Exclusive: First listen of HTMLFlowers debut album ‘Chrome Halo’
November 16th 2017
Premiering on FBi Radio, Melbourne’s HTMLFlowers (aka Grant Gronewold) is finally ready to unleash his new album ‘Chrome Halo’.
A collection of eleven strong and stirring tracks created in and out of hospital beds, the album dissects sacrifice, frustration, love and living with a disability. Ahead of its release this Friday, HTMLFlowers takes us through the record track by track, featuring the likes of Oscar Key Sung, Banoffee, Sui Zhen and more.
I never really rapped much before this album, this is the first fight song. It’s about feeling born a thousand times. Wanting to die but being so strong you can’t. The world is just a dream to you. Disableds live a life in stealth, whether or not we want to. No one sees you and that’s your power, I remind people of death, they treat me like death and so I learnt all of Death’s tricks.
A disabled never dies ’cause a disabled is never allowed to live, we just shed bodies like the cicada.
I very strongly felt the album should start with the phrase “Shut the fuck up, lemme finish” ’cause I always talk too much.
GOD ON MY HITLIST
Inspired by the HABITS lyrics “toxic angels, we wake up wheezing”, Mo and Maia made me think about being an enemy of god, a wrong angel, powerful and hated. Whether it’s being queer or disabled or non- normative in any way, you are seen as a wrong angel – beautiful to some, but never allowed to be accepted in the eyes of God, tradition, society or whatever. God’s approval is cancelled.
This song is revenge.
The disabled are haunted by religious organisations who want to “save our souls” so that they can feel better about us existing at all. I reject your god, I hunt your god, I eat your god. I sampled horror movies for the beat. In horror films, 9 times out of 10 the threat in the film is illness or death and the villain is disabled or deformed. That’s mine now. Disableds own horror motifs, sorry, not sorry.
I wrote this song slow, over five years. When I started it I was just beginning to enter into what would be years of declining health. When I finished, the Centrelink debt scam was being perpetrated against the sick and marginalised of this country. The lyric “suicide is a tax haven” is a reference to suicide hotline Lifeline having to hire extra staff to deal with the volume of despondent phone calls from people on the fringes of society receiving these fraudulent, aggressive debt collection notices. Overseas in America, the disabled were being threatened with the lifestyle that had destroyed me and my family’s lives.
My people were literally fighting for their lives and the best I could do was write this song. I wanted to be there so badly, I wanted to be on the ground, but this was how I fought instead.
I’m hard to love, I feel sorry for people who try. When I wrote this I had been with a few really wonderful people who ended up feeling really committed to me, but I was only getting more distant with every hospital admission.
“When I go, I go, I’m gone, frost rose, never stay to long.” A frost rose is when your window freezes over at the edges at night only, to be melted away by the morning sun. At the time I thought I was just a winter that came and went through peoples lives. Around this time, my aunt had posted “I’m sorry for promises I never kept” as a status update on Facebook and my mom responded “I feel sorry for some ones that I kept to[sic]” I don’t know what they were regretting, but I think seeing their regret made me want to write about my own.
I wrote this song after a break up, motivated by death and illness. Three people I cared for had died in the space of two years and I was spending more and more time in hospital. I was starting to re-evaluate my drug use and I had just gone home to America to visit my family for the first time in 15 years. I came back changed – scared, isolated and confronted with loss. To protect myself and my partner, I ended what we had, whether or not that was the right thing to do. This is what I learned from a life of disability and isolation. I removed myself from her life like a tumour from a body. I realised I was created in hospital, for better or worse, this is how I saw love. “Now nobody recognise me, under the glow of my chrome halo” In hospital they have a uniform steel fixture that surrounds the small circular lights. In various mindsets – feverish, depressive, opiated – these fixtures have looked to me like small chrome halos.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve never really left hospital, it stays with me like a halo that I wear. To the people I love, I’ve been transformed by the glow.
NON COMPLIANT PATIENT
I’ve been a non compliant patient often in my life. It’s hard to know if you’re making the right choice by refusing a medication that requires two hours of administration a day or discharging yourself after two months hospitalisation in the hopes you can handle the rest of your treatment on your own. Sometimes I wish I had no one, so I could just let go of it all. My social worker and I have talked at length about the conflict between the disabled taking control of their lives and refusing treatment to protect their mental health, hearts, souls. Not to mention the families and friends watching from the sidelines, hanging their hearts on every decision we make.
This song is about the pressure to survive from every different side and the urge to give up coming from within. The beeping sounds in this song are recording of my drips (IV medications) alarm going off.
I wanted the music to swell and sparkle until it imploded and decayed, just like my life has before and will do again and again.
“Lost in your eyes like I found my home” This was written when I was still with the person I had left when I wrote Chrome Halo. She was working days and coming over late, when I would be waking up and getting to work.
We had a few months where she kept waking up without me by her side. She said it felt like I was missing. I wrote her this to let her know that I was still there.
“I can see the sun upon your back” is a Kazakh saying that means “thank you for being you, I am here because of your help”. I wouldn’t be who I am without her and she needed to know. The instrumental was chopped together between me and one of my favourite Melbourne artists Felicity Yang, of the group AIYA. She’s the only artist I asked for a beat for this album. VIP shit.
FRIENDS LIKE THAT
I wrote this for one of my closest friends when she was going through a really hard time in her life. I wanted to protect her from fuckwits, toxic people who were attacking her heart. I wanted to remind her that we are invincible in our love for each other. I wanted to talk about our home and our love and our everyday life.
“Don’t keep a journal, instead I text you” is really how I feel. I can tell her things that I can’t even write down. Becky Freeman, of Sui Zhen, helped me write the chorus and played some keyboard for the beat, which was perfect as she is also one of my closest, dearest friends.
This is basically the only non-sad love song on the album, being so deeply emo, this is a real achievement for me.
RUNNING ON EMPTY
My hometown was worse than I had remembered. My stepdad had just been released from a short stay in lock up for domestic abuse, my cousin’s heroin addiction was creeping back and my family was trying to make sense of who I was. My cool gay Aunt was my only relief – “This town wasn’t made for people like us” she would say. Mom was also coming home to a different world, after so long in Australia she knew how good life could be.
I was super stoned the day I recorded these initial vocals, I think u can hear it in my voice, lol.I showed Oscar (Key Sung) and he immediately said “I think I’ve got a melody for this, can I put something down?”
At first the lyrics seemed wrong to me, I don’t know why, because now when I hear them it’s exactly what the life was. Never gas in the tank, never money in the bank, never food in the pantry, never medicine on time and everyday you have to work harder, hustle deeper.
“I’m running on low, I’m running on empty, but I keep on giving.”
I had to do a mama song, there was no way I could try and tell my story without telling hers too.
Every day I realise more and more that I don’t understand sacrifice at all. Mom sacrificed her entire world to protect me, she didn’t see her sister for over a decade to get me to safety, she was a small town girl who had never gone overseas, she met a man from Australia online and asked him to marry her. I can’t even pretend to understand how strong you have to be to make a sacrifice like that. Soon after, we were living with an unknown man and beginning our lives on the other side of the world, seeking refuge from the American war on the poor and disabled.
Around the same time I was struggling to put this story to music I received a letter from a supporter, a single mother. She wanted to tell me what my work meant to her and how she could see my love for my mother shine through. Attached to the email was an iPhone recording, she was playing piano and singing without words or direction.
I immediately flipped the recording, made a beat, tracked the vocals to the entire track in an afternoon and emailed her asking if could sample her for the song. Once I had this missing piece, I had everything I needed to praise Mama. Thank you Io, this song wouldn’t be what it was without you. Thank you, Mama, I can see the sun upon your back.
My hospital instituted a zero tolerance policy on debt collection a while ago so I’ve been saving more numbers in my phone under “debt collector”. These sneaky fuckers will use multiple phones to call. Debt destroyed my family’s life, my mother was half a million dollars in debt after the first six months of my hospitalisation as a new born. I wrote this song after I had been running in the rain for physio. When I got back to my ward room, my phone was blowing up from the debt collectors. I knew I could go down stairs and settle my bill right then, but instead I put my phone on airplane mode and wrote this song.
Another silent fuck you to every pill I ever paid for, to every insurance man alive, to every government official who said no to putting an experimental medication on the PBS. I refuse your spiteful care, you’re tokenising support. I would rather die. “No hospice can hold me.”
‘Chrome Halo’ by HTMLFlowers is out Friday November 17 via Wondercore Island.