Color Green :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

From the analog tape-hiss of their eponymous EP to the well-placed studio sheen of the singles released earlier this year, Color Green’s Noah Kohll and Corey Madden have revealed themselves to be adaptable at every turn, as they cut their own route through the hazy byways of cosmic Americana. First taking shape in NYC as a songwriting and recording project in 2018, Color Green blossomed into a full-on collective venture during the initial years of the pandemic. During that time, Kohll and Madden decamped to Los Angeles, where they were received by the open arms of kindred spirits and collaborators.

Arriving July 22 via AD and Org Music, Color Green’s full-length debut is music of absolute forward motion, meant to be played from open car windows no matter the speed you’re traveling. The songs nod reverently to their forebears—from the Allmans-tinged sunshine of “Ill Fitting Suit” to the JJ Cale taillight lament of “Ruby”—before tossing up a wave and taking the whole show a little further down the road. With another record in the works and a road-tested band behind them, we caught up with Kohll and Madden as their Color Green hive mind ambles steadily toward its next incarnation. | j annis

Aquarium Drunkard: Is this tour the first time the band has been able to get out on the road?

Noah Kohll: The live band is still pretty embryonic, less than six months old. We’re solidifying things, which is nice, as it takes time to figure out how you want the live show to sound. But this lineup does feel like the band…we have a lot of ex-punk musicians in the group which gives our live show a bit of an edge, but Corey and I are very focused on having that edge be controlled. There are moments within the set that we can hit moments of intensity in a very calculated and precise way. The dynamic is a really interesting push and pull of energy that can happen because of the powerhouses that we have.

Corey Madden: We can get crazy loud and big, and then get absolutely mellow and atmospheric.

Noah Kohll: I think a big part of improvisation is dynamics. You can’t just jam over two chord changes, and I think dynamics play a big part in that.

AD: I was just listening to a lot of the Dead’s Europe ’72 run, listening to them do something like “Playing In The Band,” which really evolved over the course of those shows as the inherent landscape became more apparent the more it was played. 

Noah Kohll: I would describe that type of musical communication as breaths, these extended deep inhales and how far you can inhale. There is a space in between an inhale and an exhale that I think is the most interesting space you can inhabit. It builds tension. Moving in and out of themes. That space in between, how far you can go… that space in between is very spiritual within playing music.

Corey Madden: Every set is 80 percent the same, and then there is a hard chunk that both of us need where anything could happen and changes every night.

AD: Are you finding that there are some songs that lend themselves more to those moments, and are they the ones you expected, or are they a surprise when they happen.

Noah Kohll: A little of both. Having these really talented people in our live band is very inspiring for how the live set develops.

Corey Madden: And a lot of where we as a band really nail it is in the transitions between the songs, or working up a jam on stage or during soundcheck. I think we both come from a world where downtime on stage feels weird, and unnatural, and every show I’ve seen where the performance feels like one long unit has been the craziest, coolest thing ever …where before you know it you’re six songs into a set.

Noah Kohll: There was this band in Omaha, where I grew up, called Yuppies — a really good psychedelic punk band. That was really the first time I saw a band do that, where they played their set and just never stopped playing, from the beginning to the end with these insane transitions between songs. That really stuck in my head when I was younger, and I’ve always wanted to be part of a band that did something like that, and now we are doing it and it feels very fulfilling.

Corey Madden: The show is the show, you should be able to experience something different then just the songs on the album that you can listen to anywhere.

AD: Yeah, it’s sort of like a taper’s headspace.

Corey Madden: That’s one of my major ones with any band I play with, that’s kind of the vibe I’m always thinking about, honestly.

AD: Were you thinking about yourselves in a live context when you first got together in New York?

Corey Madden: No, definitely not. It’s blossomed into a real band over the past year and a half instead of a recording project.

Noah Kohll: There is a casualness to the band which feels good. Nothing ever feels forced within it. We aren’t thinking in terms of how do we market ourselves … we’re just doing it because we like to do it. We love to do it. We’re not interested in conforming to the ways of this industry, or a scene.

Corey Madden: Mandatory chill. (laughs)

AD: That speaks a lot. Color Green seems to have developed its own sort of mythos in a short amount of time. You had this EP that dropped in the Spring of 2021–which all the heads I knew were talking about at the same time–and then it was sort of quiet. And then the singles came out, which were great, but very different, and now you’ve got the tour and the full length coming up. These are all markers that artists would hit, but they are not necessarily in the standard running order that folks typically hit them. Is this by accident, or are you growing this project with intent?

Corey Madden: It has definitely become an intentional thing.

Noah Kohll: The intent behind the two singles was that we had finished our record, and (with the current vinyl logjam) we knew that it would take a year to come out. We’re active songwriters, we work everyday, basically. We both wanted to write something and kind of let people know that we’re still here. And the experience of writing those two songs was so cool. The whole process only took two or three day–in two of three days everything was done. It kind of solidified that we can do this, you know, that we have the power to be able to write and record in a very quick way.

Corey Madden: When we recorded this record, it was still during gnarly Covid, so we couldn’t really do anything anyway, so why not keep doing more. And like Noah was saying, we’re both consistently writing, so why not put stuff out while we’re waiting for the record.

Noah Kohll: We’re in the process of writing the second record right now, and the first one’s not even out.

AD: In terms of the songwriting, in regard to what you’ve recorded thus far, the feel is always different, but the vibe is always right.

Noah Kohll: I feel like there’s something to be said about what Color Green is in terms of the songwriting umbrella, and what all we can fit under that umbrella. It’s pretty limitless, there’s a lot of freedom to not feel like “oh, we can’t do this because it doesn’t sound like Color Green,” because everything we do sounds like Color Green. We can write a song and then Green-ify it. There are certain tricks that we have within our songwriting process that gives it that stamp.

Corey Madden: “High & Low” is kind of like a Little Feat song…

AD: Right, I remember thinking this is like Lowell George doing son of “Loose Lucy” or something.

Corey Madden: We just played in Olympia and our buddy was like “hey, check out this unknown SST band, you guys sound like that.”

Noah Kohll: Our friend in Portland said were sound like NRBQ. Someone once said we sound like Flamin’ Groovies.

Corey Madden: All good things to hear, but if you heard this on paper you’d be like what the fuck…

Noah Kohll: Corey and I are obsessed with music in general, and American music, and I think the way that we regurgitate what we like is really our own and a continuation of American music. In the same way the Dead did it. They were a jug band who started putting in jazz elements, and rock ‘n roll elements, and everything, and developed their own sound. That’s what makes a band unique. When you literally take all of your influences and put them into a song.

AD: In terms of Color Green, do you think about world building? One of the things I think about are painters, and the way their imaginations work; like someone like Dali, they have all these paintings that take place in a place that exists within them. And if you’re walking along in that place you’re going to come along upon all these scenes. Or if you’re walking along in the Dead space, you’re going to meet Tennessee Jed, you’re going to meet Loose Lucy, and all these people …

Corey Madden: I think it’s 50/50. I like that general idea, but feel like that can get stale pretty quickly. As soon as anything feels stale, we have to get out of that, but I think it’s 50/50.

Noah Kohll: We need to be stimulated. In terms of talking about music within a world, the world is ever expansive, and we’re very interested in pushing our musical limits.

AD: I read an interview with you guys awhile back where you were talking about the design of the EP cover in that you wanted it to look like something you found in your dad’s attic.

Corey Madden: I think that’s part of the evolution. The EP has that sound as that’s what we were working with. It was me and Noah in a basement, with Noah running the board on a little tape machine. That’s what it was and that’s what it sounds like. In terms of the band’s evolution, I like the ever-changing sound, I like the ever-changing songwriting. We were just feeding our brains and stimulating ourselves and not really second guessing ourselves.

Noah Kohll: I think there is something to be said about the term timeless, that’s been a thing with other producers I have worked with, their goal is always “how do we make this sound timeless”? Thinking about that when you go in to record, it can create some weird pressure. And with Color Green there isn’t any pressure to sound timeless, it just is.

AD: A lot of the narratives of the songs are sort of perpetually bringing up the rear but having a nice time doing it.

Noah Kohll: At least for me, when you’re in the process of writing lyrics, everything does feel still around you. Because you are doing an closer examination of yourself and what you are trying to communicate. It always feels like the emotion you are trying to emit at that time doesn’t feel like what is necessarily in the present. It feels like you are reflecting, like you are watching this thing kind of move over you. It echoes eastern Buddhism.

Corey Madden: You are always referencing a feeling you had in a way.

Noah Kohll: There are songs on the record that really dive into this kind of idea of what it feels like to move through emotion. To move through depression, and seeing through the other side of being depressed, but knowing that feeling will come back. Or how do you communicate feelings that are incommunicable, and then trying to use metaphor. There’s a song on the record called “Bells Of Silence” where I’m using a metaphor of synesthesia as a way to discuss shitty feelings, or loss, or the need to leave someone you love.

AD: The temporal nature of being…

Noah Kohll: And there’s the tongue in cheek songs, like “Ill Fitting Suit”.

AD: And that’s kind of what I was talking about when I said perpetually bringing up the rear but having a nice time. You’re in an ill fitting suit, you’re not in some badass threads, but you’re making it out anyway.

Noah Kohll: It’s funny, too, because sometimes we’ll write a lyric just as a placeholder, and then we come back to it and realize “oh, that IS the lyric.” Or sometimes we’ll think “how do we say this feeling or this thing?” And we’ll say what it is, and then one of us will say “just like that! That’s all you had to say.”

AD: But it’s tough getting to the point where you just say the thing, so the trust there is real.

Corey Madden: Definitely. I kind of just look at it like the Glimmer Twins kind of thing, where there’s this trust in riding the idea all the way out until until it’s time to switch it up…or not! You gotta have that with someone else, or else you’re just gonna be fucking resentful, or you’re just gonna go nowhere with it.

Noah Kohll: Yeah, absolutely. I think we have a lot of trust in each other. Like, right now we’re planning out the second record, and the writing process is going to be a little interesting because I’ll be gone for a month. So we’re trying to figure out our plan our plan for who’s gonna demo this and finish that, and then we’ll part ways and review everything when we’re back together. There’s a lot of trust within that process as well.

Corey Madden: It’s kind of cool because we were living on separate coasts for awhile, but we met back up in New Mexico, which is where we bulked out a lot of this record that’s about to come out. So the vibe is kind of like everywhere.

Noah Kohll: I’m trying to work on this thing in terms of my songwriting. Until recently, I always tried to be to be very ambiguous. It was like DaVinci Code or something, where I didn’t want anybody to figure it out, or I wanted it to be left up to interpretation. But I think “So Far Behind” is one of the first songs that I’ve written that’s very matter of fact, which I think helps create a real relatability, you know? I was afraid of being too honest. But I think honesty and trust are some of the most beautiful things you can communicate within music.

AD: The thing you’re most afraid of is the same thing you’re supposed to run straight toward, right?

Corey Madden: Yeah. There’s a fine line with lyrics between being very transparent and being cryptic. I feel like we have a healthy balance.

AD: Is “Newspaper Headline” a murder ballad? I always dug the vibe of that song. And then I would listen to the lyrics and be like “this is some creepy shit.”

Noah Kohll: Yeah (laughs), it is. For sure. That’s funny. When I wrote that song, I was studying ethnomusicology at the New School, and I was obsessed with the American murder ballad. I remember I had a whole project where I was tracing all the roots of American murder ballads and finding comparisons to certain songs that were recorded and written in Appalachia in the 20s, and then finding the same song was written 100 years back and like, in the UK.

Corey Madden: It’s not as transparent as “Psycho Killer” anything like that…

AD: That’s why it works so well.

Noah Kohll: But this is the same thing where I like the metaphorical ambiguity within it that leads that the listener up to their own interpretation. But yeah, it’s absolutely a murder ballad.

AD: How about the full-length that’s about to come out?

Noah Kohll: It’s got a nice flow–there’s a come up and comedown with a lift at the end.

Corey Madden: To me, it’s a perfect driving record.

AD: Given Color Green’s genesis as a recording project, how do you approach the studio now?

Noah Kohll: In the studio you’re under a microscope, you’re in a more of a controlled environment. We have experience being in studios, so we know how to work with that control. The cool thing about going into studios is that every time you go in, at least in my opinion, you get better at working the studio as an instrument. I’m just thinking about how the EP sounds compared to the LP, compared to “So Far Behind” and “High and Low”–it’s like a flower blossoming. There’s so much opportunity and space to work within a studio. And each time you go in, you’re better at it.

AD: You said you’re writing the second record; how is that differing, or is it differing, from writing the first one?

Corey Madden: It’s definitely different.

Noah Kohll: There’s going to be more of a live element to it. We’re going to be using members of our live band to record it. Usually, it’s just been me, Corey, Dave Ozinga, and their friend Trevor [Tallakson], who played bass. We did some songs where the two guitars, bass, and drums are all live. And then we’d overdub all the solos and stuff like that. But for the idea for the second record is to do it all live, except the vocals. Or maybe even the vocals, who knows…

Corey Madden: A lot more of a Crazy Horse kind of energy, since we’ve solidified a band that we feel really good with. Now we can just all get in the room and crank this shit out pretty much live.

Noah Kohll: And that’s bringing out a whole new sound for us in terms of players and what we can do. It’s cool to have the influences of these other band members help with our songwriting. It’s becoming a more collective thing, which we’ve always wanted it to be–a collective network of people that we’re close to.

Corey Madden: It feels right, as it should.

Noah Kohll: Being in LA, the music community that we’ve found here is super supportive. It’s really cool that everybody we’re friends with–Oog Bogo, Ty, Wand, Itasca, Grave Flowers Bongo Band, Kora Puckett, Matt Berry, Young Guv—I know I’m forgetting people, but we’re all within this community, working on our shit. And we’re all really supportive of each other. We’re always lending hands to help out, and it’s really nice to be somewhere where everybody is doing and working on their stuff, and are active and happy within their creative world, and also supporting everyone else as well. It really feels like this movement of new contemporary music. It’s really cool to feel a part of something very special.

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