Taking a break from a hectic tour schedule, Adam Miller has just returned from shooting videos in a Wisconsin forest with his group, Chromatics. Since they formed in 2000, the Seattle quartet has had an unusual number of personnel changes, but Miller seems unaffected by any of it. "I love everyone that I have ever played music with," he enthuses. "Chromatics is like a foster home for troubled musicians, and [producer /programmer] Johnny Jewel is like the director of the Make-a-Wish foundation."
Similarly, life on the road has taken little toll on Miller's upbeat demeanor. "Touring is a constant source of inspiration," he explains. "We love all the interactions that occur en route to the gigs. The scenery, the different people we meet–there's always something to remember. The other night we were driving in rural Indiana and I saw a mountain lion cub."
For anyone who has heard Chromatics, this positivism may come as a surprise. A pastiche of dub, Kraut rock, and gritty post-punk, the group's first two records (Chrome Rats vs. Basement Rutz and Plaster Hounds, both on Gold Standard Labs) reveled in gloomy dirges and deathly subject matter. Their forthcoming full-length, Shining Violence (Troubleman Unlimited), explores similar themes of fatality and loneliness. "I think we all have an undeniable attraction to our own undoing, both as individuals and as a culture," Miller states in describing the record's title.
But while the subject matter is similar, the music has changed drastically. As demonstrated on the "Nite" 12" that dropped earlier this year, Chromatics' new sound is built on simple piano refrains and synthesized arpeggios. In place of gritty guitars and frantic beats, the instrumentation is noticeably subdued, and songs like "Baby" and the soon-to-be classic "In the City" have plenty of room to explore layered dynamics.
Miller attributes these new elements to having more time. "Chromatics recorded our first album in three days, and Johnny spent three months mixing it," he explains. "With Shining Violence, we made a record that was allowed to develop in the studio. The goal, as with any of our records, is to not sound like any other Chromatics record. All of the songs have a distinct rhythmic core and purpose–even the songs without drums."
In a musical climate where defining a band's sound is crucial, Chromatics remains an enigma. But if you ask Miller, they're just making punk rock. "We are punk like the Velvet Underground is gangsta, Suicide is krunk, and Yung Joc is new wave," he says. "In our world, there's no difference. Progressive artists refusing to accept the status quo–to us, that's punk."