Striking hard and unforgiving, HEY COLOSSUS releases their new record Dances / Curses. An LP built with a boundless array of sound that is not confined by one genre. They came in and discussed their approach, their inspirations, and their motivations.
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.
When the band first began work their innate chemistry apparently took care of itself, and whatever sparks were spontaneously flying gave rise to enough material to make Dances/Curses a double record, running the gamut from the rhythmically-driven and infectious ‘Donkey Jaw’ and ‘Medal’ to the mightily motorik-powered and cinematic 15 minute travelogue that is ‘A Trembling Rose’. Longterm Hey Colossus fan Mark Lanegan makes an appearance amidst the languid and sun-soaked denouement of ‘The Mirror’, the existential gravitas of his tones entirely at home in these revelatory surroundings.
Fittingly Dances/Curses is released on bassist Joe Thompson’s own Wrong Speed record, his latest such venture in a lifetime of steadfast belief in the DIY maxim, “It’s 100% time for all bands to take control of their shit” he notes. All the tools are there to do it yourself. Back your own horse. It’s practical. It’s positive”
This serendipitous album marks something even these six musicians never necessarily intended – a work in the tradition of the double album that somehow changes itself every time it returns to the shelf. Somewhere on the great continuum between Unwound’s Leaves Turn Inside You and Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through “The Secret Life Of Plants”, Hey Colossus have created their finest alchemical achievement to date.
Can everyone introduce themselves ? What is your name and what position do you play?
Paul – I sing
Joe – I play bass
Chris – I play guitar
When did you guys start writing Dances / Curses?
Paul: I can’t really remember when we started writing it. I feel like I’ve been stoved around the head. A more reliable band member can answer accurately.
Joe: 2018 some time? Chris will be more precise.
Chris: I joined in July 2018 and the first practice in August we experimented with a few ideas for new songs, so I’d say we started Dances/Curses then. The first recording session was September (before I’d even played a gig with the group), but “writing” is a bit of a stretch – we go for the “instant composition” approach.
The album artwork is very imaginative and brilliant. What was the idea behind it?
Paul: The idea as always is to find or create something that encapsulates the sound as best as possible. In this instance, I found a still frame from a 1950s cartoon that I had been slightly obsessed by.
I like the chaos in the action and how it is frozen in time – as if the chaos is hanging in the air and it can be held. Oftentimes in this furious world, you wish you could hold some emotions still for a short time, even though you know that’s impossible.
Joe: I was sceptica at first,l but it looks fucking killer. I love it. No one will forget it. It’s original. Paul, Chris and Dave – the artist, nailed it.
Chris: As soon as Paul sent me the still frame, I was sold. Our friend Dave Hand recreated it for us, and it was better than I could have hoped for. For me, it’s about how not knowing the exact context of something can be beneficial – it’s a frozen moment that’s hard to place, but is beautiful because of it. It’s a single snapshot of chaos with a stripped of a wider meaning. And our music is best experienced like that too. I also like that someone who knows the record might stumble on that frame years down the line, or equally be watching the cartoon and miss it completely.
After listening to the album, I was thinking about the different genres I heard. Lots of post punk, raw krautrock, and even a little metal inside the hard rock. Especially in the new album, I can tell that there was no fear inside the experimentation. What were you guys listening to or inspired by during the writing ?
Paul: I can only listen to Prefab Sprout when we’re making a record, and we’re always making a record. I was inspired by the idea of writing and producing the best record of our career; whatever look that took on.
Joe: The Back From the Grave comps are always an inspiration. Don’t be afraid to bury a tune or two in there.
Chris: I genuinely have no conception of ‘genres’. If I could remove one thing from music it’s people’s need to file things. I get it if you’re a record shop, but the idea of pre-deciding a genre before making something is a joke, especially with this band. We haven’t got time to eat a pizza in the studio, let alone decide whether something this is going to be dream-pop, doom-reggae, or whatever.
I was just inspired by playing with everyone and how quickly things came together. It was really exciting. I was also very keen to not ruin a band I really liked. Any genre can be ascribed afterwards by other people and I’ll just do my best to ignore them.
To me, the album felt very conceptional. The way the songs were placed together gave me that impression. Was that the intention? Is it conceptional?
Paul: It is to me. Only by accident it is only minutely conceptual, but not enough to label it. The record opens with a sort of car crash scene, engine steam filling the air, and a character trying to walk from the wreckage. By the last song, the car drives away. What happens in between is sort of all over the place. There’s a song with Mark Lanegan in the middle, where he is sort of a character at a threshold between two destinations. I’m sure I’ll find things later on when I listen back. There are also rough characters that are found in different sections, and they define their own stories.
Joe: It’s all in the ear of the beholder.
Chris: The running order felt right to the group the songs together in little bundles. It seems by doing so, it has put a bit of a narrative in there (especially the first and last songs) – it certainly feels more intended then it actually was.
But so much of what you do is instinctive and subliminal, so who knows what any of us intended. Ask me in 20 years.
What is the album about specifically?
Paul: Making something I can finally be happy with. Or at least not look back and wince at small details that detract enjoyment.
Joe: It’s a diary.
Chris: It’s about 75 minutes.
Is there an experience or format that was different in this album than your previous albums?
Paul: This is the first album where this current line up worked on it from start to finish. We’ve also never made a double album of new material. I’ve never been more driven not to fuck something up.
Joe: What Paul said exactly.
Chris: I can’t say because this was the first one where I was there the whole way through. But it did feel like there was less of a “just get it done” feeling than there was in the past. It feels like a good marriage between explosive dynamics, instinctive creativity, attention to detail, and careful editing. I’m really proud of it.
Do you feel that the pandemic helped the writing process or did it stifle some parts of it?
Paul: It had nothing to do with it whatsoever. If I was a religious man, I would thank Christ above that we weren’t in a situation where we could make an album during this diseased period. I have personally enjoyed almost losing my mind in making this record. And having a period, where I had nothing to do but play with my son, eat toast, and do fucking next to nothing other than that was interesting. It’s been difficult for many reasons, but the world coming to a halt in many ways has been a blessing. You have to look for the positives. What else have you got?
Joe: We finished the record seconds before the first lockdown, we released it on the first day of the second UK lockdown. The time was both good and bad, but not connected.
I bet the label cried when the second lockdown happened because releasing a record just as all the shops shut for months made it difficult.
Chris: It was all done before any of this happened. I work in social care, so the pandemic has been a bit of a nightmare. However, on a personal and creative level it’s been lovely. I’ve managed to finish off things that were on pause and it feels like music listeners have a little more time which has been nothing but beneficial when you’re chucking out a double album on your own label. I could do without my next door neighbor kick boxing in the garden every day though. What’s he training for? Post-apocalypse survival squad? You need to calm down Gary.
Paul: Inoculations and getting back on the road. Putting Prefab Sprout on my headphones and thinking about the next album.
Joe: Onwards, always onwards.
Chris: I’d like to see everyone and play together again. The last time we were in the same room was November 2019. As for beyond that – you’ll have to ask the cunts that run this stupid island about what’s next. Who knows what’s in store?
Paul: To all our friends in bands, producing, recording, engineering, promoting, running venues, the audience etc – hang in there. To you at magazines, blogs, and record shops – thanks for keeping on and taking an interest. It genuinely means a lot.
Joe: The liver transplant team at Kings College Hospital, South London + Derriford Hospital, Plymouth.
Chris: All the creative people we leaned on to get this record out, and those who came through for us so fantastically. Everyone who has said nice things about it. The other 5 of them for getting me involved.