Living Colour’s latest album, Shade, sounds as good as anything you may remember from the band’s debut, Vivid.
The album features guitarist Vernon Reid’s powerhouse riffing and mindbending solos, the thundering rhythm provided by drummer Will Calhoun and bassist Doug Wimbish and frontman Corey Glover’s soaring voice flying high above this familiar yet constantly challenging and experimental musical stew.
Working on it over the past five years, the quartet found inspiration following a performance of Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues” at the Apollo Theatre. Rather than aping the original’s Mississippi Delta roots, the band used it as the foundation to become one with the dynamics heard in Living Colour.
“That was really the beginning of us thinking of the direction we wanted to take for our next project,” Reid said. “Hearing that blend of blues and metal was really what got the wheels turning.”
As Glover put it, Shade “in its final outcome, is more of a deconstruction of the blues than an interpretation [of it]. It was the idiom that gave us our voice.” It shows the members’ numerous influences while they continue to recognize and speak about the current cultural and political climate.
That led to working and reworking (and reworking again ‘til they were finally satisfied) 10 originals that includes the first single, “Come On,” “Two Sides,” which includes a guest appearance by George Clinton and “Invisible,” which pays homage the late Buddy Miles.
They also find the blues core and then reimagine it on covers of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues“and The Notorious B.I.G.‘s “Who Shot Ya?” as a way to protest gun violence and racial profiling.
“There seems to be a shadow cast across our collective lives. We can either allow it to oppress us or we can shine a light on it. Shade is the sound of a band coming to terms with the shadows and shining a light by using the blues as a mirror,” Reid said.
JPG: I imagine you must stay healthy and keep your voice healthy because you’ve had a strong voice since the beginning of Living Colour.
CG: Well, we’ve been doing it for a long time. The more you do it, hopefully, the better it gets. I also trained for a long time.
JPG: Was that for your acting before joining the band?
CG: Yeah, I was in choirs. I went to school for music. I went to high school for chorus and after that I did a lot of training.
I haven’t been acting in awhile, but I’d love to do more. Almost 10 years ago, I was on the road doing Jesus Christ Superstar which combined my music world with my acting world. Every now and then, I get offers for things. Whether I can do them or not, that’s always the question.
JPG: Moving to the new album, I want to ask about the title, Shade, because what it calls to mind for me, is “shade” as in the term “throwing shade” (to talk trash about someone, to publicly disrespect).
CG: That’s part of it. The whole idea of shade, you can’t have shade without light. It’s not just the absence of light. It’s that you cast a long shadow. And for us, the music is talking about the long shadow of a lot of things — the long shadow of gun violence, the long shadow of…
A song like [Robert Johnson’s] “Preachin’ Blues,” which started the process of us making this record, was the long shadow of the blues that it casts a wide shadow across the landscape. I don’t think any modern music can exist without it. Even the most esoteric kind of music, any kind of avant-garde music has its roots in the blues progression. Metal has deep roots in the blues progression. Certain themes that were never really dealt with until the modern age came out of the blues. So, it casts a very long shadow.
It goes several different places. You can go anywhere with it. You can use the modern parlance and say, “You’re throwing shade,” which means you’re being effusive, but we’re really talking about so many different things. Darkness has its own color in it.
JPG: When you talk about the blues, I’m surprised because I always think of the blues as being a part of Living Colour from the beginning. I read about you working with Mick Jagger and reading books about the blues, did it just fall to the side and you rediscovered it?
CG: No, blues is definitely part of our palette. We deal with it in terms of the mix of the things that we do but we try to focus this time on the blues as a primary color and then everything else was secondary and tertiary.
JPG: The band worked and worked on the songs and changed things, did the songs originally start out as something that people would see more as a basic blues type number, and then as they developed they became a Living Colour deconstruction of the blues, interpretation of the blues?
CG: Yeah, pretty much. Songs like “Blak Out” or “Invisible,” even “Glass Teeth” originally, as we worked it up in the writing process, was very much a blues tune and then we added it to it from there.
JPG: Surprisingly, “Shade” is your first album since 2009 but you’d be working on it for some time.
CG: We’ve been working on this record for like four, five years. Every time we put it together, “Okay, we’re done.” You listen to it and, “No, we’re not done.” We’d listen to certain songs. “Oh, that needs a little work. Maybe we should add this.” And then, “Hmmm…No, that needs something.” So, we’re constantly tinkering with it.
JPG: At what point does it become perfecting it versus you’re working on it too much? Is that where Andre Betts as the album’s producer comes in?
CG: Exactly. You’ve done it. You’ve done what you have to do. He was very integral in the whole process from editing the songs that we had to a point where it was we had to come back and deal with it differently. He would take it and do edits and change the arrangements some and then we go, “Okay. If you’re going to this, we’re going to do that. If you’re going to do that, I’m going to need to fix that.” That was the process that we kept going through.
JPG: He worked with you before on 1993’s Stain. Did you bring him because you remembered something from the making of that album?
CG: He sort of saw what we wanted to do and was very, very, very into it. ‘Dre’s work lately is primarily in the hip-hop realm. We needed some of that as well because we saw the connection between the blues and hip-hop as well. It was a very different way of working because we’ve had the songs or we’d work on the songs in the studio and then just build from there.
What we would do. We’d record the song. We’d go away and the next day ‘Dre had worked on it, edited it and turned it around and changed arrangements. We had to change where our perspective was every time.
JPG: Was that something he was instructed to do, you record in the day and see what he comes up with when you come the next day or is that something he just started doing and…?
CG: He just started doing it and we were like, “We’re down. Keep going.”
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