Brilliant Colors Turn it Out Again and Again: An Interview
Somewhere between pop and punk, somewhere between distortion and breezy melodies, there lies Brilliant Colors. And those colors are brighter than ever on their recent release, Again and Again. This album finds lead singer/songwriter Jess Scott and company in full swing, singing about Patti Smith and generally rocking out.
ELM: Are all of you from San Francisco? How did the music scene there influence you?
JS: i am from the east bay, diane is from connecticut, and michelle is from outside philly. diane and michelle both went to college in new york city and i believe began playing around at shows there. i would say the bay was cool place to grow up because so many different kinds of bands have originated from here, but on the other hand it was pretty much impossible to find people who wanted to play something other than hardcore or noise — oakland especially suffered from an inertia in the latter when i began wanting to start a band.
ELM: What was the first band you were in?
JS: this is the first band i was in that played shows and released records and had a practice space. i guess there was a lot diddling around before that with people here and there but it wasn’t until [original members] john and hollie actually supported the idea of doing a band and recording demos that would later become the first two singles that it seemed to coalesce.
ELM: What is “Hey Dan” about?
“hey dan” is vaguely about dan treacy of the television personalities (as well as the o-levels, the times, and teenage filmstars). i saw one of their first “reunion” shows in london in the mid ’00s and the song’s subject is a marriage of that event, the idea of nostalgic support for someone who has really lived his music in pockets of obscurity and appreciation alike, while drawing in a play on the lyrics of the TVP’s own song about syd barrett.
ELM: In one interview, you said “Girl musicians don’t really study Gods like boys do, we just want something good to listen to on Sundays.” Can you say more about that?
JS: that’s pretty much the extent of how i feel on the subject of the oft asked “what’s the diff between girl and boy musicians” — i think there are a million exceptions to any rule i might apply, but that seems to be the biggie. it’s just different — we don’t break out the How-To guide when trying to hear what it might sound like if we played the guitar.
ELM: How did you learn to play guitar?
JS: i have had a guitar for about 15 years and had about 2 lessons ten years ago. i have no ear whatsoever for mimicking other people’s tunes — to this day the only song i can cover is “tally ho” by the clean. but i’ve had music playing almost continuously since i was 12 years old, so some osmosis must’ve happened. michelle and diane are extremely talented and have truer skill and musicianship whereas i kinda carve my way and lean on them a lot for it to sound tight. it’s a lucky combo! i think also for that reason i stick to things i feel are catchy and make sense.
ELM: Do you think you’ve had more difficulty breaking into the music industry because you’re female?
JS: it might be the opposite in truth. being in an all girl band isn’t really that rare these days, and from a media standpoint it quickly gets commodified into a “josie and the pussycats” caricature. which is also a form of bullshit, and then the obvious sexism rears it head usually when dealing with sound guys or shopping for gear. (i can’t tell you how many times i’ve seen michelle school dudes on their own gear.) i’d like to have it all; we’re extra cool cos we’re girls, duh, but of course these songs have more in common with the buzzcocks than whoever happens to be a girl making music this week…
ELM: How did you get signed to Slumberland?
JS: we have never “signed” anything with slumberland and would never sign to anything or anyone. mike runs an incredibly authentic, honest, effective operation with a rich legacy in tunes that have inspired me since i was a teenager, so when i quickly learned the golden lesson that you must pick the label, not have the label pick you, i asked him. and continued to do so with records that sounded as if they would fit nicely with the SLR catalog. we have also put out records on make-a-mess records (www.makeamessrecords.blogspot.com) out of san francisco — which has released the debuts of many notable bands, and also germs of youth from london did an import version single.
ELM: You wrote a song about Patti Smith. Which one is it, and can you say more about it?
JS: yes! “cult face” from the “again and again” LP is about patti smith. i think i wrote it just after i endured the incredibly overwhelming and free-of-charge “hardly strictly bluegrass” festival in SF’s golden gate park. going to that is an utter nightmare of dodging cheese and wine on blankets for the most part– layla from maximum rock n roll and i have gone together several times and she has dubbed them “the angy blankets”. in this hell scene of a million people and getting pushed on by a guy wearing a halloween “pimp” costume, i was completely entranced in a state of true reception to patti smith. watching this woman in her mid-60s lead thousands of people moshing to “gloria” was one of those moments where it seems anything is real if you just do it. i have seen patti smith play about 4 or 5 times and each time it is like this, but something about literally transforming my experience from a hellish over-crowded jerk hole, into a force of energy was outrageous. so, “cult face” came.
ELM: Do you identify with any particular musical movement?
What are your live shows like?
JS: i’ve combined these two questions because i think the answer straddles both: in short, i wish! brilliant colors is always finding itself on the cusp of punk or pop worlds. i’m always wishing pop kids had more of an allergy to booking agents and corporately sponsored festivals, or being real about the fact that they don’t care about that. or have some recognition that music is about community and not your ego on the internet. it’s nice that people in pop appreciate the songs but i would’ve stopped this long ago if it weren’t for being that awkward pop band on the hardcore show bill. i think some of the funnest shows we’ve ever played were shows where people probably had no idea that we had records out or anything. among some rad punk house shows, we also played this kinda weird show in new york when we were last there — a bar show in brooklyn with a tall stage so you can imagine our cringe — but one of the guys from the German Measles showed up with this really cool home-made BCs shirt and it was like yes, that’s the center area of the BCs venn diagram. there are definitely a lot of pop people at any given show being like “who are these hairy freak weirdos? and where are the models with instruments?” or a lot of punk kids at any given show being like “who are these cutesy jerks and why is my head bobbing?”
ELM: Who are your favorite writers?
JS: I always have about 4 books going on at once and don’t often read multiple works by the same author, but I would put down Joyce and Nabokov as the greats.
ELM: Do you write by yourself or with the band?
JS: i generally write the chords and lyrics and then bring them in with about 65% of the structure worked out. i always need input on structure because it is hard to take a step back. touching on one of my previous answers, i bring good songs to the band, yes, but they take off into total pop jams when diane and michelle lay down the real solid, tight foundation of their instruments. i would just be diddling around in my bedroom like i was for years if it weren’t for their sheer talent and perfect ear for making it something different. diane only listens to finnish hardcore, so when i bring in something after a day or noodling around with the Byrds, that’s going to make for a pretty fun song.
ELM: If you could raise awareness of any social cause, what would it be?
JS: i was really close to giving a Palinian answer to this like, “oh geez, all of ‘em!”
If i was zillionaire i think i would focus on supporting the realistic elimination of AIDS that is totally within our reach, as well as improving the experience of those living with HIV / AIDS, which is also a complete joke and totally within our reach to vastly improve as a society.