Interview With Corey Glover of Living Colour for House of Hair Online
By Ray Van Horn, Jr.
House of Hair: Tell us a little bit about this show you’ve got going on in Washington, DC tonight. Living Colour are guest performers on the “Afro Punk” show. I guess it’s been awhile since you guys were the openers instead of headliners, eh?
Corey Glover: This is what we need to do. We’ve got to get out there and play in front of different people. They need to see it, you know? A lot of folks don’t even know we’re back together! We’ve been together for a very long time, and we’ve been playing mostly in Europe and South America lately, so we have to re-establish ourselves. If it means we have to go down to DC and do a 40-minute set, we’re going to do it.
HOH: How about your experience of late playing Judas in the road ensemble of Jesus Christ Superstar? What drew you to this traveling production and how much different would you say it is being in that type of road show versus being in a band on the road?
CG: This is a show I really wanted to do. Jesus Christ Superstar has been an inspiration to me, literally, to keep doing what I do. When I got the opportunity to do the show, I said, ‘Aww, I’ve really got to do this!’ It was really great. It’s like being in a band, sort of. It is and it isn’t. You’re on the road, you’re working constantly, but the difference is, with a traveling show like Superstar, you’re working eight days a week! Not so with a band, where you’re working Thursday, Friday, Saturday and maybe Sunday. This is Monday through Sunday and two extra shows on the weekend! So, it’s a lot more work! (laughs) It’s maybe the same work spread out over a longer period, but it’s a lot more work.
HOH: Did being in Superstar give you a bit more preparation for Living Colour’s latest album, The Chair in the Doorway in your opinion? I think your chops on this album are as polished as they were coming out of the late eighties, man.
CG: Superstar did help me because I was constantly singing, though I wasn’t singing as much as I do in the band. It’s just spread out over the same period of time, so I have to keep my chops up to a certain degree. What it really did to me was give me inspiration plus aspiration too. I had all these ideas on the road for songs because I’m singing constantly and I’m hearing my own voice. It was like, ‘What would work here may work in the other!’ That was very, very helpful.
HOH: I want to touch on Collideoscope for a second. I know a lot of journalists are asking what you think might’ve gone right or wrong with that album, since we’re mostly unified in thought it’s a real solid album. I’m wondering if the climate in which Collideoscopewas released was still sensitive in a post 9/11 existence. The album certainly touches hard on the subject. Do you think that was the right time for Living Colour to come back or were you guys mainly victims of circumstance?
CG: I think it was time for us to do something. We’re a band from New York and September 11th and the days subsequent to that affected us very deeply. It was something that needed to be said. We needed to say something. It so happened we were in the middle of being on the road when 9/11 occurred, and we kind of got numbness having been off for so long by the time we made this record. We made the record in 2002, which was a year after the attacks and all of those things were still fresh in our minds, so we wanted to talk about that.
HOH: Do you feel the album was treated fairly by the label, the critics or the listeners?
CG: I don’t think anybody got a chance to hear that record. I think if anybody really got the chance to hear that record, they’d appreciate it on its own merits. There’s no way you can gauge what somebody’s going to like or what they’re not going to like, really. We knew there wasn’t going to be a hit song, but we knew it was going to be special. It was going to do what it would do but we knew it wasn’t going to last us for 20 years.
HOH: The first three albums you guys did really challenged the rock and metal scenes by introducing funk, soul, hip hop and blues into this style of music, but Living Colour’s social awareness I think has always been your calling card. We’re now in a slightly more progressive society with a change in presidency, but do you still feel that raw angst instigating your performance in Living Colour today?
CG: Absolutely! You know, don’t think just because things have changed in the White House that things have changed. Don’t think that there aren’t injustices in the world just because Obama’s in the White House. That’s not going to change anything, and there’s others things that need to be talked about. It’s been four years since Katrina; what’s changed there? What normal society is there? What’s really changing? What’s really going on? Not to say there haven’t been some changes; it’s been absolutely amazing to watch those changes going on the world. We’ve always tried to put the mirror up front to the life and times that we’re in, and as long as we have that perspective, that’s what we’re going to do.
HOH: I have to touch on the Bad Brains a second. These guys are one of my all-time favorite bands, and you guys have always been well-known for your Bad Brains covers. I remember when I heard I Against I for the first time, I literally fell to my knees! I was so shattered when I heard that album. They rightly get their due in the punk and sometimes reggae scenes, but from an overall rock perspective, do you think they’ve been slighted over the years?
CG: I think they’re like a hidden gem. It’s almost as if in secret people know about them. It’s like ‘Oh that’s really good, but I’ve got this in my secret little box I keep in the back and pull out on special occasions.’ I don’t know what there would be if everybody knew about the Bad Brains. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing, but that’s what makes it special, as far as I’m concerned. It’s hard, because I don’t really listen to a lot of new music. I listen to some new music, but even if I think something is new, it’s already two years old! I always turn back to that older stuff. I always turn back to (King’s X’s) Gretchen Goes to Nebraska, I always turn back to the old (Bad Brains) ROIR tapes and listen to that stuff. King’s X, Bad Brains and Fishbone, they’re all my comfort zone. I love that stuff!
HOH: Getting into The Chair in the Doorway, I want to start off with “Burned Bridges.” I just love the anticipatory build-up structures you guys have on this song. It just layers itself until Vernon (Reid) pulls off a tempered solo then goes berserk. It climaxes so good! There’s also a confessional feel to those brilliant lyrics. What do you feel was the motivating factor prompting Living Colour to write this one?
CG: It really came out of a conversation Vernon and I had where the questions were What do you want to say? What do you want to talk about? What do you think about things right now? He said ‘I’ve had this line in my head forever since the band broke up in the nineties where I’ve never had anywhere to put it: ‘I toss my keys in the river, now I can’t go home again.’ I said, ‘Alright, that’s a great starting point! Let’s go from there.’ In the way he and I and the band wrote it, we sort of just piled things on top of each other and that’s just how the production went as well. We’d come up with something and then all of sudden things would start to pile on top of each other. That’s sort of the way the song structured itself.
HOH: “The Chair” and “DecaDance” are two your band’s toughest songs since the Stain album, yet there’s nowhere near the amount of pure anger in these songs as on Stain. That was one angry album! How do you differentiate the songwriting mindset between Stain and these songs in terms of conveying aggression?
CG: Hmm, I don’t know. These are all moments in time. Our songs happen as they occur. That’s the cool thing about The Chair in the Doorway in general; that the title of the record came up first. We knew that was the title and we kept writing songs coming up a step until it congealed on its own.
HOH: What presented the hypothetical chair in the doorway that motivated this album?
CG: As the story goes, Vernon and I were talking during the making of Collideoscope, and we were waging over what was going on about this, that and the other thing, what was going on, who wasn’t doing what, typical band shit. I said to him, ‘The problem is, the chair’s in the doorway!’ He gave me a quizzical look and I tried to explain to him what I meant by the chair in the doorway. I don’t think he really got it at first, but after awhile things went by, we finished Collideoscope, and then we’re talking again about a new album and he was like, ‘You know what we should call the new album? The Chair in the Doorway!’ I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever, alright, let’s move on.’ When it came time to make the new record, he again said, ‘Let’s call it The Chair in the Doorway! Let’s do it!’ The songs sort of formed a marriage out of that. A song like “The Chair” was us trying to deal with the emotional aspect of what the song was, and it came about. “DecaDance” was a song about excess. While we were making this record, we were writing the songs and we were watching television and talking about the downturn and the economic crash that was happening. What we were thinking about was, it all came about because of greed, because you all wanted more! It was never enough for anybody. The sky was the limit! From that idea, the emotional aspect came about from it, and that’s why the song is as hard as it is.
HOH: I want to touch on “Method.” I know it probably wasn’t written to be a James Bond theme, but man, I’ll tell you what; it really ought to be one! Let’s have your mindset on how you wrote “Method.”
CG: We tried to do something very atmospheric. All of these songs came out of grooves that we made up during sound check or if we happened to pop into a studio or something. We’d had these grooves which Doug (Wimbish) held onto and kept recording. Out of one of these grooves we said ‘Let’s try to do something real atmospheric and very airy.’ Other times we’ve tried to do something light and it never works. Hats off to one of the guys, Milan Cimfe, who helped engineer this thing in the Czech Republic. He heard certain things and he sort of tweaked certain things in the studio and then a song emerged! It terms of writing lyrics, we tried to do a social commentary thing where it sort of connects to the next thing then the next thing then the next. It’s that connect-connect thing by the lyrics and then the melody came about.
HOH: I’m sure that was something recording this album in Prague. Did it make things tenser or more relaxed being in such a different environment?
CG: I think it was a little more relaxed. Maybe a little more relaxed and a little tenser because we couldn’t go home until we finished it! (laughs) It was like, ‘You want to go home? You want to see your family? You want to eat some real food?’ At the same time, it was a lot more relaxed. It wasn’t really in Prague; it was like Exit 14 on the Jersey Turnpike! It was near Prague, but it wasn’t inPrague. It was even a trek just to go into a simple town. We were pretty much holed up in this place but we had the luxury of waking up and the studio was right there! If you had an idea, you could get to it immediately. It wasn’t like you went home and fussed over it and thought about it and tweaked it and then it turns into something you don’t like after all that. What it was is the raw idea as it turned out and as it came out of your head. You put it down and recorded it conveniently.
HOH: I’m sure that’s a lot more refreshing to work with than say, your traditional studio where you might have time constraints to battle.
CG: Right. It was a great studio, an amazing studio. We had some amazing engineers;Milanis an amazing engineer. He really had an ear for songs and he heard a lot of stuff in our music before we actually heard it. It was great.
HOH: I really dig the Robert Johnson/Leadbelly trad blues you guys have with “Not Tomorrow” and “Bless Those (Annie’s Prayer).” Vernon’s insane on “Bless Those” but I also like the way he lays back on “Not Tomorrow” and lets the rest of the band become a rhythm section unto itself as he plays quietly in the background. Savvy stuff!
CG: Right, right, right! “Bless Those” is the only song on this record which we would consider a cover, because it was originally recorded by Doug as “Little Annie” and all that stuff, but it gave us a chance to do the barroom stuff that we do, since that’s who we are. In a real interesting sort of way, we’re like a barroom band in clubs all around the world. This is our chance to play some real bluesy stuff and really get back into our comfort zone.
HOH: Sounds like a vibe very much like your CBGB’s live album that came out not too long ago. Would you say you took that vibe into the recording of The Chair in the Doorway?
CG: Yeah, I think we did and that’s what we wanted to do. We changed that song several times. Sometimes we do all kinds of different things with a song, but it always works as just what it is: a raw, gutbucket, woodchip sawdust on the floor vibe. This is stomp blues sort of thing and that’s the way it works.
HOH: “Young Man” really cracked me up with your sarcastic step-calling amidst the funk rhythm. To me it comes off as a song about the zombies shuffling around in our dead society.
CG: Yeah, I see that with the call and response thing. We just thought it’s about us. Everybody keeps talking about this is such a young society of individuals, but is it really? Everybody wants to be the same thing!
HOH: Does that make “Young Man” your “Glamour Boys” for this generation, then?
CG: I guess, yeah!
HOH: You know, I caught you guys on the Time’s Up tour, one of my favorite tours of the time, but what I saw then and what I see on your New Morning: The Paris Concert DVD is you guys have become a real jam-based group now. You guys look so relaxed up there versus the flashpoint intensity of your late eighties gigs.
CG: Yeah, that show in Paris, at that point in the tour we were really trying to stretch out the songs. We’ve had these songs for 20 years, so now it’s time to see where they go, and we were afforded the luxury of doing that. That’s what you’re seeing on that DVD.
HOH: I just have to commend you guys for never selling out. You guys could’ve tried to replicate “Cult of Personality,” but you guys have always stuck to your guns doing what you want to do. Whether that has played into your scheme or not or whether it’s benefitted you or not, I think it’s been a fabulous part of your existence. Still did you at one point ever think, ‘Maybe we should’ve tried for something else big like that?’ Or is it the fact we’re in a society where today’s rock band simply can’t do “the big hit” anymore with current public tastes?
CG: Well, yeah, because then you become a victim of the songs you sing, and then you become ‘Oh, you’re that band that does that song!’ We’ve tried really hard not to be the band that does that song. “Cult of Personality” was one song of many songs that we’ve done. You can’t stop people from feeling that way; we’re never not going to live down “Cult of Personality.” It’s never going to happen, but when you come to a show and see us live, what’s interesting is you forget you remembered some of the stuff! I was talking to a friend of mine and he was like, ‘Dude, I forgot you guys did “Glamour Boys!” I forgot you did “Open Letter to a Landlord!”’ They might not have been “hits,” but they’re still part of the consciousness to our band. When you listen to them and you’re getting a new idea of what Living Colour is, you can go back and say, ‘You know, there’s a lot more diversity to this band than just “Cult of Personality.”’ Yeah, it’s a hard rock tune, and that’s great, but if you listen to something like “Broken Hearts,” it’s the same thing! It may not be exactly the same, but it’s still the same band. Or “Solace of You” or “This is the Life,” and your whole perspective on what you’re listening to changes. The whole idea of this band was to never be pigeonholed. We never wanted to be pigeonholed and we never tried to be pigeonholed. That was most important to us.