Chrome Sparks: An Interview with Jeremy Malvin
For those of you not yet familiar with Chrome Sparks, I’ll wager that it will be part of the indie vocabulary (or hipsum) within the next year. Chrome Sparks is an electro-pop project by Jeremy Malvin, an Ann Arbor resident and University of Michigan junior. It shares some commonalities between popular chillwave music, but less formulaic and more reliant on rhythm than anything else, often transforming vocals and melodies into percussive elements as well.
Are you still at University of Michigan?
Yes I am. I’m almost halfway through my Junior year. After this semester I’ll be taking a break from school to work full time on creating music, the live show, and playing drums for a band from Grand Rapid, Stepdad. I’ve loved studying percussion here, I just feel like I need have a clear head, my schedule, and concentrate on the stuff that has become most important to me.
I read recently that you used to record between two boom-boxes and layer instruments with intentionally degraded sound quality. If I’m correct, can you tell me a little about the inspiration behind that process?
The degrading sound wasn’t intentional. And it wasn’t inspiration more than it was necessity. I happened upon this process naturally when I was pretty young. I was just trying to record multiple things on top of each other and two boomboxes were my only resources for that. Each time I recorded a new part, I’d accompany the rest of the parts, which would be recorded from one shitty boombox’s speakers into the other shitty boombox’s mic. After a few overdubs, you could barely make out the first layer. The simple four track tape recorder that I got later was a humongous step forward.
I also found some of your work under the moniker “Professor Purple.” Is that an ongoing project or is Chrome Sparks your sole focus now?
Chrome Sparks actually blossomed out of Professor Purple. When I first started making electronic music in high school, I came up with the name Professor Purple. As I started to do different types of things like DJing, making dance music, making more downtempo stuff, and performing live, I needed to draw the distinctions between projects. I gave the name Chrome Sparks to the original, less house oriented tunes that I was making at the time. Professor Purple shifted into my moniker for dance music and house DJing. I still DJ under the name Professor Purple, but I haven’t made a Prof P track in over a year. I think it’s time to put the doctor to rest.
A lot of your tracks feature vocalist Steffaloo. How did you two come to meet and work together?
We met through a friend of mine, Cory Levinson, aka the artist Kohwi. Steph’s brother posted my first self released track, “I’ll Be Wait For Sadness Comes Along”, on his blog, smokedontsmoke. She found out about the track from him, tweeted a bunch about it, then my buddy Cory pointed out her tweets to me, so I checked out her music and totally fell in love with her voice. A few facebook messages later, we were working on a couple tracks. At this point, I’m still working on a lot of music with her and just finished a small tour in which she was a part of the band. I’m so psyched and surprised that something so awesome and real came out of a few tweets.
How does being a percussionist effect your songwriting?
I think I’m pretty obsessive about the exact rhythmic placement and feel each note or sample. Studying certain world percussion styles has really opened my mind to different interpretations of feel and rhythm. This isn’t stuff that’s only possible to grasp through proper music schooling, I think I just have a pretty academic viewpoint. That doesn’t mean I can’t have fun in just leaving stuff metric and find satisfaction in the repetition and evenness. I find that very fun. I’ve just recently been more and more fascinated with music that stretches rhythm into something that is soulful and different. It’s much harder to do that with rhythm than with harmony.
Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo made a statement at Moogfest this year about how any “Kid with a cracked copy of Ableton can make music now,” calling it the “new punk rock.” Do you think that notion has any truth?
If by punk rock he means it doesn’t take much musical knowledge or resources to make shit happen, then yeah I totally agree with that. Anyone can get their hands on a copy of Ableton, then making a track as easy as dragging a few samples in from iTunes. Ableton lines up different audio clips pretty well automatically, so it’s really simple to make basic electronic music now. I’m currently working on a mashup of Sandstorm and Buffalo Soldier for my own enjoyment. It’s taken about 2 minutes of work and I’m nearly done. Punk rawk indeed.
Being a primarily digital artist and now making a transition to live shows, what’s become your favorite piece of gear?
My favorite and the audiences favorite is definitely the MalletKat. The MalletKat is an electronic percussion that is laid out and played like any keyboard percussion instrument, such as xylophone or marimba, but the bars are triggers that can control MIDI. It’s used pretty exclusively in the percussion world for stuff like Broadway musicals in which there isn’t room in the pit for a ton of mallet instruments. We use it for synth bass.
If this were a VH1 “Behind the Music” special, what part of your life would we hear about briefly before a commercial break?
Definitely the closest thing I had to a near death experience. I worked for a show promoter in high school and was working a Girl Talk show when I was 17. After the show, I dropped the promoter off at his place in a bad area of town, then was on my way to drop off two friends when I hit a pickup truck that ran a red. After the driver got out of his pickup, he ran toward my car and yelled that he was going to kill us, so I drove away and had a full blown car chase. The guy ended up catching up to me after a few miles because my engine was dying. The front of my car was badly smashed in and smoking. He ended up letting me go because I had two girls in the back seat. Moral of the story is keep girls in your back seat at all times so you don’t get shot.
How has being in Ann Arbor effected your popularity?
Ann Arbor is a college town, so the music scene evolves at weird rate. Every year, a huge new crop of 18 year olds come to spend the 4 most influential years of their lives here, then head out of town and leave behind something to inspire the next crop. I think that this allows a quicker local rise to recognition. Everyone’s pretty open to suggestions from friends, the college radio station, or fliers saying that something is hot. That being said, a popular artist on the internet might only be able to get 10 buddies out to a local show. It’s a weird situation.
I’m lucky that my crop includes some killer producers and DJs, like the aforementioned Kohwi, as well as Subvader, Fthrsn, Sad Souls, and Lou Breed, among others. Having these guys around has been so valuable. We bounce a lot of ideas of of each other and play lots of tracks while they’re in the process of being made. We’re like a flock of birds flying in a V, all working together to reduce the amount of friction that holds us back from making quality art and progressing.
How has the Internet been most instrumental in gaining recognition?
The ease and effectiveness of spreading anything on the internet is pretty incredible. Whether it’s just twitter or a blog post that charts on the hype machine, the littlest thing can spark and spread like wildfire. Charting on the hype machine and getting posted on popular sites like rcrd lbl, fader, altered zones, and xlr8r have been the biggest help in spreading my music, but without all the awesome people taking a second to click the little heart on the hype machine or posting my youtube videos on facebook, I’d still be completely unknown. I owe ya’ll so much.