Chrome is about as far out as it gets. Solidifying in the late '70s with Damon Edge and Helios Creed, the band created avant-garde sci-fi music that had songs like "Zombie Warfare" and "You Canât See Them – They Canât Touch You." Edge supplied art-school experimentation, warping weird sounds into the music via tape manipulation and sound effect distortion. Meanwhile, Helios Creed supplied a charging, ominous guitar that would sometimes screech like a hawk and sometimes rumble like a tank.
Unfortunately, Edge passed away in 1995, leaving Creed to carry on the skeletal, neon torch that is Chrome. Now, heâs just released the first Chrome album in 12 years, the astral, creepy, dark Feel It Like a Scientist. Itâs a trip!
Because Creed has once again resurrected the mighty (though cultish) Chrome, features editor John Gentile spoke to the axeman about the new LP, ghosts and his awesome train set.
This is the first Chrome album in 12 years. Why did you decide to release a new Chrome album now?
I decided I would just do the solo thing and I did that until I burned out on it. I got it to a certain place. I didnât feel I was going to get any further with the solo stuff and I decided to do Chrome again. Itâs been a blast. Iâve got the right guys. Alex has been doing Chrome for almost 20 years. Heâs "Chromed" as I call it. Weâve got the bass player from the Stranglers. Itâs a great band.
Actually, the bass player is Steve Fishman. Heâs played with Paul McCartney, Roy Orbison and the Damned!
Heâs great. Heâs been in a lot of bands. Actually, along that, I almost got to play with James Brown, but then he died.
How did you almost get to play with James Brown?!
It was through a magazine called "Thorazine." They wanted Gibby [of the Butthole Surfers]] to interview James Brown in Georgia. He wasnât into it. He hated Georgia and had no intention of going there for anythingâ¦ not even James Brown, which is insane! They asked me to do it and I happened to be in Georgia on tour, so it was meant to be.
We actually got along really well. We actually became friends. There were other guys there interviewing him as well -- the guys from Man or Astroman. James didnât like them so much. I go, "why not?" He said, "because they hustle me. They hustle me for questions. Theyâre just like everybody else. You just talk to me like Iâm a regular person." I said, "James, Iâve got news for you, you are a regular person! Youâre just special, thatâs all. You just have a special worldwide talent."
Nobody wants to be special. Everyone wants to be just like everybody else.
Do you mean that cynically, or do you mean that like you are stating an aspect of the human condition?
No, Iâm not being cynical. You think you want to be great. No one made it bigger than James. James had the biggest show in history. Over one million people saw one of his shows. That was great. Imagine being that great. But, you canât walk down the street or anything. So, it must be nice to just be a regular person. I wasnât being sarcastic at all.
Do you ever have issues with that? You are incredibly influential and important in daring music.
Well, it all depends which country Iâm in! I donât mind that. They judge me for who I am. Some people donât even know I play amazing guitar. They donât know I go to Europe, or that Iâm Helios Creed. Sometimes I keep it that way so they donât change.
That leads to another point. The name "Helios Creed" has sort of a divine, intergalactic connotation. Did you want to create an alter-ego?
I made up that name, because, hey, Barry Johnson is my legal name. Thatâs my name that gets into all the trouble, the name that gets arrested and all that other good stuff. I decided to make up another name to keep it separate -- not that I get into that much trouble.
Helios Creed is my artist name. But now, with the computer, they know everything about Helios Creed. It doesnât bother me, but its like there are two people. Not that Iâm schitzed out or anythingâ¦ well maybe I am, I dunno. When Iâm Helios Creed, I feel different feelings.
One time when the band went up on stage, I swear to God that Iâm not making this up, and sometimes you just a feel a little possessed. I went backstage and said, "God, that was a weird show. I almost felt possessed!" and the guys said. "Wow, us too!" Thatâs when we opened for MGMT. Thatâs weird. I always thought it was just me. It was so good for them to say that.
Are you a spiritual person? Do you have a belief in the afterlife?
Iâm definitely not an authority on spiritualism. I do believe there is shit out there. Just because we canât see it doesnât mean its not there. Our eyes are tuned into certain electrical frequencies. But now, they have cameras where they can see all sort of things in the room. Iâm a firm believer in the other side. I cant say what it is, but Iâm a firm believer in the other side.
And I think itâs just like here. There are good people and assholes. Same thing over there. Youâve got your good spirits, and youâve got your assholes. What you want to do is ask the good spirits to help you out and stay away from the assholes, just like over here.
And my belief in God? Geeze, I donât know. Iâm not an atheist. If Einstein says there might be a God, and heâs a lot smarter than me, so I guessâ¦
I think I agree with you on that. Sometimes you can kind of feel intangible presence. Have you ever experienced that?
One time, I was getting drowsy at my computer. I was working all day and was getting drowsy. Itâs when you should go to sleep and you donât. I was dozing off, and I was seeing it all night, to the left , and to the right, and my eye catches it to the right. I see this guy walking right through the fucking wall. That woke me up. I was wide awake then. It wasnât a dream. I told everyone and they were like, "Yeah right!" If I could describe him, he looked like a young kid. He had on tight jeans, kind of like a hipster. He walked right through the wall.
Maybe on a more metaphorical level, do we feel the presence of Damon Edge on the new album?
Let me tell you something about Damon Edge. Feel it Like a Scientist was his idea -- the title. He said it around the time we were making Half Machine Lip Moves and we almost called Half Machine Lip Moves that. I always thought it was the greatest title and things got all weird and we never got to it. Finally, I deiced to use all things Damon so Damon could be a part of it. He basically wrote the song "Big Brat." He wrote all the lyrics. I did the music. So, we have a Damon song and a Helios song. I wasnât trying to do that, it sorted of just happened. It was Damonâs last request, in a way, I felt. So I did it. I honor my dead bro. Ha ha ha!
You know, as most artists get older, they mellow out.
I never could understand that.
But this album is one of your darkest, meanest releases to date. Why have you gotten darker and wilder as youâve aged, while most artists get calmer?
Thatâs a good question. No one has ever asked me that. I donât know. Why is that? Mellow music is ok. I can get behind it. But, I donât have a girlfriend that makes me feel mellow or anything, right now. Maybe itâs artistic reasons. I have a lot of angst still. I have a lot of frustration from before that never got resolved. I see whatâs going on in the world. Maybe If I had a million dollars I could go kick back in a ranch in Hawaii I would make mellow music. But, Iâm not. I ask myself that question, and maybe thatâs the answer.
What causes you frustrations?
Even back when I was younger I had angst. When I look back, things were so much easier in society. There are so many more rules. Itâs hard to be by yourself. If you donât think of everything youâre fucked. Do you know what I mean?
I do! Do you think the government is more intrusive than it was a few decades ago?
Oh, definitely. But, theyâve always been intrusive. I think Kennedy was the last good president that we had. What he said, that speech about secret societies, he totally meant what he was talking about. We all know what he was talking about. What he was afraid of has been happening since they assassinated him. They assassinated him because he was a good guy. You cannot be a good guy in the White House. Thatâs the way I feel. I could be wrong.
I donât vote because I donât want to have any responsibility with what they do. They murder, and I donât want any part of that. Voting makes you a part of that. Do you understand?
I do. I think George Carlin said something like that.
Yeah, I think I heard that. I totally agreed with what he said. If you vote, you become responsible for the assholes you voted for. If he goes out and kills half a million people, what does that make you? [In a mock dopey voice] "I didnât have anything to do with it." Oh yes you do! Oh yes you do! Thatâs why I donât vote. Iâve listened to Carlin, and itâs amazing that since Iâm getting around the age he was when he made those statements, everything he said makes sense to me. Then again, it's George Carlin. He sort of touches notes with everyone. He was able to do that. He was an amazing person.
Chrome is sort of the opposite of that. Itâs sort of like a secret society that only certain people know about. Do you like keeping it that hidden, or would you like the band to be more well known?
Well, thatâs kind of cool. But when you start to get older and you have more needs, it would be nice to make a few more bucks. If this was happening and I was like 22, I would be creaming in my jeans, you know? I am ready for the next level. I think thereâs a thing about people -- life in rock music is very hard to obtain. Thereâs always people looking over your shoulder at your gold and theyâre smarter. So, maybe they take your idea, and say "I started a new genre." You know what Iâm saying?
I think a lot of people have stolen Chromeâs advancements and ideas. Who do you think are the biggest offenders?
I donât want to blame anybody. So many have done that, though. They have mentioned me. But Iâve even asked, "if Iâm such a big influence and such a great guy, why donât you take me on a world tour and have us open for you?" Never.
Honestly, I think Chrome is jut too far out there, too ahead of its time for people to get. Itâs actually sort of difficult to describe Chrome, unlike say, grunge or dance music. You guys were in the original San Francisco punk scene, which was pretty far out. Did people accept you then?
There were two of us -- Damon and I. I used to go to all of the Mabuhay Garden shows. We didnât play the scene here and that pissed them off. I was willing to but Damon was agoraphobic, and that was my man. I just wanted to play live at the time. It was 50/50. A lot of them thought we were cool and a lot thought we werenât punk enough. Thatâs anybodyâs opinion. I mean, weâve got all the elements, we just took it a bit further. I donât like the idea of that punk has to be this. Those people didnât like us -- the NOFX kind of punk. Youâd be surprised who like us -- people from all walks of life. Weâve had bikers, Hells Angels, skinheads, grandmothers. You never know whoâs going to like Chrome. You have to be very open-minded. You canât put it down to any group or race.
Chrome often deals with the concept of aliens in albums.
Yeah. Thereâs always that to a degree. There are prophesies that Iâve found on the new album. Have you heard of Nephilim? From the Bible?
Those are giants that used to live on Earth. As far as the reality of that, it is anyoneâs guess. A lot of those photos of their bones are fake. I believe it even says it in the Bible -- David and Goliath. Goliath was like 20 feet tall, you know. According to the Bible the flood killed the giants. There were hundreds of thousands of them and they got wiped out by the flood.
Whatâs interesting is that you find that story is in all the cultures. Thatâs what the first song on the new album is about. The last line is, "Help me, help me!" I didnât put any liner notes. In a way I sort of have the whole Sumerian thing on it.
An interesting fact about you, Helios, is that you used to have a huge train set up and bands would come check it out.
I used to live across from the Kennel Club. Bands like the Presidents of the United States and even Nirvana played there there. Me knowing everybody, they would come over for my train set up.
I had the most bitchinâ train layout. It was wall to wall. It was N-gauge and it was off the floor. It took up a whole room, about 20 by 15. The train just ran everywhere. I had two cities, I had a desert. People would come over. Just about everyone on Sub Pop came over. Mudhoney would come over a lot -- we called them "Bud money." Tad was there. Love Battery came over and had so much fun that they missed part of their own show!