It’s been 29 years since the release of their Grammy-winning anthem "Cult of Personality," but for Living Colour’s Corey Glover, not much has changed. The revolutionary hard rock band has enjoyed a long and fruitful career, inspiring generations to think for themselves, decry racism, and spread love.
The New York-based band, which honed its sound at legendary punk venue CBGB, released Vivid in 1988, debuting at number six on the Billboard 200 charts. The album—their first—reached double platinum status thanks to the success of single “Cult of Personality.” In 1989, the band was named Best New Artist at the MTV Video Music Awards after touring with The Rolling Stones and Guns N’ Roses.
The hype was building, and Living Colour delivered with their second album, Time’s Up, kicking out the singles “Type,” “Love Rears Its Ugly Head,” “Solace of You,” “Elvis Is Dead,” and “Pride.” The record earned an Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1991.
An EP, “Biscuits,” followed in 1991, and the band released its third album, Stain, in 1993. In 1995, Living Colour called it quits, releasing Pride, a compilation, after the breakup. In 2000, the group reunited, playing a show as “Head>>Fake with special guests” at CBGB.
This weekend, vocalist Glover, guitarist Vernon Reid, drummer Will Calhoun, and drummer Doug Wimbish bring a new album to Savannah. Shade, released in September, continues Living Colour’s tradition of melding rock, metal, funk, jazz, and alt-rock with a fresh blues influence.
We spoke with Glover about writing political music in 2017, the internet age, and receiving mixtapes from Mick Jagger.
Congratulations on the release of Shade!
Thanks, it's a long time coming, but we finally got it done.
How long have you been working on it?
About four years.
Does the title come from that line in "Pattern in Time"—"nobody wants to live in my shade?"
Shade just comes from the absence of light. The absence of light does not negate. There's not nothing going on within the context of darkness. There are so many parts of the color palette—it's not just ROYGBIV. It's black and white as well. We're just trying to get deep, that's all!
What were you listening to—or what musical influences did you have in mind—while you were writing?
Well, the whole impetus to make this record was playing The Apollo in Harlem on the anniversary of Robert Johnson's birth, so we were kind of inspired by that. Once we were in earnest, trying to get to that, a lot of stuff from our past that we had listened to before crept into the process—Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Johnson, a bunch of folks.
Living Colour, is, if not anything, historians in the music that we draw from. Early jazz, early blues, early rock, all that stuff we throw into the mix. Funk music, all that stuff. It's a big gumbo of stuff. We were focusing on the blues and trying to deconstruct it in a Living Colour idiom.
Did you grow up listening to the blues?
You know, I tell this story very rarely, but when we first started out, we were doing some demos with Mick Jagger. In the very beginning, he produced "Glamour Boys," "Broken Hearts," "Which Way to America." I was having a conversation with Jagger about the blues, because I know that was his early influence as well. We were having a long conversation about a bunch of people, and the next day after our sessions, he hands me a mixtape! He'd gone home and pulled out all his 78s and made me a mixtape of the stuff that influenced him.
That cassette I cherish, because not only was it just that Mick Jagger gave it to me, but the music he put on there was incredible. Rare Little Walter stuff, Howlin’ Wolf, Lead Belly, T-Bone Walker, some really, really, really even further back stuff that was just amazing to me. It’s part of our DNA.
Do you find there’s a difference writing socially conscious and politically-minded music now versus in the ‘80s?
No. Nothing’s changed. Fundamentally, things have changed slightly, but what’s interesting is we wrote a lot of these songs before there was a presidential election...and it so happens, a lot of stuff works right now. I had no idea that something I wrote three, four years ago was going to be so prescient now. You have the song “Falsified.” Now, all we hear about is fake news!
It’s like I said—nothing’s really changed. We’re sort of in a ten-year span. We’re 20 years into the internet age, and what we seem to have gotten out of that is gossip and hyperbole, you know? It’s a distraction. It was supposed to be there to educate people, but how many times have you gotten into a rabbit hole down YouTube or a Reddit thread and next thing you know it’s four o’clock in the morning? Did you get anything done?
The song “Program” talks about reality TV—I’m interested what your thoughts are MTV, VH1’S shifts in programming toward that, as a former VJ.
Reality TV...it is what it is. When I was working at VH1, they had just started The Real World. It's a function of society, I would imagine, that sort of deals with the idea that nothing is real. That was almost 25 years ago. Everything's possible but nothing is real.
Is there a central message you hope folks take away from Living Colour in this day and age?
Anything is possible if nothing is real. But it's real when you make it real. It's a function of our species to continue. Don't ever stop doing what you do. There's an inspiration for that. We've been doing this for almost 30 years now. We're not going to stop, or stop talking about the things that are going on in the world we live in. Neither should you.
What brought you back together after the band took a break?
The break was only a year and a half, it was short, but it was a much-needed break. We needed time to ourselves. Before we broke up, we were constantly on the road, constantly making records. For two years, we'd make a record, go back on the road. We needed a break. A lot of changes were going on in our lives—births, deaths, marriages, dissolution of marriages, relationships growing and dissolving and growing again—so it was just time for a good, year-long vacation. We needed to recharge our batteries and find some new inspiration for ourselves.
Will Calhoun, our drummer, went to Africa and Australia and studied with native masters...Doug [Wimbish] went back to England and was doing some stuff with Adrian Sherwood again and into the garage, drum and bass thing. I did a solo record. It inspired me...it gives me the chance to study and come back.
You also performed with Galactic.
Yeah I did that two years ago off and on...it’s fun because in Living Colour I’m in this “black garage band.” In Galactic, I’m in this “white funk band!” It’s all in my wheelhouse.
What’s the secret to keeping a band together this long?
We made a commitment to make the best music we know how to do. We made a commitment to ourselves and there is no place else where we can do exactly what we are other than here. You’ll never hear anything like what we do—what the four of us do together—separately. It’s a completely different animal where we all sort of get together and play, and there’s nothing like that.
And we love each other.