Within two years of establishing a sturdy lineup in 1986, New York wunderkids and funk metal pioneers Living Colour took the world by storm with their unique twist of bodacious fusion and social conscience, leading to multiple Grammy wins, international acclaim and stylistic infamy.
Exploding into the industry during the politically turbulent and racially problematic
1980s, Living Colour brought an unapologetic confidence to their radical sounds, most notably on their debut album 'Vivid' in 1998, boasting their cult classic 'Cult of Personality'. In a time when rock was dominated by countless white men with shaggy long hair, Living Colour reclaimed the genre and took it to brand new stratospheres - no style was beyond their reach, a fact that still remains true to this day.
But beyond the timeless themes underlying many of the group's tracks is a culture of innovation, diversity and heavy influences from the worlds of heavy metal, funk, jazz, hip hop and beyond. And now three decades after the release of 'Vivid', the American quartet have not only maintained their explosive energy - they still have more to achieve as a band, as frontman Corey Glover explains ahead of their upcoming Aussie tour starting later this month. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hey Corey, how's it going?
TIANA: I'm very well! And so excited, we are all obviously so lucky because yourself and Living Colour are gearing up to make the very long trip back to Australia very shortly! What are you most excited about for this upcoming tour, I know you guys were here quite recently too...
TIANA: Living Colour have obviously headed out here a few times now, is there anything you've got on your wish-list to do this time round that you didn't get to previously?
TIANA: Make the most of the insane flight time it takes to get here!
COREY: Exactly (laughs). Earlier on we did all the touristy things, saw the Opera House and all that stuff, but I wanna go in and hang out with some folks and just see the stuff that tourists don't see.
TIANA: And do you find when you head over here, given you've been over here so many times...is there a significant difference between your Australian fans and fans in other parts of the world?
COREY: Oh yeah! Oh yeah, it seems like Australians seem to know the deeper cuts, they know the songs that (laughs) not everybody likes to hear. And they want us to play that, and it'll be fun cos we're touring for the anniversary of 'Vivid' so we'll play some songs from 'Vivid' we haven't played in a long time.
TIANA: On that note, obviously 'Vivid' was such a game-changer back in the day, and three decades have passed now between then and now. But what I find really, really interesting about it is that eeriley it seems to be as thematically relevant now as it was back then...do you feel like that is the case?
OPEN LETTER (TO A LANDLORD) - LIVING COLOUR
TIANA: And is the relevance bittersweet? Or is it nice to maintain the relevancy in this day and age?
TIANA: I guess the flip-side to that is that you can still keep it pumping in the public eye. So maybe this upcoming tour will help chip away at re-setting the status quo a little bit??
TIANA: Very, very true. And since the release of 'Vivid', Living Colour's career has been - to coin a terrible pun - quite colourful. From the outside it has looked like a dream run with you guys finding mainstream success so quickly. But along the way you've had band breakups and no doubt a lot of personal sacrifice that makes up the story. If you had to pinpoint a catalyst to the ongoing success of Living Colour...do you think there is a specific method to your longevity?
COREY: I think part of it is the fact that we were so passionate about the music, about playing the music. As a musician, and as sort of story-tellers and truth tellers - we are very committed to it, and I think that shows up.
TIANA: It's no small feat. Is it nice to be at this point in your career after such a long and colourful history?
COREY: You know, I feel like we are still just scratching the surface. I think there's still things that we need to accomplish as a band, and as individuals as well. But as musicians, and as a band, I think we are still striving at something. And not specifically perfection, but a place where how we express ourselves musically gets better and more acceptable to people. So people understand what is is that we're saying, you know what I mean?
TIANA: I genuinely believe complacency is so dangerous to creativity, so it's awesome to hear. Now I've read a fair few times in the past when you guys have spoken about the huge moment when you had Little Richard come backstage when you were opening for The Rolling Stones...is that still a huge standout moment career-wise? Has anything ever eclipsed that moment?
COREY: Nothing will ever eclipse that moment, nothing will ever eclipse it. Ever. I mean, we've met other celebrities and were very surprised by them being appreciative of what they do, but nothing like meeting the person that for all intents and purposes is the reason why we're a band! Meeting someone like Little Richard, and him being excited to meet us was overwhelming!
TIANA: And name-checking one of your songs, I believe too? Called himself a 'Glamour Boy'!!
COREY: Yes!! Yeah, not only was he excited and he knew of our music - he had listened to the music. And it wasn't like he had seen the press and heard about this band and thought "here's a band I'd like to meet". He listened to the music - and QUOTED us! It was like "....WOW. He really is into us!".
LIVING COLOUR + THE ROLLING STONES, 'STEEL WHEELS' TOUR (1989)//Living Colour Twitter
TIANA: Honestly mind-blowing, and I'm so glad to hear it's still such a treasured moment for you guys. It's no secret Living Colour have frequently been given the label "funk metal pioneers"...but back in those early days, was there a mission statement for your sound? How did you guys arrive at this whacky world of metal fusion?
COREY: Absolutely, we just threw in what we thought would work. And it wasn't an intentional thing, we didn't sit down and say "ok, this is going to be funky", we didn't differentiate between musical styles. It was more like "this song has to tell this story", right? So "what would help tell the story: ok, a bassline that sounds like this, versus a guitar lick that sounds like this. Does that do it? Yeah! And a melody line that sounds like this versus a beat that sounds like this....does that work? Yeah? Maybe? Let's throw it up against the wall and see what sticks!".
TIANA: And the incredible thing is that you went on to influence so many people and bands - but you can still pick a Living Colour song out of the lineup, no one's ever scratched that same unique surface you guys seem to have. I guess ultimately it's just so amazing to have been a pioneer but you've retained an individuality so many bands would kill for...
COREY: Well, thank you! I think a big part of it is - we just try to stay true to it. It's like, this is where I come from musically. So you mix Vernon's (Vernon Reid - guitarist) guitar-playing style, which ranges from avant-garde jazz to metal to even some calypso and some funk. And you mix that kind of thing with my background singing Brodway tunes to gospel to R&B! And Will's (Will Calhoun - drums) thing with Indigenous music, and Doug's (Doub Wimbish - bass) thing coming as one of the originators of hip hop, coming from the Sugarhill thing! So, you put all that together, and this is just what comes out of it!
TIANA: And it is truly never a boring result! But for you personally these days, what bands and artists are you actually into these days, is there anything that might come as a surprise?
COREY: I like a lot of music, that's the other thing that sort of puts our music into perspective, we have a wide and varied influence. I listen to Bad Wolf...Alabama Shakes is another one I really like. But at the same time, I'm still listening to 'Band of Gypsys', I'm still listening to Jimi Hendrix, I'm still listening to Led Zeppelin. I'm still listening to that old stuff and discovering new stuff as I go along.
TIANA: Which seems to be a bit of a rarity these days, I find with so many people, we kinda seem to get stuck a lot in the same stuff we've always loved, which is fine..but as a musician it's so important to have that evolution, huh. Now quickly getting back to your upcoming Aussie tour, you'll obviously be playing some highlights from 'Vivid', plus some of the other hits and beyond. But after all this time - can you pinpoint one song you still absolutely love playing live after all these years? Or is that an impossible question...?
COREY: It's not an impossible question, I love playing all of it! You discover something new every time you do it, you know? I couldn't tell you how many times we've had to play 'Cult of Personality' but we find something new in it every time we do it!
CULT OF PERSONALITY - LIVING COLOUR
TIANA: It's certainly iconic! And to wrap it up, on the topic of 'Cult of Personality' - the track name-checks a fair few people in it...do you think it's time for a 2018/2019 update with new names?
COREY: Oh, of course we can! (laughs) Of course we can. Will we? I don't think so. (laughs). I mean, you could think of so many people that song applies to. Actually, here in the States there was an election, a midterm election season going on. And I don't know how many times I heard 'Cult of Personality' being played as it pertains to this whole round-up of elections and votings, the kind of stuff that a song like that dovetails into, stuff that's going on socially and politically. And it's particularly in our country.
TIANA: It's that whole relevancy again that we touched on earlier, which is exciting, terrifying - but ultimately awesome. Well lyrical updates or not, we are so excited to have you back in Australia very, very soon!
TIANA: We'll hopefully save some nice weather for you, it's been insane in the last week.
TIANA: It could be the apocalypse. Hopefully not. We've got a few weeks to sort it!
TIANA: Bring at least one pair, and if it goes full summer we'll turn your jeans into cut-offs?
TIANA: Thanks you so much for your time Corey!
LIVING COLOUR WILL BE BLASTING THEIR SONIC WARES ALL OVER THE COUNTRY STARTING SATURDAY 15TH DECEMBER IN PERTH. FOR TOUR INFO AND MORE, HEAD TO:
BY TIANA SPETER