Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from Paul and Chris of Hey Colossus, British band that just released Dances / Curses album on Wrong Speed Records.
More TBTs in our archives.
The lucky thirteenth record by Hey Colossus is the work of six musicians in tune with the dualities of life as a loud rock band, fit to channel both the dances of aspiration and the curses of reality into a record that transcends all limitations in a blinding volley of incandescence.
Some songs come easy; some take a little longer. Would love to open an album with a song where the lyrics are written in real time someday, set the stall out – but this one took ages. I ended up editing this so much I almost tore my ears off. In the end I chopped up a line from a Ted Hughes poem and it kickstarted things in the right direction.
Felt good to start with a loose character that had basically woken up in a motorway pile up, comes to and tries to run off through the mangled traffic and the other unfortunates involved. The cover art fits well with this, I think.
More records should start with an unspecified abstract trauma, really gets the fans going
I can only speak for myself here but it feels like there was an unconscious decision made somewhere along the line to try and avoid any aural ‘signifiers’ of what you might call ‘psych’ music, if you like talking genres (which I don’t).
There are a few things a band can do to clue in the listener that they might be going on some sort of journey (man) with a record and plenty of bands tap into that pretty well. However, I feel like if anything even slightly started straying into that ‘cosmic’ territory it was canned on the spot when we were making “Dances/Curses”.
What is left has (I think) those same transformative qualities associated with psychedelic music but using a language that is economical and earth-bound. We’re hippies, but we’re punks. This Heat were just as psychedelic as Hawkwind (not to compare us to either).
Eyeball Dance is a good example of this – it started as a jerky riff that recalled Tubular Bells or John Carpenter to my ears. It would have been easy to lay it on thick with this one and expand outwards, every player spiralling into the cosmos but we buried deep into it instead. Changes are subtle but equally revelatory on repeated listening. It never explodes but remains tightly-wound and focused.
I always heard this and “Tied In A Firing Line” almost like movie themes, so it’s nice that they book-end the finished record.
Works well over the muted Michael Jackson video for Thriller. Not especially optimistic this one, though I do try. “One day they’ll find us, toothless and burning tires”. Though, I have to say, the characters in this have their revenge about halfway through the song, something that also happens in A Trembling Rose later on in the record.
Colossus in garage rock mode. Heavy on the echo, the skronk and the idea of the rhythm as the hook. Everyone giving each other room. It’s almost catchy. Joe suggested the gurgling Suicide keyboard noise and a good suggestion it was too. I’m still amazed at how this one turned out.
Didn’t really realize it until much later after it was finished but the lyrics mainly describe a trajectory, either happening in the moment or as evidence of a past event. All within ridiculous scenarios. Forward, back, up, down. Seemed fitting to the pace and insistence of the music. Also, I really enjoy getting words like Nazarene and mollusc into songs somehow.
This came out of something called The Power Hour, as we tried to bang out a load of hardcore songs in a fixed hour chunk of studio time. However, I’d imagine most hardcore bands hadn’t been up all night playing 16 minute motorik head-fryers (see “A Trembling Rose”) when they cut their most direct work. Trying to play hard and fast halfway through a long weekend of recording was like the collision of the album sleeve. But (like the sleeve) out of it came a single moment of beauty. By “beauty” I mean “thunderous dirge”. We liked this so much we put it out on a seven inch and recorded it for a Marc Riley session, so it really had to go on the album as well.
Again I had some trouble working out what to do, until i mutated an old nursery rhyme for the opening verses. Then it all slotted into place. This song ended up loosely being about guilt or about not being so hard on yourself all the time. The fun stuff. Contains at least one old Arabic curse.
Another “psychedelic without using the sounds of psych” song. A strange, uncanny (dream-like) headspace is created with hanging/clashing notes and familiar melodies plucked from a memory haze. I’d go as far as to call this one “pretty”.
I found myself walking a lot to get the meter of the words right on this. The tempo is kind of exactly walking speed. I almost hugged a bus stop when the right word completed a verse i was stuck on.
The last thing we recorded as we headed out of the door from the first weekend session. 2 riffs from 2 different people, smashed together (again, like the sleeve…) and both made better for it. To quote my good friend James Finlay: “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team’ but there’s an ‘I’ in ‘Time’”.
I arrived a day late to the studio and the rest of the band had already knocked quite a bit together. When they played back what they’d done for this I knew I had to work really hard to keep up. Patching the vocals together over a 16-minute song took a lot of effort, but I think it paid off. It’s a real tightrope to get the whole thing to hang together for the duration, but I think we nailed it. The key was to write the vocals as if being airlifted into a fraught scenario midway as a way to start the song. A figure running from the mob, hounds pulling at their lead. Then flipping the whole thing halfway through, like a cartoon boomerang smacking the protagonist square in the face.
I played on the last HC album but the songs were already done by the time I had joined so this is the first time I’d been involved in the music from the ground-up. If the rest of the band were different people they’d call what they do ‘spontaneous composition’ or something equally lofty but it’s really just the only way a 6-person group can create music without it being hugely costly in terms of both time and money.
A Trembling Rose is maybe the best example of how well this approach works – it seemed plucked out of the air as though by magic. Some loose instructions and melodic parts arranged themselves into something far more focused than a 16 minute song length might suggest and all of a sudden it existed.
Every time I see this scrawled on the setlist it fills me with fear through the whole gig leading up to it. 16+ mins. What the hell happens in that time? What do I do? Oh god, I can’t remember…
Then all of a sudden you’re 10 minutes in, not even thinking anymore and it’s obvious what happens next – it always happened that way, even before you played it. It’s like it’s out of your hands.
To me it is the perfect representation of this particular line-up of the band (said as a current member and long-time fan). It also made the album a double as there was no way we were editing it or leaving it out.
I had about 72 hrs to write some words that would hang together well enough for Mark before he hit the studio. Pretty much stayed up two nights in a row and i think that sleeplessness must have played into the mood somewhat. If our paths cross in real life I only hope he doesn’t lump me for sending him the demo complete with my impression of him performing it, American accent and all.
I got a Peter Green Fleetwood Mac vibe from this when we recorded it. It felt like it could be an instrumental. One day at work, it arrived in my Inbox from Joe with Mark Lanegan’s vocals on it. I secretly plugged my headphones in to listen. “FUCKING HELL!” I yelled in surprise as Lanegan came in, blowing my cover to my work colleagues. What a piece of good fortune. Thank you Mark.
I ending up writing loads of lines that felt really good to sing. It’s an odd thing to say – you have to write vocals to fit the song in a way that makes you feel like it works, but that doesn’t always mean it’s enjoyable to sing. The song comes first. Each word, each line with this one feels good to project and put everything behind. It had to feel triumphant by the chorus, and it does.
Being selfish for a minute, I could never come up with a part I liked for this. It felt tense as everyone else really liked the song and sounded great on it but whatever I put on it felt wrong until I stumbled on a guitar bit that reminds me of Mark Day from the Happy Mondays. Yep, you read that right. Revelation Day indeed.
Never had any second thoughts as a band about putting tracks on our records that at first listen might seem out of place stylistically. Got to dare to win. Tried to make this as dreamy as possible, almost like those first seconds of coming back round to consciousness and trying to recalibrate your whereabouts. Also, I played a G-funk synth line on this, which was certainly a first for me.
I remember this being recorded very late at night. Bob and I had possibly “clocked-off” by this stage of the day but the others had locked into this weird, hypnotic, cut-up groove that almost sounded like a crude tape-loop through the studio wall and that revealed itself as a total winner in the (harsh) light of morning.
It’s genuinely liberating to stumble on things where you have to ask “Can we do this? Is this allowed?”.
The answer is always “YES”. There’s no rules (dude).
Plus, I got to play G Funk pedal steel on it, which has to be a world-first surely?
A torch song, sung with wide vistas in mind. Really out of character for us to have a section with so much space, just a falsetto and single guitar line. Almost perverse. But all the more enjoyable for it. That’s the key for us – there’s no pressure on us to do anything other than find ways to enjoy what we’re doing and push the song writing. To challenge ourselves. I love it when one of us is like “Really? It’s gone here?” and then get convinced that it’s really good. That’s excellent.
The trademark Colossus clang, stretched out over time and (geographical) space into something truly beautiful.
One of those songs that got written and then needed a lot of shaping/cutting/dropping tracks in and out and generally attacking from a few angles before it starts to become something everyone is happy with. It was Chris in the end who came up with a new intro that lifted the whole thing off, heavily influenced conceptually by an Alex Harvey song. Worse places to get inspiration. I really had to get out of rut with a bad set of initial lyrics that wouldn’t let me loose. I finally binned them and started again after a few months. It feels so good to do that and for it to pay off. But it takes a long time to admit defeat in the first place.
This was maybe the hardest one to finish. It started as a single idea and then it was like someone dropped it and it smashed into hundreds of pieces, scattered in hundreds of directions. It always reminded me of the medley on Abbey Road for some reason – there’s a theme across the song that ties it all together but there are very definite and different sections.
Like Paul said, the first section is a shameless nod to “The Faith Healer” by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. The song had been cut up so much by that point (and still worked) that it felt you could reduce it to almost nothing and it’d be OK. No rules, remember?
Loosely about Gesualdo, the great Italian madrigal composer from the 1500’s. He was also a murderer and tortured himself for it. This number is from the perspective of the couple he killed in a jealous rage. Worth a song, surely.
It feels like the second half of the album are all things that maybe couldn’t have happened on previous HC records (for better or worse).
BRM is a really strange piece of music, I’m not sure I ever really got my head around it as we were playing it and figured I’d just put something on later but it turned out that the wrongness was right. Who knew? I think it reminded me of the Country Teasers when we were playing it.
I also played a keyboard on this called the Baldwin Fun Machine. I think you can really hear the fun.
“Drama takes a drive”. I like that the first song on the record starts with a car crash but ends, literally on the last verses, with a car driving away. It’s not a concept album. But in a loose way the fact that it starts with a trauma and ends with an escape route is immensely satisfying. Actually, it’s not satisfaction. It’s relief.
The flip side to Eyeball Dance. Another cinematic riff but this time it’s turned inside out and every permutation is explored and totally exhausted so – by the end of it – you want to get back to something constant and familiar. So you put Side A on again: the replacing of the needle once more. Neat. It’s like we meant it that way. Maybe we did?
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