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Living Colour’s Radiant Shade

JPG: Speaking of albums, I know how crazy the music industry is these days, and I’m thinking of a recent quote from John Mellencamp where he described releasing albums as sending out postcards. What is it that interests you and Living Colour as far as making an album? Is it the art form? Is it to get something off your mind creatively?

CG: We had something to say. Sometimes, Living Colour can be a force for stating the obvious that doesn’t seem very obvious to everybody else. (slight laugh) It’s obvious to us. At the same time there’s a perspective that I think is very unique for Living Colour. We’re constantly creating. We’re never not creating something. Even when we’re on the road at soundcheck, a groove comes up and a song comes out of it. Whether we use that song or not is always the question but we’re always trying to figure out something new or something different. When it’s time to make as record, we need to focus our energies and all those ideas into something cohesive.

We were always creating and having ‘Dre around so that connected these different ideas and put them in a cohesive place that we could come back to it.

JPG: When you talk about song ideas and writing songs, I was reading about how you have leftover song ideas from as far back far as your debut album Vivid. Do you ever do what the Rolling Stones do, before they make an album they listen to hours of tapes and if there’s a riff from the past they’ll do something with it or does it have to be fresh? What I read made it sound like that a song idea is in the vault and that stays in the vault unless it pops into someone’s head again?

CG: Some songs, they feel dated, back in the day. We had a song called “Soldier’s Blues” that was written in the ‘80s. We recorded. We planned on putting it on the record and it just didn’t make it. We’ve gone back to the well of older things to see how they feel and see if we update it in some way. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it’s best to leave it alone.

JPG: Something that hasn’t dated, unfortunately, and may be more significant now more than ever is the song, “Cult of Personality.” This goes back to when we were talking about the band having something to say. I’ve always appreciated that about the band because I never felt that politics and music should not mix. I would think that you feel the same way as well.

CG: Oh, absolutely. We live in social structures, and politics and life and love and all that stuff are all a part of your life. In some cases the political world or certain issues are very germane to the life you live right now. Vernon lives a few blocks away from where Eric Garner got killed. Biggie lived in my neighborhood where I lived in Brooklyn. These things affect you. We talk about the things that have affected us in a real way.

And then, doing something like “Preachin’ Blues” and knowing that [Robert Johnson’s] life affected mine. I wouldn’t be here if there was no Robert Johnson. I wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t a Howlin’ Wolf or a Lead Belly or Muddy Waters or Mick Jagger who was influenced by them. There wouldn’t be a Michael Jackson or anybody if it wasn’t for these things and they lived a particular kind of life. So, when you talk about certain social structures that affect me. Gun violence affects me every day.

JPG: I always think of Living Colour as a New York band. Maybe you could be the same if you were from Cleveland or Pittsburgh or Chicago or wherever but I just can’t think of you as being an L.A. band because, as you said, stuff happens in your neighborhood, places that you walk by every day.

CG: Right, the economics of the country can be seen every day. I can go to the mall or I can go to the supermarket and see how politics has affected my whole world. The idea of “Cult of Personality,” which was written in the late ‘80s, you could say it was about Reagan. You could also say it was about somebody like…Al Sharpton. You could say it was…the classic examples that are in the song are Malcolm X and FDR and John F. Kennedy; all have those sort of things. Those things affected all of us. We live in a modern world because certain aspects of the past and certain people, whether they be enigmatic or dynamic personalities, shape the world that we live in. So, why shouldn’t we talk about those things?

JPG: It’s great, not only significant, to cover Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” on the album as well as the idea of a discussion of gun culture rather than just guns.

CG: The thing is what we have decided as a society is that every problem can be solved with a gun. It just depends on the size of the gun. If it’s a big problem, you use a big gun. If it’s a small problem, use a small gun.

And gun can be a metaphor for a lot of things. You could use “the wall” as a metaphor for a gun. That’s what they’re really talking about. It’s like, “We’d rather not see you.” But, what if in fact every one of your problems disappeared, who would you have to deal with then? Would you be happier then? I doubt it. You’d have something else to complain about. You’d have to find another gun.

JPG: Someone else to blame for whatever is making you unhappy.

CG: Exactly. Rather than dealing with yourself. It’s an existential idea that you’re making excuses for your own problems.

JPG: I’ve seen you play with Living Colour as well as Galactic. First off, how was that experience because it was a different type of audience than a Living Colour audience? Was that a fun time?

CG: Absolutely. Living Colour actually did prepare me for any and all situations because in as much as most people don’t realize how much we are a part of that jamband experience. It’s funny because you talk to the bands, and you mention Living Colour, it’s like, “Oh yeah, it’s one of the first records I ever bought.” When I was playing with Galactic, Robert Mercurio showed me a picture of him as a kid in his dorm room in college and in the background is a Living Colour poster.

JPG: Coming full circle, I would think that acting prepared you for Living Colour and other musical situations.

CG: It did because all these songs, our writing process comes from perspective. Part of an actor’s job is not only to be as truthful to the character as possible but know his or her perspective.

JPG: On a technical level I would think it aids in the comfortability level of being a front man.

CG: Right. I consider myself an interpreter. I turn whatever musical ideas into words so people can understand it. I’m there like a conduit between the musicians onstage and the people watching the musicians onstage.

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