Forget Jack Black and his elementary School of Rock. This is the real deal. Welcome to Lessons in Musical Success, presented by the five guys who make up the Oxford, MS, sensation known as Colour Revolt. So grab a seat and keep a pen and plenty of paper handy. Class is in session.
Lesson One: Musical Voice
If you had met the boys of Colour Revolt during high school, you would have never guessed they’d find their way into their current mold. At the time, they were called Fletcher, played “math rock with melody” and listened to a lot of Foo Fighters and Nirvana. Soon after, they hit the music store with a mission.
There, they bulked up their musical knowledge and record collections with old Dylan, Neutral Milk Motel and other far-ranging musical acts. The only limitation to their expanding horizons was their local record stores’ offerings. As a result, their musical tastes changed, and it became apparent that it was time to move to new ground with their own creativity.
“The whole musical world opened up to us,” explains guitarist Jimmy Cajoleas, when asked about their self-directed musical education, “and we wanted to write music that reflected more of who we are.”
That reflection is more difficult to define than their early material as Fletcher. Colour Revolt is slower and doesn’t change tempo as erratically as Fletcher. There is also a newfound darkness that seeps through Colour Revolt. Pinning them down into one genre is nearly impossible. Hence why they describe their sound as “rock,” and let everyone else make judgment calls.
Lesson Two: Hit the Books and Move On
Currently, the majority of Colour Revolt’s schooling takes place in the classroom. All but one member are seniors at the University of Mississippi (drummer Len Clark has already graduated), and each member’s goals are basically the same. Following graduation, Cajoleas, Clark, Jesse Coppenbarger (vocals and guitar), Sean Kirkpatrick (guitar) and Drew Mellon (bass) plan to put their various degrees on the shelf. They’ll then do what every college graduate wants to do.
“I’m an English major. I read books and go talk about them,” Cajoleas explains. “It’s pretty fun, but I’m looking forward to making the band a full-time thing, and it should happen soon.”
Lesson Three: Keep the Balls in the Air
Soon is Spring 2007. At that time, they’ll all be finished hitting the books and will start hitting the road. Until then, they’ve got a lot to balance. Like full loads at school. Cooking and cleaning for a sorority house on campus. Girlfriends for some. And the band. They toured with Brand New during the summer, had their debut EP redistributed by Tiny Evil and placed in numerous Hot Topic stores, practice three times every week for four hours at a time and play shows every chance they get.
As unlikely as it may seem, the balance hasn’t proven too tough.
“We play shows all weekend and I have three papers due next week. You know, I’ll get them done. It’s not that bad,” Cajoleas says over a laugh. And then adds, “I don’t sleep.”
Lesson Four: Depend on Friends
The Colour Revolt boys are quick to admit they’re not solely responsible for maintaining the balance. They give much of the credit to their manager and long-time friend, Palmer Houchins.
“Palmer just takes things over, and he kind of took over booking for our band and did a great job. He turned out to be really competent. He’s one year older than me,” the 21-year old Cajoleas says. “He has no real idea what he’s doing, but he’s doing a fantastic job. I have so much respect for that.”
For Colour Revolt, Houchins was the ideal pick for a manager. He got his start in the music world in high school. His efforts in putting on successful all-ages shows in Jackson, MS, made it clear that he and Cajoleas were “kindred spirits.” After a few years of friendship with everyone in the band, Houchins gradually (or suddenly – no one is quite sure how it happened) took over booking.
According to Cajoleas, it was a natural development. Because the relationship began as friendship, there was no need for a written contract or job description. Houchins simply does what needs to be done. He bleeds Colour Revolt, loves the guys in the band and wants to help out. He works for nearly nothing and as the band picks up steam, he grows in expertise, taking on added responsibilities. During his tenure, Houchins has booked shows, talked to press people and haggled with representatives at Tiny Evil over the details concerning the redistribution of the band’s self-titled EP. If it weren’t for Houchins, it’s doubtful that the self-admitted poor communicators in Colour Revolt would be gaining national attention and playing venues as far away as Portland, Oregon.
Lesson Five: Get a Technique
However, as most bands know, being creative can be trying. Regarding their writing process, Cajoleas is blunt. “[Songwriting] is one of the most irritating things in the world.”
Irritating? They spend hours on end jamming on a single riff. For a non-jam band, it doesn’t get much more painful. But it’s how Colour Revolt has always operated as a unit. One member (typically Coppenbarger or Kirkpatrick) brings a part to practice. It may be a string of notes; it’s occasionally only two. The band then tinkers with different keys and time signatures until it “feels right.” Once that point has been reached, they move on to the next part. Thanks to this painstaking process, it’s not easy for a Colour Revolt song to come to complete fruition. No wonder Cajoleas won’t say when they expect to have enough material for a full-length album.
Lesson Six: Smell the Flowers
Despite the frustrations of penning songs at a slow pace, Colour Revolt is careful to enjoy the scenery in all circumstances. They love Mississippi, live for the next show and shake their head in disbelief when they talk about working with sought-after producers Matt Goldman and Clay Jones.
Beyond their undying admiration for the ordinary and extraordinary, the band has a unique perspective and understanding of their position as musicians. They don’t expect everyone to get – or like – what they’re doing. When someone does happen to pay attention and seem interested in the music they produce, they’re thrilled.
“You write a song. It’s your heart, what you sincerely think and feel,” Cajoleas says. “To expect people to love that? It’s beyond arrogant. It’s always an act of faith and courtesy for your listener to give you the time of day. No one ever deserves that. You don’t ever want to forget that if people listen to you, it’s a blessing.”
Lesson Seven: Avoid the Celebrity Slump
Sure, getting a record deal would be great. A solid one would make it unnecessary for the members of Colour Revolt to look for real jobs when they’re done with school. However, moderate success that pays the bills and allows for an occasional splurge would be enough to content Cajoleas. For those seeking limelight and fame, Cajoleas offers these final words of wisdom.
“I want to do Colour Revolt for a living, but I don’t want to hobnob with celebrities,” Cajoleas admits. “It just makes you weird and affected and makes you write bad pop songs. It’s what history has shown. People who hang out with celebrities always write bad songs.”
Published in Southeast Performer.