Living Colour relish in the fact they have always been genre-benders. Deliberately going out of their way to defy stereotypes, the ability of this two-time Grammy award winning outfit to mesh elements of metal with rock, blues, hip hop and more has become their calling card. With their sixth full length, Shade, set for release later this year, guitarist Vernon Reid talks to JESSICA WILLOUGHBY ahead of the band’s appearance at the Astor Theatre on Friday, May 19 about the album that’s been eight years in the making.
I understand it’s a bit of a relief coming to Australian shores for the band, considering what is happening politically in the United States at the moment?
Most definitely! The whole demonising of immigrants is something that’s not on. My parents are immigrants from the West Indies, I was born in London and I was raised in America. I’m the typical immigrant story – my people are. I know that it’s a difficult subject in a lot of countries.
It’s also unbelievable that Donald Trump is the president of the United States. There’s something completely mad about it. It’s literally insane. And the fact that there’s people who are so into it; they’re into the nihilism of it – they’re actually looking forward to him unmaking the republic. That really bothers me. Here’s a guy, who’s most famous line is “…you’re fired!”, and he’s going to create jobs? That’s just crazy.
Like many other Living Colour albums, I understand Shade is going to be an open discussion about what’s impacting the band amidst broader social and political issues. With much of the album written before the recent state of affairs in the United States, do you think the issues are still relevant now?
I think it’s still shockingly pretty much on-point with what’s happening now. And this wasn’t something I anticipated. I also thought the record would have a different framing if Hillary Clinton had won. But Trump did and that’s so surreal. There’s certain things on the record that are eerie about what they talk about. It’s amazing how art can just sneak up and tap life on the shoulder.
What’s a track on the album that reflects this?
Create A Little Expression is one. There’s a big thing now with the protests that people are making, where they want to make large assemblies illegal. Politicians are uncomfortable with answering to constituents. We like to talk about lots of things; just about the non-truths present like trying to cut money for research on science, which we think is really self-defeating and a little bit crazy.
Musically I understand the album dissects the sounds that really brought the band together. Was this intentional?
We didn’t make a record that’s a blues-rock record. But there’s a theme of blues inside of what we did with Shade. The title for the album is a great word, because it’s the embodiment of contradiction. It’s relief, but it’s also stress. It’s colour, but also the colours dimmed.
It’s really about the fact that people live under pressure – financially and economically, for example. That’s an important thing at any age, but in this age it takes on another kind of meaning. Just like the ability to freely express yourself. The blues always has the potential of not only being personal, but also socially aware in a societal sense.
What was the most challenging part about creating this record?
I think it was figuring out the balance of things that are more rock sounding with things that are more textural. Our records have also been a mixed bag; that’s always been part of our thing. At one point, the record was kinda heading in the direction where there was no metal vibe for it and that was deeply unsatisfactory.
Then we wound up adding a few pieces that have a hard-rock vibration to them. Now the record feels like a Living Colour album, in that is doesn’t really stay in one genre. But I feel like the balance has been struck and that took a long time to figure out.
The album was recorded with Andre Betts (Madonna, Lenny Kravitz, Genuwine). Why was he the right choice for this release?
He had a different perspective; he’s kinda got a bit more of a hip hop sensibility. That was the thing that was very interesting, but we had our moments on the making of this record. He ultimately found the balance. He’s not a rock guy, but he loves us and has really helped us out a lot by having his studio in New Jersey open to us. He just brought something really interesting to the table, especially because this record has a few situations where people do rhymes – and that’s different for us. We still had to maintain the core of who we are, so that was a bit of a challenge. But what we did do, worked.