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LAist Band Interview: Colored Shadows

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Combine the ethereal sounds of Air with a touch of Bowie and Morrissey, and you'll get the tip of the iceberg of Colored Shadows. The band combines complicated, cinematic music with compelling vocals. Though we could draw a myriad of many contemporary comparisons, Colored Shadows' attention to detail is what makes them stand out from the crowd.

Vocalist and bassist Lucas Field sat down with LAist and discussed what it feels like to work in LA (as a band comprised of non-LA natives) and gave us some hints at what we could expect from the band's forthcoming album.

If this interview wets your appetite, then make sure to catch Colored Shadows during their October Monday night residency at Spaceland.

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Colored Shadows are:
Howie Diamond on drums, Lucas Field on vocals and bass, Tad Moore on keyboards & Ben Pollack on guitar and vocals.

LAist: Describe your creative process for writing composing the music?

Lucas Field: Ben and I write the music, and Howie will do his part with the drums... and that's kind of how [we compose]. I think lyrics and music almost never have anything to do with each other at first. Ben and I will both write lyrics at the same time... but always, we'll write the music by itself. And then it's like, oh, let me look through my lyrics. I think we both have this instinct to write music based solely on the chord progressions and the way it sounds. Then the lyrics come into play.

LAist: The band used to be named 1984, what prompted the change and how did you pick the name Colored Shadows?

LF: A friend of a friend came up with the name. He's very quiet... and never talks. But when he does, it's profound. [At the time] we'd been experimenting with colored shadow lighting and he'd showed us how to do it. One night he watched our show and said, "Colored shadows are basically a blend of primary colors, and they make these millions of other colors. It may seem weird, but I was watching you [perform] tonight and I think that name feels like you."

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We sat back and it was like it clicked in two seconds. It was the perfect name.

LAist: Describe your residency at Spaceland?

LF: Spaceland is a good place to get exposure, especially playing on Monday nights. You get a lot of people walking in. The parking sucks, but it's free and it's low-key enough. I think for a regular guy, it's a little intimidating because it seems a little snobby. But, for someone who doesn't give a shit, I think it's a good place. I don't think the sound is nearly as good as the Troubadour, but it's still good.

LAist: How does the LA music scene compare to other cities?

LF: Well, I haven't played in that many other cities. No one is an LA native in our band, actually, and I think that's been kind of a weird thing. I'm from Seattle, Ben's from Detroit, Howie's from Chicago, and Tad's from San Francisco. I think nothing about us feels like Los Angeles. Although, I think it has a tinge of it now that we've been here. Definitely the lyrics have taken form based on colors and things that we see. I think over three-and-a-half years of living here you start to take in the atmosphere.

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As far as the LA music scene is concerned, I think it's tough. You lose out a lot of times because either one band is trying to be so legit because that don't give a fuck about anything, or another band is worried about getting signed. I think that playing in a city like Seattle, you just kind of meet friends and start playing. If you don't sound perfect with one another, it's okay. Everyone just seems to be a little too concerned about getting signed out here [in LA]. They've got their angle and it gets a little overwhelming. It seems like people are very nervous to be upfront... to be honest about what's going on.

LAist: What was the first album you purchased?

LF: I know for a fact my mom played me "A Hard Day's Night" and I listened to that over and over. That was the first record I listened to. Then I had this weird audiocassette tape that had this bizarre instrumental... a sort of jazz-anova, Frank Zappa-like, weird sort of dance song that I used to run around my room in circles and listen to. Then I got into Bobby McFerrin when I was like 6.

LAist: What music are you listening to now?

LF: I got the new Sigur Rós, I think it's okay. At first I really liked it, now I'm not as into it. I heard a song by a guy named Tom Vek. I'm not sure if I love the whole album, but I think the first single on it is awesome. Oh, and I've been listening to this little dance girl from the UK named Annie.

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The New Pornographers are a guilty pleasure. As much as I'd love to not like the album, some of their songs are really good. If I was living in any other city I could talk openly about them. But living in LA and playing at Spaceland... this is a "guilty pleasure."

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LAist: Can you talk a bit about Life After Love? It's one of your more upbeat songs. Is it indicative of what's coming next?

LF: When we're happy we write sad, when we're sad we write happy. I think that on the opening record, we had no idea what we were doing in terms of song structure. We ended up really working hard on it... I don't think we even considered any emotion. We just felt the way we felt and wrote these cool chord progressions. And, those were the songs. On this new record I think that everyone was feeling excited. Tempo was never an issue. What's funny is two out of the four tracks are sped up. I don't know if that's because we're more comfortable writing the way we write and it's easier to speed it up, or not.

Ben lives in this tiny little [apartment]...it looks like a hobbit village. One night, he calls me and he's like, "Dude, come here." He has a little MPC up there and he wrote most of the music for [Life After Love]. When I came up there he had his MPC hooked up to his groove box, hooked up to his Juno and had them all sequenced. And, he said, "Put these headphones on." I heard these chord progressions that seemed familiar, but they [crept] in this way that was unfamiliar. So, I laid back and got this big smile on my face.

I'm glad you picked up on the optimism of it. The lyrics are tricky because I think you'd think it's about your life after you've broken up. That has nothing to do with it. What the song is really about is what you're like before love enters your life and, actually it's what your life feels like with love. You know, where's love? How does it change you? It's a person reflecting on their life and thinking this is life before, this is life with love... and now that it's entered there's no way to disregard it.

LAist: When can fans expect another CD or EP?

LF: The record is done, recorded and sent in for artwork today. I think 2-3 weeks. It'll be up on iTunes and Fonogenic. I'm really excited about it. Ben does the opening vocal track and I think that it dictates the sound for the whole record.

LAist: With whom would you most like to collaborate as a band (local or otherwise) on your next project?

LF: Brian Eno and George Martin. As far as a musician ... maybe it would be fun to make a song with the guys from Air.

LAist: What's the biggest challenge for a new band in the LA music scene?

LF: I would say make sure you like everyone that you're playing with. If that's even a question, then it's not going to work. I would also say get ready for as hard a job as any other job you've had. Be ready to do everything that you can in every way because you're in a huge fishbowl in LA. It's a huge place... put up posters, practice every night and make sure your shit's tight. And also you know, you've got to like [what] you're playing. Trying to do anything quick is the wrong way. Just work really, really hard.

LAist: When do you write music?

LF: We're always writing. Ben's always sitting at his piano and I'm always sitting at mine... and Howie's always anticipating new music.

LAist: Name one thing that most defines your band?

LF: Our attention to detail and the fact that we've been able to take what's so great about bands like Air... and make it into a band. It doesn't sound like it's one guy in his closet. The tricky thing with writing pop songs that aren't pop songs is trying to get through the idea that it sounds like a lot of other material. But I think there's an integrity to the chords and the actual style that goes into it. Every decision is nit-picky and made for the right reason. We try to stay away from "tacky" and we try to stay out of all the little things that Death Cab for Cutie falls into.

LAist: When you're not performing, what's your favorite thing to do in LA?

LF: I go to the par 3 pigeon putt in Los Feliz. You know what, honestly, I've never been so busy. College was so much easier...When I'm free, I'm either just kickin' it, or writing, or I just don't know. I would say if you're trying to make it in a band in LA, you're not supposed to have free time.

LAist: What's your favorite California band, past or present?

LF: Love, specifically their album "Forever Changes."

LAist: It's 9pm on a Thursday, where are you going?

LF: I'm headed to practice.

Further listening