Colo are a London based production duo made up of Ben Corr and Nick Smith. Since meeting each other at college they’ve worked tirelessly building their production studio and developing their own brand of densely-layered experimental music. Ahead of the release of their album “UR” on Ki Records, home of Christian Löffler and Monokle, we sat down with Ben and Nick to discuss the makings of the album and their musical heritage.
Your new album ‘UR’ features a lot of vocals. Who’s responsible for the vocals?
Nick: I do most of the vocals; Ben does the backing vocals usually. The main voice you can hear is mine. The first half of the album has a lot of vocals, the second half not so much – it’s more instrumental.
Ben: I think that most of the tracks does have some kind of vocal element in them. “Survivability Inside The Bubble” has some female vocals.
Nick: I think that vocals adds so much, even when we were messing around before this album and it was all instrumental, we used to double parts up with vocals, gives it a whole new feel.
How did the two of you meet?
Nick: At Sixth Form College, we were doing music technology together. Our teacher was very hardcore analogue; he disqualified me for using a digital synth in a ‘Battle Of The Bands’ competition when I was 16. My dad was there; he didn’t know what to say. It was pretty harsh to be honest.
Ben: He even disqualified another band for wearing leather jackets. The main keyboard we’ve always used is a Juno 6, it’s a classic. At the time I wanted to get a synth and he recommended it and I haven’t looked back. Colo didn’t happen for a few years after, but the seeds were sown there. Until it did start properly we still made the majority of our music with software, but quickly realised that the sounds we wanted to make couldn’t be done that way. So that’s how the hardware thing came about.
Nick: I don’t use computers much on a day-to-day basis; so trying to use software synths is a bit of a mind fuck, whereas with analogue you can touch or move something, which then changes the sound.
Ben: The Juno 6 is probably one of the simplest keyboards out there; the majority of all the synth sounds you can hear on the album is from it. If you have the patience you can push some pretty interesting stuff out of it.
What other instruments have you used in the album?
Nick: We used some old kid’s instruments, stuff from car boot sales, which we’ve amassed over the years. We had a Hannah Montana keyboard, which was just a sticker, and underneath it was a completely different brand. So obviously they had these keyboards lying about in their warehouse and stuck on some Hannah Montana stickers to shift them.
Is that the most obscure instrument you have?
Ben: We have some percussion and there’s a bit of clarinet on the album. We have quite a small, limited setup really.
Nick: For a little while we shared our studio with my brother and he had a Moog Opus 3 organ synth, which was quite nice. He also had this 90’s Yamaha keyboard that made all these unacceptable trance pads that added an airy texture to everything.
Ben: We didn’t go overboard on cassette tape stuff, but sometimes we would record small parts to a Dictaphone or old Walkman to add a different texture.
Nick: If we’re working on a track and we’re 20% of the way through and it sounds ok but not amazing, then a lot of the time we will bounce it to tape and drive it back through the desk, cut it up and sample the best bits to make a new song.
Ben: It might not end up being in the final track but it’s a good way to get things going.
Where did you get the idea to do use cassette tapes?
Ben: The Internet. The whole cassette thing is overused as an aesthetic, slowing down a disco record and recording it super compressed to tape is pretty lazy. The main thing for the whole colo sound is texture, every sound is usually made up of about five or six different layers. Sometimes recording one of those layers to tape gives it a new feel.
How are you going to translate your studio album to a live performance?
Nick: This is something that we’re figuring out at the moment. We’re starting small, with a simple setup that we’ll build on. We can’t go straight into using all of our gear onstage, as that’s not logistically possible. We’ll take what we can carry; keyboards and some outboard effects along with a laptop and then sing over that.
Ben: To begin with we will use Ableton as the backbone of our sets; it’s such a great program for breaking electronic music out of the studio. As we progress, our aim is to phase it out and replace with humans.
Is colo a band or two producers?
Nick: We definitely used to be two producers.
Ben: We’ve been easing in the word ‘band’, but we haven’t played live yet so probably not allowed to call ourselves that. We’re in a transition period right now.
What’s the story behind the name colo?
Nick: Basically it’s taken from the last four letters of a signpost which was curved, so I could only see that part. Pretty boring story. It was a quick decision as we were about to release something and didn’t have a name.
Ben: When we setup our Facebook page, a lot of our fans were all coming from Chile, which took a while to work out why. There’s a football team there called Colo Colo, which caused some initial confusion.
Nick: By coincidence our label, Ki, got someone from Chile to make our music video for “Holidays”.
Ben: I guess we should tour there soon.
Tell me about the other tracks on the album. “Salsa” for instance, are you much of a salsa dancer?
Ben: On one of our strange missions we bought an 8-track cassette tape machine, we got to the guys house to buy it from him and he was the happiest person we’ve ever met.
Nick: He used to record salsa music on it, so in his honour that’s how that song got its name.
Do you have any other tracks you want to talk about?
Nick: “Holidays” was when Ben and I took some time off work; instead of going away we just went to the studio and made some songs. “Aubade” is some old English, it means to serenade someone in the morning instead of in the evening and “The View From Nowhere” is about people lying.
Is the album a random selection of tracks, or is there more thought behind it?
Ben: It’s not a concept album with an over arching narrative or anything, but it’s also not just a collection of songs. When the main ones were finished we thought about the album order in terms of listening to the vinyl. Side A is more vocal led with the flip going a bit deeper and more abstract.
When did your relationship with Ki Records start?
Ben: I think it was about a year and a half ago. We were putting together a short EP with “Holidays” on that we sent to a few labels and started talking from there. We never planned on doing an album but that’s what we ended up doing.
Nick: We wrote the majority of the songs quite quickly after deciding an LP was the way to go. However getting them sounding right and mixing them down took forever. A lot of the songs have between 100 – 200 tracks of audio in them that took some time to balance properly.
Who’s behind the mastering of the album?
Ben: It was done by Stefan Betke aka Pole. He was very sympathetic to our production style of keeping everything relaxed with a lot of dynamic range.
Nick: It sounds more musical that way.
Ben: I think that other people would have been tempted to smash it through a limiter to make it really loud but he got what we are about.
Have you met the guys behind Ki Records?
Ben: No not yet, it’s a very modern online relationship.
Who did the artwork for the album cover?
Nick: His name is Matthias Heiderich. He’s an architectural photographer and some of his stuff is just amazing. He’s also the guy behind the “Holidays” cover as well.
Ben: That came about when Paul from Ki Records asked us what we wanted the cover to be. We thought a photo of some kind of holiday related environment, that when it was built they thought it was going to be really good, but was in fact really shit. Half an hour later he sent the final photo from his archive. It’s never usually that easy. With the album cover, we wanted it so that both records alongside each other looked part of a series; the palm trees are a constant theme.
Nick: Also without meaning to sound too pretentious, the photos relate to the music as well, as they both feature organic subjects as well as man made structures.
Has your musical taste and sound progressed since you finished this album? Are you going to keep with your current approach to layering your music, or are you working on a new technique?
Ben: The music we’re recording at the moment is a continuation and development from the album but it still sounds like we made it. We’ve been careful not to get stuck in a comfortable production groove using the same techniques as before, we’re always trying new things.
Nick: So far we’re using vocals more prominently and introducing new instruments like guitars. We just bought our first synth that we can control with the computer as well, I’m sure that will take us in a different direction.
What about the mix?
Ben: It was done live in one go using Traktor. I guess it being an Inverted Audio mix that influenced the track selection and mixing style somewhat. All our other mixes we try and get as many styles and tempos in as we can, but this one just sits around 125 BPM mark throughout.
I love techno, especially the way it flows in a set so I went in with that mentality when recording it. There’s a mixture of old and new in there. Everyone from Aphex Twin, Carl Craig, Patten and our new track “Salsa”, which features on our album.
Colo’s album “UR” is released on 10th March 2014 via Ki Records.
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