Freedom, Soul, and Connection: A Conversation with Colouring

Colouring in NYC © Nicole Almeida
Colouring in NYC © Nicole Almeida

Sat on an outside table of a Lower East Side restaurant, Jack, Alex, Sean, and Dom from Colouring seem well acquainted with the city and area just hours before their first headline show in New York City, which they’ll play while on the final stretch of an almost two month-long tour supporting The 1975.

The band’s excitement is palpable, but what’s even more evident is how grateful and amazed they are at being here in the first place – “It’s crazy, to play a headline show in this city!” When I ask what touring with The 1975, who the previous night had played to a sold out Madison Square Garden, has been like, their gratitude is even more evident: “A dream. Everyone has been incredible to us.” Later on that evening, Matty Healy and George Daniel from The 1975 are found at Rockwood Music Hall, watching and cheering Colouring on from the upstairs balcony in the venue. Other people Colouring want to thank? The fans. “They’re so kind to us, make our job so easy… Usually it’s really difficult to be a support band, but with us, they just make us feel so welcome.”

Listen: “Heathen” – Colouring
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Symmetry EP art - Colouring
Symmetry EP – Colouring

Though their success and positive reception seems to come as a surprise to them, it definitely does not surprise anyone who has heard Colouring’s music. Having released their debut EP Symmetry back in December (Interscope Records), Colouring sound like the future and the present at the same time, conveying the elusive feeling of youth on every track and effortlessly floating through genres to create a refreshing, impressive, and genuine portfolio. Their fearlessness in tackling such a wide spectrum of genres is a perfect demonstration of the band’s confidence, talent, and skill, and their live show is electric and passionate. Listening to Colouring is like playing the best game of chance – you never know what you will get, but somehow they never fail to deliver and impress.

Atwood Magazine sat down to talk to Colouring about their journey so far, music, and future plans for this exciting new band. Check out what they had to say below and prepare to fall in love with a new hue: Colouring blue.

Colouring in NYC © Nicole Almeida
Colouring in NYC © Nicole Almeida


Atwood Magazine: You were all in a band together before Colouring. What prompted the name and image change?

Jack: We were in this band OSCA making things and it was really fun, we were really enjoying it but I think we started feeling… The music we were doing just felt quite different. With OSCA we felt like we got a little stuck in one kind of style and one area, and we always felt like this was kind of not really who we were, we listen to so much stuff and, you know, everyone changes their music tastes from one day to the next – particularly when you do it as your job. So we just felt like, why not start again and build this thing that doesn’t have those boundaries and restrictions with genre or music or instruments and stuff. I think with Colouring it was just this idea, the name particularly, of freedom and expression and no kind of limits, exploring, and things like that. We now feel like we’re in a place where we don’t feel very restricted, we can do what we want and hopefully make it work within this band.

Your songs range from electronic and dance to emotional, piano-driven ballads. I can’t seem to find a genre for you - where on the music or genre spectrum do you think Colouring stands?

Jack: Going back to doing lots of things, we we’ve always been inspired my mixtapes and things like that as kids and stuff. My brothers would make me tapes of Jimi Hendrix and then it would have jazz on it, and Michael Jackson, and I know the guys are the same. Many people have said it before, but there’s not really the restrictions, you don’t have the mods or the emos anymore, it’s this kind of playlist world where everyone listens from Beyoncé to Mozart. And we feel like why not have an electronic, dance tune right next to a folk song or a piano ballad? Cause it’s all just music at the end of the day, and if it’s good, it’s good and if it’s not, it’s not.

As we’ve talked about, your songs are very different to one another. What do you think is Colouring’s trademark, what makes these starkly different songs identifiable as a Colouring song?

Sean: I think what drives a lot of our songs are Jack’s vocals and his storytelling. I’m speaking for Jack here, but he’s very effective in putting across emotions and stories and that’s what translates across all our songs, whether it’s the electronic ones or the ballads as well.

Jack: We just love music with soul to it. And I don’t mean just kind of Motown soul, just a soul of some sort. I think there’s various kinds of soul music, I would say, whether it’s electronic soul or folk soul. I think that’s the goal – as long as it has some soul, or some sort of heart to it, then that’s where we should live otherwise it won’t feel right.

What about 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine' made you want to cover it?

Jack: It was something I’d been messing around with for a little while. Cause often when you’re new bands you’re asked to do acoustic things or covers when you play to people, so were like let’s think about preparing one. It’s always risky when you take a song like that, you can’t touch Marvin Gaye. The funny thing about that song is that it’s such a fun dance tune and you want to laugh and dance but the heart and the soul and the lyrics are so dark. Finding out someone is cheating on you through someone else, through the grapevine, is the worst thing ever! So we just had this kind of idea of twisting the lyrical idea and the arrangement and flipping it, like the guy is going mad and losing his mind about this, and it got a little darker. We wanted to give it the rhythm still to put a more hip hop kind of beat on it and try to keep the elements of what they did. We were nervous about putting it out because it’s Marvin Gaye and he’s a hero of ours, he was someone who never sat still and never did the same thing. And I’d hope that even if he didn’t like it he’d be like “I respect that you did it.”

'Everything Has Grown' was the first song of yours I heard, and it really touched me. Could you tell me a bit more what the song is about?

Jack: It was kind of a song that I’d wanted to write for a long time, it’s about a moment in my life which was a defining moment like growing up and looking back on my childhood, relationships with people and things like that. I think we all feel like it’s the best thing we’ve done yet, it’s the most complete song and message. I think it’s the one we’re the most proud of deep down – we like all the other stuff but this is the song that in 10 years time we’ll still feel like “Oh, we can play this song”, it won’t lose it’s charm, it’ll always have a place in the band.

“Everything Has Grown” (live) – Colouring

Your EP title song, Symmetry, seems to me to be an anthem to the band, your rebirth, and the journey you’re now on. Is this what you wanted the song to convey?

Jack: Yeah. That was the first song that came about, it was the one that defined the first EP, really, we knew that this was going to be the title and had the elements of the other songs on it. It was written at a time where we were sort of starting this new thing, we were very excited, we’d just signed with a record label in America, it was a very exciting time. We didn’t think “Oh, this is what we need to go out and write”, it just unconsciously was a celebration of a time where we were feeling kind of weightless and free and excited about what’s to come, everything was falling into place. This doesn’t always happen, so when it does, I’m glad we captured that and put it out.

'Heathen' is a song that is different to everything we’ve heard from you before. I love the strings in the song, it’s very different from anything we’d heard from you. What about the song made you want to arrange it in this way?

Alex: We’d wanted strings for a long time, hadn’t we? It was always something we wanted to do but wanted to go about it in the right way. We had some strings players that we knew and we got them over to your (Jack’s) home studio. It’s just such a beautiful way to convey emotion in a song.

Jack: In all the music we always try to combine “real” sounds – I don’t know what that really means, sounds that are more familiar to people and us – with maybe more electronic things, create our own tones and textures and songs. The song really started with that string arrangement, before anything, and we kind of felt like we’ve never done that before, can we get away with that? It just felt right to follow it through and it makes the song breathe. We were really proud. Credits to the string players on that, it’s just really beautiful.

Alex: Jack said over the first edit, that afternoon when they recorded, we were all just like “Woah, we were not expecting it to sound like this” and got really excited from that point, like we couldn’t wait to hear what it was going to become, it was just amazing.

Watch: “Heathen” – Colouring

Could you tell me a bit about the music video for “Heathen”?

Alex: We just had this amazing director, Shaun. We were going to do a video for a different song, and that just changed overnight. He sent over the treatment for the “Heathen” video and we were like “That’s really cool, we’ll go with that” and he just brought on this amazing artistic vision with the dancer and how we’re all just motionless around. It’s all him, really, he brought something that complemented the song so nicely and wasn’t distracting from Jack’s singing.

Sean: He had so much belief in that narrative that he just saw instantly. Watching him work was incredible because he had this vision so strongly in his mind, and obviously it’s quite hard to put that across to people. So seeing the finished product after an amazing day of filming was really beautiful, and we’re so proud to have worked with him.

'The Wave' is very similar to 'Heathen' - it also has strings and the both artworks follow the same pattern. Are these songs related in any way?

Jack: I mean, they were written in a similar time. They’re all part of the second EP, and we have two more songs coming for it. The first EP, it wasn’t DIY, but we were doing a lot of it in our bedroom, electronic, and just really exploring and trying to work out what we wanted to do with this new thing. With the second one we didn’t want to regurgitate the same sonic textures and stuff, so we felt let’s use string players, we have a song with a choir on it, and more kind of live recordings in a lot of places. So this one it was kind of recorded in a similar recording session so it has a feel, we got to work with an amazing producer called Mikko Gordon who really brought the songs to life, and another guy Luca Buccellatti who we worked with on the first EP as well, and both of them helped put their stamp on it. We just wanted to give it a little more depth in the recordings, and those guys definitely brought it to us.

You released your first EP, Symmetry, just at the end of last year. What’s phase two on Colouring’s journey?

Jack: We have two more songs on this second EP that we’re really excited about. The next one is a bit… I don’t think we’ve done anything like that. We’re kind of going down a bit more of an electronic route with the next one as we’ve put two songs which are quite sort of organic-sounding out. The next one is a bit rougher. We actually go to work with George from The 1975 and he helped us with this next song. I think it was the first thing we ever did for Colouring and it’s taken two years to finish. I was just at loose ends, didn’t know what to do with it, we were playing it live but it never felt right. He just said “Any time you want anything, just send it to me” and he sent it back in an hour going “I’m really sorry mate, I’ve only been able to spend an hour on it but I put some drums down and some bass and stuff” and I was just laughing because it sounded so cool. So I just chopped it all up and put it in the right places and sent it back and he was like “This is great.” He really is the guy who finished it for us, so we’re really grateful. And we’re also hoping to tour in the fall out here again, we’re just working out what to do but that’ll definitely be the next thing, and some festivals over the summer. Exciting!

Colouring in NYC © Nicole Almeida
Colouring in NYC © Nicole Almeida

All your artwork show fragments of something - a remote control, a hand, a plant, a mouth, an eye. Are we, in a way, seeing little fragments of who Colouring is so we can eventually piece them together and see the bigger picture?

Jack: We work with this amazing artist called Grace O’Neill, and we were talking a lot about us as a band, and the four of us – we grew up in the very safe, middle class lives, we’re like a million other people – so with the artwork we wanted to take things that we see in everyday life, things that you would miss which we see ourselves, we’re not these big, wild crazy characters or anything. We wanted to take that and manipulate it. Because everyone is different, no one is the same, everyone has their own thing which makes them unique in the world, so we wanted to take objects that do that and manipulate them slightly, so that’s where the artwork themes came from. With the second EP,’s artwork we felt like the music had a bit more soul and body to it, so that’s the idea of using the human body and manipulating that and also just going back to the real instrumentation and electronic, synthetic things. But really, we just have the idea and we say to Grace “Do what you want” and she sends back these incredible things every time and we’re like “Okay, do what you want to do.”

Why did you choose the colour blue to represent the band on the artwork?

Jack: It felt so natural.

Sean: It’s really hard to explain, but I think we’ve all just always felt that especially what we’re doing at the moment is the colour blue.

Dom: It did come from Grace as well, when we did one of our first ever photoshoots with Grace, she’d been going around the country all the time and she just noticed that blue colour everywhere. She said it felt just like a very British kind of thing, and we are a British band over in America so it feels like it makes sense to have that blue colour.

Jack: We first thought it would just be for the first EP and then we would change it, but we also like the contrast of being called colouring and just being one colour, we like that irony. It just kind of stuck and we started wearing it on our clothes and instruments and people recognize it now, so it’s quite nice.

Colouring in NYC © Nicole Almeida
Atwood Magazine interviews Colouring © Nicole Almeida

Your songs have the power to equally make people laugh, dance, and cry. What’s the message you want to send with your music?

Jack: It sounds kind of cheesy but our lives are all about connecting with humans and fellow men. If we can achieve that in any way musically or performing or anything like that, that’s the goal for us. We like that moment – on this tour it’s been amazing, you catch someone’s eye and they look at you and you have a moment and then you go on to the next person and they’re singing – that electricity between other people is what makes us really excited about playing and making music. Obviously it’s really important to us and it makes us feel alive when we get to do that, it gives us purpose. Realistically, if we can have a connection with other people, if we can have these moments, that’s what we ultimately would love to do.

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Symmetry EP art - Colouring

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:: Listen to Colouring ::

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