Interview: Awesome Color
Awesome Color do raw power rock'n'roll and they've got a volatile frontman to boot. He sees red if you ask him about about a certain friend of his.
Words Phil Hebblethwaite
Photography Gary Manhine
Ever had one of those nights when you head out to a gig because you’ve got a hunch it will be good, even though you maybe only know one band on the bill and they’re not headlining? You usually wish you hadn’t bothered, right? December 6, 2006 was different. Venue: The Old Blue Last in east London. The bill, in order of appearance: The Bellmer Dolls, Zan Pan, Untitled Musical Project and Awesome Color. And it kind of went like this…
3. Holy shit
4. OH MY LORD!!!
By closing time (only 15 minutes into Awesome Color’s set), it was hard to imagine there had been a better night of music anywhere in Britain, let alone London. The 30-odd people in that small room-above-a-pub didn’t leave with four new names to tap into cyberspace the next day, but FOUR NEW FAVOURITE BANDS. This newspaper even ended up putting a single out for Zan Pan and would have offered to do the same for Awesome Color if Thurston Moore hadn’t pipped us to the post. The scoundrel.
It transpired that Awesome Color, a Brooklyn-based trio, were in the UK because they were playing ATP that weekend. There, Dinosaur Jr caught them, had a similar moment of revelation, and asked them out on a North American tour. But that wasn’t the first time Awesome Color had been to the UK, as bass player Michael Troutman explains: “We’d been before once, we didn’t make any money and we lost the cost of the plane tickets. It was like taking a vacation that you get to play music on. We went all the way up to Glasgow and played some weird northern towns that probably no one else would know about – sweet little towns where the people were really good to us.”
This May saw the release of their second album, Electric Aborigines, another deafening assault of thunder rock’n'roll that, like their self-titled debut, was released on Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! label. Awesome Color speak to the Sabbath, Motörhead and AC/DC fan within – it’s heavy, no bullshit stuff – but they have a rough, arty edge that pulls in the Sonic Youth and Velvet Underground boffins too. Combined, it’s a crushing concoction that’s perhaps down to geography. “We definitely claim Michigan as a home,” says Michael, “we have many good friends and family members there. But the band itself was formed in New York. We started by jamming together as three people because we love music. We didn’t really have any goals – we just got asked by our friend’s band, theusaisamonster, to play our first show. Another friend’s band, Oakley Hall, asked us to play another show and that kind of got our momentum going.”
Michael was raised in various towns across Michigan; drummer and Michael’s girlfriend, Allison Busch, in Flint, where filmmaker Michael Moore is famously from; and singer/guitarist Derek Stanton hails from Ann Arbor, hometown of Iggy Pop. The members of Awesome Color met there and Derek is friends with Scott Asheton of The Stooges. Not that he likes to be asked about it.
If Michael and Allison – a staggeringly good rhythm section – provide the solidity and might in Awesome Color, Derek provides the volatility and fury, onstage and off. Indeed, away from music he seems capable of both utter brilliance and total tedium. In one interview, he hilariously said, “I work with fine art. I move it. Install it. I put a booger on the back of every Picasso I move… and only Picassos.” But he also became known for throwing proper girly hissy fits if journalists would bring up The Stooges connection. Awesome Color sound like The Stooges. They sound like other bands too, but mostly they sound like The Stooges. More than that, in the biography on their label’s site, it used to say, “Awesome Color came out of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Singer/guitarist Derek Stanton grew up across the street from Scott ‘Rock Action’ Asheton of The Stooges.”
And us hacks were expected to not bring that up?
The Stool Pigeon got hit by one of the toys flying out of Derek’s pram when we interviewed him soon after the Old Blue Last show, amazingly leading to his refusal to speak to us today. It makes him seem like a proto-Ken Livingstone or the Mariah Carey that no one’s heard of, but, explained by Michael, it’s not hard to understand why he got upset: “I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but his relationship with Scott Asheton was more like a personal family friend thing and it wasn’t ever meant to be a part of any story. It was an intense friendship, so I think when it got picked up by some media, it kind of lost that and I think he was worried about how it would come across to Scott. He didn’t want it to seem that he was using Scott’s name to further his music.”
Fair enough, but he should blame his label not the press and, in the end, rock’n'roll badly needs feisty characters like Derek. “Again, without wanting to put words in his mouth, he has strong opinions on a lot of things and he’s really dedicated to music,” adds Michael. “I would say that’s his first love – his passion – so maybe that excludes other things when he’s interacting with people.”
Michael’s a lovely chap – a skater kid like his bandmates and with some rock’n'roll pedigree as well. Back in Ann Arbor, he played in a hardcore band with John and Eric from Wolf Eyes and he even worked at an IT company in New York with one of the guys from Oneida. Ha!
So, Michael, sum this up for us: where are Awesome Color at right now? “I still think of ourselves definitely as a live band. I’m not sure that we’ve hit 100 per cent in the studio yet to cover the energy, emotion and passion that we have when we play live. We’d like to put out amazing studio records. Hopefully, that’s happened to some extent and hopefully they’ll get better as we get more experience recording. It’s not really for me to say. I feel really strongly about our live performances, but the studio… I guess the critics are fans and they make up their own mind about the records.”
And are you now making enough money to cover the flights when you tour Europe? “Well, my hair’s growing out now and I can’t really return to my professional job until I can put it in a pony-tail. That would be unfortunate.”