Like most 21-year-olds, Michigan-based singer/rapper/producer Choker is all over the place. From song to song, he swerves through sharp raps, meditative soul, and psychedelic whirlwinds. Even within songs, he’ll introduce ideas and abandon them before they reach anything resembling a conclusion. His music is engaging and accessible, but there's no predictable direction, no structure. “Pacing is very important to me,” Choker explains. “Grabbing attention and keeping it is very important to me. Song structure, not so much. If it sounds good, I don't care if I forgot to add a hook or a bridge.”
Case in point: “El Dorado.” It’s the fifth track on Choker’s 10-song debut release PEAK, and as he points out, “it’s like six hooks in a row.” The song starts with what sounds like a soaring, battle cry of a chorus, but about halfway through the song you start to wonder if it's ever going to reappear. Other melodies swoop in, new cadences rotate over the ebbs and flows of the production, the energy shifts, and you accept that the opening hook was a one-time deal. Then out of nowhere, over two and a half minutes into the track, that hook comes back in one final time. It's the ultimate satisfaction.
"El Dorado" isn't ever going to be a radio hit, but like Frank Ocean's "Nights" or Animal Collective's "My Girls," it thoughtfully and unconventionally ties together these beautiful pieces in the context of something bigger. Choker delivers these kinds of moments throughout PEAK. No matter the genre, the vibe is consistent and these flashes of brilliance appear from thin air, but part of the magic is that they never feel like part of a formula. As a whole, Choker’s debut project is one of the most exciting of the year, and it showcases the potential of a young artist committed to making meaningful art instead of checking the boxes, sticking to the script, and hoping for a hit.
First of all, can you introduce yourself?
I'm Chris, I'm from Michigan. I hate banana-flavored candy, I love almost everything else. I'm 21 years old. I started producing a few years ago but I've been writing since I learned how to read.
How did you get the name Choker?
Choker stems from the energy and mystique surrounding old metal acts. It sounds like some spin kick mosh shit or a band that gets banned from venues for assaulting security. I wanted a name that clashes with the type of music I make.
It looks like you're taking the mysterious route. Why are you choosing to keep your identity low-key?
I'm not purposefully choosing to be secretive, I think I'm just slightly more guarded and private because that's how I was raised. The extra shenanigans can be distracting in all honesty. At the end of the day, I just want to make good art and watch Outlaw Star reruns.
You bounce between a lot of sounds and styles. Where does that come from?
The variety of sounds is probably a result of my brother introducing me to music outside of hip-hop at an early age. When he'd pick me up from basketball practice he would play Feist, Björk, The Postal Service, Sufjan Stevens, just a whole bunch of fire I wouldn't have found by myself. When it comes to vocal performance, I just do whatever I feel fits the the track or whatever comes naturally. Mentally I'll get bored if I hear the same thing over and over, so the changes of pace keep me entertained as both a creator and a listener.
I know a lot of artists hate comparisons, but I think the easiest comparison with you is Frank Ocean. Are you a fan of his?
I think any kid putting music on the internet in this current climate would be lying if they said Odd Future wasn't an influence in some way, shape, or form. The Frank comparison makes sense to me in terms of vocal approach at times, but I can't really help how my voice sounds. Of course I'm inspired by him though; he's one of the few widely known and established artists that constantly charges towards the unexplored. I'm cool with being compared to someone I respect, the trouble starts when you get lumped in with folks that misrepresent your skill set.
This whole album is all you, right? No guest features or help with production? Why did you decide to go in completely solo?
Aside from the trumpet and acoustic guitar at the end of "Diorama," I felt working solo was the most productive. I prefer to rely on myself as much as possible. There may be some underlying control issues or a subconscious need to prove I don't need help that pushes me to be that way. Actually, that's definitely it now that I think about it. Something along those lines. In the future I'd like to work with people more, after I learn how to not be such a destructive slab of sad meat during the creative process. I know it's healthy to collaborate and share those moments with others, I'm just not there yet. Also, mixing and mastering really brings out the grungiest shades of my OCD so I would love for someone else to handle that next time around.
What is your goal with music?
Hopefully I contribute to the improvement of the human condition as a whole down the line, way after I'm dead, when my grandchildren are taking care of my great-grandchildren. For now, music is a good way to connect emotionally with the kids that don't feel validated. Kids that need to be reminded they're not alone from time to time, because mental illness can make you forget. It's ok to feel however you want, to do whatever you want, fuck whoever you want. I don't want to sound preachy so I'll just say the sonics are a small portion of a larger whole I'm starting to build.
For now, music is a good way to connect emotionally with the kids that don't feel validated. Kids that need to be reminded they're not alone from time to time.
Are you performing live yet?
I'm not. That's something I want to take care of soon.
What can we expect from you next? More music? Shows? Videos?
All of that and more. I'll be giving out free paintings on Twitter soon so people can decorate their living space. Comfortable and calming environments are important.
Your songs feel very loose and free-flowing. Do you write them out piece by piece ahead of time, or do you improvise as you go?
It varies depending on the song. Sometimes I have everything planned, sometimes I open my laptop with an empty mind and just let things happen. The only constant throughout is attention to detail, I love understated components that only get noticed when pointed out or after multiple listens. Pacing is very important to me. Grabbing attention and keeping it is very important to me. Song structure, not so much. If it sounds good, I don't care if I forgot to add a hook or a bridge. "El Dorado" is like six hooks in a row.
How would you describe your personality? You seem very introspective, and usually that comes from spending at least some time alone.
Still trying to figure that out, but I totally spend more time in my head than I would like. I'm working on getting out more and experiencing things without analyzing or breaking down the unnecessary. The choice to be alone is a combination of preference and social anxiety, for the most part. Occasionally when I'm at a close friend's house and I feel uncomfortable for no reason, I get discouraged. It's like, "I've known this person for years, why am I being so weird?" Sometimes I'm by myself and I feel anxious, so I guess I'm just an anxious person in general.
What do you want people to take from your music?
I don't think I can properly capture the scope of my intentions in words as of now, but they're wholly positive. In short, whatever is needed. Use it as an escape, relate to it, attach memories to it. Listen and react however you see fit. I want to be the nail in a wall you hang a picture from.