Wed 11/26/03 Portland, OR Roseland Theater
Guitar World's Bass Guitar - Fall 2003
"We're feeling reignited," says Wimbish. "We will fuck up any band - we will blow motherfuckers off the stage - on any given night. The band is sounding 10 times better now than we ever sounded, and I say that with no hesitation. We've managed to be more patient in our delivery, but we definitely have something to say."
BBC interview w/ Living Colour
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Interview with Will Calhoun of Living Colour 8/9/03
Living Colour burst out of New York and onto the rock music scene in the late eighties after initially being discovered by Mick Jagger one evening at the famed CBGB's Although Jagger's influence and connections were important and he even produced some demos for the band. Living Colour had actually formed a large fan base and attracted interest since their formation in 1984. Following three successful albums the band split in the mid nineties and the members pursued other projects. 2003 sees the band back together and signed to the Sanctuary Group and in the autumn of 2003 the band will issue its fourth studio album Collideoscope.
Jon Kirkman caught up with drummer Will Calhoun in New York while the band prepared for the release of the album and a short European tour
Jon Kirkman: Collidesoscope is the first Living Colour album for over ten years and there are a couple of covers on the album including a cover of the Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows. What was the thinking behind covering Tomorrow Never Knows?
Will Calhoun Well, if you want to know the truth behind that question, we were approached by Rykodisc to do a Beatles song for a Beatle's - I guess some kind of compilation album and they were coming to talk to a bunch of different artists and the guy approached us first. Ironically when we started demoing our first version of the current album at a place called Longview Farm the guy who was arranging the album for Rykodisc was at Longview Farm discussing the project with the studio owner and we happened to be there. So he talked to us and we said ok. We liked the track and we just went for it really. We were just thinking about some Asian kind of drum and bass thing.
JK Well that's the thing I like; you could have done just a straight pass at it and nobody would have criticised you for that but you guys mixed it up which is, I guess the way you work and put your own stamp on it.
WC Well, thank you. I love the track and as a drummer, I was trying to approach it with a drum 'n' bass vibe and with a slight Bonham-esque thing with the half time thing. The other guys actually started on the track before I arrived just getting the sonics together. So once I arrived it was really ready; just once we got the information on the table about the vocal effect and that. We didn't want to go too Indian and we just kind of demoed it really and we liked it. Basically with Living Colour the first thing we do is just put the information on the table. We just play it and find a good tempo. Corey makes some lyrical adjustments or what have you and then just prints it and sees if it works. Fortunately for Tomorrow Never Knows the first print worked for us.
JK I think that you have to get the basics right though before you can go with anything else.
WC Yes you have and it's important to know the song, like the proper changes and how the song actually works because it's easier if you want to augment it. For instance Back in Black is like a perfect rock track and we really didn't want to bastardise that one. I actually went out and bought a 1950 something old drum kit I don't want to mention the name because I don't endorse it (laughs) but it was an old kit with the old plastic heads on it to get that sound for that track so I did a bit of research on the album and the sonics. We tried to make it sound analogue and respectful and not really bastardise it but Tomorrow Never Knows was just such a great piece and it's like a trace like tune that has the hippy element and the trance like element. It was fun to like spread I guess the word is I'm looking for - you know rhythmically and sonically spread that track out like a huge painting on a canvas.
JK Well you've mentioned Back in Black. That as you have said is one of the ultimate rock tracks of the last twenty-five years really but when we were talking earlier you said in America the reception has been mixed.
WC Well here's the deal with is not to get down into any kind of racial breakdown. There were two songs, growing up in the Bronx when hip hop began in the parks in my neighbourhood. There were two rock songs that every DJ spun and mixed or rapped to. Back in Black's riff and Walk this Way. Those were two songs in the neighbourhood. When Walk this Way came on or Back in Black came on everyone went to the dance floor or one of the rappers would get on the microphone. For us personally speaking it's one of the street tracks like an Earth, Wind and Fire track or a Hendrix track or Temptations track. Those two songs were the biggest, I think, credible rock tracks in the hip hop community on the street. So everyone knows Walk this Way and talks about Walks this Way. Run DMC I thought did a brilliant job with that and a great video and Back in Black has that same vibe and we said let's give it a go and see how it comes out and we thought about going back and trying something different and maybe augmenting it or stretching the solo section and we said you know what? It sounds find leave it alone.
JK Yeah, if it ain't broke don't fix it.
WC Yeah, that's right but for us there's two connections obviously there's the history of the band but second of all it was a community hit. It was one of those things that DJs always spun in the club. Before hip hop culture became the hip hop culture as we know it now, it was very underground. Walk this Way and Back in Black were the massive underground hits and for us it was great to give it a go.
JK Another thing I've noticed is that when Corey sings it the lyrics are much clearer and there are some things on there that you could twist around and identify with in those lyrics.
WC Absolutely. Well the interesting connotations that I can think of are coming back, black the colour you know black people the term used, there's some references to lynching and there's some interesting things in that tune and the concept of the song that relate to us as individuals as a division you know African American assimilations in the south in the sixties. There's some interesting things and also with the band really coming back now with a new record it's an interesting combination of things. We love the track but everything else that comes with that title and the definition of those lyrics for us really it was an idea of trying something to cover that we always loved and that we grew up with and we never really played it. I mean there are a thousand songs, Zeppelin songs and Hendrix songs that fit that list but we felt that Back in Black was something that we just didn't touch. No one touched the song. I don't believe there are that many covers of it so we decided to go with that one.
JK Your new album Collideoscope is the first new Living Colour album for quite a few years. What was it that made you guys think ok let's make another album?
WC Well… that was a process (laughs) which started really I think with me and Vernon (Reid). We worked together individually if that makes sense over the two or three years before making this record. I'd done stuff with Vernon on hi electronic project with DJ Logic and Doug and I have a duo called Headfake that we had Vernon guest on. Corey guested with us as well. All these things were happening but if I had to give a bit of influence or credit to someone it would be Claude Nobs at Montreaux. I was going to Montreaux every year to work with all those alternative artists from Africa and Northern Africa doing ambient DJ music and so on and Claude would always approach me and say will man won't you guys do just one concert for me and I said Claude c'mon it's not going to happen. The band's over and he said no man is it possible to do just one concert for me so I said well the vibe's not really cool and to get him off my back I gave him every large number thinking that he wouldn't say yes and he said yes immediately and I was stuck (laughs) so then I had to get on a plane and come over and call Vernon and have dinner with him and sit down and talk and basically I told him look wherever your head is with this project. This is an opportunity to either you know collect some cash, have some fun or if you're serious about it maybe we can do three or four shows before going to Europe and get an act together. Do the European show and maybe while we're sat down at the time café and bounced the ideas around with each other. I think he was probably a little bit shocked that I'd just called him and had a meeting about it.
There was a lot of spilled milk; a lot of things under the carpet that we didn't bring up in that conversation but you know over a period of time those things worked themselves out. But it kind of really started with that and also honestly, to me I didn't want too much time to go by without giving it a good old fashioned try. If it hit the shank, not a problem, if we'd sat down and tried to play the music and there was no vibe and nobody was interested and the songs were horrible I could sleep at night but what was haunting me and I know I can speak for the other band members was that during the seven year break going around the world with other artists someone would always ask about Living Colour.
JK But I suppose that is to be expected as you guys made a hell of an impression.
WC I was approached by firemen in Brazil. I played the world economic conference I mean that's another issue, but I played it for the right reasons after my two hour surveillance to check on my vehicle and my equipment I was with the scientists that were doing stuff with meteors and electronics but ironically I got in an elevator and this FBI agent was there you know with the ear plugs and suit and he asked what floor I was going to and I told him the fifth and he said well I'm going to step out here if you don't mind. I thought he wanted to check me for something and he pulled me aside and took his plug out of his ear and he said look man I think you guys were one of the greatest rock 'n' roll bands ever.
JK Well, that's pretty cool.
WC That just shocked me. That happening there in that climate with all the protest and all the security, that was like someone poured cold water on my vibe with Living Colour so honestly I really wanted to give it at least a good old fashioned try and I know it wasn't going to be easy. I knew we had to deal with some old wounds and some old vibes and some old people but the music is bigger than we are and I wanted to give it a try and let the music dictate whether or not the band should exist. Let's get out of the way of the music, let the music speak and if we can get all of our emotional baggage, history, vibes out of the way and the music speaks and the people are receiving the information then we should move forward and keep creating.
JK Will this album be another phase of Living Colour or is it just a one off and you will all go back to your other projects?
WC Well, the other projects won't go away. We're all artists for the right reasons. We love art. Vernon's getting into some other media things. I had a photo exhibition recently in Switzerland and it went really fantastically. I'm trying to put together a book from my travels during my downtime during those five or six years I was in the Morroccan desert and stayed with some aboriginal families in the outback. Most of my travelling had to be with music honestly and meeting the master musicians and hanging out with the tribes and the families and learning about music and I ended up taking photographs. But I think Living Colour is an important entity for us and whatever happens we need to give Living Colour its proper respect and it's due justice and I think it will dictate to us whether we should continue or not. We'll tour, we're putting together some interesting ideas. We really wrote three albums anyway so we'll see what we can do with the old stuff later down the line. We're going to be writing on the read. We've got our computers and lap-tops and so on. So I like to think of this like a new stage of Living Colour and I'm glad everyone went out and did their own thing and had their own label and projects because everyone's come back to the table much more experienced, more mature and really more open to bringing other aspects to bear.
© 2003 Jon Kirkman, Rock Ahead. All rights reserved.