INTERVIEW

Forget concept albums; this is a concept band.

colourmusic-8287

“First he called me a fucking cunt,” blurts Ryan Hendrix, the bearded and bespectacled frontman and guitarist of Oklahoma troupe Colourmusic, who happens to be sitting with little white headphones in his ears like David Lynch’s Gordon from Twin Peaks, so that he can test the sound on our Dictaphone – something that is serious business to these guys. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s get back to the effing cee. “He was trying to hit on me,” the percussion cum bass-toting Brit Nick Turner exclaims in defence. “He thought everyone was hitting on him at the time,” huffs Hendrix, “it was a delusion because he’s British.”

The two are of course discussing the time they first met, back when Turner was an exchange student in English literature and American studies at Oklahoma State University and Hendrix was studying to become a broadcast journalist.

“We met at a party,” Turner continues, “and started talking about Aphex Twin, and I thought, ‘whoa, somebody from Oklahoma likes Aphex Twin’, so automatically we had a bond. Then Ryan came over to Keele University where I was studying, but to cut a long story short, we thought that it would be a good idea to try and do music to colours.”

Hendrix butts in to tell us that initially he didn’t want to write music with Turner. “I thought he was snob,” he states matter-of-factly. “But we started talking about this colour idea, so I told Nick to come over for a couple of months to write. We thought it would sound like Can – we were really into Krautrock – but what we wrote in the end sounded nothing like that.”

What it did result in was a couple of high-energy, psych-driven powerful folk-pop microcosms of the colours ‘Red’ and ‘Yellow’ –their first two EPs that carried an Of Montreal-esque collegiate tone.

Their first ever jam together, Turner reveals was while watching Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi. “It has loads of shots of nature landscapes,” he enlightens us, “and the soundtrack is by Phillip Glass, but we’d put it on mute and try to invent our own really bad soundtrack to it,” he smiles, telling us that they thought it was going to be ambient. “But then we realised that ambient music doesn’t sell!”

“No, that’s not true,” Hendrix is quick to correct. “There’s nothing ambient about anything that we did. We were trying to be cool, but the reality is that we didn’t know how to write songs. So we forced ourselves to write and the demo that we sent out got some good reviews from a little label called Twisted Nerve.”

The pair decided then that it was probably time they got a proper band together and so they recruited Hendrix’s flat mate Cory Suter on drums, who in turn introduced them to Nick Ley, who took up keys and brought in Colin Fleishacker on bass. But a series of disagreements ended in Suter leaving and Ley taking over drumming duty. “We couldn’t work together anymore,” explains Hendrix of Suter’s departure. “We fought all the time, constantly, and he was an amazing guy, but just crazy. He was the kind of guy who would say, ‘I’m the greatest drummer in Stillwater’ and mean it.”

All this, however, was way back in 2005, which begs the question, why has it taken so long for their debut album to get released? “Good question,” Ley finally pipes up. Until now he’s been brooding at the edge of the sofa in silence, broken only occasionally to tease Turner about his English accent. “We like to pretend we’re him when he was a little kid,” grins Fleishacker while Ley and Hendrix mimic a young Turner asking his mummy and daddy for noodles before falling about in fits of giggles. “I get this all day long,”sighs Turner in faux-exasperation.

But getting back to the album, Hendrix justifies that “it’s not for us to say. It’s about working with a good label to promote the band and do the marketing stuff. It’s all about connections and it’s real easy to be taken for a ride. A lot of people like to release records on their own, but I still don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Eventually the group started working with Scott Booker – the man who also manages fellow Okies The Flaming Lips – and they set about recording ‘My ___ is Pink’ in a shop in the business district of Stillwater, OK. “Because it’s downtown, you can make as much noise all night as you like, there’s no-one living there. You could never do that in London, it would be a pain in the arse,” notes Turner, while Ley informs us that they’ve never recorded in a studio. “The best place we had was this carpenters union,” he enthuses. “It was amazing, it was a giant gymnasium with a stage built into it and it had a control room. I think it was built to be a recording studio at some point but had been used for various other things. But we got bought out by some dude who teaches Kung Fu.”

Taking influence from the colour pink for the record, the guys also drew inspiration from Iggy Pop and sex. “We all agree that ‘The Idiot’ was a great record,” Hendrix raves, “because it exposed ugliness, but in a powerful way. We were also really interested in how you think about the tempos and the shape of sex, so there is a lot of undulation in the way that chords are expressed – that was a big influence on us and it still is. We’re working on another record right now and that’s still part of the sound.” Here he attempts to express it to us by making heaving, regurgitating noises. “That’s what it sounds like when we have sex,”laughs Ley, before joining Hendrix in the odd noises.

The idea of this writhing organism is definitely portrayed throughout the LP. The track ‘Dolphins and Unicorns’ is a series of layered, echoing primal yells paired with wah-wahing guitars – representing an animal-esque ecstasy, while ‘The Little Death (In Five Parts)’ is angrier, with seriously scuzzy, Death From Above 1979-styled riffs and almost terrifying cries. The traditional song structures of their EPs have been replaced with a continuously evolving sound that doesn’t stop just because the track changes. It feels like one big audible progression, rather than 14 little ones. And as for the innovative title, well, that’s something that Hendrix describes best.

“We spent quite a lot of time trying to come up with the name,” he begins. “The negative space is all about your interpretation of it. I actually wanted to call it ‘The Man Who Had Nipples’ because the male nipple is our only indication we could have been women, you know what I mean?” Turner informs us that Hendrix originally suggested ‘My Blank is Pink’ as a joke. “See, I never heard it as a joke,” admits Ley. “Anyway,” continues Hendrix, “so, I was all about the male nipple, and everyone said, ‘that’s stupid’. But it’s got male nipples in the photos” – their nipples – “For me, ‘My Nipple is Pink’ is the title.”

“I like the idea of leaving it blank,” adds Turner. “Each person interprets every song they hear, every film they see, everything in their own way. If somebody says to me, ‘oh, I listened to your song and I think it means this’, I’m like, ‘fuck yeah! It didn’t mean that to me when I wrote it, but that’s amazing because you’ve taken it somewhere else.’ That’s probably the best compliment that could happen to your music.”

One thing we’ve only touched the surface of is this idea of colour. Their collections may be themed, but how does it affect their writing process? “We have a vision of what we’re trying to create, sonically,” details Hendrix of their approach to music-making. “We start with an idea of what the record is going to sound like.” Turner clarifies that they try and find a “common ground”, a colour and a way of being creative with music by thinking outside of musical terms. “We don’t sit down and try and write what a colour is,” explains Fleishacker. “We pick a colour and think about what it means to us. Then we come up with key words and go from there by creating those key words musically.”

“It’s really not that difficult,” Hendrix assures us. “I mean, a lot of music producers do this. Asking what instruments we’re going to or not going to use, how we’re going to approach our view towards the songs. It’s just us producing ourselves, basically.”

“It’s not like one of us comes up with lyrics to a song and a few chords that we flesh out,” Fleishacker throws in. “It just doesn’t happen that way.”

And as for the concept, Hendrix puts it down to an old buddy of his who wanted them to change their name to something with the word colour on the end of it and suddenly the idea of writing music based on colour lit a match in his head. “It just makes sense to me as a musician,” he gushes, “how a certain sound has a certain colour to it. But also, certain emotions have a certain colour to them. Take pink, the colour we’re playing around with right now – for us, pink is a very sexual colour. Obviously you can interpret it in different ways, but for us pink represents a very savage form of sexuality.”

Originally, Turner tells us, they wanted to call themselves Colour, but a band in California had already nabbed it. “I like our name,” Hendrix defends, “but I can understand how it doesn’t make sense to people after they hear our kind of ragged music. The word colour has happy, quirky connotations – qualities that we had, I guess, when we first started. But it’s not the kind of band we are now.”

Having come from a fairly musical background collectively, the interesting thing about Hendrix as a frontman is that he’s never been in a band before. “The only public performance I did before I was in the band was when I was running for student council president in Piedmont, Oklahoma, and I played guitar instead of making a speech. I won by a landslide,” he beams, but at the mention of his hometown he faltered. “Piedmont, where I’m from, is in the headlines at the moment,” he starts, “because it just got completely destroyed by a tornado and my childhood home is smashed. It’s true. I’m really depressed right now,” he says to the floor. “I’ve actually been crying all morning thinking about it. I’ve never even seen a tornado – it’s always when I leave that really bad stuff happens.”

Here, Hendrix reveals that in a way to avoid touring he’s thought about another group of people with beards posing as Colourmusic. “In a lot of ways I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” he ponders. “Especially in the States, because it’s so boring. Twenty-three hours of the day you’re not doing anything and then you’re on stage. Part of me would like to bypass that 23 hours and just get to the meat of it.”

For now, however, they’ve got their minds set on the next album, which will be dealing with the colour purple. “We really want it to come out this time next year,” states Fleishacker, but this isn’t something that they intend to do annually. “I don’t know if we’ll be a band that people will want to follow forever,” interjects Hendrix soberingly. “Because when we finish, we’ll want to wipe the slate clean and start over as a band. I don’t know if fans will stick around for that. That’s the reason for the colour concept – we wanted to change colours with the records because it forces us to change what we’re doing.” With this in mind, you might want to hop on the Colourmusic wagon and see them while you still can, but be sure to check it’s not just any old group of men with beards.

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