Music

Colleen Green Is Having Fun Behind Those Dark Glasses

John Paul
Photo: Eric Penna

Colleen Green used to hide behind her sunglasses; now they're just a part of who she is. She tells PopMatters about their origin and the one song she refuses to play live.


Colleen Green

I Want to Grow Up

Label: Hardly Art
US Release Date: 2015-02-23
Amazon
iTunes

Following the release of her critically acclaimed album, I Want to Grow Up, all eyes have gravitated toward the underground sensation Colleen Green. Speaking to her before a recent tour stop, Green laid out the basic premise behind her stage persona, a now calculated look that includes dark sunglasses and, for this tour, just her guitar and drum machine. Despite the potential for greater vulnerability, Green exudes nothing but relaxed confidence in both her music and where it has taken her thus far. "I'm having fun," she said, "I'm getting to travel and play music for people and it's pretty much the best thing I could be doing with my life."

Given much of her lyrical content, it's a relief to hear such a positive outlook on life. On record, she sings through a number of darker thoughts and intimately personal details that would make most people squirm. But for Green, it's all part of the creative process. When discussing those darker moments that tend to crop up from time to time, she was quick to reach for the silver linings: "By the end of the day you're just like, 'What was I doing? What was I stressing about? All that stuff I was upset about makes no difference in my life at all. I shouldn't be sad, I should be happy because you can do anything you want in the world and it's awesome.'"

In person, Green is a wisp of a woman. She possesses no immediately identifiable features or affectations, save the sunglasses she wears on stage and the Sublime tattoo that graces her left arm. So unassuming is Green that one could easily be forgiven for mistaking her for someone else, for giving a quizzical look when she informs them she is the artist performing.

But this seems to be just how she wants to present herself: a blank canvas onto which others can project whatever they'd like. "I'll see pictures online of me and a lot of people will comment saying, 'Oh, I thought this was my friend so-and-so.' And I like that a lot. I don't really look like anyone, I just look like a girl wearing sunglasses, you know, and it really could be anyone [on stage]."

For her, this idea is the basis of the cultivated persona that has become Green, one which she admits is not too far removed from the actual Green. "Sometimes that gets hard [to separate the persona from the person] because I do have a life, and Green is my life, but I feel like I have a life that's not Colleen Green also. Like when I'm just hanging out and watching TV with my best friend and just eating ice cream, we're just friends chilling and no one's paying me any attention like when they come to my shows."

To her, however, Green the performer is much more. "[She's] a person and an idea and a philosophy and a musical project and whatever you want it to be, basically." And part of that philosophy seems to be an inherent relate-ability and desire to have an impact on her listeners that goes beyond melodic hooks and diary-cribbed lyrics.

When it came to her now ubiquitous sunglasses, they were first employed more to help stave off any anxiety on stage. "At first it was a defense mechanism, for sure. Now it's more of an aesthetic thing." And with that, she now enjoys the relative anonymity they afford. "I like the idea of young girls coming to shows and seeing someone up there who could represent anyone."

Having herself played in bands since the age of 16, the now 30-year-old Green feels this an important part of the process and as a female musician she's ready to do her part to help encourage the next generation of artists and musicians. "I love playing shows with other female acts." During this specific show, two other other female-fronted groups were featured, Upset and Impulsive Hearts, with Sam Vicari the sole male act on the bill. "I love the feeling of support and the idea of having a safe space. If it's all girls and all-girl bands or just bands that have girls in them on a show, I would think that would make it so much more welcoming for any girls that want to come, it's not just a man show and testosterone, you know."

But she's also quick to point out she has no problem with mixed bills or the potential for the misogynistic tendencies that often crop up within the scene. When faced with a potential for minimization of her music or the sexualizing of her while on stage as a result of being a female musician, Green asserts: "Some people are going to think that way and some people aren't. You're just going to have to hope that the people who are meant to get it, get it and fuck everyone else."

Among those who got it were JEFF the Brotherhood's Jake Orrall and Diarrhea Planet's Casey Weissbuch, two friends Green enlisted to help her with I Want to Grow Up. Given the personal nature of much of the lyrics, bringing in other musicians was a big step for Green who had previously recorded alone.

"There's a reason why it took me three albums to get this point where I'm sharing and making music with other people," she said. "And there's a reason why I did it with Jake and Casey in that they're two people I really trust. I couldn't do something like that with just anyone; I needed to wait until I met and formed a good bond with certain people and it just happened to be them and it just all worked out. They're good friends of mine so I knew they would not judge me."

When it came time to record the cringe-worthy, deeply affecting "Deeper Than Love", however, she admitted to her old recording style, not out of fear of judgment (she had sent the song to both for their approval of its inclusion on the album), rather simply due to the sparseness of the arrangement. By breaking the song down to its barest essentials, the lyrics have greater impact. Singled out more than perhaps any other track on the album, "Deeper Than Love" could likely serve as Green's calling card.

But it's not a song she's willing to perform live, much to the chagrin of those attending her performances. Between songs, there were repeated calls for the song, all of which were met with an impeccably timed, somewhat comically timid "No" from Green. When asked about this decision not to play the song live, Green responded: "I played ["Deeper Than Love"] one time live, at my album release show. But because it is so sparse it works on record but live ..." Backtracking somewhat and getting to the heart of the matter, Green added, "I mean it's fine, but it's just kind of long and not that fun to play live."

Disarmingly candid and amiable, Green possesses an approachability very much in keeping with the theme of her latest release, I Want to Grow Up. In it, she wrestles with a sense of arrested development and a yearning desire to transcend her childish ways and bad habits to become the adult society expects her to be. It's a wildly relatable concept that transcends gender barriers and reaches that rare space of universality. And that's exactly how she wants it to be.

"Even when I'm doing Colleen Green stuff I still feel like a totally normal person. I feel like I'm just this girl from Massachusetts that's just living life and doing what I like to do, living life every day as it comes."

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less
Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image