Living Colour start their Australian tour this week and it promises to be a big one in support of their sixth album Shade. Living Colour are not strangers to our country but as drummer Will Calhoun suggests to Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles they would like to tour here more often as he explains.

Living Colour on tour in Australia next week is fantastic. Are you looking forward to it as well the build up to your sixth album Shade?
I’m looking forward to it yes! We’ll play some new music, play some of the older music as it is the perfect opportunity to audition some new things and play for some lovely Australian audiences. We are looking forward to playing songs from our previous recordings and some cover songs from some really important musicians so you’ll hear some interesting covers in the show

Does it make it harder touring with an album that isn’t out yet or where fans haven’t had a chance to hear the songs yet or is it more about fine tuning and road testing songs?
It is a combination of things but I wouldn’t call it road testing. We haven’t been to Australia in a while, we had been on Soundwave which was great so we want come and perform some of the music from other recordings that weren’t as popular as our first three but it is an opportunity to play some new music. It will give Australia a bit of an idea when Shade does come out what they are going to get a sample of. We would like to come back and tour again and tour on a new recording.

It is a combination of things as we have not been visiting Australia in my opinion properly throughout our recording career. It is a nice opportunity to reset the wheel and come back to play some old stuff, new stuff and some cover songs and maybe come back in 2018 for a proper tour with a reason.

It was interesting to read that you went in to the recording process with a hip hop producer. Was that always the intention and would have made for an interesting dynamic?
Yes it did! With Living Colour we create the music and the direction comes to us so we did some things with our producer Andre Betts and some things without. We did cut some tracks on our own in Upstate New York in a rock and arena. I think Andre is a great producer, song writer and arranger and we wanted to keep a bit of the urban vibe with us as well. It was important as well to keep our rock edge and rock sounding tunes. So we do a little bit of both and it turned out great. We didn’t go in to it with any preconceived notions, we write songs and sometimes we play them for producers and hear their opinions but at the end of the day we let the sound and the vibe take on the proper production. That will tell us who the right producer is.

Did you find that from the original ideas the songs did change up quite a bit compared to the originals demos?
The answer to that is yes! Some of them changed drastically, some of them just changed a bit but changes aren’t necessarily to the songs but the arrangements. When you write songs and you start recording them for a record you have to listen to the story because the entire CD is a story, a book with chapters and sometimes the chapters need to be edited or removed from the book. Sometimes chapter five should become chapter two and chapter two should become chapter eight. So yes, there were actual song edits within the material but also we had to find a happy medium between what’s the best order to tell the story.

Was it coincidental the political situation would provide as much lyrical content for the album?
Coincidental, no! To be honest with you most of the songs on Shade were written in the last three years so we were still in an Obama world when we started recording. We were inspired by many things and Obama came and served his two terms but yes the current administration and some of the horrific crimes against humanity that have happened with police and African Americans. There are a lot of things that have happened. The political side of the government also inspired us to write music and record songs so there were quite a few things.

We only see what’s written in the papers and what’s on TV but are Americans still quite angry with what’s going on?
Yes, quite! The only way that is going to change is the people. People in my opinion will make changes in world history not policy. Policy only gets formed afterwards. People are still angry, they are shocked as to what has happened and there are different types of rumours going round about how things are played out. At the end of the day any citizen of any country who wants to have a certain type of lifestyle or respect, you have to earn it and they aren’t things people will give to you.

Those are things people take from you as in your country with indigenous Australians there is no difference. It is something that people have to band together as people don’t agree with what is happening. It is not just an Australian story! Americans are up and there are a lot of things you’re seeing on the news and a lot of things you aren’t seeing on the news but I think it is a really fertile time for artists and the general public to stand up for what they believe in to create an atmosphere that is conducive for us to live like free respectful human beings.

Was it hard letting go of this album and knowing that point when it was done?
That is a great question and I think you have to ask the four members individually. For me when the record is over it is over! I’m probably more focused on the process and making it sound good. Once it is mixed and mastered I kind of let go of the recording. For me I never want to create a recording where I put it on and cringe about anything. I really want to feel great about it even if it sounds dated or unhappy. Everyone is different, maybe some of the other guys like the post process but I’m ok with it once the songs are cut, it is mixed and we agree on the mixes. After that it is the light at the end of the tunnel, the mastering, song order and those things don’t bother me as much. The cutting, the sound, the value and definition of the music is the most thing for me.

Were there plenty of high fives knowing that you nailed it?
There weren’t a lot of high fives on Shade! Shade was an interesting process because we went through quite a few changes. We are happy it is over and we did take a listen to it which was very satisfying. I don’t know if high five is the world, when you are in a group and you agree on a piece of art, if you want it to be an apple you just want it to be an apple. Once it becomes what we want it to be we are ok with it.

We agree with the concept of what we put in to it and it is great to listen to Vivid and Stain still to this day because I know we didn’t compromise for one second for one bar or one beat on any of those recordings. I am satisfied even much later on and that’s my vibe. As long as I can feel that way about each song, one of my favourites is This Is The Light which is a great track. It is one of those tracks that still today I listen to those lyrics, those guitar sounds and the big drum sound which has a bit of a Zeppelin vibe and a bit of a Beatles vibe as well… I still enjoy it. Once it is cut I am happy and I’ll high five after it is cut!

Do you notice the changing demographic of fans following Living Colour?
Yeah, thanks to CM Punk, Guitar Hero, HBO and some other current options to reach a younger audience yes I do notice that. I still notice that we still have our original fans, so I love the combination of both and I love the fact that the music can touch people of any age. We are thrilled to see young and hard core fans show up.

Interview by Rob Lyon

Living Colour Australian Tour Dates

May 12 170 Russell, Melbourne
May 13 Metro Theatre, Sydney
May 14 The Triffid, Brisbane
May 17 The Gov, Adelaide
May 19 Astor Theatre, Perth