Living Colour‘s seminal debut, Vivid was unleashed on an unsuspecting world on 3 May 1988. Slowly but surely – thanks to incessant touring and the second single, “Cult of Personality”, going into heavy rotation on MTV, among other factors – the album climbed the charts, eventually reaching number six and being certified double platinum. “Cult of Personality” went on to win the 1990 Best Hard Rock Performance Grammy, and the record has consistently been named one of the best 1980s albums and metal albums. Whether critics call the music hard rock, metal, alternative metal, funk metal, or funk rock doesn’t really matter. What does is that Vivid undeniably rocks, and it has stood the test of time. What better way to celebrate this landmark album’s 35th birthday than talking to the band’s guitarist and primary songwriter, Vernon Reid?
I was watching the Grammy acceptance speech that the four of you gave for Time’s Up, and you mentioned coming up at CBGBs and being a band that played a lot in clubs before Vivid broke out and became such a success. I’ve read in other interviews you’ve talked about the relationship with Hilly Krystal and the other bands that came out of there. People who are not New Yorkers may not think of you as a very New York band.
One hundred percent. Vivid is a kind of chronicle. The 1980s were very much split into two parts for me. The early 1980s was the beginning of my professional career. This was me playing with Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society, playing with Defunkt, playing with Jessica Hagedorn, the brilliant Filipina American poet, and playing with Sekou Sundiata. I was meeting Ornette Coleman, meeting the members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and going to Sun Ra gigs. My first show, in the 1970s, was going to see Parliament–Funkadelic with War. All these things were part of my development.
Your mates when you’re just figuring it out, it’s a special thing. There were quite a few people when I was on the come-up, like Miles J. Davis, Trevor Gale, E.J. Rodriguez, the great drummer and percussionist, and Raymond Jones, rest in peace. He was the first of us to break out. When you hear Chic‘s “Good Times”, it’s my friend Raymond Jones playing the Rhodes part. Nile Rogers is an incredible musician, an incredible guitarist. Whenever I see him, I say, “Where’s that jazz instrumental record that you keep hiding?” There’s this one Chic instrumental called “Sao Paulo”. He’s a really wonderful player. He focused his attention on the most community-building and accessible things. I have a huge amount of respect for him, and he’s a big influence on my rhythm guitar playing.
I took my first plane ride because of the Decoding Society, and the first person I met when I was checking into the hotel was Dizzy Gillespie. I was staring at him slack-jawed, and he was so wonderful. He turned, and he looked at me, saw my little guitar case, and just gave me a smile and was incredibly warm. I saw Muddy Waters standing next to Joseph Jarman from the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
In the first half of the 1980s, the downtown scene in New York was explosive. There were all of these clubs. The real estate market had crashed in New York, so commercial rents were really cheap. It was a time when downtown, people experimented with restaurants, experimented with clubs. There was a used clothing store called the Late Show that was also a punk club. They would close at 7:00, they had a little stage and a little PA, and they would have bands play. It was a time of experimentation – throw it up against the wall – and people could afford to do it.
Right about the middle of the 1980s, there was the young urban professional, the Yuppie thing, gentrification, and this was completely in opposition to the squats. There were buildings that had been abandoned by the city. I knew people that did their own electrical work, and they suffered through winters without heat. A few of those people managed, through guile and subterfuge and a really good lawyer, to stake a real claim. They were able to be grandfathered in. It was a crazy thing, the real estate situation. Then hyper-capitalism came in, the real estate speculators came, and the kids with trust funds came in to slum it with the junkies, and then the AIDS crisis. All these things in the middle of the decade. I started the band in 1984, which is ironic or coincidental.
So, in a lot of ways, Vivid is a very New York record. A lot of the songs that I wrote were reflections on things that I saw happen and went through in the first part of the decade.
What you were talking about certainly made me think about “Open Letter to a Landlord”.
Absolutely. It’s right there. It was coming up in the neighborhood, in Crown Heights, and really it was a reflection on Lefferts Junior High and the basketball court, the park, the handball court, where I used to hang out with my cousin Frankie, and we used to play ball there. On the weekends, DJs would set up their sound systems on the other side of the handball court, and that was the first time I heard “Trans Europe Express.” It was a massive hit, a massive vibe, and to hear those electronic sounds in that context, was fascinating. One of the Harlem Globetrotters used to come by and run full court. Curly Neal used to come through, and he used to drive his Jaguar, and he would come through and play ball with the local kids. I thought about the park and what would happen if they closed the park. Subsequently, the park has been closed.
I had a loft, and my landlord was a crusty old dude. I was splitting that rent with a dear friend of mine, a painter who’s one of the original graffiti writers from the 1970s. At one point, we got into a problem, and I had to go to court. His lawyer said, “You know what? We ain’t trying to hurt you.” It was very interesting. It was a bit of grace. He said, “You trying to be a little something. You ain’t running no drugs. We ain’t trying to hurt you. Just try to make up the rent.” We were able to stay. It was kind of a shitty loft. It was not the Ritz. All of that went into what Vivid became.
It’s interesting to think about how the marketplace seemed to change around the time Vivid came out that there was maybe more openness to the kinds of sounds coming out of CBGB and other similar kinds of music that were maybe less commercial. Many people would mark the era of Vivid as the death of hair metal and so many fresh new things coming out alongside Vivid, whether it was Appetite for Destruction, Nothing’s Shocking, Daydream Nation, or The Real Thing. Plus, of course, Public Enemy and De La Soul. What do you think was going on at that moment that your band and these other bands were able to come through, and then, of course, the massive 1991 arrival of Nirvana at the top of the charts? What changed, do you think?
I would go back. Throughout that decade, there had been a shift in taste and in what was allowable. One of the bands that I credit is Talking Heads. Remain in Light, produced by Brian Eno, really sounded like the future from an imagined point of view. What a breakthrough record Fear of Music was, but Remain in Light was like from another planet. It was Adrian Belew, Eno’s production, and of course, the adaptation of African rhythms. “The Great Curve”, there was nothing around even remotely like it.
When you think about the ascendancy of Boy George, you have to go back to think about David Bowie, who pushed the boundaries. The band Queen, Alice Cooper, and KISS, and then you have Boy George. There was a shift going on. Even with the arrival of Prince, there was a shift that happened. Prince was so phenomenally talented and quirky. “I wanna be your lover. I wanna be your mother and your sister, too.” I defy you to find another line like that. You’d have to go to “Bohemian Rhapsody”: “Mama, just killed a man.” It’s such a quaint, novel narrative, but it’s a shocking thing. “Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead.” That plunged you into an unknown world. No one had ever heard anything like that. This was a time when records could come out and change your mind. Of course, then we incorporate it, but when you’re confronted with a sound, and you don’t have another context for it, it’s kind of a shocking thing.
And this is a time period when the technologies of music production, the technologies around synthesis, the technologies around recording, they were going through kind of a seismic change away from the 1970s and the 1960s, with sampling and an instrument like the Fairlight. The Art of Noise. What the hell is that, right?
Michael Jackson was achieving a kind of majority and independence and not really totally being able to escape. But a milestone, right? Off the Wall was like, “Yo, I’m here.” And then suddenly, that record blows up. And then Thriller is just a different order of magnitude. Grace Jones was picking up the baton of gender confusion and gender freedom from David Bowie and going where she was going, and Roxy Music was also making these moves, and Eno was making these moves, and ultimately, King Crimson. All of these things that were happening were kind of electrifying.
Then you get to MTV, and locally, for us, it was Video Music Box and the whole idea of cable. I would include the movie Alien. It was literally a rethinking of what science fiction and horror could and would be. There were a bunch of these movies as events, records as events, plays as events, and people expanding their roles in what they were doing. Bowie getting respect as an actor. Peter Gabriel, that series of records that he made just called Peter Gabriel. There was a thing that was going on in terms of content and what constitutes a hit. All of those things were shifting, and all those things were expanding.
Punk, and then there’s post-punk and new wave. A band like Gang of Four, before Rage Against the Machine, is weirdly popular, but their whole thing is these quasi-socialist, wry commentaries. And then Devo. So all of these things are shifting, questioning society, opening up doors. There was popular music, there was an underground, and there were these dalliances between them. What Blondie did kind of weirdly wasn’t a betrayal of punk but an advance of punk. That’s what the Clash did with Combat Rock. These things were electrifying, right? People were challenging norms. Pulling the pin out of the grenade and handing it to the next person. That’s the kind of thing that was happening, and that was what made that time period so exciting in a way. Van Halen was turning things upside down. All these things were happening in opposition.
MTV became a kind of return of AM radio, like pop radio. You didn’t know what you were gonna hear next. It’s whatever’s on the charts. What was weird about MTV was MTV wouldn’t play Black artists. Hip-hop was so controversial. The R&B and funk people despised hip-hop. They thought this was hoodlum music, novelty music. They didn’t think it was serious. It took a long time for the DJ to be respected or recognized as an instrumentalist. This is one of the things Herbie Hancock did with his work with Bill Laswell. My friends, Melvin Gibbs and D.K. Dyson, with their band Eye and I, were the first rock band to have a DJ as a regular member of their crew, and that was DJ Logic, who has gone on to work with Medeski Martin & Wood. When I met him, he was 17 years old. In fact, it was so controversial the keyboard player, who is also a really good friend and a wonderful musician, couldn’t take being in a band with a DJ. Everyone wasn’t as open as they maybe later became. Prince got to hip-hop later than he maybe could have. There’s all this tumult.
One of the things I give David Bowie a huge amount of credit for was standing up to MTV. His former background singer Luther Vandross was putting out records. He was incensed, like, “Why aren’t you playing Black artists?” He really put it out there. He’s talking to Mark Goodman, who has since become a really good friend, and Mark Goodman is a good guy, but he was young and had to keep a gig, and it’s a very weird thing because he’s just kind of towing the company line, and he was in a very tough spot. Bowie wouldn’t let it go, and Bowie was a big enough star that they couldn’t not deal with what he was talking about. Because you can’t cancel David Bowie. He’s massive. And ultimately, we were the beneficiaries. There finally was a showdown about Michael Jackson. They weren’t trying to play “Billie Jean,” and then they finally relented. And then it became a huge hit on MTV.
So many things had to go Living Colour’s way. The shift when Al Teller left (Epic), and Dave Glew came in. If Al Teller had still been the president, we wouldn’t have gotten a shot. Tommy Mattola coming in and replacing Walter Yetnikoff (at CBS). These are tumultuous shifts, but those shifts really helped us. You know, when Dave Glew came to see us, we were playing opposite Fishbone, and he said, “I worked at Atlantic, and you remind me of this band I worked with, Led Zeppelin.” And we got a shot. People are focused on Mick Jagger’s involvement, but there are so many other factors that had to align, and I think that’s true with every record that makes it.
Every record that makes it, on a level, is a novelty record because there are so many ways it can go sideways, where it cannot happen. People tend to focus on the boldfaced name, but there are so many other people who people will never know, and it would never have happened if I didn’t have a conversation with this person if I did not have a conversation with (CBGB owner) Hilly Krystal. We had a gig, and this is before Corey, that to me was a complete disaster. I was the last one to leave the club, and Hilly said, “Hey, that was pretty good.” I was looking at him like, “What gig did you hear?” He booked the band again. Frank Gallagher booked us at Irving Plaza. I opened for the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and I opened for John Cale. Those are the things; those are the breaks. The early version of Living Colour, when it was just a trio, opened the very first Fishbone show, and that’s how I got to know them. All of these things. Part of it is sticking to one’s guns, but we were also part of an emerging community, the Black Rock Coalition.
Vivid is really a particular story of New York and being a young man and being a young African-American man in that particular scene. It’s also the fact that we grew up with the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and the Cold War. “Cult of Personality” is a direct reference to Khrushchev. He was criticizing and really disavowing Stalin and his methods.
Sadly, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Look at Putin. Look at Trump. I live in Crown Heights, in a rent-stabilized apartment in an old building, but I see all these gleaming buildings coming up around me that people are paying a lot of money to live in, and other buildings get torn down to make way for them. It’s kind of sad how relevant so many of the songs on Vivid still are. What gives you hope nowadays as you look at the present and the future?
There are a couple of things. America is curious. It’s a weird, weird country. It’s a country that’s really divided, and just when you think these are the final days, then something will turn a little sideways and not be exactly what you thought it was gonna be. There are movements now that are really retrograde, this whole notion of taking America back. It’s offensive because you mean back when the Blacks, the Browns, the Jews, and everyone was in their place. Nobody’s going back to their place. That’s not happening. But there are always threats.
There are new threats. I’ve been somewhat vocal and very concerned about what’s happening with the language modeling and the generative AI space. I’m not a Luddite by any means. I’ve worked with music technologies from the very top. We used the first S900 samplers on Vivid, and that came out of listening to bands like King Crimson and Yes, which used Mellotrons and tape machines. This is a technological situation, and we don’t know where it’s gonna go. There are forces arrayed on either side that are hungry to take advantage of the possibilities, and this is a very concerning thing. It’s also not about one technology but about the convergence of many technologies.
What gives me hope? Young people are fighting for their lives. They’re walking out of classes. There’s another school shooting in Nashville, and somebody says, “Well, we’re not gonna fix it.” Kids are not stupid. When an adult – and that’s his gig – says we’re not gonna fix it, they know what that means for them. And his solution is to homeschool his kid, and he goes on the courthouse steps and shrugs? That’s why all those kids walked out. My own daughter’s thing is what’s happening with the climate. We created a world that young people are gonna live in. They’re like, “Wait a minute. You got all the goodies, and you left us with a nightmare?” Young people are getting up and saying no. There’s a movement amongst older Americans to also speak about climate because it’s about their granddaughters, their great-grandkids. This is not acceptable.
This whole notion of containing Black narratives and containing Black history is a project doomed to fail, but along the path to that ultimate failure, people are going to get hurt. That’s part of this whole American experiment, this whole American notion. There’s been nothing like it on the planet. It’s crazy; it’s like a haunted house with a bazillion rooms. But it’s also a place of wonder and amazement. I’m often angry at America, but I’m never out of love. This is the one thing that people get twisted. When people accuse critics of hating America, they are completely off-base. That’s not the case at all, and Baldwin said it. So I love this country enough to criticize it. The more we close ourselves off to each other, the less American it becomes. America is the collision of people that ain’t supposed to get together. They ain’t supposed to know nothing about each other, but yet and still, they do get together, and the fireworks that ensue create the culture we have.
When they say you’re burning a book because you’re concerned about how their children feel, they don’t care about how their children feel, about their children’s emotional state. What they care about is their children changing. That’s the problem. When white Americans had Black Lives Matter rallies on their own – Black Lives Matter rallies where there were no Black people in attendance, around the sadistic murder of George Floyd – institutional racism got very, very worried. The organism got threatened. That feeling of threat and fear kind of got activated, even as it tried to co-opt. Because that’s what we do. If anything is popular like that, we try to co-opt it. Institutional racism became very frightening when white people started standing up. People say that things are performative. I laugh because it’s all a performance. All of it.
You were talking about young people standing up on a variety of issues and giving you hope, and I was thinking about musicians who came in the wake of Living Colour, in the wake of Vivid. Are there any artists that come to mind that you think about picking up that torch and carrying it?
Certainly, I think of Rage Against the Machine. I think of Sevendust. I think of TV on the Radio. I think of artists that may not even consciously refer to our work, like Mark Ronson, and the fact that he was affected by our early work, as a touchstone, as a thing to get him into music. That’s the effect, and that’s an important thing. You never know the full dimensions of the effect you have in your life. You’re just trying to make it to the next thing. I think about Prince. It’s so heartbreaking to think about him, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson.
When I was working in a little testing laboratory in Long Island City, hearing “Little Red Corvette” kept my dream going. That’s the ultimate effect that I like to think that we’ve had on all kinds of people, people who are not Black, people who are not playing rock. I know for a fact that drummer Nate Smith and his group Kinfolk, which is the next stage where jazz and hip-hop kind of have a collision. He has also cited Living Colour as something for him, and he makes a very different kind of music. And those are the kind of things that are very humbling. This is for everybody, and at the same time, there never was an identity process about playing rock and roll music.
When people bring It up, I don’t know what they’re talking about. I never accepted the premise, right? Because for me, rock music has always been not just Black Sabbath, not just Led Zeppelin, but the Isley Brothers, War, and Funkadelic. Artists were thrown into this funk category. People think of War, they think of The World Is a Ghetto, but Deliver the Word is an incredibly thoughtful, soulful, powerful album. I think of what Santana brought to the scrimmage. Those are the things, along with King Crimson and Yes, that define what rock is. There’s no Prince and the Revolution without Sly and the Family Stone. Those are the defining and shifting and warping things that are part of what made it possible to actually do this, to boldly go, like on a Star Trek mission.
Speaking of boldly going, it was neat to see that your guitar is in the Smithsonian’s Afrofuturism exhibit. That’s pretty amazing.
It’s a weird thing because it’s something that was so precious to me. We have other things in the permanent collection. I got to know the curator Kevin Strait while he was putting together this Afrofuturist thing, and I was part of a panel with Nona Hendryx and George Clinton. I just said, “What would you think about getting the guitar?” He completely flipped and said, “You’re not gonna change your mind, are you?” Sometimes you have to sacrifice something you love. I love that instrument. I used it the first time I played that “Cult” riff. We wrote that song on that instrument. The idea of the guitar as a talisman is a very powerful one, and I remember seeing so many guitarists whose guitars were special to them. The Van Halen put-together guitar, the guitar Brian May made with his dad, the “Fool” guitar that was owned by Eric Clapton and Todd Rundgren, the Fender Strat with the painting on it, the Les Pauls that just basically had numbers on them, for Pete Townsend.
Those are all cool things. I knew I wanted a guitar like that for Living Colour, something that was not my Les Paul and was not my Steinberger. This is really tied with my big brother Ronny Drayton, who was such an influence on me. We were both endorsees at ESP. ESP was a Japanese company that had an American outpost, and getting to know Steve Kaufman, Paul Skelton, and Ritchie Fliegler, and all the madmen at the American outpost changed my life. They were great. What a wild bunch of characters.
Of all the times I’ve seen the band perform, the one that I was most surprised by was at WrestleMania.
Wrestling is such a spectacle, and it’s so ritualized, with these storylines and narratives about good versus evil. The whole story of CM Punk taking on “Cult of Personality” is a very moving story. We were talking one time, and he said, “When I was playing Little League when I was 12, ‘Cult of Personality’ was our get-out-on-the-field music.” They won their championship that year, and that stayed with him. It’s interesting to think of the life of the song. It’s less about what it did for us and more about when we wrote it, we were in a collective flow state. Once it started to appear, once the riff appeared, the song assembled itself through us. I had the lyrics. I was constantly writing lyrics in this red notebook. I picked up the book and I opened it. I handed it to Corey, and I said, sing this: “Look in my eyes, what do you see? The cult of personality.”
It’s a rumination on what it is that attracts us, why we follow people either way – why we follow people that we consider good, and why we follow people that we consider evil. There’s a kind of charisma that really transcends good and evil, that just exists. I think about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and they were profound thinkers about race and profound thinkers about America. But it also has to be said they both look like matinee idols, as handsome as movie stars. And that is part of their appeal. At the same time, how did Gandhi capture the imagination of the world? When Stalin said an individual death is a tragedy, but a thousand deaths are a statistic, it’s so brutal, but it’s also true.
There’s the question of Trump and why people are in his thrall. He’s giving them something, and part of it is that smirk, the “says you” aspect. He catalyzes it. He embodies it. It’s also tied to various iconographies and archetypes. That was my fascination in those lyrics. There were certain things that I took off the table. I use Stalin, and I didn’t use Hitler. I didn’t want his name in my song, but I did want fascism represented, so Mussolini is also in that mix. It’s also about the samples, Kennedy’s voice, and FDR’s voice. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
It feels like, since then, this whole process is just on steroids now with social media. Just thinking about the little girl in the video watching the TV. Now, how many channels do we have? How many platforms are online? It’s just to the tenth power.
There are people who are followed by a million people, and you do not know who they are. The musicians, theorists, and thinkers who are being followed this is completely outside of media as we knew it, the nine channels or eleven channels. There are YouTube stars. It’s completely out of control. The same thing Warhol was talking about, but Warhol could not have imagined it. Orwell spoke of Big Brother, and all the boomer politicians are still talking about Big Brother, but not one of them is thinking about the little sister who’s pissed, the little sisters and brothers who are trolling.
On Tik Tok, it’s a compulsion to be clever, funny, and entertaining. People are putting all kinds of time into it. To make a little video and go viral. Viral is the latest iteration of the hit song. It’s an aspiration. It has created a kind of desperation and a fever. But no one can control what goes viral, like the most off-hand dumb thing. The people that are actually really good at creating what goes viral, they have a kind of dark magic at their fingertips. These things are really in flux.
There’s this whole idea of the culture wars. Who’s going to win in the arena of public opinion? This is as hard-fought and desperate an idea as anything. I was speaking to my 19-year-old daughter, and I asked if she had heard about this whole “tradwife” thing. She was like, “What are you talking about?” This is a whole thing of young women talking about not wanting to be in the marketplace, reducing their stress, and wanting to be there for their hubby. It’s crazy. While one side is talking about The Handmaid’s Tale, somebody’s leaning over to the table with a wicked grin, saying, “What’s wrong with that?” And the beat goes on. Liberalism, for a long time, has been a counterculture. Nobody imagined that there would be an anti-counterculture. What we’re experiencing now with fascism amongst young people, it’s kind of anti-counterculture. It’s concerning.
I was really glad to see “Cult” show up on the Rolling Stone list of Best Metal Songs at #12. That was pretty amazing, as was hearing the recording of “Cult” with Living Colour and Steve Vai playing live together in front of 100,000 people in Rio.
It’s a wonderful moment. It’s still a great song to play. I love it. It’s a challenge to play because I improvise. I don’t play the same solo. It’s also really powerful when something like that connects. Anything like that, that’s a riff that does this thing, that’s the best. You could have all the clever, super-complicated things, but what’s more awesome than when you hear a certain kind of riff? Jack White is one of the masters of it. I’ll go, “God dammit. Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Seven Nation Army” is definitely one of those.
Oh my God, “Seven Nation Army”. That summer of “Seven Nation Army”, we did a version of it. That’s on YouTube. Metallica did it. Everybody slapped their foreheads at the same time. Dammit! You could wonder where have all the great riffs gone. That’s what Prince’s genius was. He could do super-complicated, super-dense music. But Prince also knew when to do “Sign o’ the Times”. Everyone said he was finished after Around the World in a Day, but then he came up with “Kiss”.
Is there anything someone hasn’t asked you about the album and its legacy that you want people to know? Something you’re surprised that people don’t ask you about?
“Broken Hearts” is a very personal song because it was about me. I had a girlfriend at the time, and we broke up during the making of Vivid. The thing that’s so funny about it is we’re still really good friends. “Broken Hearts” and “Love Rears Its Ugly Head” are about the same girl. The weird thing is “Love Rears Its Ugly Head” didn’t make it, so the sequence is reversed. It wound up on the second album, but it was written before “Broken Hearts”. We played “Love Rears Its Ugly Head” at a medium tempo, and it was really kind of corny. We slowed it down to a Sly Stone tempo, and suddenly, it completely worked, finally, but it was too late for it to be on the first album. People think of Living Colour as a political band. It’s funny to me. I can’t think of a more political song than “War Pigs,” but nobody thinks of Sabbath as a social commentary band. It’s kind of funny to me.
I think that Cory Glover is the most underrated singer of his generation. We haven’t changed the key of any tune in our catalog. We haven’t lowered any keys, and he is hitting all the notes. He’s phenomenal.
I read you say in other interviews how glad you are that you still like playing “Cult” and other songs. You had a huge hit like that and so much success, and you continue to play that music for years and decades to come. It’s something that one faces with success: people do want to hear that song, and they want to hear it the way that it was done, whenever it was recorded.
Success is traumatic in a way that people can’t understand. Nobody prepares you if you’re from a working-class background. Suddenly, you got it, and you’re like, “What?!” Some people adjust really quickly, but unless there’s been a background — like your parents were in the limelight or in proximity to the limelight — that’s where people can stumble and fall. Then, there’s the idea of resenting it.
I love music. Music is a weird, wonderful thing. It’s not so much about being an expert at music. I’m not, but I do love it and the possibilities at any given time to connect to something that’s not rote, to connect to something that just happened in that moment, on stage, something you can’t guarantee will happen again. That’s what I live for, within my limitations, within my aspirations. There’s also personally, and then collectively, the idea to do something that’s a combination of all of who we are at any given moment.
Being a rock and roll band, we’re part of something that’s grand. We’re part of something that’s great, whether that’s in a club or whether it’s at a festival. The performance is something particular about rock and roll music when it does the thing it’s supposed to do. It doesn’t matter what style it is. Style is irrelevant, whether it’s post-pop, metal, hard rock, prog, alt-country, punk, or grunge. The thing that only happens with music, there’s nothing like it. That’s not just the band playing great. That’s playing great and connecting to something that the audience didn’t even know that it needed.
I’m on a constant quest as a player. There’s a way I play when I’m playing Living Colour, and there’s a way I’m playing with James Blood Ulmer, and if I’m playing with Masque, my instrumental project. I’m trying to rethink, but I don’t want to become self-conscious. There’s a way that I can always play it, and I’m thinking, I wanna open up my fingerings. I wanna try other things and play more the way I play when I’m playing by myself but on stage. Sometimes I succeed, and at other times, I fall back into that bag. It’s something I’m working on. There’s always something to work on.
The only time in my life I have ever crowd-surfed was at your show on the Time’s Up tour in New York. I was just so carried away that I had to do it, and I’m a small guy. I’m glad I didn’t break my head open, but sometimes, you just get too excited and, like you were saying, transported in that moment. The best thing you can do is ask your friend to throw you up in the air.
I’m so glad you did it. Those moments are the whole point. It means everything when this thing is happening, and everyone’s caught up in it. However big or small the venue is. Words fail.
The last time I saw Soundgarden was at the Manhattan Center, on the King Animal Tour, and I’m so grateful that I saw that show. I didn’t know it was gonna be the last time I saw Chris Cornell. They were great that night. They were playing my favorite song, “The Day I Tried to Live”, and I was just singing along.
I remember Lollapalooza, and it was one of the last shows of the tour, just being on the side of the stage with Nine Inch Nails and watching the crowd from front to back. It turned into a huge, open-air industrial disco. It was incredible. They were doing “Head Like a Hole”, and it was just so good.
Oftentimes, the manufacture of the epic moment, all of the choreographed stuff, all those things can go right, and that thing that we’re talking about can also not happen. When it does happen, it’s unspeakable. It’s this unspeakable, awesome, incredible thing when a band just does that thing where they take off.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Living Colour will be touring throughout the summer of 2023, including many dates with Extreme.