Bob Reed – lead vocals, lead & rhythm electric guitar (fuzz, phase & slide)
Torg Hallin – lead & rhythm electric guitar (fuzz, phase & wah wah)
Steve Espaniola – bass, vocals
Dan Reed – drums, percussion, vocals
If you’re unfamiliar with the name Overwhelming Colorfast, you’re probably not alone. They were short lived, but they were one of my favorite bands of the early-to-mid 1990s. They were punk, but not punk. Pop, but not pop. They could be heavy and sludgy like The Melvins, but you’d never confuse their set with a Melvins set. They got compared to Hüsker Dü a lot, mostly early on, because Bob’s voice had a gruff, melodic quality similar to Bob Mould, but it was a lazy comparison. Lazy, not because there was no Hüskers influence whatsoever, but because they sounded like a version of the Dü where Bob Mould sang Grant Hart songs. It totally flipped that songwriting wig.
I bring them up now because they recently initiated a Kickstarter project to reissue their second album, Two Words, on vinyl. It only came out on CD and cassette back in the day. I think if you’re an Adios Lounge fan or at least trust my judgment, you really should give this project some consideration. It ends in two weeks, so go ahead and put the indie in indie rock. But, being discerning consumers, I’m sure you want to be persuaded. Fair enough. If pretty persuasion is what you seek, then pretty persuasion you shall get. Here’s a few sample tracks from Two Words with my commentary, after which is my discussion with drummer Dan Reed. Dig it.
Overwhelming Colorfast – Toss Up
Toss Up is the first track on Two Words — and often the tune that kicked off their sets — and where it maybe echoed Mould in the voice and guitar, the song itself clearly wants to be something like Sorry Somehow. Truthfully though, it was unmistakably Bob Reed. The guy was insanely prolific in this era and he carved out his own sprawling songwriting style. I even talk about this with Dan, how the album is so diverse. You could literally pick any track on Two Words and the songs before it and after it don’t really sound alike. But, when you take the album as a whole, as a singular statement, every song makes perfect, cohesive sense. I mention The White Album in our conversation because it’s such a familiar touchstone. But, I could just as easily have referenced Hootenanny by The Replacements or Arkadelphia by Prescott Curlywolf. The songs on Two Words perform similar roles. Toss Up clearly represented Bob’s (and the band’s) punk side and God bless ’em for it. I’ve seen audiences who thought they weren’t gonna be interested in Overwhelming Colorfast hear maybe 2 bars of Toss Up and immediately hurry to the front of the stage where they remained for the entirety of the set.
Overwhelming Colorfast – How Ya Doin’
The second song on Two Words might be my favorite on the album. It’s not necessarily the opposite of Toss Up, but it’s certainly not punk. Steve Espaniola’s bassline, which echoes the basic chord progression, is deceptively funky, working both with and against the natural momentum of the song. So good. In fact, that tight little pocket that Espaniola forms with Dan on drums may have been the band’s secret weapon. How Ya Doin’ has very clever tempo and dynamic shifts. I’ve broken it down as such.
0:00-0:47 – Intro + First verse. Stripped down, soft build.
0:48-1:07 – Prechorus. Goes into double time, multiple vocal parts, layered guitars.
1:08-1:47 – Second verse. Full band. Big guitars.
1:47-2:07 – Prechorus. Same as before. Double time, multiple vocal parts, layered guitars.
2:07-2:29 – Chorus. Drums get busier. Lots of fills. Very syncopated and again, deceptively funky.
2:31-3:31 – Quick turnaround drum fill and then back to the stripped down first verse, but now with a single lead guitar soloing over the top. Slowly fades out.
If How Ya Doin’ reminds me of anyone, in a curious way it reminds me of Treepeople, with whom Colorfast played a number of shows. Doug Martsch would later temper this approach in Built To Spill, but in Treepeople both he and Scott Schmaljohn wrote urgent, noisy, secret pop songs with unusually angular basslines. I’m thinking of tracks like Anything’s Impossible, In C, or Party.
It’s also worth noting here the influence of producer Kurt Bloch. When most people think about the Seattle sound — especially in this era — they invariably think of grunge and metal. But, none of those groups — including heavyweights like Nirvana and Mudhoney — were operating on the frequency of The Fastbacks, Bloch’s long-running pop-punk institution. Kurt’s ear for marrying punk rock drive with pop melody made him the ideal custodian for the Colorfast dynamic. While I’d love for everyone reading this to become an OC fan, I’d also love it if you dove into the Fastbacks discography. There’s gold in them thar hills.
Overwhelming Colorfast – Every Saturday
Bob: We’re going to do a video for (Two Words). I think we’re going to do it with Spike Jonze.
Ted: Which song?
Bob: Every Saturday.
Ted: There’s a lot of “hits” on the record. I love How Ya Doin’. That’s a great song.
Bob: So do I. That was my initial choice. When we were kicking around the song for the first single, it was Every Saturday, Both Sides, Roy Orbison, or How Ya Doin’. How Ya Doin’ was what I wanted to do, but I passed out copies of the album to all my friends and they were like, “Every Saturday! That song is so rad.”
–Bob Reed in Flipside, Number 90, June/July 1994
FYI, there was no video made for Two Words, Spike Jonze-helmed or otherwise. As it turns out, Sony purchased Relativity, the label that issued both this album and their 1992 debut, shortly after the release of the album. Label support essentially dried up while the conquering army figured out what to do with the various pawns on their new chessboard. Unfortunately for Colorfast, they were not part of Sony’s long term plans. The band’s goal/fantasy of major label distribution and active A&R promotion gave way to the reality of marginalized asset management.
Nevertheless, the record speaks for itself. I think if you like these 3 songs, you should strongly consider supporting the band’s Kickstarter project, for no other reason than good music needs to be rewarded. And even if you can’t afford the project, give the band a listen. They’re one of the hidden gems from a wildly misunderstood era of rock ‘n’ roll. Between Spotify and YouTube you can sample a decent chunk of their catalog and maybe hear what I heard in the band 20+ years ago.
THE CASTING OF PODS
In an effort to promote Overwhelming Colorfast’s Kickstarter project, I had a fun conversation with drummer, Dan Reed, this past Saturday. Dan is a great guy and he shared some fantastic insights about the origin of the project, the making of Two Words, and the state of the band at the time (1993-94). Apologies in advance for the sound of the recording. It’s not great, but it is listenable. We were both on cellphones and I captured it the best I knew how. I’m not too proud to ask for help, though. If you guys have any proven solutions for recording phone conversations with as much clarity as possible, I’m all ears. Be it apps or software, I’m open to anything.
Incidentally, in relistening to the conversation I realized that when we discuss the making of their first record (Overwhelming Colorfast, 1992), we reference a producer named Butch. Well, that Butch was none other than Butch Vig, the producer of Nirvana’s Nevermind. The funny thing about that, though, is that when Colorfast was in the studio with Vig, Nevermind hadn’t been released yet. In fact, they were the last band to record with Vig before he became a household name. So, I just wanted to clear that up. I think one of us says his full name towards the end of the podcast, but I wanted to note this before you dive in because I think that adds an interesting layer to the story.
One last time: Overwhelming Colorfast Kickstarter Project. Ends April 16, 2018.