“ I want to be the band that they remember. I want them walking out saying, ‘I just saw The Choke.’”

By: Sarah L. Myers

As close friends The Bullys say, “New York City, we get down to the nitty gritty!” The Choke are as real as it gets. Mixing 1970s-style punk with Spector-esque pop sensibilities, all delivered by a singer rivaling Tina Turner, The Choke are an incredible band who know their influences, but bring an originality that’s been missing in the music scene. Singer Cameron Eve, guitarist Hott Deth, bassist Josh “Knuckles” Machlin, and drummer Jonny Napalm stormed through Chicago in early December as part of their Midwest “Gang Asphyxiation” tour.

The Choke sat down with me at the Pontiac Café, where they’d blown the other acts offstage the night before. It looked a lot different in the daylight. As we sat around the table, the PBR had been replaced with 7-11 coffees, and all of our voices were a little raspier. Part One of our interview introduces this amazing band, their ongoing tour, and their relationship with the Buzzcocks. The Choke toured with them and bassist Tony Barber produced their first record. Check back in February for Part Two!

Photo credit: Khaki Bedford

Thirsty: So how long have you guys been around?

HD: Me and Johnny started it. We’ve been around about two and a half years. We started writing songs, and then we found these guys.

JN: Yeah, Eric and I had a mutual friend in New York. About a year later after I met him I ran into him again. We started hanging out a lot. We went out every night. We were drinking a lot. We were pretty miserable that year, but we wrote a lot of songs and at the end of it all we said we said, ‘you know what, these songs aren’t too bad, let’s put a band together.’

CE: The way I heard it was they got tired of listening to other people doing music and they were like, ‘why aren’t we doing this? We can do this.’

HD: We’re looking and we’re like, ‘your band should do this, this, and this.’ And they’re like, ‘you should start a fucking band.’

How did The Choke come together?

CE: It’s just a funny side note up to like how we all got together. They were all, they had put an ad on Craigslist and that’s how they got Josh. That’s how he answered it. And I was working in a fucking bar that I had seen Johnny in a couple of times and then they were like, ’something’s not right.’ According to what I heard, they weren’t happy with what was happening.

HD: And also, like, New York City is like… we had demo tapes of all the songs and nobody wanted to do it, you know what I mean? All these people in all these freaking bands, they all didn’t want to do it.

JN: Yeah, well, what happened was we did give the demos of the songs to a lot of people and no one wanted to have anything to do with it so then we just really just kept actively looking for folks and basically Josh was really into the kind of music we were working on so it worked well with him. He loved the demo. And then we had another singer who refused to be in the band if we called it The Choke but we wanted to make sure the band was called The Choke because we liked the name The Choke, and that’s when we decided to get Cameron. I’d met her in a bar like five years ago or something and remembered that she was interested in being a singer.

I didn’t even know if she still worked at the place. I didn’t even know if she was still in New York. I called the bar and it turned out she was still there and got in touch with her that way. And it worked from there.

CE: He gave me the demo, and I loved it, too! I was like, this is great! Like the first time I heard “Luv Me Tomorrow” it was just Johnny and Eric singing to like a drum track. And I was just like, I love this! I was like, I really want to do this. And, whatever. And I was just like, I will do anything to make it happen. And then, I don’t know. It’s been… as soon we started all working together, we played a show like ten days later.

What was that first show like?

JN: We did a secret show when we started. It was kind of a secret. We didn’t publicize it, we didn’t advertise it. It was kind of a warm up gig in the basement of a bar on Avenue B. And then from there we had a big show that we did at Opaline. That was like what we considered our first Manhattan show that was, that we promoted. It was good. It was obvious from the beginning that we had something there that we had a stage charisma and we were going to continue to develop it.

CE: We’ve played about a hundred and twenty shows since then.

Cameron, had you been in bands before joining The Choke?

CE: Nope, first band. It’s just totally right. These guys are like.. It’s just what I was supposed to do. I feel like I was trying other stuff that didn’t work and that never got to be full on. And these guys would just like push me, and at first I was like, ‘should I do this? Should I do that?’ And they were like, just do what you do. I was like, ‘well, I’m not going to sound like Chrissie Hynde.’ And they said, ‘we don’t want you to sound like anybody! We want you to just fucking be you!’ And I think that’s what’s cool is that everybody has their own style and gets to do what they do … No, I was not pursuing it. I had never met anybody where it was right!

JN: Well, you know, the funny thing was… when you meet Cameron for the first time she leaves a strong impression! That must be the only reason why five years later, and this other singer wasn’t working out that the thought comes in my mind that, ‘I wonder if that fucking insane blondie little girl is still interested in singing in a fucking band or not’, you know? And there she was! She was still around so we called her up and there, there you have it.

CE: And it was pretty cool. Just like after playing Johnny was like… so here’s what happened. I go in there and these guys have already written like twelve songs so it was just a matter of coming in and learning all of these songs and then figuring out, and just playing shows. They have an idea of how they wanna do this when they play shows. And within the first two and a half months Johnny decided to get Tony (Barber) to produce our single.

Was that “Extra” or “Luv Me Tomorrow”?

JN: Whatever you want. It’s a double A-side. We consider it to be a double A-side.

HD: There are no B-sides in The Choke!

How did the connection with Tony Barber come about?

JN: I knew Tony for a few years just from being around New York. Tony spends a lot of time in New York with his woman. So when he’s not on tour with the Buzzcocks and when he’s not in London doing business or whatever he’s in New York, and I’d known him for a few years. And he had seen me play the drums and he actually really liked my drumming. I didn’t know him that well but I knew him well enough to try to chase him down, which I did. But you know, he had the really, really early Choke demo, like really shitty Choke demo and he actually liked it a lot. So what it was was, God, if he sees… and he’d been away from New York for a long time as well. So we knew that if he had the chance to experience the same songs that he heard before, but with a live band, that it would really work… The original demo was Eric and I singing in falsetto or something. (laughs) Those tapes don’t exist anymore. They’ve been destroyed. We knew Tony would dig the band if he had a chance to see it live. When we convinced him to come and check out the band live then that’s when it happened. It all worked from there because he really wanted to work with us from that point.

Obviously the Buzzcocks are a huge influence on you guys. How was it working with Tony in the studio?

JN: It was funny. It was fun. It was great, you know?

CE: He’s a musician.

HD: He makes you feel comfortable.

JN: He makes you feel comfortable. He also makes you feel really uncomfortable sometimes.

Photo credit: Zina Brown

CE: He’s very serious, you know? It was obviously an opportunity where we wanted to develop this relationship. We didn’t know. We just knew this was all, we were gonna go record, you know? Johnny had been in the recording studio before, but here we are. Tony’s great. He’s the kind of guy who will show up the night before, and drive in symbols and drums and help you set it up and mic it up and stay in there all day and work really hard cause that’s what he does. He’s got a great ear. He can be in the studio just talking and talking and talking and hear, just listening to the track and hear exactly what needs to go in.

And Tony is doing production on the new album, right? When do you expect that to come out?

JN: Yes. Sometime soon. (laughs) It’s finished.

CE: You know in film they say it’s ‘in the can.’ It’s in the can! It’s in post. It’s just waiting for some, you know, I think money’s an issue for any band. So it’s in England being engineered pretty much.

JN: The album may or may not be self released. We haven’t decided yet. We’re not worried about it.

Will you start touring beforehand to help promote the album? Or will you be working on new material when the album comes out?

JN: We’re gonna start touring beforehand, like this tour - the Gang Asphyxiation tour. It was a nice preview for… we’re going to do some more touring in the Midwest again before the album comes out because, you know, we’re pretty good at building up fans wherever we go and we know that… we’re pretty confidant that by the time the record comes out that we would have played a lot of these cities already and we want to come back to Chicago again soon because it’s a lot of fun here.

Was this the first tour you did like this? Where you did a handful of shows outside of New York?

JM: We went to Boston and Philly with the Buzzcocks, and on our own.

CE: We’ve done two UK tours. That’s how it was with Tony. It wasn’t ‘I want to just produce the single’ it was ‘I want to develop a relationship.’ He’s like, let’s say in three months you guys come to England, just book bar shows. Jonny immediately… I mean, I’m just gonna say it right now. The greatest thing about this group of guys is you say, ‘Johnny, maybe you ought to try, maybe you want to do that.’ And he just takes it and runs.

JN: After we’d been together six months we hadn’t played outside of New York. The first show we played outside of New York at all was London. We played London, we did five shows in London that Tony booked for us. They were a bunch of cool club shows, smaller club shows, but good ones.

CE: We played with some great bands. We actually met the Buzzcocks for the first time there. Steve (Diggle) and Pete (Shelley). These guys did flaming shots!

The whole thing was the go there and do the first show, go there with no press, no nothing. Just go and play. And if at the last show we had more people and a bigger response than the first show, then you did your job. By the time we got done we played a gig in Camden at Dublin Castle and it was great. It was like, there we were. There were over one hundred people there. We didn’t know anybody, and we played a slammin show and they fucking loved it, and that’s what you do. You go there. These songs stand up.

JN: Yeah, cause the first five gigs we did when we went over. It was only about five gigs in the period of ten days and by the last one, the fifth one, there were a lot of people from the last shows, the previous shows, and the all came to the last show at Dublin Castle in Camden. And that was a great first experience in the UK, which in April this year we actually went back and did a really bizarre tour!

Josh "Knuckles" Machlin

What happened on that tour?

JN: Well that was a tour all over the UK with Theatre of Hate. Those weren’t smaller shows, those were like big venue shows. Academy sized venues all over the UK opening for Theatre of Hate and that was… Theatre of Hate’s a band we supported and the leader of that gang is kind of a notorious UK rock star kind of character called Kirk Brandon who’s kind of a psychopath. He’s ok. (laughs)

CE: He kept going, “Ahh, New York City punkers! I was a punker once!” You know? He was just very eccentric and odd and, again, I think The Choke.. Wherever we go, you have to prove yourself in some way and they’re going to be like, from as simple as being asked, “you got any sandwiches?” And being like, “yeah, there’s some day old shit in the back of the bus.” But we got to play ten cities. Glasgow was great. And we find these audiences that like it. They respond to it.

JN: Yeah, the great thing about that tour is we toured with this band, Theatre of Hate, which is kind of a post-punk, gothy kind of rock band and, you know, completely different audience from a usual New York, Choke kind of audience and this was a tour that we proved to the audience and to ourselves that we can win over any audience anywhere at anytime.

CE: That’s what The Choke does. I don’t know, some people say we’re like a freight train.

And how is it playing to newer audiences?

JN: A lot of bands, what they do when they’re put into a different situation playing live, they think, ‘oh this just isn’t going to work,’ or ‘this crowd just isn’t going to like us.’ Or whatever. They just don’t really feel like putting on a top show because they just don’t feel comfortable. We don’t really do that. We just went over and did our thing and win over a of different kinds of crowds because we make the most out of what we’ve been given.

HD: People don’t expect it. They think, "you’re going to suck, because all bands suck!”

JM: It’s going to be an hour and a half of you talking about your mailing list.

JN: A lot of our favorite shows to play aren’t to our regular crowd in New York. They’re shows where we play completely out of our element where nobody knows too much about us or what to expect because we always take them by surprise and we always just really kill the audience.

HD: I think that every band should play like that. When we were on tour with the Buzzcocks, I wanted to blow the Buzzcocks off the fucking stage! ‘These guys are the guys we like, so let’s let them play the good show.’ No! Let us play the good show.

CE: And let them play a better show because we put something into it. It’s a better show if everybody steps up. If you’re good, you’re good.

JN: You’ll notice that a lot of big bands that play big venues like theaters or halls, you know, a lot of times the support bands aren’t that good and that’s because the tour manager for the main band doesn’t want his band to get blown off the stage by the opening act. That’s why we like to just sneak onto tours and just kind of sneak on unassumingly, and people don’t expect it and then we just, you know, that way we do our thing and end up embarrassing the headliner like we always do.

HD: I want to be the band that they remember. I want them walking out saying, ‘I just saw The Choke.’

Cameron Eve

What about fans of The Choke?

CE: I have to bring up Wayne (Rannelli, writer for PUNK Magazine, passed away this year), because when we played with the Buzzcocks at Irving Plaza, which was incredible, one of the things we got out of it was that this guy had written just like a little blip that Jonny caught online saying, ‘The Choke played. Who are these guys? They were great.’ So Jonny wrote him and said thanks. And this guy goes, he comes back with this two page email saying, ‘no, you don’t understand I wrote like a page about you guys! They wouldn’t put it in Sugarbuzz.’ So then he starts coming to all of our shows.

JN: He kind of championed our band and then he wrote a nice piece about us in PUNK Magazine and that was nice because we were featured in the first new PUNK Magazine to come out in years. So that was really cool.

CE: Wayne’s thing was that there were only two new bands in New York he’s liked in like ten years. One is the Bullys and the other is The Choke. And he actually passed away, you know, the night he was supposed to come to our show. It was really hard on us. Because we were just used to seeing him there. The cool thing was he was someone who got us right away. And that’s what it’s about.

JN: And this is a band that’s not just a typical punk rock band. We draw from a lot of influences from 1960s Motown, garage rock, girl groups, soul, a lot of that 1960s rock and we fuse that with a lot of our favorite 1970s elements of rock. Like glam rock, power pop, and 1977-style punk. And Wayne really got what we were doing as far as mixing the kind of garage rock 1960s stuff with the 1970s punk feel. He really understood that. He was a really big fan of a lot of our biggest influences like The Fleshtones and things like that.

HD: I think a lot of New York bands play it safe. They want to be categorized.

JN: We’re not easily categorized in any clique, or any scene of bands in New York or scene of bands in Chicago. Sometimes that hurts us, but that’s why when we sneak onto these bills and surprise them it’s great. Because no one expects it.

Have you ever found yourself playing a set with another band where you just didn’t mesh at all?

JN: Yeah, like in Detroit yesterday! (laughs) Well, it was sort of like modern kind of like awful Limp Bizkit, Korn, alt-rock alternative metal thing. When we were looking for singers again, because we got rid of the one, and we were looking for Cameron, I remember I put an ad in the Village Voice for a singer and someone answered it, and I said ‘what do you like?’ And she said, ‘well, I’m really into System of a-’ CLICK! (laughs)

HD: If people say punk they get a hundred different connotations of what they think punk is. I think of, like, The Damned.

JN: Well, we’re not really a punk band at all. We’re way too rock n’ roll to be punk and a lot of the punk kids think that, or that we’re too garage rock to be punk and a lot of the snobby, hipster garage kids in New York are like, ‘you’re way too punk to be in our garage scene.’ So it’s really like, you can’t really fit in with these people so we just win over fans just by playing the shows and if they don’t want to like us…

HD: You have to make your own decision whether you like us. You can’t just be told, you know what I mean? You have to make the decision. You have to step on the line and be like, ‘I like this band’ or ‘I don’t.’

JN: We’re not the kind of band that some trendy, you know, taste-making outfit is going to recommend, like Pitchfork or something because we don’t fall into any of their categories of things that they think is appropriate to promote. Like slow, boring, shoe gazer, indie crap or whatever, or four guys from London who are really skinny and look like toothpicks and have really long hair and play really derivative bad garage rock.

Do you think people respond better to you because it’s so authentic? You’re not up there with skinny jeans and hair gel, and it’s coming from a completely different place than a marketable band.

JN: Yeah. Even though we aren’t four people who look exactly the same or wear the same stupid clothes like a lot of these bands, we still have a stronger image than these image bands because we have a band where every personality, every person onstage is a real character but a strong one, and a different one, kind of like maybe Cheap Trick did that in the late 1970s. They were all different characters.

HD: They had their lead singer and their side man.

CE: That’s the other thing. We’re not a girl group. We’re not a female-fronted band. That doesn’t exist in our language. It’s like, when I heard them, I wasn’t like, ‘this is a punk band.’ I just heard the music, and was like, ok, I’m gonna sing and find where I fit in and how it works, how to sing the songs without any idea, preconceived notion of how this is supposed to be.

HD: A lot of other bands start off saying, ‘I like this band.’ And they make a band that sounds exactly like that band. We look like this, so we should be in a band because we all look like a bunch of hipster assholes. We want a band that writes good material. I go see the Ramones and see them do “Blitzkrieg Bop,” not “Surfin’ Bird.” You know what I mean? I want original music.

CE: We already have the second album written. The record that’s coming out is essential, original Choke. It’s what we’ve started and what we’ve built on what we’ll carry to wherever we’ve got to carry it. But in the meantime, we stay true to the process like these guys, they’re songwriting machines, they’re hit factories right here!

How is the material on the second record compared the first? Or even the sound, how it changed at all?

HD: It’s a little different I guess.

JN: I can’t believe we’re talking about the second record already in an interview!

CE: It’s just the idea that we keep writing, that’s really...

JN: Actually, you know, the third record blows all of it away. (huge laughs)

I like the Anthology.

HD: We’re gonna record that live!

JM: We’re gonna go back to basics on the third album. The roots.

CE: I like the basement tapes! When we met. We’re releasing those.


Thirsty : February 2008 : Interview with The Choke - Part 2





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