Stillwater's energetic five-piece Colourmusic reaches for new sonic wavelengths 

When Stillwater's white-suited concept band Colourmusic took the stage at Oklahoma Creativity Project's fund-raising gala last winter, the band's fiery front man Ryan Hendrix knew it would be a difficult crowd.  


The five-member act followed a set comprised of American Indian folk music and an opera singer. The audience was filled with state celebrities who mingled with art industry leaders, and one of the organizers continually hassled the group throughout its sound check because of the volume level.

Other edgy artists booked for the event at Science Museum Oklahoma " which included a risqué fashion designer armed with a scantily clad troupe of models " were already drawing the ire of the Okie elite, but Colourmusic didn't let the odd collection of ears undermine grand ambitions of introducing the state's next generation of art rock.

"What a weird experience "¦ the crowd was just astronauts, Olympic athletes, and we were getting awkward smiles from everyone," Hendrix said, with a laugh. "It was not appropriate. We were just not an appropriate band for that evening. We had one song, and half the audience was digging it. They were excited to have some sort of music that had a pulse."           

The odd group of experimenters came courtesy of The Flaming Lips' manager, Scott Booker, who has taken Colourmusic under his management wing, releasing the band's full-length debut album under his Great Society record label.

That disc, "F, Monday, Orange, February, Venus, Lunatic, 1 or 13," was culled from material the group recorded for its first two EPs. The album will be released officially on Tuesday, but will be available at Friday's Colourmusic show at Guestroom Records in Norman and its Saturday concert at VZD's. The new release bristles with the energy of the band's live performances, which Hendrix admitted was lacking from the EPs.            

The bursting anthem "Yes!" is a life affirmation raging with hellfire guitars and repetitive choral avowals. "The Gospel Song" is a rollicking, ramshackle love song rich with Sixties free-love vibes that also permeate the album opener, and the record's lone new track, "Motherfather."  

"Circles" and "Spring Song" are quite a few notches softer, with light and lush instrumentation closer to fellow Stillwater band Kunek (now called Other Lives), while "The Fall Song" is the band's take on flamenco. Overall, Colourmusic is similar to choral pop group The Polyphonic Spree, minus 20-some-odd members. The spread-out sound is the result of Colourmusic's overarching concept, and the source for its name.         

"When we are working on music, we set out to capture a certain mood and we envision it as a color," Hendrix said. "For instance, yellow, for us, brings to mind absurdity, lunacy, and we tried to express music in that form." 

He said that basing music on colors will force the band members to change directions with every recording and find a new mood and method when they shift to a new hue. With the two EPs based on two separate colors, "Red" and "Yellow," the full-length release reflects that divergence, but still shares enough traits to keep it from feeling like a clunky "best of" anthology.      

Hendrix started the band with British import Nick Turner while both were attending Oklahoma State University. Soon, Colourmusic became known for thematic rock shows that included graduation ceremonies, exercise shows, dramatic re-enactments or whatever caught the fancy of the members prior to the show.           

"We wanted to attempt to be conceptual artists " which is really pretentious, I guess " but when we played live, we wanted to be interesting," Hendrix said. "It was really smart for us to do that, too, because those first couple shows were really shaky. We didn't know what the hell we were doing."       

Hendrix said the members realized that they weren't particularly good conceptual artists, but were great performers. For last year's shows, the act shifted the emphasis to the rock show, hoping to avoid being seen as just a novelty. The musicians first donned their white suits for 2007's South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, Hendrix said, and the garb has since become an enduring element of the live show. But recently, the array of stage gimmicks has dwindled in favor of a leaner, tour-ready live show.

"Our goal is to make every venue love us, so we try to get on and off stage as soon as possible, do whatever we can to help," Hendrix said. "We can't really do that if we have a bunch of crap, a bunch of cumbersome props."  

The white suits will remain, at least for the touring show as a way to set the group apart in the minds of new audiences. For in-state gigs, Hendrix and his band mates are considering going back to the elaborate concepts that first raised eyebrows in Stillwater, just so the live act doesn't bore dedicated local fans.   

Hendrix acknowledged that while some prospective listeners might be turned off by the group's vision, off-the-wall concepts and white stage suits, Colourmusic has no interest in changing direction.      

"There is definitely the possibility of looking contrived onstage, and that is kind of the point, but some people want it to be an unfettered, pure, raw rock show," Hendrix said. "If you love the band, you love what they do onstage. If you hate the band, then what they do just makes you hate them more. That's what's cool about it: It gets under your skin one way or another."

So, whether wooing new fans at music festivals, plugging away in small clubs or even playing the random gala with a lot of puzzled company executives, Hendrix vowed that Colourmusic will press on with the rock spectacle.              

"What I think is creative," Hendrix said, noting the nearly nude models who appeared that night at Science Museum Oklahoma, "is something eccentric and unusual, and that's what you get from people really living on the edge " people who are willing to go up in front of Oklahoma senators and are almost showing them their nipples." "Charles Martin  

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Charles Martin

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