I already interviewed Brian Hazard/Color Theory in 2001 when he released his “Life’s Fairytale”. A couple of months ago he released his new CD titled SOMETHING BEATIFUL and since he approached this new work in a different way, more pop and acoustic than synthpop, I decided that doing an interview would have been more interesting than just a review.
Chain D.L.K.: First of all I’d like to know: why after releasing “Life’s Fairytale” did you decide to write an acoustic album?
Color Theory: Actually, it was the other way around. I decided to release an electronic album halfway through the process of creating an acoustic album. After my third CD, Perfect Tears, I felt that I’d achieved all I’d set out to by blending the acoustic piano with electronics. I recorded a few songs for an all-electronic album, but lost interest after finishing three tracks. So I decided to try an all-acoustic album. At some point, I realized that many of the songs I’d written for the acoustic project would work well in an electronic context, and that inspired me to complete Life’s Fairytale. “So Many Ways”, “Wishing I Had An Umbrella”, and “End of the Night” were written with an acoustic setting in mind.
Chain D.L.K.: For “Something Beautiful” you wrote twenty-six new songs and your audience had an active part in the process. Can you explain your concept?
Color Theory: Perfect Tears was the first album for which I wrote more songs than I intended to include. I believe that it led to a higher quality album than I would have otherwise released. So I took that concept to the extreme by recording twenty-six songs for Something Beautiful, for a project I called the Bad Song of the Week. To keep me motivated, I set the rather ambitious goal of recording one new song every week and making it available for free download from my website. Then I polled the fans every five songs, and after the whole twenty-six, to rank their favorites. I got a lot of great e-mails about the songs, with really specific detail about what worked and what didn’t.
Chain D.L.K.: At the end of the process you decided to release a limited double CD entitled “Like Clockwork”, containing the twenty six demos of the tracks you posted on the website. This means that you like each of them, so, do you think you’ll use the remaining ones on your next releases?
Color Theory: “Like Clockwork” wasn’t really an official release. Rather, it’s more of a collector’s item for die-hard fans. There were a lot of requests for those demos, and it wasn’t too much trouble to compile them into a 2-CDR set. Mark Stryker donated his design talents, and I burned the CDs myself as orders came in. The reality is that I don’t like all of the tracks. There are definitely some clunkers in there, but I have no regrets because the project gave me a chance to explore some new territory. In writing the songs, I pored over years of ideas tapes that I’d compiled, and it felt wonderful to finally develop the better song ideas, and to let go of the rest. I doubt that I’ll use any of the other songs on future releases, but you never know. I’m particularly fond of “Well Enough Alone”.
Chain D.L.K.: The demos you did were all tracks with piano and vocals. Can you talk about the musical arrangement process: how you chose the other instruments, how you dealt with the session players, etc…?
Color Theory: The album instrumentation was already set before I started recording the demos. I’d wanted for years to incorporate the fretless bass into my music, having grown up listening to Mick Karn’s unique stylings on the Japan albums. Vibraphone was an easy decision, since I’d played and taught mallet percussion since high school. I have a friend who plays both harp and flute, so again, easy call. The string players were a little hard to find, but I made some calls to my alma mater, California State University, Long Beach. That led me to Colin Pearson, the cellist, who introduced me to the violist and violinist. And I got hooked up with Jonathan Moffett through a guitarist friend of mine who played on his solo Christmas album. We traded services: I mastered his CD and helped with remixes, and he drummed on my album. Apparently I was quite the dictator in dealing with the players. I asked Jonathan and Baba Elefante, the fretless player, if they had more or less freedom on my album compared to other recordings they’d played on. Both immediately said, “Less! ” Everything was charted out for them note by note, because after doing albums by myself for ten years, I knew exactly what I wanted.
Chain D.L.K.: The thing that amazed me most is that when you think about an acoustic album you think about something really intimate and mellow. Instead, listening to “Something Beautiful”, I was carried away by joyful melodies and a driving sensation of peace. Maybe I’m wrong or maybe it has been a direct consequence of how you recorded the album (with clean and clear sounds). What’s your opinion about this?
Color Theory: I appreciate your kind words! You’re right – it’s really not an acoustic album in the “unplugged” sense. I’ve used the word “acoustic” to make it clear that there are no electronics. I didn’t set out to write an album for people to fall asleep to. There are uptempo tracks, ballads, and plenty of stuff in between.
Chain D.L.K.: Since your audience picked the eleven tracks to use for the album, how did you choose the tracklist? Was it easy to give to the tracks a natural sequence for listening?
Color Theory: Audience response played a big part in picking the tracklist, but ultimately I chose the tracks I thought worked best. Some fan favorites are missing, while others that didn’t score well are included. As for the sequence, there are a bunch of factors, as well as gut feelings. Some of the considerations are tempo, lyrical content, mood, key signature, and song structure. I tried to introduce as much contrast as possible between individual tracks, because I think ups and downs are important.
Chain D.L.K.: How do you think you’ll perform these tracks live? Only with piano and vocals or else?
Color Theory: I probably won’t. I stopped performing live a couple of years ago because it ‘s just not my thing. I don’t really enjoy it, and it doesn’t capture the essence of my music the way the recordings do.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s next?
Color Theory: My wife and I found out about an hour ago that we’re having a baby boy in May, so that’s obviously at the top of the list! I’ve had a lot of success with my mastering business, 11th Records Mastering, and I’m going to keep working to take it to the next level. As for Color Theory, I’ve been brainstorming ideas for my next album. It’s going to be a concept album from the ground up, but I don’t want to give the concept away just yet. This time I’m going to keep everything under wraps until the album is complete. I’m thinking of using drum loops and samples with the acoustic piano, so it won’t exactly be another acoustic CD, but it won’t be truly electronic either. David Gray might be a good reference, except with piano instead of guitar. I want female vocals to play a huge part in the album as well. I’ve e-mailed Amy Turany, formerly of Astronaut Wife, about the possibility of her singing on the album, but haven’t heard anything back yet. She has a delightfully unique voice that reminds me a bit of Harriet Wheeler from the Sundays. All in all, I’m just going to do my best to focus on the things that are important to me, and let the other things slide. I’ll keep releasing albums, not as a path to fame or fortune, but because I enjoy the process and the dialogue with listeners. Of course I want my audience to grow, but that seems to happen on its own. I’ll just make the best music I can and let the rest take care of itself.
[interviewed by Maurizio Pustianaz]