Like KICK OUT THE JAMS, the opening song (no, two songs) of Chrome’s debut LP bore nothing more than a passing resemblance to the general canon of work that Edge & Co would output in the coming years; the debut even employing the services of a soon-to-be-jettisoned leader singer geezer, who went by the unconvincingly normal name of Mike Low; plus the chameleon-like lead guitarist John Lambdin, who seemed able to deliver whatever Damon Edge asked of him. On neither opening song (“How Many Years Too Soon?” and “Raider”) was there much evidence of the unprovenanced ur-scrawl that the insane record cover implied, Low’s euphoric pleading and whining set over the kind of well recorded Hendrix-inspired heavy rock (Uli Roth’s EARTHQUAKE LP meets Flower Travellin’ Band) that would – elsewhere – have us all creaming in our jeans. However, hard rock and psychedelia is never what Chrome should be thought to have represented. And only on track three “Return to Zanzibar” did the Chrome beast of legend finally shake itself from its dormant repose, as Damon Edge’s now familiarly scrawny complainathon vocal style – here particularly reminiscent of Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith – and Klaus Dinger-on-an-exercise-matt drum things kicked into the kind of white trash junkie funk that New York’s No Wave bands would appropriate two years hence. – Julian Cope’s Chromology Article
Half Machine From The Sun – without asking you to explain the chronological events that led to the tape disappearing and resurfacing physically – where does this fit into the mythical soundscape of Chrome?
What it represents to me is the total maturity spiritually and musically of Damon and my collaborative efforts as Chrome. Some of the best songs that I got to sing are on HMFTS and some of Damon’s best songs vocally are on HMFTS. So we developed the mythological Chrome character, the guy that’s ‘looking for your door,’ the guy that ‘sometimes feels the rain’ to full maturity. The sad part to me (I don’t know how Damon feels about it because he’s not around to tell me), but to me it is that those songs didn’t get released at the time they were created because I think the maturity that is there would have taken us to another level. Damon had a big fear of losing credibility to our sound and he wasn’t ready for our maturity, nor a certain kind of success that I feel those songs would have brought us. But for me those songs were the best I could do, I did everything I could do to make the best Chrome character I could make. I was trying to make a great band. But it’s a blessing in disguise to have it released now.
At the time you were making those two albums – and Red Exposure(which is only slightly less frenetic) – there were very few bands working in territory even slightly similar; Pere Ubu, The Residents, later on Einsturzende Neubauten and Skinny Puppy. Was there any communication between any of you? Or did this similar cut & paste approach occur independently to several of you?
We had communication with The Residents and all the Ralph records artists like MX-80 and Tuxedo Moon. We’d all hang out and share ideas. It was a part of the Cold Wave, Gary Numan and all that. We called David Thomas once, Damon and I, ya know the lead singer of Pere Ubu. We were very aggressive. He was very normal guy and we got along very well. He was one of Damon’s idols and actually very similar to Damon, and I looked up to him myself. So we were stoked to get a hold of him on the phone. We did reach out as a band to other bands to hang out, especially Damon he was very social in the early days and into the dialogue. Skinny Puppy and Einsturzende started doing their thing after Damon went to Europe and took the name Chrome with him so I was going into a different direction by then starting my sound as a solo artist.
– from Paraphilia Magazines’ article by dixē.flatlin3
However, as the late-76 punk explosion changed the sonic temples of the rock’n’roll landscape out of all recognition between the release of Chrome’s debut and their follow-up, the trashing of the old ways brought many musicians not only in line with Chrome, but also actually into a position to surpass them. Chrome, however, rose to the occasion, as vocalist Mike Low disappeared over the horizon forever, leaving guitarist John Lambdin at the mercy of Damon Edge, now free to work on his lupine howl unobstructed. And with the release of Chrome’s second sacrificial offering ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS, the band absolutely nailed their muse to the floor. For herein was contained all of the yawp and thunder, all the bark and bitter rage of removal, all the homunculus ennui and editing room floor psychedelia that best represented Damon Edge’s unvented brainium. And, whilst the forms, cut-ups, splices, segue ways and collages of the record are never more extreme and lustfully executed than within the grooves of this LP, ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS still successfully walked that tightrope between horribly more-ish direct hits and the sheerly perverse barfothons which so obviously delighted Edge himself. But the change in sound and honing down of direction appears to have been due specifically to the appearance of new member (the legendary guitarist and mythically-named) Helios Creed, whose arrival tipped the scales so far in Damon Edge’s direction that every song on ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS would be a writing collaboration between the drummer and the newcomer, leaving previous songwriter John Lambdin orphaned in his own band. –
– Julian Cope’s Chromology Article
The sound of the group is often coarse and features heavy elements of feedback and distortion. Their experiments in mixing synthesized noise with rock instrumentation, marking them as part of the post-punk movement, been cited as a forerunner of industrial rock music. During the 1970s, Chrome’s music did not fit into any particular music scene in America, and people found it hartheir music.