troy von balthazar
Words by Tom Oldridge
Hearing Aid speaks to Hawaiin-born artist Troy von Balthazar following the release of his fourth album, 'Knights of Something'
When I asked Troy Von Balthazer (TvB) how he described his style, he coined the term ‘humanistic lo-fi’. At first I was taken aback by this, but upon reflection I must say that I agree. His music sounds like careful craftsmanship and devotion were involved in every step of the process - beautifully informed by his intense experience and relationship with his art.
TvB first entered the public eye as the frontman of 90's LA cult band ‘Chokebore’. As bastions of the sadcore scene, they garnered a cult following for their well articulated musical retorts to the darker side of our psyche. Their careful depiction of depression and death amongst other topics earned them recognition by Nirvana and, consequently, they appeared as the supporting act of their 1994 tour. This intense connection with complicated emotions, in conjunction with the rare gift of conveying such sentiments, is also evident in TvB’s solo career following on from Chokebore.
The Knights Of Something is TvB’s fourth solo album and represents a different take on the expression on inner conflict and dark agitation. The album feels sparse - in a carefully calculated way - recorded on an old Tascam 388 along with only a few old microphones and pedals. Yet, while the album certainly differs in its undoubtedly tempered pace, it remains as thick with understanding and raspy confessional lyrics. When questioned about his stylistic intentions, TvB indicated that ‘this was how he felt inside’ - you can really hear this, the pain-staking delivery of his poetry and layered vocals sound heavy and ethereal, encapsulating us in his own world vision.
The album itself is laced with indelible impressions of Hawaii - where Balthazer spent his early days - as well as romantic etchings that glow through the heavy melancholy. The highlights of the album are New World Lamb, a trademark take on receptivity to isolation, and the final track Lemon Seed - which begins with spacey noises and is bound together by whispered poetry, gyrating around the axis of the lyrics 'My Girl And Me'. I highly recommend this album - not only because it really feels like a rude awakening to our perceptions of a life full of light - but also because of the clear dedication and careful precision evident in the music that TvB has committed his whole life to.
TvB has 2 upcoming shows in London:
5/12/2016: ISLINGTON ASSEMBLY HALL (Opening for Colour Bars Experience Plays Nick Drake)
6/12/2016: THE LOCK TAVERN
What are you trying to achieve with your music?
My own salvation.
Why have you chosen to adhere to this style - how much are you planning to venture from it?
That’s what it sounds like on my insides, I'm just trying to capture what’s in there. The record player playing a new song in the room inside the room in the back of my head. That’s the song I want to
Where do you consider home?
I wish I could have that feeling of being home. It’s not in Berlin so Im moving again soon. I’m not sure where it is. I’ll keep looking.
How focused are you at what you do?
Imagine a grey world. Every object is grey. Everything is dull. Life is boring and slow. People are far away and different. But then you find one thing that has colours. One single thing. A super bright swirl of colour. Thats how it feels. It’s easy to look at that closely.
How honest / open are you?
I try to be honest and open. Most of the time I succeed. Sometimes I fail.
When in your life have you been most overcome by fear?
Last year writing this album. I was afraid of dying in poverty. ha.
How would you describe your style?
What's the weirdest event / episode of your life that has inspired one of your songs?
I feel down the stairs when I was a boy. I always think about that when I begin to write an album. I'm not sure why. Maybe I bumped my head and it started the music playing.
What did you learn from your time with Chokebore (& Nirvana!)?
I learned how to be afraid on stage. There were a lot of people watching. It was fun but scary.
How do you think the content of your songs (lyrically and musically) has changed from your first solo release in 2001?
I used to write my emotions and now I don’t have any, so I write my thoughts.
Who do you regard as your greatest influences?
The moments in life when time stops and you look at something normal, like a piece of glass, and hear music.
To what extent do you think you were influenced by Berlin in the recording of Knights Of Something?
I recorded the album in my flat in Berlin. You can hear the neighbours walking up and down the stairs in the background. Lots of neighbour noise on the album. I was writing and recording at the same time and felt very surrounded and trapped, so in my head I built a free world and tried to just squeeze that out onto the recording machines.
Similarly, did you collect any sounds or lyrical inspiration from Hawaii?
Sounds, no. They always sound silly when I listen back, but lyrics are good because there is so much water in my lyrics.
How important do you think it is for your music to be personally relatable?
For other people to relate to it? I gave up on that idea a long time ago. Even before we started Chokebore. I can’t even guess what most people want for lunch.