Choker makes the kind of music you selfishly want to keep to yourself, for fear of exposing it to the rest of the world and diluting the magic. The LA-via-Detroit musician has been steadily churning out lush, shape-shifting projects under the Choker moniker since 2015 and hasn't lost any creative stamina along the way. During that time, he's honed a sound that dips in and out of rap, R&B, and psych rock –– never resting long enough in any box to become defined by it.
At 21, Choker broke out with his official debut, Peak, and kept the momentum going with his 2018 follow-up album, Honeybloom. Before that, he'd put out Die Slow and a few loosies here and there. His expressive vocal style and inventive song structures made for records that were hard to turn off repeat, making it clear that this was an artist about to pop off. Recently, Choker's taken it to a new level on his three-part project, Filling Space, which is made up of three mini EPs. Last month we heard the first section, Mono No Moto, which premiered via The FADER. Choker's second offering, which meditates on interpersonal relationships, self-discovery and enlightenment, comes to us today in the form of a new EP, which PAPER has the pleasure of premiering, called Dog Candy.
Whereas Mono No Moto had a blissed out, bedroom-pop vibe, Dog Candy skews towards R&B textures with its bouncy, retro-futuristic beats and dense verses. Choker kicks it off with the vibrant, helium warble of "Dualshock," then builds to the nostalgic "Master P," and finally lands on the third track, "Kiko," maintaining his experimental touch throughout. Through his own introspections and musings, Choker's vulnerable songwriting exposes large, simple truths without ever coming across as preachy. The intricate lyrics and vocal modulations recall Frank Ocean's Blonde, or even Earl Sweatshirt's recent Some Rap Songs. What you'll hear mostly, though, is an artist tinkering with new sounds, learning how to meld tough sonic palates with softer ones.
PAPER caught up the artist and producer to talk about his new project, anime inspiration, and reddit fandoms.
Tell me a little bit about your 2018. How do you find the stamina to stay creative and keep putting out releases?
Well I don't really have anything better to do with my time honestly. I moved to Los Angeles to work on stuff and work with my friends who live out here so usually if I'm not eating food or doing something mundane like that, I'm just making music.
As a local, what's your take on Detroit's music scene? Did you grow up in that music community or was it something you came to later in life?
Honestly, I was never really directly involved in the music scene in Detroit. I wasn't very proactive in meeting a lot of my fellow artists out there. When I was coming up, there were people like Big Sean and Danny Brown, all of those people were a lot older than me. I was never really connected to that side of things. But now I think it's a little bit better. There are smaller separated communities that do stuff together. For a while I was going to this church studio that's in Detroit run by a couple of cool guys. But for the most part I kept to myself.
It seems like you had a lot of time to start creating from a young age. I'm wondering how you learned to write and produce. Did you teach yourself?
I started writing as soon as I started reading. I would just write movie scripts and comic books and stuff like that. Then it slowly transformed into me writing poems and things that could be considered lyrics. I started rapping and after I did that for a bit, I got tired of rapping on other peoples' beats or waiting for someone to produce something. So, I think around 17 or 18, I started producing stuff and that's when I picked up keyboards and playing guitar and stuff like that.
It's cool you bring that up, because I feel like a lot of your music a really cinematic quality to it. Are there any specific visuals or directors that inspire you?
I love Spike Jonze, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson –– a lot of the very visually strong directors who work in tandem with their cinematographers very well. They're able to tell stories visually as well as with the script very well. In terms of particular movies, a lot of animated movies like Akira, Paprika, Ghost In The Shell, just a lot of very visually stimulating stuff that naturally evokes inspiration.
I read that these three EPs were inspired by a Pascal Maitre photograph of three girls wearing white dresses with different colored sunglasses. Could you tell me that image and why it resonated with you?
I came across it randomly scrolling through Tumblr one day. I didn't download it for some reason but a week later I went back to Tumblr and scrolled through a whole bunch of stuff looking for it and I got it. Something about it was very helpful. I would just look at it and be able to pick out certain emotions or just look at the simple expressions or the details of their dresses. It just kind of led to these other avenues of creation. Music and film and painting operates in the same space in my head in terms of what it takes for me to do those things. So, if something is stimulating me visually then it will connect to something else and then I can kind of piece it all together eventually.
If each girl has a distinct personality, and each one represents one EP, how would you characterize the personality of Dog Candy?
The personality of Dog Candy is a lot more –– I wouldn't say it's obviously abrasive like super intense music, but a lot of the textures are more aggressive and weirder. I was trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between some of those abrasive textures and make them a little more palatable. There's just a whole lot of experimenting with sound synthesis and trying to figure out which chords could sound good on a really weird sound, and then I try to turn that into something that I would want to listen to. A lot of the time, I'll make a synth patch from scratch and it'll be ambient or noise and then I try to figure out which kind of chords are able to connect with that sound to the point where it's transformed in a way that's easier for listening.
How does Mono No Moto fit into that spectrum?
It's a lot more reflective. It's a lot more time-based in terms of thinking about things in a very nostalgic way. In a lot of the writing I was referencing stuff that I experienced as a kid or things that aren't currently happening to me. A lot of it was based on this Japanese term, "mono no aware," which is an existential saying and I wanted to think of that in terms of motion; things constantly happening, things constantly moving –– whether it be the physicality of being human or mentally thoughts racing, things always going onto the next orbit.
The Frank Ocean comparison feels like beating a dead horse at this point. I was interested to learn you have a lot of indie rock influences. Could you talk about how some of those influences factor into your style?
Yeah they definitely do just in terms of chord progression choice and the overall mood of my music just because I was listening to a lot of that music in very important parts of my development. The Postal Service, Bjork, or other bands I was listening to in middle school or early high school like Death Cab for Cutie, Silversun Pickups, and this band Eisley. I really connected to the writing. The lyrics were very penetrating and would just stick in my mind for a super long time so I'd just be very interested in being able to write in a way where you're saying things that stick with people or have multiple layers unfold that you can figure out for yourself in terms of trying to find what something means for you.
Who are some artists that you've always dreamed of playing with?
That's a really good question. I don't usually think of artists in that way in terms of whether I would want to perform or go on tour with them. I like a lot of the T.D.E artists, like Kendrick, Schoolboy Q. It'd be cool to tour with a band like Tame Impala or Unknown Mortal Orchestra, just being able to experience that from the viewpoint of being side by side with a band like that on a nightly basis.
A lot of your songs don't follow a "conventional" structures. You mentioned in another interview that part of that is because you get distracted easily. This got me thinking about how our attention spans have decreased lately, just because of the nature of social media. I'm curious if you think that the way we interact with our phones, getting constantly flooded with information, impacts listeners' experience, or the creative songwriting process?
In terms of the listeners' experience, I think it might make it harder to appreciate when something is good, not necessarily fantastic, but when something is good. You're getting flooded with so many things that are at the very least good or average, which makes it seem super over-saturated. But I think it also can make it a little clearer when something super-duper stands out. It becomes really apparent that it's something extremely different and extremely trail-blazing.
When it comes to making stuff, it doesn't really affect me. I think I'm naturally all over the place mentally in terms of what I'm trying to do and my inspirations. To go into more detail about my songwriting, when I was coming up making music, I didn't really pay too much attention to that stuff, so it was never super important to me. It was like never like, "Oh this needs to be 16 bars and then I need to do a hook there." If I were to then start trying to do things in a very structured way it wouldn't be how I naturally do things, so it'd probably feel less honest because I would just be overthinking it.
Would you call yourself reclusive?
No, I really wouldn't say that at all. I just don't think I'm on social media as much as people usually are. So, it would kind of be easy to say that I'm hiding away or something like that but in terms of my actual day to day life like I go outside all the time [laughs], I hang out with my friends, I go to the movies, I'm just not tweeting about it. I don't share that as much as people generally do now and I don't think there's anything wrong either way, whether you choose to share a bunch of stuff or whether you choose to keep it to yourself.
Do you ever read the subreddit about you?
No, I do not, but my friends check it out sometimes.
I see a lot of comments like "you're about to blow up, I don't want the world to know about you!" What do you think that fear, favorite artists getting exposure, is about?
I totally see where that thought process comes from, because when I was 13 or 14, and I would hear something that was very special to me, there's a part of you that wants it to stay pure and you want it to stay your special thing, your little secret. It's scary when you have an artist that makes music in a certain way or they make art in a certain way that you don't want that to be changed by some sort of outside source whether it be them catering to the public or a record label. You want what is special to stay special. One way for people to do that is for them to keep it to themselves or to keep it hidden, to shield it away from things.
When I first started listening to Kid Cudi as a kid, stuff like that that connects with you super emotionally and something about that emotional connection makes it weird to think of it in on such a large scale because it's so intimate and it's so important to you that it's like, "I want this to be my thing, I want this to be something that I'm experiencing for myself." It's weird to think of something so intimate on such a large scale.
But as I grew and saw a lot of those artists that I respected grow in terms of their fanbase and their coverage, I just noticed the way that they would handle it by staying true to themselves. I shed that stage of thinking that in order for things to stay pure or important or special, that they have to have some sort of protection element to them. The more something is out in the open or the bigger something gets, the more you kind of see the true extent to what it can be or what it can become. It's more exposed to its true sensibilities if it's being challenged. There's something about being bigger or having more exposure that is challenging because there is that added pressure of doing better and then it's seeing if something is able to withstand that, if it's truly strong.
Listen to Dog Candy and watch the new Jet Fuzz-directed video for "Dualshock," below. Choker will head out on tour in March, find dates here.
Photography: Tyler Smith / @comfortingsmile