When it comes to influential underground rock bands, San Francisco is (was) lousy with them. Throw a rock randomly into a crowd on Market St. and you could end up hitting a member of the Flamin' Groovies, Crime, or maybe even one of the Residents (though in the case of the Residents, you couldn't confirm it).
Out of all the Bay Area bands to have been declared seminal, Chrome is probably the most influential while having the least to show for it. Founded in 1975, their Stooges-meets-synths-and-experimental-noise sound is credited with being the beginning of industrial rock music -- the stuff that that made careers for Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, among countless others.
Yet when I call longtime Chrome guitarist Helios Creed days before he left for a week-long west coast tour, he tells me he doesn't know where he's going to live afterward because he's being evicted from his Santa Cruz home.
"The toilet pipe gave out when I was sleeping. I awoke to water everywhere," Creed says. "They blamed me for what happened. The toilet pipe wasn't even mentioned, and they served eviction papers the next day."
Born and raised in Long Beach, Calif., Creed began playing guitar at age 12 after his father, in the Navy at the time, brought him a Guyatone electric guitar from Japan for his birthday. He started mimicking his guitar heroes like Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck, but in his later teens Creed would expand his horizons with psychedelic drugs and heavier groups of the '70s like Hawkwind (he would later quip that he invented his guitar sound by trying to recreate what he heard "listening to Black Sabbath on LSD on headphones when I was a teenager").
Creed moved to San Francisco in the mid '70s, and soon met Chrome's original bassist, Gary Spain, who introduced Creed to the group's first album The Visitation. Creed not only enjoyed the music, but he knew he had to be in the band.
By then Chrome was falling apart: guitarist John Lambdin, suffering from amphetamine psychosis, was hospitalized. But Chrome's mastermind Damon Edge (born Thomas Wisse) had already switched his attention to turning the band into a recording project, using his trust fund money to rent a house and buy equipment.
"When I met (Damon), he had long, straight, kinda greasy hair and he was wearing an 'Aloha' shirt with a sports coat," Creed says. "He was a little chubby [laughs]."
According to Creed, though Chrome was a psychedelic band, they never "jammed." "That was a hippie thing," Creed says. "And we never played the blues [laughs]."
The two began working on Ultra Soundtrack, intended to accompany a live psychedelic strip show. But when its mind-bending sound-collage style was deemed too weird for the dancers, the duo expanded the recording with straight-ahead rock tracks and processed tape loops, releasing it as Alien Soundtracks.
Alien Soundtracks was released on Edge's Siren Records the same year the Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks blew up the music world, and Chrome became an underground sensation in both the U.K. and the U.S. practically overnight.
"The covers of our albums filled the windows of record stores," Creed recalls. "I was surprised; I didn't think people were going to like it that much."
Edge and Creed doubled down on the space riffs and abrasive drumming for the next album, 1978's Half Machine Lip Moves, their most popular album to date. It has all the trademark touches of a classic industrial rock record: samples of people talking; scrap metal used as percussion; and crunchy, super-distorted guitar. The magazine Wire would include it in its list of "100 Records That Set the World on Fire (While No One Was Listening)."
Creed and Edge recorded three more albums -- Red Exposure, Blood On The Moon and 3rd From The Sun -- each one just as groundbreaking as the last. Yet the band would never fully overcome its cult status, and sapped Edge's trust fund dry, according to Creed. Though they were famous in certain circles, Chrome would never achieve mainstream success, partially because Edge refused to perform in public until 1981.
"He had hangups about playing live under different circumstances," Creed says.
Edge moved to Europe in 1983, continuing to record and play under the moniker Chrome. He would die of heart failure in 1995.
Creed would play for years under his name, and released underground-successful records on labels like Sub Pop and Amphetamine Reptile. At the same time, Chrome's profile rose again during the '90s thanks to industrial rock's entrance in the pop charts, the re-release of their albums, and bands such as the Jesus Lizard and Prong covering their songs.
For a few years around the turn of the century, Creed reclaimed the Chrome name and played with two other former members, John and Hilary Stench, releasing a few recordings with the lineup. In more recent years, Creed has recruited a new band and finally taken advantage of the years of acclaim by performing around the globe, including festivals such as Spain's Primavera Sound.
In the same time frame, Chrome also released two new albums: Half Machine from the Sun, a collection of lost tracks recorded between 1979 to 1980; and Feel It Like A Scientist, with all-new material. To the surprise of many, both albums sound like they were recorded by the Chrome of old, full of the psychedelic sci-fi punk the band's dedicated followers worship.
"It amazes people how Feel It Like A Scientist just fit in with everything else," Creed says. "Maybe I had something to do with it."