From the very beginning,Living Colour broke boundaries and erased stereotypes. If known only for their breakthrough single, “Cult of Personality,” Living Colour’s place in rock ‘n’ roll history would be secure, but the band’s career is much deeper than that. From a tour stop in Raleigh, North Carolina, and in anticipation of Saturday night’s show at the Kessler Theater, drummer Will Calhoun talked with DC9 about the band’s 25-year anniversary.
This is the 25th anniversary of the band. How has the music business changed since you first got together?
It has changed a lot. We don’t have CD shops. We used to go out and look at albums, at sleeves. Now, you download songs for 99 cents. You can download songs for free. It can be a nightmare with all this technology. Luckily, with Living Colour, we have a very unique live show. It can be improvised in order to create a unique vibe. Music is very immediate now. You can record a show and then get back to your hotel room and the whole show is edited and up online. The people make comments and they judge you. Technology has made it easier to get information out to people and for an artist that is a beautiful thing.
Why do you think vinyl is making a comeback?
It’s the same reason why people might want to drive a standard car over an automatic. Technology doesn’t change the nation. It’s a new way to do things, but not everybody chooses to cross the street. Some people don’t like cell phones or laptops. There are people who don’t use computers and still have answering machine. I have to say that we physiologically are pretty germane to the sound of vinyl. We both give off very similar vibrations. People react to the sound of vinyl. It’s a whole different sound. It’s a combination of things. My generation really enjoyed vinyl, purchasing it, taking a look at the covers. I am from the Bronx and from the whole generation of scratching. When I see people now scratching on a laptop, I know that is not the same art. I think there is an academic response to the vinyl and how it sounds.
You went to the Berklee College of Music. Is it better to be a trained musician or come at it organically like punk bands do?
My way is to be as skilled as possible. I love classical music. I love jazz. I like to read music. Punk was about feeling. They made a commotion. The music is created out of how you feel. To me, there is nothing wrong with that. It comes down to how you want to express yourself. I feel like you do whatever is best to do your job. I think a punk could be just as good of a musician as someone who is trained. Expression is the important thing.
You have played with an amazing array of artists. What was your impression of B.B. King?
I was honored to be in that session. B.B. is a genius. He was always very respectful. I was trying to make everything fit and B.B. said, “Young man, when I turn around and tell you it’s not happening, then it’s not happening.” It was an amazing session and B.B. took it really easy with me.
What about Herb Albert?
Herb was fantastic. He allowed me to produce and write songs for him. I learned many things from Herb. He has a very interesting background. Herb really surprised me with all the techniques that he could play. There are a million things I learned from him. It was an absolute education to be around him.
What about Public Enemy?
That’s one of my favorite bands in the world. They were friends of ours. I loved their music and their message. The production and sampling were amazing. They did some amazing things with sounds and samples. They are like the John Coltrane of rap to me.
There aren’t a lot of African American rock bands. Do you think the rock industry suffers from an inherent racism?
Yes, it’s because of the musicians and it’s because of the market. Not enough folks are aware of the history of music, unaware of the influence of the blues. It’s a simple yes. There are plenty of black musicians out there who play rock music. We’ve met them over the years. The marketing and signing and presentation of it are still segregated in a lot of ways. A band like the Bad Brains should be larger than they are. There are people still writing about the Bad Brains. It was shocking for me, going on the road in America in 1988 and meeting all these black kids who gave us tapes and CDs of their music. It’s been 20 years and we’ve been to France and Germany and there are still people who can’t accept the fact that black musicians play rock ‘n’ roll. It is a fact. Look it up. There are two sides to that, though. Some African Americans had a hard time identifying with rock ‘n’ roll. I had a conversation with B.B. King about that.
Living Colour’s big break was going on tour with the Rolling Stones and Guns ‘N Roses in 1990. Did you have interactions with Jagger and Axl Rose?
The crowds were amazing and the Stones were complete gentlemen. You’ve probably heard and most folks know about the interactions with Axl. Personally, it was very colorful, but the rest of the band was cool. Axl has come out and apologized about how he was at that time. Charlie Watts still calls me and I’ve played on a couple of tracks with him. I’ve played on Ronnie Wood’s solo album.
It’s been several years since a new Living Colour album came out. Are you working on a new effort?
Right as we speak, we are five or six songs into a new album. The stuff is coming out great. I think something is going to come out next year, hopefully by Christmas time. We have a very busy schedule at the moment. But I think the new album is going to sound awesome.
Vernon Reid was listed as No. 66 on Rolling Stone magazine’s top guitarist of all time. Should he have been higher?
Yes, I think he deserves higher. If you are asking me straight up, I would have to say yes. But 66 is a nice number. People recognize Vernon as a very unique player who came from a harmolodic school of playing. He has remarkable abilities. He does deserve higher, but it’s nice to recognized at any number.
Are there rock drummers you admire?
John Bonham. Buddy Miles was one of my favorites. Charlie Watts certainly. Terry Bozzio is also amazing.
Luca Zamberlin, who has lived in the UK for years and has just recently come back to Italy, is proud of cooperating with several notorious names on the music scene – you just need to think about his militant contribution to Driveshift alongside Cozy Powell, Neil Murray, John Sinclair. The list would be too long, so I invite you to have a look at the artistic career of the artist.
Mad for It is an entirely instrumental album, which hosts as special guest the great American (even though of English origin) drummer Atma Anur, known for his previous experiences with Jason Becker, Tony MacAlpine, Cacophony, Greg Howe, Richie Kotzen and many, many others. On bass it features the renown instrumentalist Piero Trevisan, whose background includes excellent collaborations, such as the one with Steve Saluto, who is also present on this album as a guest.
There is no doubt in my mind that they should be awarded for the very high level of production on this CD. Kudos to Carlo Zundo, another well known guitarist in the Venetian area who was involved in the production process. His contribution to the mastering of the CD is absolutely in line throughout the album, as his approach is fresh and free from the standardization of sounds that nowadays makes albums pretty much similar to one another. You can hear everything just fine: the guitars, track by track, the bass lines, and the drum sounds are absolutely natural! I don’t think one may expect anything less from excellent production.
Two songs have to be mentioned, “Cup of Tea or Cup of Coffee” and “Big country”, which have been written by Luca especially for the great Londoner guitarist of Welsh origin Shaun Baxter. Luca has attended his metal guitar masterclasses at the Guitar Institute of Acton (London) from 1989 to 1991, and has privately studied with him, a chance which is reserved to very few, between 1993 and 2000.
My general view on their work on this album is that it is an exquisitely technical record. I do not use the term “exquisitely” by chance, as here the listeners can find a particular music taste and a groove which are rarely found on instrumental albums. Zamberlin switches naturally from rock blues sounds – winking at the best Mr Big’s ones- to the more neo-classical, Malmsteen-style sound, and further still to acoustic ballads, exquisitely reminding one of a Led Zeppelin touch (particularly the “White Summer” cover that closes the record).
Atma Anur on drums is simply superb: a drummer who really has the groove in his veins. Right from the first listening, which is usually easy, he has a simple but not in the least trivial style, which makes us discover a kind of noble technicity that was somehow not entirely spotted at first, and that seems to deepen with every new listening. After analyzing the record you realize that the “simplicity” that was transmitted from the first listening was given exclusively by his incredible ability to perform highly technical things without making them invasive throughout the track. This is what people call “class” and this is not just any drummer’s mark.
The bass is precise and punctual in every song, going away from the usual contemporary anonymity of the last years’ productions. This hits the spot, as it is definitely the perfect glue for Zamberlin and Atma Anur’s project. It often happens that, while listening to a particularly pleasant passage in a song, you realize that it is precisely the bass that makes the difference.
And now a closer look at the songs. The record opens with “Hacipaci Boogie”, a song that immediately catches you, and carries you away with its groove that you just can’t resist. The sounds coming together in the melody are fresh and modern, and this makes the song an absolutely delightful listening. It is followed by the more rocky and bluesy Mad 4 It. You can’t help stamping your foot to the rhythm as you enjoy the waterfall shades of Luca’s exquisite solo bearing witness to his technical and compositional prowess.
When “Cup of Tea or Cup of Coffee” strikes, it sticks into your mind immediately, thanks to the main riff, very pleasant and catchy, spaced out by some killer licks perfectly intersecting within the track, giving it sometimes a harder line, without taking you away from the melody which captures you from the first listen. “Spaced Out” is the fourth song, which definitely stands out among the others. It has an
absolutely enthralling solo part on a very ethereal base, which allows the listener to enjoy the imaginative side of Luca’s creativity.
“C.T.P.” takes us back, placing our feet firm on the ground.
This is a rocky song, a tribute to Malmsteen’s neoclassicism, which will be appreciated by lovers of a more metal virtuosity, made even more precious by the optimal cellist JurJ Luisetto. Speed, technique and virtuosity are the key words here. With one song Luca Zamberlin wipes out any doubt on his skills. And this is only one “episode” in a whole series within the album, an episode which for sure hits the nail on the head.
With “Binge Blues” the listener is taken back to a groove similar to the ones opening the album, even if, this time, a few shades closer to metal as a genre. I can’t help thinking about some of the best songs by Mr Big, even though there is a characteristic mark throughout the entire Mad 4 It album: the skill in making different sounds combine together perfectly.
Some of the best songs on the album, with the amazing Atma Anur behind the drums, of course, are the three ballads closing the album. “Here and Now”, where, once again, Luca is accompanied by JurJ Luisetto’s cello, gives us a pleasant and moving song as a present. It is a reflective song that relaxes the listener’s mind and brings him or her into the right mood to go on with the listening of the last pieces. One notices a changing of gears towards the end of the album, which says goodbye to the more rocky side to take one to a little more reflective path paving the way to “Big Country”. Now is when one can lit a cigarette and sip a drink, thinking about all the songs previously listened to. “White Summer” is a short Led Zeppelin tribute: only 1 minute and 30 seconds long, but with a closing theme that rounds off the album.
So far, thinking back to the sequence of songs in the album the listener realizes that nothing has been left to chance. Mad 4 It is an album of great depth, melodic and complete. Neither too long for the listeners to get bored (the serious risk of exclusively instrumental works) nor too short for them to feel disappointed. With Mad for it, Luca Zamberlin re-introduces himself on the stage in great style. I recommend this album to all good music lovers, great aspiring guitarists still in school, as well as to any other interested listeners.
The year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, is also the year in which the six playlists on the atmaanur YouTube Channelreached 100 uploadedvideos that represent only a part of the 134 albumsreleased by Atma as a side-man, main drummer and/or producer. Time to celebrate over two decades of Atma-geddon excellence. Come ride the ever-charming groove ocean! Enjoy!
The LIVE CD with selected songs from the Jason Becker’s NOT DEAD YET benefit monster show (November 13, 2011) in Haarlem, the Netherlands. Why monster show? For more than one reason. Check out the video below and think about any other drummer who can perform like this for six hours on end, with some of the guitar world’s most appreciated shred heroes. Pure unadulterated, GENIUS!
Stay tuned for Atma Anur’s MASTERCLASSES at the next edition of the International Summer Jazz Academy in Krakow, this coming July.
For inspiration, here’s one of countless testimonials from one of Atma’s former students over 20 years back.
Hello Atma, I followed you with Gregg Howe and Jason Becker when I was in high school and would have rather seen you play on more of the Cacophony albums. I learned everything you did with The Jason Becker and Gregg Howe. It was my goal to be able to do everything you did on those albums. They must have been a ton of fun putting together all of those odd time meters and displaced grooves. You helped me to become a better drummer 20 years ago. I wanted to say thank you. You above everyone else propelled me into someone that no one else could have done for those styles of music.