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Living Colour Dealing with the Possibilities and the Chair. David Carr's Exclusive Interview with Guitarist, Vernon Reid

By David Carr, Contributor
Thursday, July 30, 2009 @ 9:31 AM

"I am proud of (Pres. Obama) and I am proud of my country. He is making moves and getting things done."

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You might be hard pressed to find someone more articulate and forthright in the world of hard rock than Vernon Reid; the guitarist and founder of the groundbreaking rock act Living Colour. In the late 80’s Living Colour came on the scene, changed the rules in the heavy rock world and created some new ones along the way. Their brand of hard rock was peppered with equal doses of funk, blues, punk rock, R&B and hip-hop and their lyrics dealt with the issues of the day. The group broke up in 1995 and reunited in 2000. The reunion of the group has been an up hill climb. Changing tastes in the music industry coupled with a disjointed reunion disc (2003’s Collideoscope) have made their re-emergence a bit spotty. The band has soldiered on however, and they are poised to release their most cohesive disc to date.

Living Colour will drop their fifth studio disc The Chair in the Doorway on September 15th. They have a new record deal, a more cohesive sound and they are gearing up for their first US tour in five years.

I had a chance to chat with band founder Vernon Reid to find out more about their new disc, his take on the world of heavy rock and about how the chair got in the doorway in the first place.

KNAC.COM: How are you feeling about the new disc? What are your thoughts on the finished product?

REID: I am really psyched about it! I mean really, it was a miracle that it was even made!! It was great to work with some old school folks and some new school folks this time around. We had Ron St. Germain come in and mix the disc. He produced our 3rd record, Stain so it was great to work with him again. We also had The Count come in and do some production work on the disc. He has a real objective set of ears! Andre Betts also had a hand in helping us with this record. I think this record is an un-intentional concept record…it’s about life and how we are all in this thing together.

KNAC.COM: Would it be safe to say that the overall theme of the disc harkens back to the tune on “Time’s Up”, “This is the Life?"

REID: Yeah totally…I mean this disc is truly about how for better or for worse, with all of our isms and prejudices we are in this life together. It’s about your loves and regrets and remembering what you have been taught along the way. I mean, sometimes when I fly to LA at night I look down at all the buildings as the plane is landing. I wonder to myself, how many people are getting it on right now in those buildings? How many people are breaking up or falling in love or are with someone they should NOT be with! No matter what the circumstance is, all of these scenarios are being played out at the same time and we are all in the mix together.

KNAC.COM: All of the band members are married with children now. Has this had an affect on the writing?

REID: Totally! It has affected the ideas and songwriting in a lot of ways. There is a song on the record called “Taught Me” that speaks to that. The song itself is about a break up and trying to pick up the pieces after said break up but the person in the song is not dealing with regrets. Instead they are just happy to know that at some point this other person did in fact love them…that this person at least tried to love them…it’s a song about maturing and dealing with issues like this, in a mature way.

KNAC.COM: The record does in fact seem more focused than your last effort. What do you think is the key difference between “Colideoscope” and “The Chair in the Doorway”?

REID: I have to say I am proud of the songs on that record…I know that “Collidescope” got ignored for the most part but with that record we were really trying to figure out how to be a band again. We kept asking ourselves, why are we here, why are we back? That record dealt with 9/11. That incident gave us something to talk about and from what I saw we were the only hard rock band dealing with 9/11 and its aftermath. Having said all that, we tried to do that record ourselves and we didn’t have an objective set of ears with us…all four of us are producers in our own right so we never really had an outside perspective helping us with that disc and I think that was the main issue.

KNAC.COM: You also seemed to have some issues with your record company Sanctuary. How are things right now with Megaforce?

REID: Well I don’t want to talk badly about folks because their were some great people at Sanctuary and now they are out of work…some things that we were counting on just did not happen with Sanctuary. Megaforce so far has been great! They are truly engaged with us. It’s a great partnership and a good vibe!

KNAC.COM: There was a rumor that Living Colour was going to be playing at the Afro-Punk festival this year. Sadly it didn’t happen but I wondered what your feeling was on the whole Afro-Punk movement?

REID: I love it! I love seeing this next generation, this new rock and roll community. I look forward to working with the folks involved in this movement. I am glad that this “conversation” is still going on. I love that it has gotten big enough to have its own festival and that it incorporates film and extreme sports as well as music. There is a lot of synergy between the Black Rock Coalition and the Afro-Punk Movement and a lot of bands in both organizations. There are some great artists/bands in both camps like Tamar Kali and the band Earl Greyhound. Early Greyhound are amazing and there is no doubt in my mind they are going to be huge!

KNAC.COM: In knowing that the BRC is still with us and the Afro-Punk movement has gotten a lot of exposure do you think things have gotten better for African Americans in the world of rock music?

REID: Clearly it has! Things are much better now for African Americans in rock. From Sevendust to Santogold to TV On The Radio and Skunk Anasie, things are immensely better. The biggest indicator that things have gotten better is the fact that my dear friend William DuVall is now the new lead singer for Alice in Chains. I mean ten years ago that notion might have been un-thinkable but it’s happening. Nowadays bands are able to stand or fall based on the merits of the music and not on race, gender or sexuality and that’s how it should be.

KNAC.COM: I know Living Colour will do its own headling tour in the US this fall but are their any bands that you would want to tour with who are your contemporaries like AIC, Faith No More or Tom Morello’s new band?

REID: Well I have to say I love and respect all the bands you mentioned but if I had my way we would go out on tour with the original lineup of Fishbone! No disrespect to the other band members they have now but I really want to see the original members of that band reunite and if that were to happen I would love to go out on the road with them. We did some shows with them early on and we have always had a great relationship with them and it would be great to see them do what they need to do to reunite the original members.

KNAC.COM: Living Colour has never shied away from politics and I know you were a big supporter of Barrack Obama during the election. Has his election and his presidency so far given you hope?

REID: I am proud of him and I am proud of my country. I think of him as a radical centrist. He is making moves and getting things done. He has to walk a precarious tightrope but he is doing it. His election speaks to the idea of possibility. In a lot of ways I think of his election in the same way I think of what happened with us. I mean people did not give Obama a chance at all when he set out to win the presidency. When we started out folks looked at me and just said there was a better chance of a snow ball existing in an oven than us making it and we defied the odds. He was able to do it and so were we…he dealt with the idea of possibilities and that’s what this band has always been about…we have always been about dealing with the possibilities.

Living Colour’s The Chair and the Doorway is out this Fall.

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