Interview with AlphaChromeYayo – AlphaChromeYayo (you’ll see me sometimes refer to him as ACY throughout because I’m lazy). But! Do not let the need to abbreviate this gentleman’s moniker give the perception that anything about him comes short. He is a very helpful musician and knows how to make an axe his bitch. Ladies and Gents, I present to you AlphaChromeYayo!
Thanks for taking some time today, ACY! I’m very glad we’re having this discussion and I’m looking forward to learning more about you. To those who are uninitiated, AlphaChromeYayo is an extremely talented Electronic Musician. We have only recently become acquainted, so you’ll be learning about him with me as we go.
You’re very kind! Cheers for talking to me, let’s do this thing.
So, first question I enjoy posing to everyone who uses an Artist name – Now, if you don’t wish to reveal that’s fine but what is your real name and where do you hail from?
Haha, yeah, I’m happy to reveal. I’m Peter and I’m from Belfast, Northern Ireland. . . Eh, I mean, no . . I’m ACY and I’m a cyber-netic synth sorcerer from the year 4029 by way of 1985. Or, maybe it’s a little bit of both..
How did you get into music and how long have you been playing for?
I’ve always loved music, for as long as I can remember. I grew up with my folks frequently playing rock n’ roll records in the house. My Mum’s Neil Diamond album’s and my Dad’s tapes in the car of Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry were hugely formative for me. I could say the same for my Sister’s Pixies records.
I’ve been playing music in some shape or form basically since I could sit up at a piano, but there was one particular movie that that really blew it all wide open for me. More on that in a minute!
I know you mentioned beginning as a pianist at a young age but when did guitar become your poison of choice and what other instruments got you started on this adventure towards the sound which you achieve now?
Yes, I did mention starting with piano at an early age and, sure, I took a few lessons and a couple of exams, but nothing serious. Also took up sax, which I got reasonably proficient at – enough to annoy the neighbors anyway – but I always, always wanted to be able to wail on the electric guitar.
I’m still able to pinpoint the exact moment the obsession overtook me – It dawned on me the first time I saw Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (editor’s note – umm, fuuuuuck yes?!?!) – That’s the first movie I remember seeing and man, I was obsessed with it. Hell, I still am! Still I can watch it over and over and – as cool as the titular duo were – what REALLY hooked me was the soundtrack. I knew I was listening to guitar bands, hair metal really, guys like Robbi Robb, Extreme, Winger … Mostly dudes that were never championed in the hallowed halls of ‘Rock Greats’, but the sounds they were making just seemed insane to me. Insane and unreachable, otherworldly even.
I always assumed the electric guitar was something that a mere mortal like me couldn’t ‘do’ – It was so far removed from the fuddy duddy ‘guitar group’ in school where my friends were dicks to me ‘cos I couldn’t get Kumbaya right on a clunky acoustic. But when I was about ten or eleven, my endlessly supportive parents bought me a sunburst Strat one Christmas and hoohoo; It was like BOOM! The whole world opened up. Just plugging this thing in and touching the strings made the coolest sounds!
Suddenly those unreachable, wild solos and huge riffs seemed within my grasp. Everything did… From there, I branched out more from guitar and eventually came full circle to synths, sax and beyond.
Now, we both live in a grounded, realistic universe so I can ask this – Meaning, we’re both musicians. I’m guessing here, so I might be wrong but I’m imagining you don’t make your living as an Artist (as unfortunate as that is). Since we live in a society that so easily pushes off the Arts and Humanities as being things which are ‘un-important’, what is your day job? How do you find the dichotomy between what you do to keep the lights on and how your art reflects this back within your tracks?
In my day job I make radio programmes, so there’s a bit of overlap! The two bleed together, certainly. Especially in terms of sound design, production, knowing my way around a studio, etc.
Music is so very important to me though, and it goes way beyond a hobby, or a side-gig, or whatever you want to call it. I’m not so much a dickhead that I’d say it’s a ‘calling’, more like a necessity. Making music has kept me sane and seen me through some hard times. I’m also eternally proud and honoured that I’ve even got a modest fanbase. Like, obviously I’m not on the front page of Rolling Stone or anything, haha, but the fact that there are people out there enjoying what I’m putting out, that means the world to me.
That’s something that absolutely reflects back on my tracks. In fact, my latest one, Anchorage, touches on it in particular.
Where does the gloved hand, giving the thumbs up with the wrist watch icon you use alongside your moniker come from? What does it mean to you personally, since you clearly like it enough to make it your profile picture?
I’ve always had a taste for the theatrical and the macabre, and I’m a huge fan of Italian Giallo pictures – really sleek, stylish movies with wild synth scores and an ever-present murderer… But you’d only see the killer’s gloved hand, maybe weilding a gun or a knife.
When it comes to cinema like that, I really subscribe to the Hitchcockian notion thatr whatever picture your mind paints of what’s happening ‘off-screen’ is far more exciting or terrifying than what could be shown, and I figured I could harness a bit of that. In a nutshell, I like the mystique.
And, in a much more practical sense, those are my actual driving gloves. I love wearing them in the car, even though I probably look like an asshole. I’m pretty sure my wife hates them, and who can blame her!
Okay, everyone’s favorite question – Gear rundown, present rig only! Go!
Alright! It’s stripped back to be honest, I use a lot of softsynths, and I love Reason 10; I’m a huge fan of Propellerheads’ Europa and Thor – just such workhorse synths. Stuff from Synapse is great too, Antidote is another wonderfully pliable synth, and they do a really lush deep ‘80s reverb and chorus. And Arturia’s take on the CS-80 is just perfect. That’s my bread and butter, along with a smattering of trusty rack extensions and VSTs.
Hardware wise –
it’s low key as I say. I used to be SUCH a gearhound when I was younger, now it’s the total opposite, and it’s incredible what fits in small packages. Given the ‘80s-flavoured world I live in, it’s probably no surprise that I love FM sounds and the Volca FM is incredible for that. Sometimes I’d rather use it than a DX-7, honestly. I’m constantly surprised at the quality of tones it’s capable of, and with a clever cable like Retrokits’ RK002, you can patch in velocity control, which makes it a really wicked little beast.
I’ve got a few more hardware synths and controllers knocking about, but most of the time I’m just plugging an Arturia Keystep into something and seeing where it’ll take me.
Guitar-wise, I’ve got a lovely ice white Ibanez RG350DX that is on practically everything I record. A mid-range model but ooooh I love it. The bridge pickup could do with being swapped out with something beefier at some point, but it’s still great. I use the whammy a lot in my playing, and the floating trem on it is incredible. I’ve used high end Floyd Rose ones before that haven’t come anywhere near to it. Again, I’ve a bunch more axes in the closet, but this is the guy that gets the most use.
Aside from that, I’ve a Trevor Horn alto sax that gets a semi-regular airing (especially on my ‘Take My Advice’ record, which is basically a love letter to grimy cop movies), a boatload of miscellaneous weird and wonderful instruments that periodically get dug out, and the prerequisite rat-king of cables, connectors, FX pedals and oddities.
You describe yourself, at least on your Instagram profile, as ‘axe-laden synthwave retromancy’ (which by the way, I absolutely love). We can all read and breakdown that badass label word for word, but what I’m interested in is what that combination of words means to you and how it is actually an excellent way to describe what you do?
I’m glad you dig it! To be honest I have a tough time describing what it is I do, so I’m super pleased you think it works. Most of my stuff is ostensibly ‘synthwave’, but even that’s not a neat fit. But on the flipside, that’s one of the precise reasons I love working in and around the synthwave framework. At face value it’s a genre that thrives on nostalgia, but I think once you scratch the surface it becomes a lot more interesting than that.
For me the best synthwave doesn’t exist purely on longing for past times; moreover it celebrates the excitement of the ‘80s – a time when experimentalism and excess was, for better or worse, championed. I love that feeling of unbridled freedom, and my personal goal is to channel that and bring it into the 21st century. A sound steeped in the past, but looking to the future.
Haha I guess whether or not I actually manage to do that is up to anybody listening. I also specifically mentioned the axe as so much of my sound comes from the guitar. That being said, the next thing I’m working on is shred-light! Which is right out of my comfort zone. And I’m a sucker for the word ‘retromancer’ – partly ‘cos I’m a big D&D loving dork. But that feeling you get when you’re in a studio surrounded by wires and knobs and bits of crazy gear, I like the lunacy that goes alongside it, it makes me feel like a mad scientist, or a gonzo magician.
Obviously not all the experiments and tricks work, but I’m always hoping lightning will strike and I’ll make a lovely Frankenstein’s monster that hopefully some people will listen to.
Is what we know as AlphaChromeYayo entirely you, or do you have guest musicians join you at times?
It’s entirely me, although I have done the occasional collab. I mentioned Bill and Ted earlier; it’s obviously a movie and a soundtrack so special to me, and my personal favourite track on there is Robbi Robb’s ‘In Time’. It’s such an underrated power-ballad – it’s so enigmatic, so enlightened sounding. It plays when the dudes travel to the future, a future made harmonious through their cool music.
To me, that track IS the sound of the future. I mean, it opens with a soaring guitar solo! I’ve always loved it, and to celebrate the movie turning 30 years old a few months back, I teamed up with my excellent pal Danny Madigan to do a cover of it. He lent his awesome vocals to it, and he knocked it right out of the park.
I actually got quite emotional recording it. It sounds dopey, but I got a bit weepy recording the intro solo; it was the sound I always wanted to make, since I could remember, and I was making it. But beyond that, the movie is an incredible adventure through time, and a celebration of unstoppable friendship in the face of adversity. Working on it with my pal Danny (his real name is Steven) took one of my favourite things and added extra emotional depth to it.
So yeah, thanks Stevesie. You rule.
You released your single, Anchorage, very recently. Being from Belfast, where did the title come from?
Oh shit, haha from one overwrought over-emotional answer to another one I’m afraid, apologies! I’ll try to rein it in a bit here.
Basically, as is the case with everyone, life can get tough and messy and shit. Anchorage isn’t so much about that (although my ludicrously gothic release Malediction Boulevard absolutely is), moreover it’s a thank you to the stabilising forces in my life. The wonderful people who keep me on course when life’s waves get too high haha!
So yeah, that’s where the title came from; it’s not about the physical location Anchorage (although I’ve always wanted to visit actually), rather the act of being anchored when you’re on a boat, in a squall. Some people are just amazing, and make sure I don’t drift out into the distance.
It’s also a track very much born out of yacht-rock, full of Steely Dan style mu-chords and soft-shred solos, so I was super keen to load it with as many nautical references as possible! Basically music that makes you want to wear pastel coloured linens and jauntily tie a sweater around your neck.
As an aside, at a yacht club I once saw a man wearing a sweater, with one tied round his neck, and a THIRD one around his waist. THREE SWEATERS. I’m pretty sure I thought he was the biggest dickhead ever, but also really wanted to try it out myself.
Maybe some day.
I love the guitar throughout Anchorage and really all your material. You shred like I wish I was able. It has this retro, Miami Vice type feel to it. And I say that with the utmost respect. It’s hard to achieve the exact sonic qualities you wish to, yet it seems to me like you have. This isn’t exactly a question, merely something I noticed via my ear holes. Something that I think folks should know about so they actually head over to wherever they get their music and be sure to pick something up by you.
I can’t thank you enough for that; all I want to do is paint pictures with my music. Again, I probably sound like an arsehole saying that, but if I’m conjuring up images of Miami Vice I am a very, very, very happy man. Thank you!
What type of guitar, effects and post production elements did you infuse in order to obtain this unique timbre across your catalog?
I mentioned my lovely ice-white Ibanez earlier and it’s basically on everything I do. It’s just perfect, I mean even LOOKING at it puts me in the right frame of mind! Aside from that, it’s generally pretty stripped back. Big hi-gain, soaring distortion, some crisp ‘80s deeeeeep reverb and maybe a touch of chorus, that’s usually about it! For some tracks I go a bit more loopy, but generally I like to have a similar tone. I’m a rubbish singer, so for me that guitar sound is kinda like my ‘voice’. I mix it up of course, but I like that it’s fairly constant throughout most of my work.
With your bitching ability to rock an axe, where did synthesizers find their way into your routine?
Again, thank you so very much! That’s extraordinarily lovely to read. I guess it always slightly annoyed me that I started to learn piano when I was young, but never really went toooo far with it, and as I grew up I started to hear how awesome synths could be. That Michael McDonald synth intro to Van Halen’s ‘I’ll Wait’ is a major formative one for me. I got a little shiver there just thinking about it; it sounds so BADASS. It’s a confident, stomping intro; simple, but so evocative, and it’s dirty too. Like, it’s distorted as hell, and all the better for that.
So about a year ago I started getting much more involved in the synth side of things. It’s a very natural pairing I think, synth and wild axe silliness. And now I’m so far down that rabbit hole I ain’t comin’ out. I love the literally endless possibilities involved with synthesis, musicality that goes far beyond notes on a stave, and right into texture, timbre and beyond. It’s beautiful. Jeez, what’s wrong with me this morning? I’m super over-emotional haha!
On that note actually, with McDonald’s distorted keys, I LOVE trying to make my guitars sound like synths and vice versa. Not really sure why, it just adds this other layer of magic I think when you’re listening to something and you’re not even really sure what the instrument is. I think the first time I experienced that was with Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Child’ – it’s got a slew of guitar and keyboard solos, and they kind of blend into each other so it becomes hard to tell them apart. I love that.
Are there any other projects out there in the ether with your name on it? You’re a very versatile musician, so I can’t imagine AlphaChromeYayo as a project is your first rodeo.
I was in a few bands and stuff when I was younger but honestly, this is my first ‘proper’ thing. I experimented a bit with dungeon synth when I first got more involved with synthesizers, but Alpha Chrome Yayo made so much more sense to me.
Although that being said, my next project is something a lot more ambient, and I might revisit some of those dank dungeon sounds for it. I think there’s a lot more overlap between those genres than I realised at first, and a lot of that comes from the video-game influence. If you take something like, say, the soundtrack to Golden Axe, it could almost fit in the dungeon synth, chiptune and synthwave camps all at once.
Is there any stuff out there that you participated in, if comparing styles, would throw me for such a loop it’d make my head spin? …Something like you were previously a member of Ireland’s premiere Madonna cover band, Tony Iommi is your great Uncle or (to not be silly a moment) simply some other older projects you deem worthy of mentioning?
Ehhh let me think. I once supported Eels with an air-guitar performance of Rush’s twenty minute prog-rock epic 2112, while wearing a massive green cape? It was a strange experience, if there weren’t pictures I’d assume it was a fever dream.
I was also sort of a teenage yoyo champion haha, I went on a small tour of shopping centres. A kid asked me for my autograph. Strange times.
I know you just had a release but any big news on the horizon for a longer release, like an album? Especially if no one really knows your plans yet, you were keeping it a secret and this question forces the info out of you. That’d be awesome, haha.
Haha oh man, I have loads of stuff on the cards. I’m so tempted to give you one of those shitty ‘BUT I CAN’T TALK ABOUT THAT’ answers, but I really don’t like those. Although some of it I can’t really reveal yet. So, shit, am I doing that?
Basically in terms of my own work, I’ve got a new EP coming out in a few weeks’ time, and it’s very different to everything else I’ve put out so far. It’s very light on guitar, and it’s mostly ambient. It’s called ‘Komorebi’, which is a beautiful Japanese word referring specifically to the phenomenon of sunbeams filtering through trees. Isn’t that lovely?
I’m really very excited about the artwork too, it features an image by excellent painter and performance artist Roger Shimomura, a still from an early performance that I found really moving. Professor Shimomura was kind enough to let me use it for this release, and I’m so very grateful. Anyway, it’ll be out in a few weeks’ time, and shall be pre-orderable soon.
Aside from that, I’ve got a mountain of collabs that I’m working on. Just a ridiculous amount. I don’t think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, but it’s a lot. Some are guitar solos for cyberpunky tracks, others are cool covers and remixes … I’m gonna be working on a thing with a local Belfast musician who I have endless respect for, so I’m psyched about that…. I’m also having a ton of fun making some cheesy ‘80s news stings for another project…
So yeah, I hope that’s less a ‘AAHH I CAN’T TALK ABOUT IT’ answer, more a ‘well, I can talk about it a bit’ answer.
Is there anything I’ve neglected to mention about AlphaChromeYayo that you’d like to take an opportunity to voice now?
Not at all, this has been a total pleasure. I guess the only thing I’d like to mention is how very, very grateful I am that there are a few people out there – yourself included – listening to and supporting me and what I do. It means everything to me. Everything. Thank you, you rule!
I’d like to thank AlphaChromeYayo once more for taking some time to sit down and answer these questions. I think he provided some really solid answers to some head scratcher question and I feel like I’m somehow now closer to the guy just from casually chatting with him. He is extremely kind, approachable and humble. It’s quite refreshing! Be sure to follow him on Instagram and definitely make sure to check out his newest single, Anchorage, out now. I guarantee (!) you will like it or, umm, you’ll get your money back? Haha, got you there. There’s no money to be made here! Either way, thanks everyone for reading and as always, keep on rockin’ and rollin’!
PS – if you enjoyed this interview, check out some of my others! We’ve got everyone’s favorite South Carolinian
We even ventured as far out as the Ukraine, enjoy!!!