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A Quietus Interview

On The Lone & Level: Hey Colossus & New Album Stream
Matt Ridout , February 2nd, 2015 10:17

Listen to the awesome new LP Hey Colossus In Black And Gold here and read Matt Ridout's interview with the band

Growing up in Southern California, the Colossus was a behemoth of a rickety wooden roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park. A twin-track monstrosity that was built in the late-70s, Colossus lacked the inversions or slickness of modern steel coasters but was still terrifying, primarily because of the sound the cars made as they made their way around the wooden structure. Fans of 1980s comedy films will know it as the last ride Clark Griswald and his family manage to make it on prior to being apprehended at the end of National Lampoon's Vacation.

I'm not trying to make any analogies or draw any direct parallels with the band Hey Colossus, it was just the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw their name on a flyer for a Silver Rocket night at the Buffalo Bar ten years ago. Since that time I've been fortunate to see them countless times, in many different lineups. A band that never gets stuck in a stereotype or is afraid to evolve or incorporate new sounds, Hey Colossus are on the cusp of releasing their latest LP In Black & Gold their first for Rocket Recordings. With an impressive back catalog: Eight albums, three split 7"s, two split 12"s, one split 10", a 12" of their own, numerous compilation appearances and with a lineup spread across the country (two members travel a 300 mile round trip to rehearse at their base at Dropout Studios, Camberwell, London) the band continue to develop and refine their sound in spite of the years or the logistical hurdles geography places in their way.

I was able to have a conversation with vocalist Paul Sykes and guitarist Jonathan Richards, to chat about the new record, being in a long distance band relationship, and the pros and cons of revealing the concepts behind lyrics.

  Why In Black & Gold?

Paul Sykes:  Well, I guess it stems from the song of the same name of the record which was kind of about the idea of regenerating between death and rebirth. It's was a strange year last year, maybe a more spiritual one for me personally. Black to signify being rubbed out, the negative space - gold to denote rebirth. It's a concept to pull back to now and again throughout the record. I guess that may only mean something to me, but I was in charge of the words. So, there you go.

I guess the thing that struck me when I first heard it, was that it did sound like a really concise piece of work. Rather than being a collection of disparate ideas. Did you have the idea to incorporate that concept before the songs were written or was it two separate processes?

Jonathan Richards: The music was recorded before any lyrics were heard. As instrumentals, we were trying to make a flowing piece. There was no other concept.

So it's not Hey Colossus' 2112 then?

PS: What's 2112?

[I explain the background to the Rush song '2112']

PS: I only had Farewell To Kings. I gave it away to a 40-year-old Italian pizza chef who was trying to make it as a pop star.

JR: Irony of ironies.

With the core of the band spread across the country, how does the song-writing process take shape? Is there a lot of sharing of ideas prior to meeting up in a room or do you work out everything together when you meet up?

JR: Riffs are brought in. We play around with them. If we like one, we work on it. This is the first album since I've been involved where I have been able to bring riffs in. We work really quickly once we know what we want to do.  Everyone has ideas though. I'm currently writing riffs at the suggestion of others. My life is a hollow void otherwise.

Do you think that the distance between all of you geographically helps, are you more focused because you can't just get together and mess around with ideas on a Thursday night?

PS: If we lived together we'd have the mental age of a 12 year old and write songs about fucking baked beans. You go your separate ways, you live your life and then you report back.

As both of you joined the band after its inception, what made you want to be a part of it?

PS: The Pension was competitive

JR: I went down to The Windmill In Brixton on a rainy night late 2010. HC were playing. We got smashed and they were all, "Come and record with us tomorrow!" I slept in the following morning because I had assumed it was nothing more than alcohol chatter. The phone woke me. I got on the bus and we were recording RRR an hour later.

PS: The other guys were very accommodating, letting me experiment with whatever I wanted when we first met up. I think they wanted someone in the band to take it on another path and I guess I had got a little bored of just singing in my last band. It was an opportunity to see what else you could do in a band rather than the traditional guitars, drums and voice. I was wide eyed and bushy tailed to it and grasped it. Now I wanna sing again

JR: We have fun. People can be attracted to that. I was. Life is transient. Guitar players are too.

PS: It is a hoot. That's not to say it isn't taken very seriously at the right moments, but you do have to allow yourself the luxury of enjoying the process and each others ideas.

I guess maybe some folk who listen to heavy music might take it all a bit seriously, yet one element that a lot of the bands in the "genre" share is that sense of humour.

PS: It's why I'm a little reticent to start talking about themes that the record deals with and the titling of it. I'm the pompous mouthpiece to a band that wants to see what happens when they do "this" or "that" and enjoys the process of discovering if it can be pulled off. It isn't a noise rock band. It isn't a psychedelic band. It's a bunch of guys having fun, really.

One thing I really enjoyed when listening to In Black & Gold is the different dynamics on the tracks, with lots of cleaner guitar punctuating the songs. It's a really enjoyable record to listen to and sounds like a natural evolution from the last LP Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo.

JR: Well, as you said, I joined the band after it had been running for seven years I think. At first my approach was to just start and end the songs at the right times. I saw what the band actually was while we made Cuckoo and I started thinking about how I could actually be useful to my bandmates. See... There is a loud drummer, a deafening bass player and two other LOUD guitarists. I was obsolete unless I started to play like I really can. This new record is a glimpse of what we can do. The next one is already going next level.

So you are already working on the follow-up?

JR: We have mixed a few tracks already for some splits we are doing this year. Plenty more to be mixed. We want to release another album this year. And make another one

The Hey Colossus approach seems to be record to gig, rather than getting caught in a trap of gigging endlessly with very little physical product to show for it.

PS: It's easy for any band to get caught up with, because people love to be told how to play out their lives. We took a year off from putting out a record last year, for the first time. It was valuable to do that, but it would be good to put out another soon. We're not an industry band and we're not playing by anyone else's scheduling.

JR: We are all busy people. We "get down and get out" as The MC5 said.

So how has it been working with a new label [Rocket Recordings]?

JR: Rad.

PS: Rocket is like another halfway house willing to let us rest our bindles on their dressing table.

One of the really healthy aspects of underground music in the UK is the sheer number of people willing to provide that halfway house; dedicated to releasing great music for no or little personal gain. Andy at Riot Season, Henry at MIE to name but a few.

PS: There are a lot of extremely passionate and lovely people willing to help within the network of "underground" music. The people that run this country seem to be constantly coming up with new ways to extinguish their hard work and enthusiasm. Cuts to arts funding, low rent/ social housing/ benefits. These people will not be stopped though; good art always finds a way to resist these pricks and their agendas. We tip our hats to anyone still making it possible to exist as a relatively unpaid band of musicians.

JR: But really we would like to offer our thanks to all the righteous people we have been able to meet and work with over the 11 years this band has functioned. We would simply be a bunch of fuck ups with broken amplifiers without them.

So what's next for Hey Colossus?

JR: More music is coming: a split with Hotel Wrecking City Traders on Wild Animals Records in Australia and a song for a split on God Unknown Recs in late April.

Hey Colossus In Black & Gold is out via Rocket Records on February 9