Dark Colour explained and explored

Sjimon Gompers

Dark Colour

Forest exploration with Dark Colour's Randall Rigdon Jr. (courtesy of the artist)

It was a few years back on holiday with my family on the Monterey Peninsula that I first was introduced to Dark Colour. There was a buzz and a fuss being made over a controversial first album Memories, with new tracks that would later comprise the recent released Prisoner floating about in different stages of production. I began playing “Burn it Down”, and “Be Your Man” for friends who had an educated mind on what an electronic composed track should be, what it could be, and what it could express beyond the stereotypes of the EDM mills. In my correspondences with frontman Randall Rigdon Jr., we began to address the inherent intricacies and misconceptions of the electronic medium coupled with the potential of limitless possibility. Our interview truly began when I made a cheeky comparison to Dark Colour picking up where Bryan Ferry left off with Roxy Music. This opened up a discussion on Randall’s approach of expression through the DIY currents and underground channels of home-bedroom-or-rec-room-recorded dance.

Been seriously enjoying your singles and new earnest approaches to the electro construct that many have thought impossible to express within the medium.

I mean you pretty much hit it on the head. Electronic music is such an unconfined, open-ended form of expressionism, and it's collapsed under this idea that it's surrounded by limitation. I don't think people realize electronic music is a concept almost as ambiguous as art itself, and that it's very easy to just go along with this notion that it's this musicality inhibited by a “computerized artificiality”. I mean to me I see electronic music almost as being any form of expressionism achieved through machine, and even with that people are quick to forget that machine and technology are intrinsically driven by man. People bound themselves to the limitations they perceive to be set forth by the instrumentation in front of them and they stick to these mental limitations, perpetuating a belief that it's the machines controlling their lack of expressionism, even though everything in our world today suggests that technology can take us wherever we let it take us. It's like when Timothy Leary said “the PC is the LSD of 90s”, it allowed the human conscious to explore places we never could in ways that we never could. And now we're coming out with driveless cars. Technology is literally taking us places in ways we couldn't before!

When it comes to electronic music, the technology in front of us-whether it be a keyboard or a computer – needs to be viewed with the same mentality. The instrumentation in front of us are literally opportunities to take ourselves wherever we want to go. You know – the goal should be create whole other worlds with music using the tools in front of us much like a game developer does when they create the worlds that they do. Not to sit there and figure out how to make cool textures and dub and bassy sounds you know. It's to take these unnaturalized and inhuman tools and to implement the human element and make the machines sound more human than machine thanks to the artist's manipulation. Technology today is more unbounded than ever before and the electronic music world under-ultizes it so much in terms of expression and emotion.

I mean like you were keen to observe, I started from a soundtrack background and soundtrack is all about provoking emotion, stimulating audiences’ reactions. And you know, I used to do a lot of electronic music back in the day and it would sometimes be sample based and beat-driven, and eventually I felt it was time to explore what I thought would be more expressive musical genres. But eventually I came back to electronic music and I realized the potential for limitlessly expressive musicality was there all along, it's just I never implemented the right sensibilities and never really capitalized on the endless potential, and that's really where I think most electronic music falters, and that's really always kind of has been my approach in terms of doing my sound.

I feel too what you explore with the electronic music medium exists in this place for you that is without any of those perceived limits, where that limitless potential that you discover and tap into just so happens to suit the wild array of musical possibilities. And your words have a personal and candid quality as if we are sitting in on exchanges of quarrels, spats and confessionals. Is it easier to perhaps express heavier sentiment through maybe a degree of removed safety within the electronic medium?

Absolutely, well I think about writers and filmmakers and how apparent it is that the best ones have made the realization that there are no limits to a world that you've created. An amazing writer will look at pen and paper and see them as tools to creating endless potential; worlds that readers get lost in are the worlds that the author's have spent the most time getting lost in themselves. Electronic music is the best field to institute that kind of approach, even if rarely seems to happen. I've almost forced myself into this space of having to sound raw and real because I chose not to hide behind any ideas of limitation. I didn't solely rely on anything like traditionalized structure, auto-tuning, or any sort of cliché like that. Almost instinctually I had to project everything I had into my music, in my most real and honest form. Because I knew if I didn't, in that kind of space without any mirrors to hide behind, it was going to sound distractingly apparent if I was being contrived or artificial in any sense.

Do you feel then that a media of more electronic, plugged in means better amplifies the heart of the matter and expresses honesty and struggles?

Oh yeah, well, there's been times where I couldn't place where certain lyrics were coming from, yet I felt inclined to get them off my chest and out there in the open. Down the line I'll be listening to the song and thinking back on it with a new context, and suddenly the lyrics make all the sense in the world. It's like when I think back to when I wrote “Burn It Down”, I knew I was singing from a very real place when I was actually singing it, but it's only now when I look at the context of the state I was in at the time does the song to start to truly reveal itself. At that time I was about to move to LA for while, I was going through this huge transitional period, and when I listen to it now I know it's about an innate, deep-seated feeling of hope and fear that I had underlying within me then in, even though at that point in time I wasn't fully able to actualize those kinds of thoughts outside of the song. Music's crazy that way, often times it just taps into some sort of primeval state of communication for me. Sometimes I'll play a song to someone and that person will light up and give me the reaction I've been looking for all along, but it's like where were you when I was trying to actually speak these words to your face?

We were talking prior about how the electronic music world “under-ultizes” the expansive nature and potential of technology, lacking those real meaningful terms of expression and emotion. What are some of the reasons that the 'post-dub step' or whatever you want to call it and the EDM international realms are anemic of that level of substance in the sound? Do you feel that people are afraid in taking risks outside the confines of perceived sterile genre rules, or afraid to make a real, 'ruler of the night' commanding jam like “Damn” that includes a key refrain of, “You are the only thing that makes sense to me”?

Nice, well I think some of the answer can be found in that line. I don't think someone afraid to explore possibilities outside of the things they already know could implement a line like that; confessing skepticism in everything, minus perhaps a seemingly real, divine feeling of love you once had. I think it really comes down to that, people are just afraid of considering possibilities outside their norms and challenging the things they think they already know. You see the same thing in the film industry, so much mundane, run-of-the-mill fluff crowds the market because nobody wants to take any risks, they just want to stick to what's safe, even though a movie allows you to pretty much do whatever you want because of course it is a movie after all and a movies don't have any rules. Instead of watching The Hangover Part 6 I think most people would rather walk into something unexpected like when they saw The Matrix for the first time. Those are kind of films that resonate with people, but yet there's still many that flock to rehash like Grown Ups 2 – probably no different than those that flock to the often redundant and safe 'post-dub step' and EDM scenes that have accumulated.

Also given your soundtracking background and film work, what degree of influence does visual components and conceptualization lend to your musical compositional process?

Damn that's a tough question to answer because there's so much visual conceptualization in everything Dark Colour. With my film soundtrack background I like to think Dark Colour retains a very cinematic quality and that all the songs are sort of fit to score a soundtrack. When I was staying in Los Angeles, a lot of that time I was with a friend of mine I've collaborated with since I was younger. He's much very in the film world now and when he listened to the album he visualized some of the same exact visual narratives I had in my head. I think everybody sort of implements their own visual narratives to the music they listen to, but it was still funny to me when he suggested that From Within was a film-noir makeup commercial – because it was actually the same exact thought I had when I wrote it. Actually, now that I think about it, he did actually end up editing a makeup spot and used “The Games Are Killing Us” in it, but I don't know if it ever went to air or still will.

There is also a degree of strong affectation place on so many of your sustaining keys, and especially the notes of some of your singular key drones (“Be Your Man”, “In My Mind”, etc). What is your process on selecting both note, progression, find the perfect tone or setting to send through an effects processor of some sort? It seems as if all your keyboard choices have a strong, very well thought out feel to them.

That's really hard to answer because the process varies quite radically quite often, but it is a very meticulous process. Often times I'll sit at my piano or keyboard and play for a while – it can be anywhere from 5 minutes to a few hours – and I'll just find that hook that really strikes me, something that I can feel and makes me want to move. I'll transition that over to my computer and where the process goes from there can extend on for ages, or it might all just fall into place all at once. I experiment with sounds and melodies forever because there is a lot manipulation in just generating the Dark Colour sound I want. Lots of processing and unconventional mixing just to achieve that one sound I've been searching for for a while. A write a lot of music – I probably wrote 150 plus songs when writing Prisoner, but when it came time to actually finalize the album I only picked the 15 songs I felt truly embodied Dark Colour. It's gotta breathe Dark Colour, it's gotta feel Dark Colour. I have a bunch of music that would be ideal for other projects, ranging from flat-out pop to hip-hop, but I only choose the select songs that embody the Dark Colour sound. It's probably with this process that I end up with variety albums of sorts, where the music sort of just takes you wherever it wants, yet has a consistent feel all the way through.

I'm not even sure if we've discussed this before prior, but you being from Cincinnati, Ohio USA; what's the story of spelling your moniker Dark Colour with the added 'u' from our English neighbors across the pond's vernacular?

It was a funny little idea that seems to actually work quite well today. A lot of great electronic acts have this very grandiose appeal where it often seems like they're bringing you very foreign sounds from very foreign worlds. If you think of an act like Daft Punk or Kraftwerk or Pnau, we think of these otherworldly beings bringing us outlandish music – in a large part because they come from cultures that we aren't familiar with as Americans. So when I was developing Dark Colour and knowing from the get-go I was going to explore a very foreign sound, that gave me the idea to spell Colour with a 'u' to perpetuate a belief amongst people that 'oh Dark Colour must be some sort of trendy French band or something', only to be drowned in irony when they later find out that it originates from Middle-America, Cincinnati, Ohio. It's definitely a tongue-in-cheek name. I originally used it as a remix moniker as I always thought the best remix monikers were the ones that were tongue-in-cheek, but now it seems to ring exceedingly true because the only radio I've been played on thus far has been Air France, so I guess even they think I'm from there.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it but is the album title of Prisoner indicative of that Midwest geographical, creative or even more personal isolation?

I wouldn't say it's so much a reference to a geographical – or even a personal feeling of isolation – so much as it's a reference to the feeling of entrapment that we all experience on a universal level. In all of our lives there's some sort of facet in which we feel imprisoned – be it a relationship, a job, a state of mind – Prisoner stands as sort of a celebration of breaking through imprisoned states, a plead for a state of being and love achieved without social inhibition, getting the things you want through an innate feeling of liberation. It's that sort of theme that runs through the whole album; narratives about throwing away restrains and going after the girl against all odds. It's definitely a concept I've drawn from my own life but also a concept I think we all relate to on some level.

What is it about the concept of color, ahem, 'colour' and hues that play a role in naming your electro project as such?

Well, I've always been a killer for atmosphere. I think atmosphere tends to be the strongest driving force behind any creative project and with Dark Colour I'm always wanting to paint atmospheres that explode with colour. Colors not just made up darker hues, like the name suggests, but of very rich tones. Like I think the synths in “Be Your Man” and “The Games Killing Us” are very generative of intensely bright, shinning collages of color, and I think it's that kind of mental imagery that can really drawn in and resonate within listeners.

Like the “Burn it Down” anthem of yours, what does the notion of new beginnings mean to you and the music?

New beginnings is practically a motif of my entire life, the fear of, the acceptance, the transformation of going through life's transitional periods. It's a concept that echoes throughout the whole album, as change is a very powerful force that provokes a lot of thought and emotion in all of us. Being that Memories was essentially pulled from all retailers, I also saw Prisoner as an opportunity for a new beginning for Dark Colour. I really think Prisoner is the real start of the whole project. Memories set some nice groundwork for the direction I wanted to go in and explore, but Prisoner is really where I settled into the sound that I think Dark Colour will become to be defined as.

We have been attacking the concept of genre for a while now, what does it mean to you as a an artist? – What does genre mean to you now as a listener? And honestly, what does the concept of genre mean anymore, anyway? – More importantly, how would the creative mode of and model of Dark Colour have become altered say if you were like an indie rock band?

Rejection of genre is where I really feel Dark Colour transformed into the project it was meant to be all along. Deterring myself from any true sense of musical identification and letting the listeners create their own definition of what the sound is, that's where the whole project started to take a life of it's own. Obviously it still falls somewhere within the electronic music medium, but where within electronic music has been associated with names and concepts I've never even thought of; ideas I think could mold and shape of the direction electronic music is going in. The creative mode of a full-on indie rock Dark Colour probably can be found in my earlier ventures before Dark Colour, and maybe even in a future project down the line that explores that route again. I would think a project like that likely wouldn't cater to any confined form of genre either, because that's the just the way I do music. As a listener I try not to abide to any one genre, as it's definitely the different influences of musical realms that cultivate together in doing the music I do. I definitely like the take on Prisoner as being a journey through varying cycles of musical genres, from indie rock to synthpop, to soul to funk to ambient. I think it's that kind of freedom that allows listeners to take themselves through an experience.

After the Kleerup controversy on Memories, how did that experience affect your thoughts on samples, the copyright game and the interpretive minefield of intellectual property discourse?

Well, I really thought that in this day in age, with the music industry being so clouded with sampling left and right, I never really stood a chance of getting caught sampling or anyone even caring. It was actually a relief when I did get caught; one, because they were very nice about it and willing to work out things very professionally, but also because I think a lot of musicians tend to get really comfortable with sampling and that can start to come off as a bit of crutch. Getting slapped on the hand for the first time I used a sample in Dark Colour really helped hone in crafting a electronic sound built around very real, naturalized elements. The vocals don't have processing, the beats sound like live, natural, drum kits – it only makes sense to stray away from an all-too-common-practice of sampling. Its given me this ability where I can say everything you hear on the album is actually me – now it has an extremely true sound. A lot of my favorite musicians sample a lot and they do so in ways that are really creative and astounding, but at this point in my career I'm happy to stray away myself from samples indefinitely.

You've discussed the Dark Colour live show in the works, what verbal visual previews can you provide at this juncture?

It's going to be really ridiculous. Everyone's who's been apart of it so far has been really, really excited, it's by far the most realized live version of Dark Colour to have ever been. The music I write already has this very live quality to it, and to finally feel Dark Colour actualized in a true, full-on live performance just feels incredibly meant to be. There's going to be a lot of live manipulation and surprises that I'll be throwing from my way. We've been talking about costumes and strobe lights and full-on destroying stuff. The listeners who've been with Dark Colour for a while are going actually feel the 'colour' in a way they never thought before, and I think everyone, especially those unfamiliar with the project, are going to be like, “Whoa, what the hell am I watching?” It's going to open in this really compelling way and we do the whole thing in this really fresh fashion – feels totally different from the countless variations of electronic live music that I've seen. I think it's going to really draw people in and definitely going to be the talk people's nights.

From Memories, to Prisoner, what has changed for your thoughts and approaches to your music, you as an artist, and the future of a jailbreak from the titular and proverbial prison cell of Prisoner?

For me Memories was made to prove to myself I could even do a project like this at all. With Prisoner I took the groundwork I had with Memories and evolved it into what Dark Colour really needed to be all along. Prisoner allowed me to not only construct the definitive sound, but also create an all-encompassing narrative that I think will ultimately manifest into a Dark Colour trilogy. Prisoner, as can already be seen, begins with a theme of escapism surrounded around a lot of insane forest imagery. From Prisoner there will be a transition into to the wanderer, which as the concept suggests, is going centered around a lost, explorative theme that will be immersed within a lot of desert imagery. The third album in the succession would be an embodiment of a nirvana, drowned in a lot of tropical imagery, the obvious idea of having a beach right on the cover. The whole thing's going to be this depiction of the journey it takes to reach one's highest, most desirable state of being. There could be even further visualizations from there, including cities and space and anywhere else I want to take it. Just approaching the project through that kind of direction has already opened up all kinds of doors to take Dark Colour through. I've already started working on the next album and the theme of wandering and exploring intriguingly oozes through what I've been doing; it's been as fresh and exciting as Prisoner was to craft when I finally nailed in its concept. As far as the future's been concerned, I only see endless potential to take Dark Colour to places that continues to surprise myself and the others along with me. It's going to be a journey, but one that I think many are going to want to join and explore themselves as the adventure continues to unfold.

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