Living Colour

Feb 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Chris J. Walker

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Much like a popular couple breaking up, the extremely dynamic alternative metal band, Living Colour, which officially disbanded in 1995, was constantly queried about reuniting. Anywhere former bandmembers went while pursuing individual ventures, fans, music-biz types and fellow musicians asked the eternal question: “When is Living Colour getting back together?” Even Mick Jagger — who featured them as an opening act on mid-'80s Stones tours, produced their demo and coordinated a subsequent record deal — told drummer Will Calhoun, “They needed to regroup.” Overwhelmingly, the band's past achievements — garnering a multi-Platinum CD, two Grammys and two MTV Video Music Awards while maintaining an intensely loyal, global fan base — overshadowed their subsequent endeavors.

Still, from the perspective of the bandmembers — guitarist Vernon Reid, vocalist Corey Glover, bassist Doug Wimbish and Calhoun — there were lingering issues concerning their general frustration with the music industry and the dissolution of unity within the group. Was there a real desire to be a full working band again? “It was kind of like, ‘Well, is there anything there’?” Reid explains from his home studio on Staten Island, N.Y. “There's a lot of affection for the people and history, obviously [being the first rock band of color to make an impact since the heralded days of Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and Santana]. But in my mind, you could always say, ‘No, no, no and hell no!’ Then, one day I just said yes.”

Living Color first reunited in December 2000 at CBGB's in New York, the landmark venue where the quartet first crafted their sound and was discovered. Calhoun and Wimbish were there doing a drum 'n' bass side project called Headfake, with Glover sporadically helping out. When Reid accepted their invitation to sit in, the show billed “Headfake and Surprise Musical Guest” turned into a full-on reunion jam. Riding the crest of ecstatic fan response, they continued playing sold-out club dates across the States and made festival appearances in Europe and South America. Talk of returning to the studio to record a new CD ensued, but the band couldn't seem to agree on direction, methodology and, foremost, a definitive reason to devote the time and effort. In the midst of their disparity, the 9/11 tragedy occurred.

“It's not our reason, either,” declares Reid, who could previously see the World Trade Center towers clearly from his house. “But what it is, is that we were able to start thinking about each other in a different light and talk about issues in other ways. Also, it made us look at the music we did before differently. Ironically, ‘A ? of When’ was written before 9/11, even though it seems right on top of it.” Consequently, Living Colour found that many of their recently penned songs had other meanings and a third of the songs on their reunion CD, Collideoscope, are related to the catastrophic event.

For the process of forging lyrics and sonic elements, the band initially headed to Long View Farms in North Brookfield, Mass., during the spring of 2002. They'd cut the album Pride there, the CD prior to Living Colour's breaking up, and Reid describes its owner, Bonnie Milner, as a “wonderful ally to the band.”

However, when the members were pursuing various solo ventures, Wimbish also formed an allegiance with engineer/drummer/drum programmer Chris Weinland, who owns and operates Tree House Studios in Storrs, Conn., midway between Boston and New York. This studio, which is located in a converted garage/barn adjacent to a state park, became central to the recording of Living Colour's latest throughout the fall of 2002 and into the spring of 2003. The isolated natural setting of Weinland's studio, where cell phones are out of range, provided the necessary solitude that the band needed to write and try out songs. Also, Reid could crank up his guitar and equipment to his heart's content without being concerned about any neighbors.

Reid, Wimbish, Glover and Calhoun worked together about 80 percent of the time at Tree House, penning lyrics and jamming. Added guitars and reworked drum parts were done individually, and often the whole band wouldn't make the trek. “There were torrential snow storms every Friday when they would come,” the studio owner/engineer recalled. “And sometimes, it would take up to four hours to get here from New York. Normally, it takes a little over two hours and we got over 100 inches of snow last winter. I was laughing a couple of weeks ago with Doug about that and how they ended up getting so much stuff done here, 'cause what else are you going do when there's three feet of snow out and it's below zero?” The group also did sessions at Wimbish's Novasound Studios in Connecticut, On-U-Sound Studios in London, Sound Studios in Los Angeles and The Cutting Room in New York.

Weinland comments about the band's creative process for Collideoscope: “They'd been apart for some time and they really needed to get their heads back in it. So there was a certain amount of just regrouping, and they would come up for four or five days at a time. A lot of stuff would get written, which we would edit. Then they would decide what they liked and we would retrack a lot of stuff later on. The arrangements, I guess, would be backward from what you would expect when you're writing an album. Things would be played, then arranged and then replayed. As late as March and April [2003], we were still doing vocal tracks. But it was really interesting to see how they worked and developed tunes. And, obviously, the musicianship was about as good as you're ever going to see from a rock 'n' roll band.”

All tracking for their reunion CD done at Tree House Studios was recorded on Pro Tools through such supporting gear as modules from an old Neve broadcast console (believed to be Sonic Youth's old board), API preamps, Apogee converters and various vintage mics — mostly Neumanns. Weinland stresses that he wanted to keep the signal path as clear as possible, and the combination of preamps and mics used for that application worked perfectly.

Just the same, Reid was very comfortable and stayed with Weiland's family for extended periods during the creation of Collideoscope. “[Weinland] was a big fan of the band, his wife is a graphic designer and their son is a great kid,” he comments. “So it was a nice environment to be around while we were doing the live stuff. Also, we had a lot of help from different engineers working as a team, such as Michael Ryan, Dave Shuman and Fran Flannery, who did a lot of editing.”

Musically, there was plenty of high-octane jamming at the sessions, with a noticeable strong dose of funk injected. Reid believes the current sound harkens back to the exploratory times at CBGBs and the Mudd Club. Reid and Wimbush used Reason software for composing and Calhoun programmed some beats. Loops and samples have always been an important ingredient in Living Colour's music. However, it has developed way beyond their initial forays.

“From the time we did Vivid, we've worked with samples and things like that,” Reid states, “and now we're starting to integrate that more into what we are doing live. It's an interesting challenge, and now Doug and I both have laptops onstage. We play live, but we also incorporate all kinds of different elements and what-have-you. Of course, I also have a full Moogerfooger pedal line for whooping, blarings and things like that, along with virtual ones.”

In contrast to the elongated periods of songwriting and tracking, mixing for Collideoscope went fairly quickly. “The mixing was done by our live engineer, Andy Stackpole,” Reid says, “one of those rare people who has that other skill set.” Stackpole, a 10-year veteran who's worked with Bad Brains, the Beastie Boys, Busta Rhymes and others, became Living Colour's front-of-house engineer two years ago. He actually didn't feel that the transition from front of house to being a studio mixer was that difficult, because “if you mess up, you can go back and do it again.” However, he quickly found that the pressure to get things done made mixing far more intense.

After a week of overdubbing, editing and going through everything, he had 11 days to complete 15 tracks. “I really wish I'd had more time,” Stackpole says from his home in Norwich, Conn. “It was mix, mix, mix. I didn't really have any time to get away and listen to it in my own environment.” At Soundtracks in New York, the engineer, with Reid on hand and the bandmembers occasionally dropping by, mixed Living Colour's release on a vintage Neve board. And although it was his first time handling a major project, he had one big advantage: “I had started working with them as they were developing songs and playing them live to see what worked and what didn't.”

Unequivocally, the band and Reid were happy with the engineer's efforts and are pleased with the album in general. The band feels the strongest it's been for a long time. “Now that we've done this,” Reid states, “tomorrow is the question. In fact, Corey and I have already started talking about the next record and there's some very interesting aspects we're thinking about. In a way, the band does pick up where it left off. So it'll be interesting to see how it all evolves.”






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