Interview Date: 08/11/2009
Run Date: 10/08/2009
Although there’s a temptation to welcome Living Colour back to the ranks of the living with the release of their new album, The Chair in the Doorway, frontman Corey Glover will be the first to tell you that, despite the perceptions of far too many people, they never actually went away. Even when the group took a hiatus in the mid-1990s, the members still remained in contact and played together on their various solo endeavors. But it is fair to consider The Chair in the Doorway a new beginning of sorts, as it’s Living Colour’s first album for Megaforce Records. Bullz-Eye chatted with Glover about the history of the band, how the group’s albums can never completely live up to the experience of seeing them live, and how performing in “Jesus Christ Superstar” helped keep his pipes in top condition.
Corey Glover: Hey, what’s up, man?
Bullz-Eye: Nothing much. How are you doing?
CG: I’m good.
BE: Well, I just wanted to start by saying that not only have I been a fan for many years, but I actually still have a TV signed by Living Colour that I won from a local radio station – WNOR, in Norfolk – in ‘88.
BE: Vernon (Reid), of course, signed the top of it, “I’m the smiling face on your TV.”
CG: (Laughs) That’s great.
BE: Well, it’s awesome that you guys are back.
CG: Thank you…although it’s not like we really left. We’ve all still been on stage in one way or another. (Laughs)
BE: I checked out a stream of the new album, and it sounds great.
CG: Well, thank you. I’m very happy about this record, very pleased with it.
BE: Excellent. So what inspired you guys to get back in the saddle?
CG: Well, you know, we had done Collideøscope in 2003, and we’ve been touring, but other things came up; I got the gig doing “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and while I was doing that, we went back into the studio to re-record "Cult of Personality" for the Guitar Hero thing. And during that whole time, between 2003 and now, we’ve been coddling together grooves and bits and pieces. Particularly Doug (Wimbush) had been putting together this whole thing, and when we had some time and we had some material that we thought was good, we thought that we should record it and get a record out. We’ve been trying to get a record out for awhile, but at this point, the stars aligned and everything was right.
BE: So had you all just been songwriting on the road as time allowed?
CG: Yeah, you know, at sound checks and in the bus, that kind of stuff, we’d come up with grooves. And when we were home, we’d go to our friend Dre Betts’ place and record, put down some grooves. And Doug just…I give all props to Doug, because Doug held on to all of these things and said, “Okay, what can we do with this groove? What can we do with that groove? What can we do with all of the stuff?” And we came up with some really good material, and that was…the one thing we had learned, you know, doing Collideøscope, was that we should take our time. We shouldn’t have to worry about time restraints. You know, some bands put out records every two years, every year and a half, every six months, whatever. We thought, “We need to make sure that we have the right material that truly reflects who we are and makes sense to us.”
BE: So how did you find yourself on Megaforce Records? I know it’s your first album for this label.
CG: Yeah, you know, they actually looked for us. They sort of sought us out. It was funny because the guy who is actually one of the guys working with us, Ian, had told us about Megaforce a long time ago. He said, “They’re really interested. They’re very, very interested in signing you.” And we were, like, “Oooookay…” We were considering our options. We were, like, “We could do a bunch of stuff. We could do this on our own.” You know, the market place is very different now about putting out records, and we could basically do this for ourselves, not have to think about a record company and deal with that. Because, you know, not for nothing, but when we were on Sanctuary with Collideøscope, it was good, but it wasn’t great. And we wanted to make sure we were in the right position and we were in the right place. You know, we didn’t want to be somewhere just to be somewhere. But I think this thing with Megaforce, and the bands that have come out of there…from Anthrax to Metallica to Bad Brains, that kind of thing…seemed like it was a good fit for us. They were very accommodating and very enthusiastic about what we were doing.
BE: Actually, the first band I thought of when I thought of Megaforce was King’s X, which is ironic given that I guess Doug Pinnick filled in for you when you were doing the “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
CG: Yeah, when I did the “Jesus Christ Superstar” thing, he filled in a couple of dates in Europe.
BE: So what’s your favorite song on the new album?
CG: I don’t have a favorite song.
BE: Oh, really?
CG: Yeah, they all have their own particular story and they all have their own specific thing. Like, I don’t see songs in terms of, “Oh, this is my very favorite song and it’s the own I love doing.” Trying to be an actor, I try to think of storylines for every one of these songs, and try to use that as my subtext for any and all of it. But I can tell you I love “Behind the Sun” because of my experiences being in New Orleans, working with this organization NY2NO. It’s a student-led organization, a bunch of students from New York City that go down to Lower 9th Ward in solidarity with the people of New Orleans, particularly the people of the Lower 9th Ward. When we first started writing this song, “Behind the Sun,” Vernon and I were thinking, “This is sort of, like, you know, about the world.” But then after coming back from New Orleans, it was, like, “We need to hone this down and talk about what’s going on there, because it is a microcosm of the world.
BE: You mentioned "Cult of Personality" being on “Grand Theft Auto”…whoops, sorry, I meant “Guitar Hero 3.”
CG: Actually, it’s on both. (Laughs)
BE: True enough. But what I wanted to ask you about specifically was “Guitar Hero 3.” Is it true that Sony just never responded when they asked for license to use the song in the game, and that’s why you rerecorded it?
CG: No, but that’s sort of what was going on. They had approached Vernon a long time ago about this. Vernon had met them at the NAMM show, like, three or four years ago, before the “Guitar Hero” thing even took off. Like, they had a booth, and they were saying, “This is the game, and you play classic songs on this thing. And you do this, that, and the other,” and he showed the controller. Vernon was saying, “If this ever takes off, it will be amazing. It will be amazing for the music industry.” Well, not just the music industry, but it would be great for the people…for musicians, for people who want to be musicians, and people who just appreciate music for what it is. But years went by, and I’m sure Sony was approached, but they were, like, “Well, we’ll have to get Living Colour together, or you’ll have to find Living Colour to talk to them about it.” So they sort of did. They called, and it was, like, “Yeah, that’s great, but if you really want to make it interesting, let’s re-do the song. Let’s really give them what it is.” For myself personally, you know, I’m just amazed that I still sound the same. Because, you know, that song was written 20 years ago. The fact that I can kind of pull it off is…I kind of dig that. (Laughs)
BE: Are there any songs where you have to adjust the key to sing them nowadays?
CG: No, absolutely not.
BE: That’s pretty impressive.
CG: You know, that’s one thing that doing “Jesus Christ Superstar” did for me: it put my chops into perspective, because I had to sing everyday. Literally, I sang eight days a week. (Laughs) Because there was, like, six shows a week and twice on Sunday, so I had to be on. I had to be ready to do it. I had to have that together. So when it came time to record, it was, like, “Okay, let’s go. I’m good.”
BE: So when Collideøscope came out, it got great reviews, but it didn’t chart. Were you surprised, given the marketplace, or just disappointed?
CG: Actually, I was kind of surprised. In the States, we continually weren’t getting the kind of response at…like, people were digging it, you know? We would talk to people at radio, and the times that we played in the States, we got a really great response. But no one seemed to…you know, it didn’t seem like people were particularly interested in it beyond the sort of nostalgia of the thing. We were much more and have always been much more than the nostalgia of this band. There was a lot more to say that really didn’t get the light of day sometimes.
BE: So now what led you guys to reunite in the first place, after breaking up back in ’95?
CG: Well, you know, truly, we never really broke up, because at some point or another, we were all working with each other. You know, where Vernon and Doug and Will would do something together, and me and Doug and Will would do something together, or some various combination of the four of us would happen to be together. So it was only inevitable that we would get back together and start to work as Living Colour again. I think we just needed some time to just say, “Let’s get our lives and our heads straight first.” Because you know, really, we had been working nonstop since 1987. We worked to get the record out. We got the record out, and we got on the road. We started touring. We got on the Stones tour. We got off the Stones tour, we made the next record. We went on the road. We toured extensively, got off the road, and made another record. That’s kind of wearing on the mind and our personal lives. It was draining. It was, like, “Okay, we need to take a little break.” You know, we were, “Stop. Just stop for a second. Please.”
BE: Well, at least the break gave you a chance to do a solo album.
CG: Yeah, I made a solo record, I did more acting. Vernon did his stuff. Will (Calhoun) and Doug had been working with each other and various other people, and so was Vernon, and so was I. So it gave us a chance to get some perspective that we really needed, and given how much work we had done, we went…Muzz (Skillings) left the band and Doug came along and it was almost like we didn’t skip a step. So we needed to just relax for a little while.
BE: You talked about how you’ve done more acting. After you did “Platoon,” I guess it was not long after that Vivid took off. Prior to that, though, had you anticipated just going after an acting career?
CG: You know, I had been acting since I was about 14 or 15 years old, so that was sort of like a given. That’s what I was doing. Much to my family’s…well, my parents’ chagrin… (Laughs) …I was going to be an actor. It came upon them when I was, like, 15 or 16. It was, like, “Okay, if you’re going to be an actor, then you go to acting school. You’re going to get an education in acting and that kind of thing.” I was, like, “Okay, alright, as long as you don’t yell at me because I don’t have a job, I’m fine.” Fortunately for me, I kept working, whether it was little things or “Platoon” or whatever, and I went right from the acting thing into the band. And then the band took up more of my time, so that was my focus, but I was never, ever really giving up on the idea that I was a performer. Which is different from either being a musician or an actor. I’m trying to do as much as I possibly can, just as a means of expression.
BE: What do you think is the most underrated Living Colour album?
CG: The most underrated?
CG: You know, I think what’s most underrated about this band, period, isn’t particularly the albums but the live show. You can go buy the record and it’s a statement, it’s a moment in time, it’s this, that, and the other, but you go see it live, and it sort of refreshes those ideas. If you go see us live or you find a live recording of Living Colour, even if it was from, like, say, 1993, it’s a different animal now than it was then, or in 2003, or whatever. It’s constantly evolving, and I don’t think many people get that. You know, it’s the nature of the beast. When you go see a band, it’s an event, and that in and of itself is a moment in time, whereas for us, it’s a constant sort of thing that constantly grows. You’re never really going to see the same show twice. You may hear the same songs, but they are never really played the same way. There are subtle differences in all of it and I think a lot of people don’t get that. It’s funny, and I’m not comparing us to anybody, but it’s hard to keep up your recognition in the States…or in North America, I should say…if you don’t have a hit single.
BE: You’re right, unfortunately.
CG: If you don’t, then people sort of don’t think about you, you know? The only people that I can think of off the top of my head that don’t particularly need to have a real sort of album out is, like, the whole jam band scene. Or maybe The Rolling Stones.
CG: You know? Like, Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule don’t need to have a new record out…but, quite frankly, they are creating new shit everyday. Like I was saying about us, every time they play, it is something new. It’s that whole Grateful Dead sort of thing. Like, you saw them one year, then you see them another year ,and it’s still the same songs, but they are very different and they’ve incorporated a lot of different things, these very interesting sort of bits and pieces, and it’s always really good.
BE: Well, playing on that, then, do you think there’s a particular Living Colour album that even comes close to matching the live experience? For instance, Time’s Up is kind of all over the place, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily…
CG: Well, I mean that’s the thing, though: we’re a live band.
BE: So there’s no one album that even comes close?
CG: An album is trying very hard to approximate it, but it’s not going to be coming down to the gig and seeing the band, and it’s not going to be you getting the experience, the visceral experience of you being at a show live. No one really understands that until you are there. You know, last night we were at…The Roots do a jam here in the city, every Monday night, at this place called The Harlem Ballroom. We’re going to play there ourselves in October, actually. But a bunch of musicians come through and it’s amazing. That’s something not a lot of people get, you know, about the live experience, about seeing a band live: the improvisation and the spontaneity of it all.
BE: Well, I remember seeing you guys…well, geez, it was years ago, but you played The Boathouse, in Norfolk.
CG: Oh, yeah, I love The Boathouse.
BE: It was a fantastic show, and I do remember that the performance transcended the album, insomuch as the songs were expanded from the studio versions, so I do actually get what you’re talking about.
CG: You know, from the minute it’s recorded, it sort of, like, crystallizes into this thing, but we’ve already started tweaking it the moment after it’s been recorded. We automatically started making sort of changes to its DNA, if you will, at that point. Like, “Okay, this has the roots, but if this has that and that has this…well, let’s sort of do this, then. Let’s extend it out a little bit and see where the groove takes us.” You know, in “Memories Can’t Wait,” for example, from the way we recorded it to what it is now…? You know, that’s a leap…and it’s a cover. It’s not even our song! It’s not our creation, but we’ve created something on top of it that sort of works.
BE: And, actually, that reminds me of something I’ve always wondered about: what did the Talking Heads think of your version when they heard it?
CG: Oh, David Byrne talked to Vernon one time, and he really dug it. And, you know, I’m going to sound like an old fuddy duddy because I can’t remember this cat’s name…man, why can’t I think of his name? Jerry…
BE: Jerry Harrison?
CG: Harrison, yes, thank you. Jerry was friends with another friend of mine, and we got together and we talked, and we became really good friends. He was, like, “Man, I wish *I* had recorded it like that.”
BE: High praise.
CG: Exactly. So coming from Jerry Harrison, who…well, both of them, Jerry and David, I really, really, really respect, so, you know, that’s quite a compliment.
BE: Where do you guys keep your Grammy Awards?
CG: Mine is in storage, I think. No, no, no, wait: they’re at my mother’s house. I think. No, actually, I do have one here, and for a long time, it was a door stop. Seriously, it propped open my bathroom door.
BE: (Laughs) Is that an expression of your opinion of the Grammys?
CG: No. (Hesitates) Well, sort of. (Laughs) I got in trouble for saying this one time, and it’s actually what got me fired from VH1, but…I always thought that the Grammys were you know, the industry patting itself on the back, which…there is nothing wrong with that, and I appreciate it for what it is, so don’t get me fired from something else! (Laughs) But you know, at the end of the day, it’s like…it’s funny because what really sort of was analogous to what the Grammys meant to me was, you know, the day after we got this Grammy, I got on a subway and went back to Brooklyn. You know what I mean…? A Grammy and a token will get you on the subway. (Laughs) So I appreciate it, and it’s great, and people look at it and say, “Wow, that’s really cool!” And it is very cool. It’s very interesting, and I love it. But I’ve still got to get to work. In fact, what it means is that I’ve really got to get to work now, because, y’know, most people are expecting things from you that…well, I don’t know what they’re expecting, but whatever it is has got to be better than this piece of brass, you know?
BE: Last question, taking it way back to the beginning of the band: is it true that you got the job with Living Colour because Vernon heard you singing “Happy Birthday”?
CG: Yes, as a matter of fact it is. (Laughs) I was at a friend’s birthday party, Vernon was there with his sister, they wheeled out this birthday cake, and she said, “No, no, everybody stop: Corey is going to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’” Which put me on the spot, of course, so I sang “Happy Birthday.” Afterwards, Vernon was, like, “We like the way you sing.” “Oh, good, thank you, I appreciate it.” And a couple months later, he called me and was, like, “Look, I’m looking for a singer for my band.” I was, like, “Sure!” And it turned out that he lived, like, four blocks away from me! We both grew up in the same neighborhood, pretty much. So I went down to his house…he was living with his parents, as was I…and we played music. I was, like, “Wow, this is great. I love this!” And he was, like, “Okay, well, it’s between you and two guys. Well, you and this other guy, really. And I’ll call you either way, whether you got it or not.” And four months went by, five months went by, and then six months went by…and he called me back. He was, like, “Look, our singer can’t make the gig, can you come down and do it?” “Sure. No problem. Whatever. Do I get paid for the gig? I do? Alright, cool. I’ll go.” (Laughs) So it was actually my first time performing at CBGB’s, which was a big enough deal for me anyway. It looks like a hole in the wall, it smells like a hole in the wall, it is a hole in the wall, but it’s amazing. Well, it’s not there anymore, but it was amazing. So that was my first gig, and I’ve been in the band every since. The guy never came back. (Laughs)
BE: Well, that’s what he gets for not showing up in the first place.
CG: Exactly! (Laughs)
BE: Alright, Corey, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Like I said, I’ve been a fan for years, so it’s good to actually be able to talk to you one on one.CG: Thank you, man. I appreciate it. Take it easy!