Living Colour Treads Conceptual Ground with The Chair in the Doorway
By BRIAN HEATON
When musicians call their latest albums "the best" they have ever done, it typically comes across as a contrived marketing and sales pitch. But there are exceptions, including when the words were used by Living Colour frontman Corey Glover to describe the band's fifth record, The Chair in the Doorway.
Glover explained that unlike previous albums, The Chair in the Doorway is conceptual, working off the theme of obstacles in life and how people have a choice to walk through the proverbial chair in the doorway, or go around it. It was a thought he and guitarist Vernon Reid had kicked around in the past and the concept was a huge source of inspiration for the singer.
"All the songs talk about the idea of an obstruction that you go around or you move," Glover said. "For us, it was about the things you don't move and how you work your way around those things. How you justify over-indulgence, how you justify being in a dysfunctional relationship, but [in the end] you wouldn't change a thing.
"As fucked up as it might have been, it's still what you have," he added. "You live with it, or you get rid of it. Either way you have to deal with it."
The theme itself mimics the history of Living Colour. Having made a choice to disband in 1995 for a myriad of reasons but chiefly because of disagreement between band members, the New York-based group re-emerged in 2000 with a better understanding of each other, both as people and musicians.
Living Colour has been active ever since, releasing two studio albums, two DVDs and a number of live and compilation CDs over the past decade, in addition to extensive world tours.
For Glover, being in Living Colour is quite simply something the four of them – Glover, Reid, drummer Will Calhoun and bassist Doug Wimbish – do not take for granted.
"They are the most interesting people I know and I'm constantly learning from them," the singer said of his bandmates. "We can go through different things, see things in the news and bring it to one another and have a conversation. It's comfortable and still challenging. And when it comes time to play the music, we always want to be creative with one another. This is not a job for me, this is my family."
The desire to be creative took Living Colour in new directions on The Chair in the Doorway, both literally and musically. Usually a group that writes at home and works over the songs in the studio, the band put together demos on the road and found itself in Europe with a six-week window between tour legs.
Instead of flying home, the group booked time in Sono Studios in Czechoslovakia and together with songwriter Mark Stewart and a young producer by the name of Count, Living Colour banged out much of the recording in a few weeks.
"We brought in our friends and people who appreciate Living Colour with a different mindset, so it was a little different for us," Glover recalled. "We were so happy with it, we kept going.
"But really, Doug made this what it was," the singer added. "He found the studio, came up with the grooves and made it what it was. He's got that real sense of how to make records."
The making of the album was not as easy for Corey as it sounds. As the frontman explained, his mom passed away as he was singing the final lines of "The Chair" in the studio. Literally, as he finished the song, the phone rang with the news.
He sings about the experience in the song "Not Tomorrow."
"The song was written and recorded within a timeframe of my mother passing on, so it wasn't abstract, it was visceral," Glover recalled. "The vocal you hear is me actually acknowledging what my mother had done for me and I knew she was moving on and I had to move on.
"Again, that is the chair in the doorway," Glover stressed. "You deal with the fact this person did leave something, although the physical form is not here. I was a part of her legacy as much as she was part of mine and I have to deal with it and move on. You are, in a very real way, what helps her move on and you move forward."
Living Colour will continue to move forward for the foreseeable future, with touring stints planned for the remainder of 2010. On July 28, the band will embark on a string of East Coast dates in preparation for three weeks of festival appearances throughout Europe in August.
According to Glover, the set will comprise songs from all of Living Colour's albums and at times will feature some cover tunes. When asked about the group's signature hit, "Cult of Personality" and its popularity making it essentially a "must play" for the band, the singer was adamant that he's not sick of the song at all, primarily because the group modifies it constantly.
"It's never the same way twice [because] Will does something different, Doug puts in a fill I have never heard before, [so] it makes it interesting," Glover explained. "We're grateful to have a chance to do this stuff."
Yet, with a catalog that has more than 70 songs, choosing a good blend of cuts for a show remains somewhat of a challenge for Living Colour.
"We're trying to put "I Want to Know" in the set and try not to sound like it's 1987," Glover said, referring to the second track on the band's debut album, Vivid. "We tried to incorporate "Pride" [from 1990's Time's Up] recently and that worked, so we'll pull out some [more] stuff and see if it holds up."
With all the touring Living Colour does, one might assume that Glover and company would get tired of the grind. The singer begs to differ, however, especially since the group has been a guest of Experience Hendrix the past few years.
A star-studded touring extravaganza featuring dozens of the world's best musicians playing the songs of Jimi Hendrix, Experience Hendrix has become a staple attraction for fans of the iconic guitarist. Living Colour will tour with Experience Hendrix once again this coming fall after returning from Europe.
It is a treat for Glover, as he cites Jimi as one of his biggest vocal influences, which may be strange for some fans to hear, given Hendrix's stature in guitar circles.
"He was such a rhythmic singer and had such a finesse about it," Glover said. "Take the guitars out and just listen to him sing with the drums."
On the subject of vocals, Glover has been spotlighted over the years for his incredible vocal range and power. He previously filled the role of Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar and takes his preparation and vocal training seriously.
Crediting vocal coach Greg Drew, Glover detailed the approach he uses as singing with his whole body and thinking of the body as the actual instrument. Combined with getting as much sleep as possible, the technique has allowed Glover to improve as years go on.
The frontman has a number of interests outside of Living Colour, including his solo music, acting and stage career. The band, however, remains a top priority. After five years between the quartet's last two studio records, Glover is hoping to buck the trend and put out another Living Colour album next year.
"We're going to do something different [for us] and make a real record, right now, right after we've done this one," Glover said with a laugh. "Imagine that."
For more on Living Colour, visit http://www.livingcolour.com. All photos courtesy of Living Colour.
Copyright 2010, Brian Heaton. All Rights Reserved.