Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The one about a young man living in a distant future where Earth has returned to a natural state, people no longer use technology, and the wealthy and powerful have migrated to an artificial moon paradise. More than anything, our bold, emotionally aloof dreamer wants to leave his home and journey through the stars to this of oasis of pleasure and desire. So he abandons his family and stows away on a ship where he accidentally consumes a hunk of fossilized space acid. In the throes of his psychedelic wanderings, he uncovers a devious intergalactic plot that could destroy the Earth, meets and partners with an android misanthrope, and eventually travels to the outer rim of the sun in an attempt to save his home planet. Oh, and all of this extraterrestrial activity is set to a series of luminous electropop and ambient soundscapes that glimmer and gleam like polished chrome.
If you’re still with me, welcome to the universe of Delorean Gray and HOKKAIDO IV, an ambitious merging of old-fashioned science fiction storytelling and pop songcraft created by author and songwriter Jacob Chisenhall, formerly of Fake Flowers. It’s a project inspired as much by his love of anime and video games as it is by his obsession with the Beach Boys.
“On a creative level, I’ve always been very into the idea of science fiction,” Chisenhall explains over coffee at Revelator in Grant Park. “I was always drawn aesthetically to the original series of Star Trek, to movies like Forbidden Planet. There’s just something about the idea of exploration and trying to create worlds through writing. I always found there was a bridge I could cross from a writing perspective into a musical one. So I felt both those mediums were really great at conveying location and space and events. So I wanted to see if I could create a multi-media project that I could intersect these two things.”
With his new album Star Tropics, Chisenhall continues the otherworldly saga he first started with his 14-minute debut mixtape Kimera Sequence_1: Hokkaido Overwash. It was here that Chisenhall first began to sculpt and mold his cosmic alter ego Delorean Gray—a futuristic, yet no less narcissistic take on Oscar Wilde’s corrupt Victorian aesthete Dorian Gray. For Chisenhall, Delorean offers a unique creative vessel, an opportunity to explore contemporary themes of isolation, transformation, and escapism, in a fantastical setting that allows him nearly unfettered artistic freedom.
“My idea was, what if I put a character like Dorian Gray into space?” Chisenhall says. “He’s self-centered, he’s trapped on Earth, he’s looking up to the stars, and he sees this planet that he’s watched his entire life, and all he wants to do is get there. That’s a classic trope—getting somewhere from point A to B, to some far-off distant land like Treasure Planet or something like that. So I wanted to take those basic foundational tropes of science fiction and storytelling and see if I could make it sound sincere. And I wanted to combine that with music that went with each location, that is set in a particular event that happens. That was the genesis.”
While it’s easy to get lost in the details of the project’s bizarro narrative, Star Tropics still remains, first and foremost, a pop record, and a jovial one at that. Take a leisurely stroll through the album’s nine tracks and you’ll catch bits and pieces of tropical dance pop (“Beachfront Bossa”), buoyant synthpop (“Chrome Bikini”), effusive Beach Boys harmonies (“Grass Plains”), and the immersive exotica of Martin Denny and Les Baxter (“Little Pad”). With each song Chisenhall tried to carve out a unique sense of style and place, approaching every track as different levels and environments in a video game. This process allowed him to tap into a wide range of sounds and emotions, challenging many of the conventions he had grown accustomed to as a songwriter.
Much of Star Tropics was written in the wake of the dissolution of Fake Flowers, a band that Chisenhall founded and devoted five years of his life to. The group’s turbulent breakup hit him hard, casting his musical future in doubt and leaving him a kind of artistic limbo. With Delorean Gray, he discovered both a sense of rejuvenated purpose and a release valve for those pent-up emotions. Rather than bitterness or rage, Chisenhall found a sense of peace and cathartic relief.
“Once I was free-floating and really didn’t know what my next move was, it felt really wonderful to have a purpose and a drive to finish other things,” he explains. “It definitely helped to process things. Music has always been how I regurgitate my experiences and emotions. I’m a pretty quiet person by nature except when it comes to music. That’s when I tend to become pretty expressive. It was huge weight to lift. None of the songs on this album are dour or deal with anything particularly depressing. It’s emotional, but there’s a lot of optimism in it that’s never really existed in my music.”
With his new LP now out in the world, the future feels full of opportunity, and Chisenhall plans to take full advantage of the many distinctive paths Delorean Gray offers him.
“I know I want to do one more release for this,” he says. “I want to make one last record where I can finish this story, have its fun, cliché ending, and then I’ll probably put out everything as one long mixtape, a compilation release. After that, it’s pretty open-ended. I want to continue making music in this style and I will continue to put it out as Delorean Gray, but I think some will be stories and others will just be a batch of music or a mixtape. I’m also working on a collaborative album with Michael Myerz, We’re best friends and neighbors, so right now we’re working on a concept album where our two characters meet. It’s kind of like a Scooby Doo episode where we intersect; our styles will play off each other and we also duel. I want to find new ways to play into this character without putting myself in a box. Originally, this was my side character, this is who I wanted to be when I wasn’t being Jake Flowers. But now I am Delorean Gray and I want to see how much I can fill out this person. I think the future is wide open.”
Delorean Gray will celebrate the release of Star Tropics tonight at 529 alongside Michael Myerz, Shepherds, and Palm Sunday. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $8. 21+ to enter.