Jesse Rutherford Shines As Chip Chrome
The Neighbourhood frontman talks Chip Chrome, the band’s new video and personal growth in this exclusive V interview.
All that glitters is not gold—sometimes, it’s Chrome.
Clad in shimmery spandex with matching diamond grills and silver-painted skin, The Neighbourhood frontman Jesse Rutherford makes his pilgrimage through Los Angeles in the band’s most recent music video, “Stargazing.” His role is that of Chip Chrome, the character-slash-art-project conceptualized by Rutherford and namesake of The Neighbourhood’s fourth studio album, Chip Chrome & The Mono-Tones.
“Chip is kind of a mixture of what I think I needed for myself and what I thought our audience for the band deserved,” said Rutherford. “‘Deserved’ is a weird way to put it, but it felt like [Chip] was a bit more entertaining.”
Entertaining is the least of what Chip Chrome is, and merely a fraction of what The Neighbourhood brings with their latest album. Since their 2013 hit “Sweater Weather,” the LA-based group has been on the constant rise, collecting multiple Gold and Platinum Certifications and dropping EPs and mixtapes between albums. The Neighbourhood is metamorphosing, has arguably been in metamorphosis the whole time, making their way toward Chip Chrome and the sunny, vibrant, rawly authentic era of Chip Chrome & The Mono-Tones.
Not quite a character nor an alter ego, Chip Chrome is described by 29-year-old Rutherford as his “art project,” a shiny, chromatic way of perceiving his music, a rock-and-roll icon to match the image projected onto Rutherford over the years.
“I think Chip was Jesse’s biggest fan,” said Rutherford. “Chip is very inspired by Jesse, he reminded me of being a kid at my mom’s house again. You have creative vulnerability when you’re at home, you could look in the mirror and say, ‘This was pretty cool.’ Before you walk out the door, you might be like, ‘Oh, well, not today. I’m going to put on my jeans.’ And Chip was a way of being like, ‘Nope, not another day. You’re doing this shit right the fuck now.’”
Chip Chrome is undeniably intertwined with Jesse Rutherford, one existing because the other does—yet Rutherford cites his friends and peers as being key in bringing Chip to where he is now, an argentine icon of ingenuity.
“Well, it’s about three hours in the makeup chair every day,” he said. “When we’re on tour, I would bring a big water tank for my whole body. And then I would dive in before the show—I’m kidding! No, it doesn’t take that long. It takes 20, 30 minutes, it’s just water-based makeup. I can do it all on my own, but I like collaborating with friends to do it.”
The first of four new tracks on Chip Chrome & The Mono-Tones (Deluxe), “Stargazing” is a testament to collaboration, a feat in bringing people together to create something glorious. Directed by Ramez Silyan (who also directed The Neighbourhood’s “Pretty Boy” music video in August, starring Chip Chrome as a lonely sidewalk musician in Los Angeles), it is interspersed with familiar faces, cameos of Rutherford’s friends and acquaintances.
“I’m really thankful for all the people that showed up in the video and be part of this with us. Once we knew we were really going to make the video, there was a moment where I was like, ‘Oh, fuck, I don’t know if I could do this,’” said Rutherford, speaking of asking various acquaintances and friends to appear in the video. “But I gotta say, the fact that everybody ended up doing it, really, really just feels amazing. I don’t have to feel alone. I feel like sometimes I still feel so alone in what I’m doing.”
The music video is 4 minutes and 35 seconds of familiar, beloved faces of icons, a quick shock of excitement each time someone new opens the door to Chip Chrome. He begins in an RV with his girlfriend Cherry, played by Rutherford’s real-life longtime girlfriend and fashion mogul Devon Lee Carlson—as he goes door-to-door, each face Chip encounters is someone Rutherford has a connection within reality.
His encounters include all-star basketball player Blake Griffin, a major part of Rutherford’s athletic childhood; Alexa Demie, who Rutherford has known for years and “was one of the first people [he] ever really met up with that was an LA person,” as opposed to being from the suburbs outside of the city; Lana del Rey, arisen from the same musical era as The Neighbourhood, their fates inevitably entwined in the industry; and Jaden Smith, Benny Blanco and Mac DeMarco, friends of Rutherford who have similar experiences in their journeys to fame.
“These things all represent these different moments in my life that really helped develop Chip,” said Rutherford. “There’s this gratitude and vulnerability underneath the Chip. He is a star, but maybe he doesn’t believe it. I think this video kind of also solidifies that idea a little bit more.”
An artist who strives for authenticity and realness, in the role of a star who does the same thing, at the center of a star-studded music video about transcending the bar you’ve already set for yourself—”Stargazing” encapsulates Chip Chrome as best as a singular song can encapsulate an enigmatic icon.
“‘Stargazing’ especially is such a testament to the whole project,” said Rutherford. “The almost decade we’ve been doing this and everybody that’s been a part of it, and friends getting together and doing something creative without the help of the ‘machine’ in any way. It was all real relationships.”
This authenticity is something Rutherford emphasizes throughout our conversation. Earlier this year, he deactivated his Instagram account and had an unplugged phase, which he described as “pretty awesome.”
“I knew I didn’t want to be there as Jesse Rutherford,” he said. “I don’t agree with the way that a lot of people are quote-unquote ‘themselves’ on the Internet and show you that, because I think everybody just turns into a really bad Disney Channel actor and everybody’s acting the same way and it’s fucking freaking me out.”
Rutherford did eventually make his return to social media—but under the @chipchrome username, where most, if not all, of his posts have come from the silver-skinned star rather than Rutherford sans-paint.
“I can’t help the fact that I also want a connection with humans, because I’m a fuckin’ human and I want to be liked and loved and have attention like everybody else does,” he said. “But basically I like being on the Internet for art, and I consider Chip an art project. […] When Chip gets recognized, I don’t feel like I’m getting recognized for me, for being Jesse. I feel like I’m getting recognized for my idea, which to me is attractive. I think that’s exciting. That’s kind of what I want to be here for.”
The inspiration for Chip comes from a variety of nooks and crannies throughout late pop culture—David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust is a clear blueprint, while Rutherford also cites KISS and Dolly Parton as being inspirational in putting together his look.
“I think those are probably influences that really probably put this Chip thing together,” said Rutherford. “And then SpongeBob, just for the spirit of SpongeBob. I needed to do that, I needed to be able to see the positivity in everything. And I think Bob does that.”
As far as his own fashion taste goes, Rutherford has been praised many times over for his sense of style. He admits to frequently stealing clothes from his girlfriend, and walks the line between masculine and feminine in a number of his looks, donning anything from a pastel yellow tea dress to tattoo-revealing white tanks and tight pants.
“Ever since I was young I was dressing myself; trying everything from FUBU jerseys in fourth grade to dresses. I even wore a girl’s skirt from Target that looks like a kilt. I just do whatever I want to do and if it inspires anybody to be who they want, hopefully positive things, then that is the highest paying compliment ever.”
It seems that everything Jesse Rutherford touches to gold (or rather, silver). As a band, The Neighbourhood has grown immeasurably since their 2011 formation—and as their leader, Rutherford has, too. Where their old sound was heavy on minor chords, assisted by black-and-white visuals and moody, darker vibes, their new material is an ode to technicolor, a palette painted by major chords, by the sounds of growth and lightness, still carried over by their poetic, romantic lyricism and Rutherford’s smooth, idyllic vocals.
“I don’t feel like that old guy, the 2013 version of me, that’s doing whatever I was doing then,” said Rutherford. “You know, talk about finding your voice. I feel like I JUST found my voice. I listened back to some of the records, and I’m like, who let me do that? Why’d you let me do it that way?”
While I insist that all the old albums and EPs The Neighbourhood has put out are indisputably classics, Rutherford chalks it up to their growth as a band and his growth as a human.
“I had my shit that I had to deal with growing up, like everybody does, and I talked about it and I put it in the songs,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to be, like, Emo Guy 5000, and then it kind of just turned into that. It felt like I was kind of this representative for anxiety and depression and emotional load, and it got me for a while. I’ve been going to therapy for five years now, and I’ve turned into that character in some ways. And I think that was a lot of talking shit or putting myself down in my head, which is why I got to the point of, I guess, needing to do Chip Chrome in order to pull my fuckin’ self up.”
With the gloomy days in the past, Chip Chrome & The Mono-Tones marks a transition album for the band, projecting them into a future of creative artistry and self-exploration.
“All of us, we’ve turned into a new band,” said Rutherford. “We turned into a new group of friends because of this project. Chip has gotten us all to this new place that we weren’t at before.”
So what is to come of this new place, this Californian desert beholding five band members in the back of an RV, searching for the limelight, one of them painted silver? In short: anything.
The band is performing a New Year’s show following the release of their deluxe album, and after that, the possibilities are endless; the road, open. The days, for Jesse Rutherford, are taken in stride. Whether he is embarking on a chromatic journey or just playing his guitar, he’s taking things as they come.
“I think we’ve done a great job getting to where we’ve gotten, but now I think it’s about the music. I want to be really good at that and feel really confident in it. So, yeah, it’s kind of a mess.”
A “mess” of chrome paint and silver spandex, surely, one of Rutherford’s vocals and melodies and the slightest shift of a minor chord to a major one. A mess made by Chip Chrome, or perhaps Jesse Rutherford, or, perhaps, both—each a star in their own light.