With an eagerly-anticipated new album finally in the bins, the quartet is stronger than ever. Photo: Travis Shinn
BY JOHN B. MOORE
It’s been eight years since Living Colour put out their last album, but they didn’t expect it to be that long.
In fact, they mentioned that Shade, their sixth and latest LP, was close to being completed back in 2014. But, ultimately the band just thought the album could be better, so they kept at it for a few more years.
The band’s perfectionism proved worth it, though, as you’d have to go back decades to their 1988 debut to find an album just as consistently strong, track for track. It’s one of their most political, socially aware albums, with themes of gun violence and racial profiling throughout. One of the high points is a rock re-imagining of The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya.”
Along with rock and metal, there are plenty of blues influences throughout the record, notably Robert Johnson’s timeless “Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)”.
Drummer Will Calhoun spoke recently about their experiment to deconstruct the blues on Shade, the delay in releasing the album and why they still haven’t grown tired of playing “Cult of Personality” for the past 30 years. The band: Calhoun, vocalist Corey Glover, bassist Doug Wimbish, and guitarist Vernon Reid.
BLURT: The new album is great. I read that the concept was a 21st century deconstruction of the blues. Can you talk about what that means?
CALHOUN: The blues is our life story. We are deconstructing the traditional aspects of the blues and inserting present day issues and concepts. Much of the story unfortunately remains the same, however we want to tell our story in the frame work of the ‘Living Colour Experience.’
Was it difficult to get everyone on board with the concept?
Absolutely not. But it took a lot of work to realize the concept completely and get it right where we wanted it!
The “Who Shot Ya” cover is sadly appropriate given the times we live in now. You initially put the song put on a mixtape last year – did you get any push back for putting that song out?
No, quite the opposite. Our fans and the general music public welcomed the track and subsequent video.
It’s been eight years since the last record and I believe there were hints that Shade was close to being finished as of 2014. Why did this one take so long to come to fruition?
Obstacles with new and old management, producer direction, track selections, and scheduling. Also, honesty. When we thought we were done, the record simply didn’t sound complete. So, we went back to work on other ideas.
You guys went back to Andre Betts to produce this one. You last worked with him in ’93; What was the experience like working with him again?
Great and challenging. He had a concept to play 8 to 32 bars of a groove at a certain tempo, stop, then move onto another groove. We cut roughly 20 of these grooves. Dre assembled the ideas and arrangements. Once he created a form, we went back to those grooves and began working on melodies, lyrics and group parts. This is a different approach then previous recordings. Normally we bring mostly completed songs to the table, tweak a few parts in pre-production, possibly play the new ideas in front of people in a regular pub, take some notes, then record the tunes. Dre did an amazing job of challenging us and pushing us out of our comfort zone. Knowing the band members individually and collectively gave him a historic edge.
Vivid is amazing debut record, but you guys have had some really great albums in the years since. Do you ever get frustrated that some of those later efforts get eclipsed by people wanting to hear songs from Vivid?
No, not at all. In the life cycle of a band, people like what they like. Vivid had a huge impact on the entire music industry. No one could have predicted the immediate success and impact of that record. Also, it’s our debut album. People get attached to debuts, you know it’s the “First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” syndrome. We enjoy pulling tunes from our catalogue in a live performance. The material is vast, and always interesting to perform.
Do you have plans to tour behind Shade?
Yes. We’re in Holland for a festival and the UK for a proper tour in September. And then we plan to hit the States throughout the remainder of 2017 and into next year. Please check LIVINGCOLOUR.com for all tour dates.
What’s next for you?
Right now, Living Colour and Shade is the focus.