Colin Langenus – an artist that holds a space near and dear to this music lover's heart – is descending upon California this weekend for a short tour with his latest project, the Colin L. Orchestra. The tour, which also features L.A.'s Residual Echoes, kicks off tonight at the Hemlock and then returns to the Bay next week for a gig at West Oakland's Life Changing Ministries Collective.
Growing up during the '80s and '90s in the wilds of suburban Connecticut, my access to (and knowledge of) anything one might consider to be "indie" or "underground" was severely limited. Not only are we talking about a world prior to the proliferation of the Internet, but Hartford wasn't exactly a hotbed of innovative independent music, well, ever. For the most part, you took whatever Rolling Stone, Spin, MTV, Radio 104, and the other usual suspects spoon-fed you, and thought that you were ahead of the curve because your Nirvana collection started with Bleach and not Nevermind (and you may have owned a Pixies record or two, but you only knew about Black Francis and company because you read that Kurt was a fan).
Enter Colin. The older brother of one of my closest friends, Col had a pile of CDs and cassettes that was my primer on "indie rock," and would eventually chart a career in music that would serve as my entree into a world of independent and underground music short on mainstream exposure, but long on musicianship, creativity, and community.
Not surprisingly, the four-year age difference meant his brother and I didn't see much of Col when we were younger, but that didn't mean his influence over our malleable young minds (and ears) wasn't substantial. On one of the countless nights I spent over at the Langenus house in middle school and high school, I remember flipping through his music collection and wondering who the hell Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, and The Jesus Lizard were – but it wouldn't be long before those bands and more entered my lexicon. Col's tastes always trickled down to us, with his brother often relaying the goods.
But, it has been Col's own career that truly showed me what "indie rock" was all about. After leaving our hometown in 1993, he set up shop in Boston and put out a tape the following year with a band called No Peddlers. That tape, entitled Warm and featuring heavy doses of violin, was the first in a catalog that now spans nearly two decades. Although Warm's j-card lists the responsible label as Sandusky Records, Col and band mate Jonah Rapino would soon form their own imprint MassDist (that is, "Massive Distribution"), establishing a DIY mentality that still permeates Col's music to this day, whether he's booking his own gigs, mixing his material himself, or even hand-stitching limited edition hemp bags for a recent cassette release.
From 1996 to 1999, Col played guitar in noise rock outfit Bullroarer, releasing three albums full of confrontational, angular sludge metal, and playing across the country for the first time. When that band broke up, he and band mate Tom Hohmann moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, founded the prog-noise band USAISAMONSTER, performed and recorded as the J.R.R. Tolkien-inspired, theatrical rock act Elvish Presley, and played an integral role in the establishment of the Pudhouse, an underground venue that was the centerpiece of that city's art-rock and noise scene at the beginning of the new millennium.
After a short but influential stint in Charlottesville, USAISAMONSTER hit the road for nearly two years before settling in Brooklyn. Following a handful of early releases on MassDist, USAISAMONSTER would go on to put out seven studio albums of experimental noise rock with both the now-defunct Infrasound and Providence's Load Records, and to tour extensively throughout North and Central America, Europe, and Japan. In 2009, Col and Hohmann announced their intention to split (earning the band a proper obit in the Village Voice), but not before they would release one more album, 2010's aptly-titled R.I.P., this time via Brooklyn's Northern-Spy Records.
Listen to USAISAMONSTER's "Grey Owl":
Since USAISMONSTER dissolved, Col hasn't slowed one bit, working on a minimum of three musical projects (Colin L. Orchestra, CSC Funk Band, Alien Whale), not to mention doing a handful of art shows around New York, setting up his own recording studio, charting a path in scoring commercials and films, and oh yeah, releasing a rap album under his old No Peddlers moniker.
The Orchestra is Col's primary musical outlet these days, a "psychedelic yacht rock comfortable soul jam" project that can be anywhere from about a dozen people down to just him alone. Since its inception, he has released a trio of records on Northern-Spy – Infinite Ease, Good God, and October 2012's COL. The band's material is a dramatic departure from Col's previous ventures, with a new direction forged into country-rock minimalism. Some tracks are short and poppy, while others ebb and flow over more than ten minutes with epic guitar solos sailing over top of atmospheric instrumentation, both of which should play well in the intimate rooms Col is set to play out here on the West Coast.
Listen to Colin L. Orchestra's "Best Thing":
I was able to catch up with my old friend via email earlier this week to ask him a few questions about the upcoming tour, his current musical endeavors, and his plans for the future. Read the interview and get details on Colin L. Orchestra's tour and Bay Area shows, below.
The Bay Bridged: You're about ready to head out west for a tour of California with the Colin L. Orchestra. It's my understanding that the band features something of a rotating cast of characters – who can we expect to see on stage in San Francisco and Oakland?
Colin Langenus: Three guitars, bass, drums. Five-piece. My old friend Matthew Clark's LA band Residual Echoes is gonna play with me. That's him and hot young guitarist Adam Payne. Also Maxx Katz (ex-USAISAMONSTER, etc.) is gonna flute and strum. And Sam Potrykus is flying out to play bass. He plays in Needy Visions and helps run DIY in Boston. Residual Echoes is also gonna be all us people playing their songs every night.
TBB: Your latest record with the Orchestra, COL, continues down the path you've charted with that project in the post-USAISAMONSTER era, full of mellower, spaced out jam band-style rock. When you struck out on your own, what drove you to make such a radical departure from the louder experimental, progressive rock sound you fostered for so many years?
CL: Thanks for noticing! That's the whole point. To progress as an artist, to do the opposite, then do the opposite again, stretch out. I did three records of pretty mellow stuff with Colin L Orch, and now the Orch, while still a quiet band, is going off into dissonance and weirdness. It's all the same.
Listen to Colin L. Orchestra's "Keeper":
TBB: Since USAISAMONSTER disbanded in 2009, you have released three albums under the Colin L. Orchestra moniker and put out records with both CSC Funk Band and Alien Whale, not to mention you dropped a rap album with No Peddlers, which was actually one of your first bands in Boston back in the '90s. After you wrap up your tour of California, what's next for you musically?
CL: You really want to know? [JS: Yes Col, I do.] CSC Funk Band has a record coming out in April. Alien Whale is finishing our next record while I'm out west! I'm doing a solo album and a Colin L. Orchestra album. I'm doing a 41-song folk album. I started a "production company" and we're trying to get into commercials or movies or something, anything with money. I've got a studio Lone Pine Road and we're recording and producing other bands. And other stuff outside of music.
TBB: Over the past two decades, you've issued countless releases, both on your own label MassDist and through various other imprints, played in some iconic bands, founded a legendary underground venue, and toured the world multiple times over. When did you know that you wanted to make a life out of music, and what has been the most rewarding thing about your career so far?
CL: I honestly have wanted to do this my whole life, since singing in the car with my dad. The process is driving me at this point, the material, trying to finish it and sort it, 'cause more keeps coming. Trying to do my best to make mine an efficient utilization of the creative process. And I've achieved that somewhat, and it is real, and it makes me happy.
TBB: You and Tom announced your plans to dissolve USAISAMONSTER in 2009, but the band has issued two releases since – 2010's R.I.P. and last year's collection of odds and ends, Lost and Found). Will there be any more posthumous releases from you and your old partner, and what is Tom up to these days?
CL: I just heard Tom has a new record coming out in April of his current project High Earth Mounds. Tom and I continue to be great friends. Down the road I'm gonna edit some live videos and audio from USAISAMONSTER and get them out there one way or another. But it's not a pressing issue yet. First I need to find someone to help me with Final Cut for one day (anybody?) to finish the Bullroarer movie filmed in '99.
TBB: The last few times you've been through the Bay Area, you've played The Hemlock. Why did you choose to return there for this tour?
CL: Tony and the Hemlock always rule for us! I live far away and having a home base in SF for all these years has been a blessing I'm thankful for.
TBB: You are also playing a handful of atypical venues on your tour – at the Life Changing Ministries collective in West Oakland, a house party in Arcata, and the Krishna Tempel in L.A. What draws you to those different performance settings and experiences?
CL: Thems the only gigs we can get.
Check out Colin L. Orchestra and Residual Echoes tonight at the Hemlock and next Wednesday at Life Changing Ministries Collective in West Oakland. Or, if you're the adventurous type, maybe you'll hitch up to Humboldt County to catch the bands' house show at MEXNWOW Studio in Arcata on Saturday.
Residual Echoes, Colin L. Orchestra, A Magic Whistle
Life Changing Ministries Collective (1629 8th St., Oakland)
February 13, 2013
Time and Cost TBA
Residual Echoes & Colin L. Orchestra California Tour 2013:
02/08 – San Francisco, CA – Hemlock Tavern (w/ A White Hunter)
02/09 – Arcata, CA – MEXNWOW Studio House Show (w/ White Manna)
02/10 – Sacramento, CA – Shine (w/ Dead Western) (early show)
02/10 – Nevada City, CA – TBA (late show)
02/13 – Oakland, CA – Life Changing Ministries Collective (w/ A Magic Whistle)
02/14 – Los Angeles, CA – Krishna Tempel
02/15 – Palm Desert, CA – The Hood Bar (w/ Harsh Toke, Slipping Into Darkness)
02/16 – San Diego, CA – Kava Gallery