Colt make music that soundtracks your velutinous dreams, induces surreal nightmares, and prods you awake in the night, asking awkward questions.
Since the band emerged from its early incarnation as Living With Eating Disorders, Colt's Jared Hawkes and Andrea Kerr have set off on an intriguing tangent that seems to be leading away from ye olde rock 'n' roll, and towards...what?
Andrea tells us how the band got from there to here...and where Colt might be going next.
It looks like quite a lot of new things are happening just now in the world of Colt. There's a new line-up, a new label, a new EP, a new video, and now some new gigs starting to crop up on the calendar. Did you make a deliberate decision to take a bit of time off, make a few changes behind the scenes, and then come back regrouped and revitalised, with a new incarnation of the band? Or is all this just the latest metamorphosis of a band that's always had a fairly fluid existence?
A bit of both. Actually, neither, come to think of it. We've been victims of circumstance for most of what's gone on for the last couple of years. We lost our drummer, Jamie, when his other band The Noisettes got a nice juicy deal with a major label. Our guitarist Mark had a baby (not all by himself, obviously) which is fantastic, but changes one's life. Then the label we were on, Something To Listen To, dissolved, and we were forced to start our own if we wanted to release the new material we had been working on.
So it's sort of come full circle for Jared and I. We are back on our own again, and we carry on writing because that's what we like to do.
Who's involved with Colt these days? Is the band going to be a two-piece (give or take sundry collaborators and remixers) from now on - or are there more metamorphoses (I think that's the correct plural!) on the horizon? What made you decide to move away from the previous 'rock band' line-up of guitar, bass, drums and vocals? Do you actually think of Colt as a rock band anyway?
For the moment Colt is just Jared and I, and I think that will be it from now on. We love the idea of working with other people, but to keep things simple, and to enable us to carry on working while other people are busy with other projects it's better to say as a duo.
We moved away from the rock band line up for a combination of reasons - it wasn't really what Jared and I naturally came up with when we wrote together as the two of us naturally produce a more electronic sound. The rock sound we had was a combined influence with the other band members which we lost when the live line-up disbanded. So, no, I don't see Colt as a rock band. I don't even see Colt as a band, it's more of a name that Jared and I group various songs under. Even the original name was only ever something to call the song folder on Jared's computer. How cold and sad...ha ha!
Was the creation of your own label, Obvious, an obvious step forward? I must say I was impressed that the label came out of nowhere and almost immediately fixed up distribution with Cargo, and the 'You Hold On To What's Not Real' EP was swiftly made available as a download via the likes of iTunes.
It was the most obvious thing for us to do! Actually, the name comes from the last verse of our song 'Snakes To Dust'. You are right though, the label did come out of nowhere; the collaboration with Cargo was already in place, we had a good relationship with them after Something To Listen To, and when they offered to distribute the EP for us we jumped at the chance. It wasn't till the EP was nearly ready to go that Cargo asked for the label details, so we very quickly set it up and pretended we knew what we were doing.
It struck me that you certainly weren't afraid to get in the ring with the big bad music biz. Did you get to a position with the band's previous label where you thought, 'We can do better than this!' - and then you simply went ahead and did it?
No, we never thought we could do better, but I certainly knew that doing it all ourselves would give us ultimate control over how we did it, and that was the most appealing bit. And we had to do something. I think when you get so far with something it can be soul destroying to just give up, so you plough on regardless of the unknown obstacles ahead.
Was it easy, or did you have to give yourself a quick crash course in the machinations of the music industry?
Yes and no. It was a little more complex than I thought it was going to be - one thing after another kept popping up in casual conversation with Cargo, and I would have to go away and organise something or contact a company I didn't even know existed.
But the part that was easier than I expected was dealing with the new companies as someone who really didn't know what they were doing. There was a two week stretch where I had to call either the PPL, CatCo or MCPS at least once a day, and I have to say everyone was great and talked me through things step by step.
Would you recommend the own label option to other bands?
Absolutely; it's a great challenge and really makes you think of every aspect of releasing a record and also makes you more aware of why certain demands from labels need to be met, which in the past I didn't fully understand. It also makes you a little more sympathetic to the label, really, because there are some things that you just can't foresee when it comes to timing. And of course there is a great deal of it which is creative, so there is a lot about it that I enjoy.
It does seem to me that there's some fairly robust taking-care-of-business stuff going on here - a vital area which many bands never quite get to grips with. What's the Colt secret? Do you have hard-headed business brains lurking beneath the art?
No. I have a pile of receipts under my dresser in my bedroom that I am hoping someone will help me with before I need to declare anything. The accounts are far from enjoyable and for myself far from bearable, but watch this space...if we close the label in two years time and leave the country you'll know why!
A certain amount of grip on the business stuff is always necessary, of course, or nobody will ever get to know about the art. But how do you keep the business stuff in its place, so it doesn't swamp the art? This is something which bands have mentioned to me as a reason not to go down the own label route: the nuts and bolts of business-stuff ends up overwhelming the music. Is it difficult to juggle these two contradictory aspects?
Both Jared and I have always had other jobs to hold down while we are doing music anyway, so it's just a finer degree of separating what we do into compartments that don't ever meet each other. All of the label admin I do at a desk in my end of the flat, and all of the music - writing, recording, vocals, all studio equipment - is kept at Jared's end of the flat, and we sort meet in the middle and hang out in the hall when having meetings...
I see the Obvious label has its own MySpace page - it seems you're giving the label a clear, separate identity quite apart from the band. Does that mean you envisage signing up other bands at some point, and running the label as a concern in its own right?
That was a thought, but the main reason is that it made the label somehow more concrete for me, as though having some cyberspace devoted to it made it more real. I think that is important for me in terms of what I achieve, that if I have something at the end of the day to look at, or hold in my hand, it encourages me to keep going. Each little creation (the first EP, the album, the label, the second EP, the video) is like a rung on a ladder without which I would find it impossible to climb the wall.
Talking of MySpace, it wasn't so long ago that you discontinued the Colt website and moved everything to MySpace, which is now the band's only official web presence.
Quite a few bands are doing this these days, of course, and there's a certain logic there. The MySpace phenomenon has reached a critical mass point now: many people instinctively check a band's MySpace page when they want to look up some gig dates or other info, and only go to the band's conventional web page later, or maybe not at all. It's no wonder many bands have concluded that a normal website isn't really necessary. Was that the notion behind Colt's decision to become exclusive MySpacers?
Yes, because I do exactly the same thing. The benefit to the music fan is knowing what the MySpace layout is and knowing exactly the information that will be on the page and where, so you are not going to be wasting your time on some arty site where you can't find anything to listen to. The benefit for me is that I can update it as often as I like so it's always up to the minute. We did have a really lovely fan-site and the guys in charge of building that for us are in the process of doing something new that I will be able to update as easily as I do the MySpace pages, so I am really looking forward to that as it will hold much more info.
Does it really work, as a means of getting to know new people, and pushing out the info?
Yeah, I think so, I think the benefits of it being a networking site too are that people who are likely to find your music appealing will be friends of friends and the word will spread that way. A few years back I was amazed to discover our music was known to people long before we ever gigged. Even as far away as Canada people were listening to our music through friends on music forums long before we had our own website or MySpace page.
Are there things you've achieved because of MySpace, which woudn't have worked otherwise? Is MySpace a fad, a phenomenon - or the future?
I've made plenty of contacts that otherwise wouldn't have been made, but is it the future? It was. I don't know what the future is now, though!
That's quite enough about the business side of things. Now...the art!
For myself, first and foremost, and probably always will be Kate Bush, and apart from that it would be stuff that probably doesn't sound much like us anyway. I love Sparklehorse, Calexico, I'm getting into a bit of Josh Ritter at the moment.
And of course everyone has a bit of a soft spot for the music they discovered when they started listening to stuff their parents didn't buy them, and for me it's a bit of rock, dare I even say heavy metal, but I'm a country girl at heart really. I think a band who do the power without too much noise thing well are Low, it's amazing to see them live.
I found a review somewhere on the web which said that Colt were 'poised to fill the void left by Portishead' (that was written before Portishead came back and neatly filled their own void, of course).
Can I just interrupt there and say that filling your own void sounds very rude!
I've also seen Colt described as 'trip hop' on several occasions. I've always avoided that dreaded expression myself when I've reviewed Colt because it just seems like a glib way of summing up any band that doesn't rock out like the Ramones. But perhaps I should ask you the direct question: are you now, or have you ever been, a trip-hop band?
I don't think so, but to be honest I might not know if I was being trip-hop anyway...I don't really understand the laws of the genres, and have never really subscribed to them in what I do or in what I listen to, I hope. In terms of what reviewers say it's not that offensive...not like the reviewer who said he had to turn it off half way through because he felt like he was being strangled! I loved that...I wonder what would have happened had he not turned if off?
To wrap up all these musings on the music...are you making a deliberate musical shift away from the sounds and stylings of rock 'n' roll now, or is it just the way this latest batch of songs turned out? Is Colt's music evolving, and can we take the EP material as a pointer to the road you're travelling these days? Or is it simply that the songs on the EP just didn't seem to need any big bursts of sound?
No deliberate shifts any which way...our song 'Horsemilk' started off completely electronic and was very angry, then the guitars were added, so I think we are still capable of bursts with or without the rock element, at least I would like to think we are. And I am always happy to go where the mood takes us.
Now let's go from the music to the words. It seems to me that Colt's lyrical themes can be summed up like this: staring into the heart of darkness...but never forgetting to put on the glittery eyeshadow first.
I love that...I always say that I am a very happy cat, but I do have a heart of darkness. A heart of darkness that sparkles when the lights catch it.
There's often a sense of looming foreboding in Colt's lyrics, a sense that you're gazing at gathering clouds on a personal horizon, or even battling through those clouds once they've descended upon you. And yet, there's also a sense of defiant, glamorous decadence, a feeling that if our doom is upon us we might as well meet it with an ironic wink and go out in a blaze of glory. The song title 'Death And Sequins' is the perfect example if this juxtaposition. Glamour and doom in three words! Is that a fair impression of Colt's lyrical world?
Yes, 'Death And Sequins' was about a very troubled young lady, a glamorous girl into all manner of darkness who tragically took her own life - I comfort myself with the image of a beautiful corpse. I am sure too we are all like this. There aren't many people that tragedy and death, as well as joy and celebration, haven't touched.
I don't really know where the words come from...all over really. Some of them are things I have to get out of my head, so I write them down. Some of them are things I find myself too shy to talk to people about, and some of them are words that drift into my head when I am falling asleep...I like these the best, they are like stems of faint radio interference and sometimes make no sense at all.
The way the band presents itself live always has a sense of glamour and showmanship. You certainly don't come out in grey shirts and long raincoats, like some post-Joy Division miserablists. The key thing about a Colt gig is that there's always a show. We saw that just recently at Club Hell. Three costume changes in (I think) a half-hour set - it was almost a dreamlike cabaret performance. How did that particular gig seem to you?
Ha ha, it was such fun I think. I don't know, I'm a big fan of dressing up, and a big fan of disguise, and for me it was like being a kid. The dress I ended in is an old Edwardian thing, the layers under the skirt are flaking, rotting silk and lace, it's a work of art in its own right. How it compares with the full band is difficult to answer. It's less like being on the verge of tears the whole time, and more like being in a candle-lit swimming pool. If that makes sense...
Do you rehearse every move to the hilt beforehand?
We used to rehearse about three times before each gig when we were a full band - hardly enough, to be honest. So, no, none of the moves are rehearsed, and that's the same with Jared and I; we run through the actual music at home, but that's about it.
Ah, no, Jared did time me getting changed from one dress to another to see how long the costume changes were going to take. I think that's something all girls get used to...some boy looking at his watch while you are frantically trying to get ready.
What is it like, up there on stage, once the show is rolling? Do you lose yourself in the performance, or is there always some part of you that's detached, watching dispassionately from the wings, as it were?
No, I'm lost usually after the first song...sometimes if it's an unusual venue it takes more than a couple of songs, but usually three in and I'm gone, so much so that when the set is finished I can't remember half of it and worry we've missed things out. I have a general idea of whether or not we were well received, but I couldn't grade each gig in order of quality.
What's the difference between a gig that goes well...and one where it all goes horribly wrong?
A fair amount. The horrible ones you just want to curl up and die, and never gig again, in fact never be seen again, but the good ones you could go right back up there and do more...and never stop.
was a horrible, horrible, gig once where the promoter obviously didn't
listen to our music, and put us on the same bill as three other bands
who all sounded like each other, but nothing like us! All I could see
over the tops of our loyal fans' heads were gaping mouths and people
saying 'Oh my God!' and 'What the fuck?' So I got a little angry...
But then there are the moments that you feel on top of the world. A few years back, we played at the Dev and it just seemed packed right to the doors, bodies all jammed up against each other, all watching as though some alien ship had landed and was going to take them to a better place.
All this brings me to Colt's visual sense, which does seem to be very neatly demonstrated in the 'Black Rabbits' video, which is a far more ambitious and imaginative visual artefact than many other bands seem able produce.
Robert Smith of The Cure - a band once famous for its witty and innovative videos - has said that it's just not worth his band making good videos these days, because they never get shown anywhere. You feel like you want to lean over and nudge the poor old codger, and whisper in his ear, 'YouTube!'
It's now possible to fling a video up on the web, and within a couple of days more people have seen it than if it was given a prime slot on MTV. So, what sort of reaction have you got from the 'Black Rabbits' video? Has it grabbed the attention of people who otherwise had not encountered Colt?
So did Robert Smith decide to make bad videos or no videos? I think he should make a bloody effort if you ask me. We've had a really great response from it, a few new subscribers to our videos, and on facebook also people have been watching it. I think it's a great idea to get something up on YouTube because I am always on there (especially if I am avoiding doing something else) and I am sure it has reached other people who wouldn't normally have heard of us...though I couldn't name those people for you.
None of the video was my idea, apart from my footwear, but the connection there is obvious, it's just me playing at horses again. It was mainly Francis, the director, who came up with the ideas, and very kindly funded the video for us, and from start to finish took care of everything.
Do you think Colt has any kindred spirits or artistic contemporaries among other bands? I think there are a few other artists that explore that strange territory I sketched out - dancing on the very brink of the void, that collision of darkness and glitter. Is it a lonely business, being Colt, or do you think anyone else out there is fighting on the same side, as it were?
I do feel a bit lonely, yes, but maybe that's just me. We've always had trouble thinking of other bands we could gig with, and even though there are other bands who have a similar outlook, it doesn't necessarily mean the music is going to be mutually complimentary.
And, in terms of whatever war we are waging, I have always felt as though there was no one on our side. That's not completely negative though, sometimes it's nice to not totally fit in. I was recently invited to a festival - and perhaps I am just getting old - but there were a handful of bands who I swear were the same guys with different guitars...
And finally.....what's next for Colt? Will there be an album at some point? Or more EPs? Gigs, tours, videos, the full rock 'n' roll monty? Or will the future be different...and maybe not quite so rock 'n' roll?
An album I hope; we are trying to write that at the moment. Another video has also be spoken about, perhaps for something on the album we have just re-released, or depending on timing for something new, and we are hoping Francis will be able to direct it again as he's come up with a lovely idea that really appeals to us. We are also trying to schedule in more gigs and DJ slots, but we find it difficult to do that kind of thing when we are in writing mode. There is also a new Mike Figgis film in the making that Arlen Figgis' 'Lullaby' remix will feature, so we are looking forward to that coming out.
More Colt activity on the horizon, then. We'll look forward to that. In the meantime...don't have nightmares.
Obvious Records: MySpace
at Cargo Distribution:
Rooftop and fireside Colt photos on this page by Ella Charlesworth.