In conversation with Chrome Sparks
Interview by Shannon Lawlor
Jeremy Malvin aka Chrome Sparks is an electronic musician and producer currently based in Brooklyn, New York. Initially shattering the underground scene with the shimmering 2012 debut single, ‘Marijuana’, this then prompted a series of EP releases via Future Classic, swimming in synthesizer-bliss and percussive-paradise. He then went on to remix for respectable like-minded artists such as Chet Faker, Porter Robinson, Fred Falke and Blackbird Blackbird, just to name a few, and embarking on extensive tours across North America, Australia, New Zealand and Asia.
This then gained the attention of Counter Records (a Ninja Tune imprint), who then signed Chrome Sparks alongside an impressive roster and family, next to artists such as ODESZA, Maribou State, Conner Youngblood, Andreya Triana and more. Chrome Sparks is currently on tour in North America, and on April 13th, the release of his highly anticipated self-titled full length album will grace all corners of the earth, encapsulating on Chrome Sparks’ already intricate and fully-fledged sound.
We caught up with Chrome Sparks on sound expansion and other-wordly performances:
For anyone unfamiliar with Chrome Sparks’ oscillating glow, how would you personally describe the music you produce?
I would never describe my own music. In trying to create something that transcends words, translating it back feels masturbatory and counterproductive. I do like ‘oscillating glow’, though.
After falling into such an ever-changing era within the electronic music realm, could you give us some background on how you first formed Chrome Sparks? And where did the name come from?
In high school, I was very inspired by Thom Yorke’s solo album, The Eraser. The way that the electronics intermingled with the piano and drums and his voice blew me away. Initially, I intended on calling myself ‘Chrome Heart’ to illustrate the juxtaposition between the digital and analog sound sources by which I was inspired. Thankfully, that name was already taken on myspace by a metal band, so I cut my losses and went with ‘sparks’, which felt right. I don’t think the name ‘Chrome Heart’ would have aged gracefully.
Your upcoming self-titled full length album will be released on April 13th via Counter Records. Could you detail this recording process and how it may have differed to recording the past three EPs?
This one feels much more purposeful. Looking back, the EPs each have a mood, but it didn’t always feel that way to me. This one, to me, seems much less cobbled together. I went to a cabin upstate for a month to start the process and began working on the majority of the tracks there. Doing something like this put me in a super relaxed headspace that was well suited to creating new thoughts and ideas that felt cohesive. It’s also more of an expansion on my sound. I’m utilizing more live drums and using more of my vocals, which are things I’ve always wanted to involve more in my music but haven’t gotten around to yet.
Your music is very intricately produced; complex melodies, throbbing, bleeping synthesizers and lush vocal work are all intrinsic components of what Chrome Sparks does best. How do your studio recordings translate while performing live? Any obstacles to overcome?
I don’t think about how tracks will work live until I need to, at which point I get a terrible headache and curse myself for ever putting myself in such a position. It’s important to me to try to formulate the most intuitive and exciting possible way to present my music given the live setup with which I can tour. To do this, I ask myself a number of questions; “Why do people go to concerts?”, “Why do I play music in the first place?”, “What’s fun to see on stage?”, “How do I feel when I leave different shows?”, “How can I make my audience feel like every penny spent on the ticket was worth it?” Trying to answer these helps to inform what I’m doing on stage. For example, I strive to keep backing tracks to a minimum and stay as live as possible via a combination of looping and sampling, and running midi to multiple synths on stage. I’m currently working with a drummer, Max Jaffe, who is using new advanced triggers called sunhouse triggers. They allow you to map many different samples onto each drum on a kit and control variables of each sound in endless ways, depending on how you play and where you hit. I want all the sounds to be visible and tangible to the audience.
When composing or writing, where do you usually like to find inspiration? And could you elaborate on the inspiration behind writing a certain piece, such as ‘Moonraker’, or ‘Ride The White Lightning’ for example?
Much of the inspiration for my dancier music comes from just that – going out in New York and elsewhere to dance. There are many times during which I find myself on the dancefloor wishing I was hearing a certain rhythm or progression or melody or feeling, so I try to hold onto that seed of an idea and translate it into my instruments back at the studio. Usually sitting down and trying to purposefully write a song provides for a pretty poor foundation for building ideas, for me at least. If instead, I ask myself a question, or explore some unknown territory within a piece of gear or melodic idea – I end up with much more interesting starting points for tracks. With ‘Ride The White Lightning’, I was trying to make a drum beat out of sounds from one synth, in this case, my vintage Moog Model D, which at one point in its life was painted white, hence the track name. For a fairly simple layout on the front of the synth, it has an incredible expansive sound universe inside that truly gets unharnessed as you push it’s limits by doing things such as trying to emulate drums. From there, I was able to formulate a melody and progression that grew naturally from the impetus of the track itself.
Are there any pieces of equipment, hardware or software that you may feel is absolutely essential in building Chrome Sparks’ signature tone?
I don’t want to give too much away here, but I do have one piece of gear that is no secret, that I use very often, and can never get enough of – my Roland RE-201 Space Echo. It has quarter inch tape in it that’s used for the delay, and a real spring inside for the reverb. It adds this incredible atmosphere to anything – synths, vocals, drums, you name it. Generally, I’ll record everything into Ableton as two tracks- direct and through the Space Echo, so I can have individual control over the dry and the wet of each part.
You have already collaborated with some notable artists (Stefaloo, Angelica Bess, kllo, Graham Ulicny). If Chrome Sparks could collaborate with anyone on the planet – who would it be, and why?
Anyone on the planet? That’s tough, there are countless incredibly talented and brilliant artists, with which many of whom I wouldn’t even feel collaborating would be right for me. At this moment, I’d say Serpentwithfeet. He’s got the most enchanting voice and his lyrics resonate in my bones. Also, from what I’ve picked up in interviews, he seems like a phenomenal person to be around, which certainly plays a huge role in the collaborative process.
Are there any particular places you’d like to travel with Chrome Sparks? Are there any unusual places you can think of where your music would most likely resonate well?
Yes. First and foremost, Mars. This may be a bit premature, but I’ve been brainstorming ways to begin a campaign to become the first artist to perform a live-streamed set on Mars. Perhaps I shouldn’t divulge any more information on this subject.
Three favourite albums of 2017?
Daphni – Joli Mai
Smerz – Okey
Jon Bap – Yesterday’s Homily
Besides the release of your highly anticipated debut album, what does the future hold for Chrome Sparks?
Different things; Ambient music, deeper dance music., experimentation. Also, I never feel like I take enough advantage of sharing a recording space with a percussion group. I’d love to do more with that – marimbas, vibraphones, shakers from all over the world, pitched glass bottles. Stay tuned!
Preorder Chrome Sparks debut album out on April 13th via Counter Records
Chrome Sparks North American Tour Dates:
03/29/18 – Walter’s Downtown – Houston, TX – US
03/30/18 – Deep Ellum – Dallas, TX – US
03/31/18 – Empire Control Room & Garage – Austin, TX – US
04/04/18 – Meow Wolf – Santa Fe, NM – US
04/05/18 – The Crescent Ballroom – Phoenix, AZ – US
04/06/18 – Voodoo Room @ House of Blues San Diego – San Diego, CA – US
04/07/18 – Echoplex – Los Angeles, CA – US
04/11/18 – Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA – US
04/12/18 – SOhO Music Club – Santa Barbara, CA – US
04/14/18 – Star Theater – Portland, OR – US
04/15/18 – Neumos – Seattle, WA – US
04/18/18 – Bluebird Theater – Denver, CO – US
04/19/18 – The Waiting Room – Omaha, NE – US
04/20/18 – Bottom Lounge – Chicago, IL – US
04/21/18 – The Blind Pig – Ann Arbor, MI – US
04/25/18 – Coda – Philadelphia, PA – US
04/26/18 – Elsewhere – Brooklyn, NY – US
04/27/18 – Theatre Fairmount – Montreal, QC – CA
04/28/18 – The Velvet Underground – Toronto, ON – CA
Tickets can be purchased here
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[Image credit: Tonje Thilesen]