Alpha Chrome Yayo - 'Take my Advice' | An Interview
Nothing pleases me more than to bring you this interview not least because it's someone who shares this island of mine!
Anyone with even a passing interest in Synthwave would have heard about this guy for sure. He has graced the airwaves on multiple occasions the world over from BBC Radio 1 to Beyond Synth with Andy Last and pretty much every show in between. The flare for which he produces tracks of extra-ordinary quality to the fantastically quirky names he gives them such as 'Be careful (where the dog shits ya)' from his E.P 'Take my advice' to 'And That, My Friends, Is What I Call Golf' from the first of his Two yes TWO albums this year '19th Hole' it's safe to say he's not done yet in pushing the boundaries from his creative workshop of a mind.
His second album this year 'Skylight Sessions' showcases this creative workshop in all it's glory. With soaring melodies and magical idiosyncratic tendencies set to music you are drawn into a world that is effortlessly cool much like a welcome breeze on a warm summers day.
As prolific on social media as he is on the airwaves with covers of video game soundtracks or notes of songs he's working on tethered to videos almost as unconventional as some of the tracks themselves it was an absolute treat to get to know the man behind the magnetic music storytelling..read on..
Tell us a little about you, where you’re from and how you got started in Music?
What up! I’m Alpha Chrome Yayo, an all-powerful synthesizin’ android from the far future. Or, more accurately, I’m a musician based in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
I’ve been making music in some shape or form for most of my life. Honestly, one of my earliest memories is watching Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure on VHS and it shaped and formed me so much. I was obsessed with that movie (and still am). More than anything, the sound of it was just insane to me, and I wanted to make noises like that from a very tender age.
I played a little piano and sax super young, but it was when my lovely, supportive parents bought little-me an electric guitar that the floodgates opened wide. Even touching the strings made the coolest sound. Suddenly everything else made sense too, and I folded in synths and loads more over the years. I’m really happy to be releasing the music I am now; the sounds I always wanted to make, ever since first seeing those two excellent dudes travelling through time.
How has your sound developed over the years? & has the current market been of any influence in that?
Honestly my sound changes constantly! I love getting lost down weird and wonderful rabbit holes, so I’ve put out music that’s out-and-out synthwave, jazz fusion, vaporwave, VGM, lofi, black metal, all of those things and none of those things. But it’s very important to me that I sound like, well, me. It’s such a lovely compliment when I put out a new release and someone says it’s like nothing I’ve done before, but it’s still unmistakably ACY. God, people say the loveliest things.
Marketing is important, naturally, but trying to tailor a sound around the market as a concept, that’s not for me. I make the music that I want to make, that I believe in. I think that’s really important for anybody, whether they’re making music for a hobby, a career, or a little of each.
If you make music that you love, that you get excited about, then other people will get excited about it too, and hopefully get on board with what you’re doing. That’s not just marketing 101, that’s how to live a fulfilling existence as a musician.
How would you describe the music you make?
Haha oohhh great question. And, honestly, a tough one. As an elevator pitch, it’s far-out synth-soaked retromancy, sprinkled with experimental axe-work.
But, it’s also not. A much more honest answer is that, with my music above all else I want to paint really clear images in peoples’ minds. That’s as succinct and as real as I can be.
I love concept albums, and all my releases are conceptual to some degree, whether it’s the overt golf theme of my last one, 19th Hole, or the forboding movie-henchman moods of Choke. If I can create a sense of time and place (even if it’s a virtual, imaginary space) I have absolutely done my job.
How has your 2020 been? With the Gig situation how have you managed to stay reasonably sane?
What a year it is for everyone. I mean, where to even start. I’m not going to do a Madonna and talk about it being a ‘great leveller’ or anything like that, but the fact that there are so many of us struggling, it makes me feel strange talking about myself in this regard.
I am bummed out that some live shows I had planned have had to be put on ice for the time being, and it’s had a major impact on how I handle physical merch, etc. I love nothing more than getting my physical releases out to the wonderful people who want ‘em, and I’ve had to temporarily press pause on shipping, which sucks. I’ve been impacted in all sorts of ways, but I mean… we all have.
What is amazing is how so many artists and fans have been able to shift focus, with an emphasis on livestream gigs, etc. Some of these shows are unreal; an awesome performance by Primo the Alien comes to mind. And also, a huge, huge, huge shout out to wonderful people like Help Musicians, as well as Bandcamp for waiving their fees on certain days. Have I mentioned how much I love Bandcamp? Damn, I love Bandcamp.
On a more personal level, staying sane in isolation is a strange one and not something I’m qualified to speak on beyond what works for me. But I try my best to find joy in the ritual of little things. For some people routine works best, but that’s not for me… it feels rut-inducing.
Instead, I try my best to enjoy small processes. The tactility of making a hot cup of matcha tea, the feel of the clicky clacky keys under my fingers as I type this. I’m aware I probably sound like a wanker haha! But, it works for me. My nan always said ‘if you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves’. I think of this in a similar way, a sort of saving-up for the psyche.
Who are your influences in music today? Who did you listen to when you were growing up?
Oh so, so many influences past and present! In terms of contemporaries of mine, I’m really inspired by the likes of Cat Temper, AeroStar, Faint Waves, Sky Yamaha and fellow Irish musician, Bart Graft. All artists pushing their metaphorical boats into strange, lovely waters and I am all about it. Inspirational in the truest sense. Right now, I’m also listening to a lot of jazz fusion, the likes of Horii Katsume, Masayoshi Takanaka, as well as soundtracks by Joe Hisaishi et al… as we speak I’m listening to Waves And Light And Earth by Takashi Kokubo, it’s absolutely unreal. It feels like a journey to the bottom of the ocean, which is something I tried to capture myself (albeit in a very different way) on my Twirl album.
To be honest, I still listen to most of the music I loved growing up too; lots of Steve Vai, Pixies, all the ‘50s and ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll my dad introduced me too. It all helps form who I am and what I do.
Tell us your best and worse gig experience?
I had planned to kick off the first Alpha Chrome Yayo live shows this summer, but that’s been put on ice, as you’d imagine! When I take it live, I want to be in a position to do it in the most bombastic, multi-instrumental way possible, and I can’t wait to be able to do that. But, I’ve had plenty of other on-stage strange experiences! I once supported Eels (another favourite of mine) doing a cover of Rush’s 20 minute long epic, 2112… on air guitar. I also went on a small tour doing yo-yo tricks with world champion Yo Hans… both of those were pretty magical in their own way! I also did a stand-up comedy show to literally one paying customer once, many years ago, that should probably be down at the bottom, but honestly it was really funny. For all two of us.
Is there anything new you’re working on currently that you’d like to share a little bit about?
Aw I’ve got so much stuff in the pipeline! I’m working on a ton of projects, and I’m really excited about all of them. I hate when people give that shitty vague ‘oh, I’ve got such cool music coming, but I can’t talk about it yet’ type answer.
But, I have such cool music coming and I can’t talk about it yet. Much. I have a load of collabs and other weird projects on the way, and some of them are huge. But, I’m not allowed to spill the beans on ‘em yet, so that can of Heinz is staying sealed for now I’m afraid.
I am working on something very laid back and chilled myself though right now, heavily influenced by the jazz fusion records I mentioned earlier. Hell, it might even be released by the time this goes to print! It started life as something to work on in the evening, a personal project to calm me down. But it’s spiralled into something much larger, and I can’t wait to share it.
I talked about how it’s important to get excited about the music you’re making… I can’t help getting excited by it, and when lovely people enjoy it, it’s just incredible. The support of people into what I’m doing is incredible; life-giving and nourishing on every level.
If you couldn’t make the great music you are making today what would you be doing?
Aw, that’s too kind, thank you! Who knows what I would be doing, to be honest. I do know though that without making music I would be so less fulfilled. I love throwing myself into all sorts of passion projects though. Creating something from the ground up is such a beautiful experience, no matter what form it takes.
Who would you like to play you in a movie of your life?
Haha y’know I have never been asked that in my entire life, I love it. Shit, Hugh Jackman, why not. I’m not remotely jacked let alone Jackman, but sure shoot for the moon, you might make it to a star!
In an alternate reality, Three Men and a Baby era Tom Selleck would be unreal too. In a more realistic alternate reality, Robin Williams, specifically when he’s just out of the jungle in Jumanji.
What sound do you love the most?
I love this question. A while back, to try and look after my own brain a bit better, any time I was feeling really great, I started writing down what I was doing, just jotting it into my phone or a notebook, a little list of perfect moments. And something I realised is, almost all of them involved sound. Something that was happening, or that I was doing, and what I was listening to at the same time.
If I had to pick though, specifically the sound of my family and friends in my house, full of food and drinks. In fact, I’ll go a step further. Last time we had a bunch of people round it was for a special occasion, so I treated myself to a little cigar outside. And the stillness of the back garden, the night sky, the wisps of celebratory smoke, combined with the gently muffled laughter and music coming from my kitchen… it was incredible. Honestly it was one of the single greatest moments of my life, just such a beautiful thing.
Do you have a day job? How do you balance this with the passion for creating the great music that you do?
By trade I’m a radio producer, but at the minute I’m working entirely on my music. I hope to be doing both again soon and, honestly, both inform each other, working with sculpting sound, telling stories with audio. Every day is a school day in both regards, and I think that’s a really good thing.
If you’re having a bad day what do you do to make yourself feel better?
I surround myself in the people and things that I love. Usually that will mean talking to my family and friends and working on music; a necessity in every sense of the word.
But, of course I have certain creature comforts. I love burning a candle with lavender oil, drinking matcha tea, getting lost in music, and I absolutely adore cooking and have a pile of other hobbies. Haha this probably sounds like I’m a super chilled, zen kinda guy. Which isn’t always the case, I’m often a big ball of anxiety.
But life’s all about finding ways to loosen that knot, and all the above are brilliant, healthy (or at least, not unhealthy) ones. Red wine, whisky, huge pizzas and occasional cigars are also brilliant unhealthy (or at least, not healthy) options, but everything in moderation, eh? Sometimes a little food for the soul is necessary, as long as you don’t push it too far.
Who is your celebrity crush?
Apparently it’s Hugh Jackman or Three Men and a Baby era Tom Selleck! Haha really though… I’ve never really got the notion of celebrity crushes, and I’m not just saying that so I don’t get in trouble with my wife. I guess maybe it’s ‘cos people don’t get more or less attractive if they’re famous, other than being able to afford PTs and crazy skincare regimes or whatever. But some famous people who I think are just incredibly cool arrrre… Marisa Tomei, Harrison Ford, Barbara Steele, Phoebe Cates, Nic Cage, Sean Connery… who else.. Judge Reinhold, why not. Judge Reinhold doesn’t get enough love, ever.
What’s next for you as an artist?
Aw I’ve got so many projects I’m working on like I said, and I have lots and lots of goals. I’m hoping to branch out into some soundtrack work, especially for games. I’ve got a few irons in the fire in that regard, and if anybody is interested in having me work on their project, absolutely do reach out to me.
But the main thing is keepin’ on keepin’ on. I love doing what I do, and it is a necessity for me in absolutely every regard. And the reason I’m able to keep doing it is with such beautiful support from amazing people; I’m so grateful, and you keep this crazy train rolling. Thank you.
If you could collaborate with anyone else on the scene who would it be and why?
Somebody who I’m really keen to work with is AeroStar, an absolutely astonishing musician. I really, really recommend getting as deep as you can into his catalogue of work, and following him online everywhere you can do so. He’s brilliant!
We’re both really tied up schedule-wise right now, but I’m confident we’ll work on something together in the future. We’ve been batting a few ideas back and forth now and again, and the prospect of it has me excited!
Favourite Movie and why?
Ooft, what a tough one… like my favourite albums, it changes on a near daily basis. As I mentioned, Excellent Adventure is the first movie I ever loved, and I still do, so much.
I adore films across the spectrum though. Shit, I even studied film at university. I’ve always found gloopy, gooey horror movies to be so super comforting in the weirdest way. Specifically ‘80s euro stuff, Fulci, Argento et al. I think it’s partly the screwy, hypnotic pacing, and the fact I would rent them from the local video library when I was young and off school sick or something. A real healing salve.
Similarly I’m a huge fan of Herschell Gordon Lewis, the Godfather of Gore! He made a slew of amazing, kitschy Americana gore flicks. Blood Feast is the big one, but my personal favourite is Wizard of Gore, closely followed by 2,000 Maniacs!
I also adore sprawling crime epics like Goodfellas, Scarface and Heat… maybe even better is Michael Mann’s earlier one, Thief. Such a taught, muscular movie with an incredible Tangerine Dream soundtrack. Honestly I don’t think synthwave as we know it would exist without that soundtrack.
But the movie I revisit the most often is Shogun Assassin, so today I’m gonna give it the top spot. Really it’s a westernized mash-up of the first two Lone Wolf and Cub movies from Japan. And they also rule, but - and maybe this is almost sacrilege to some - I prefer the Shogun Assassin version. That’s largely down to the frankly incredible score by Mark Lindsay. It’s a movie (and a soundtrack) that I stick on when I’m feeling shit, when I’m feeling great, when I’m feeling like.. I just need a great movie. Incredible.
Who or what got you into the Synth scene initially?
The first music I made as Alpha Chrome Yayo was heavily influenced by Tangerine Dream’s Thief soundtrack, that I mentioned before, as well as the italo sounds of Giorgio Moroder, who I also still love.
Before that I was recording a lot of more ambient dungeon-synth sounds, that I was using in tabletop roleplaying games, another huge passion of mine! My pal (and often-time collaborator) Danny Madigan and I started making more synthwave-orientated music at much the same time, along with our friends and almost-neighbours Transpacifica and Tripp Mirror.
Those earliest releases of mine are probably closer to ‘traditional’ synthwave than the rest, but flinging the gates open wide and incorporating a whole other spectrum of sounds and styles has been incredible for me. Both as a musician and, well, a person, and also seeing the gusto with which synth fans are ready to delve into new territory along with me. It is so, so inspiring.
How do you feel about the popularity of the Synth Genre as a whole and the new Generation of Producers who keep evolving?
I’ve never been one to worry too much about what is or isn’t popular, but more people listening to and making music is absolutely a wonderful, wonderful thing, no matter the genre.
In terms of synthwave and synthwave-adjacent music, it’s so very exciting to see so many incredible, inventive artists pushing it in so many wonderful new directions, and it’s absolutely thrilling that there are brilliant, effervescent fans just so eager to jump on board and ride these waves together. It’s the absolute coolest and I could not be more grateful!
What type of Hardware/Software to you use, do you have a preference?
I have a little home studio that I’ve lovingly crafted (and am sitting in right now). It’s one of my favourite spaces in the universe. Lockdown sucks and I miss my family and friends, but sometimes it’s nice to remind myself that, sitting here, it’s a lovely place to be.
In terms of gear, I’ve got a mixture of treasured hardware and software (both have their merits) and the prerequisite rat-king of cables and a few weird and wonderful instruments for good measure.
Special shoutout though to my luscious ice-white Ibanez guitar, my Moog Sub Phatty and the Roland D-05. It’s basically a tiny-box version of the Roland D-50, my absolute favourite synthesizer. I just gave it a little loving stroke, it’s responsible for so many sounds on both my records, and some of my very favourite ones since its release in 1987.
Really though, you can make wonderful music with very little gear. Using hardware is brilliant, and I love the tactile payoff of twisting a massive knob (no laughing at the back), but for anybody wanting to get started, there are so many free resources. You can do so much with a MIDI keyboard controller and a bunch of free VSTs.
But I’m very happy sitting in my space, surrounded by all sorts of crazy gear, feeling like a mad scientist. I’m just really very grateful for the brilliant people ready to see what kind of monster I spark life into next.
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