Continuing our series of features on the lesser-known bands Londonist thinks should be brought to your attention, we present The Colonies.
I just got born 'cos something got died (Done Got Died)
We've alerted you to The Colonies before. It just so happens that until this year, they were known as Thread. As front man Dylan Kemlo explained to us, there's an element of seeking new beginnings with the name change. With a keyboardist joining the previously guitar-bass-drums set-up, and greater confidence in the band's own prowess, Kemlo believes now is the time to be drawing a line under the past: the caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
Kemlo jokes: "There's a certain amount of prejudice against someone with my [South African] accent... so I thought I should turn my paranoia into a moniker!" Playing a gig last year in front of a potentially difficult audience, Kemlo announced himself and his band: "Welcome to the colonies."
Until Kemlo pointed it out at the end of our interview, Londonist had actually forgotten about his accent and any negative connotations it might carry. This is due in no small part to the impressive music and Kemlo's immense likeability. Kemlo has a quiet determination about him, allied to a charming line in self-deprecation and it's impossible to speak to him about his music without wanting him to succeed with The Colonies. Actually listening to the music should convince you they're worth supporting. The sound has been compared to the likes of Pavement, The Pixies and Talking Heads. To our ears, The Colonies shouldn't be embarrassed to be in such exalted company.
This is the truth that you can't ignore (Beartrap)
Not that there was anything wrong with the music made by Thread. The play count in Londonist's iTunes shows Thread's 5-track preview CD to be the most-played promo CD we've ever received and it pisses over a lot of the major-label stuff we've bought recently. These weren't even the finished album tracks.
My Ark starts off simply enough with a half-spoken, half-sung intro backed with a strumming guitar before coming in with a truly affecting chorus ("You could be anyone, but you're not. You're my ark.") when some keyboard noodling and synth string backing comes in. Despite the basic nature of the song, it's beautifully arranged with great harmonies in the instrumental tracks. A more cynical band might have repeated the chorus to death in a bid to write a radio-friendly anthem along the lines of Coldplay or Snow Patrol but, as is common with all of The Colonies' work, the song stops before it outstays its welcome, and leaves you wanting more, much more.
I Get Paid features a catchy slide guitar riff with a driving bassline, and lyrics which could be adopted by the people now in suits who as disaffected youths took Beck's Loser to their hearts. "I check on my map, think I took a wrong turn" suggests a questioning of 'career choices', especially with the chorus of "I get paid to kill time all day long." It certainly resonates with Londonist on those quieter days in the office.
Green Is For Go is a bit jazzier with more relaxed guitar strumming, and a languid vibe during the verses before the yelping chorus. The chorus climax of "Show me the money and I'll show you what I mean" is another great lyric which could be adopted in any manner of cynical ways. Also lyrically cynical is the twisted love song Beartrap, with lines like "This ring means you can't go back" and "This heartstring attached to an ankle ring is a ball and chain to help me fall asleep, during the same, same game" it's the least poppy of the songs but no less enjoyable.
Done Got Died was initially released as a single last April and features a good old-fashioned rock and roll riff, with loudhailer lyrics, stop-start verses and an incredibly catchy sing-along chorus. We defy you not to join in the chorus of "I just got born 'cos something got died", especially when the guitars fall away briefly and that loudhailer vocal starts singing the chorus too. If you're unmoved by that, then the appearance of Elvis at the end of the song should convince you what a great song this is.
All the songs above will feature on the forthcoming album and, if anything, will sound even better once they're mixed properly, but they're strong enough lyrically and musically to work even as rough and ready tracks. The varied styles used on the five-track promo whet the appetite for the album which should be out sometime in the Spring.
I get paid to kill time all day long (I Get Paid)
The process of recording the album was potentially frustrating for the driven Kemlo. Recording started last June but, with day jobs helping to pay the bills for equipment, only 20 recording days have taken place between then and December. Recording has been limited to weekend and the odd day off in the week but Kemlo sees the positive side: "If we were doing it back-to-back it would have been a real balls up. We haven't come in here having fine-tuned our sound yet. By the next album we'll have a more defined sound." Kemlo's working hard on that sound, though. "Songwriting is a skill and something I do keep working on."
The songs are seeded from the music and the lyrics in equal measure. Some of the songs are inspired from Kemlo's drive to succeed with the band and to become financially-liberated from the 'day job', "obsessing about setting myself this goal and ploughing away at it". Kemlo's kept on his toes by the fact that his drummer, Henderson Downing, is a writer. So why doesn't Downing write anything for the band? "He feels it isn't his territory," explains Kemlo. "It's compliment enough that he's not embarrassed to be playing our songs!"
Although Londonist would find the prospect of writing lyrics in this situation incredibly intimidating, Kemlo does admirably well.
"I probably wouldn't have kept Henderson for this long if the lyrical content wasn't strong enough. Lyrical content is paramount. It makes it easier to get up on stage and sing a song with feeling. It is venting your frustrations out on the audience but we try do it with humour."
Kemlo goes on to say he feels it "very selfish and vain" to be writing about personal frustrations all the time and so he tempers it by looking to inject a level of humour into his lyrics, "even if it's only one line". What matters most to the band, though, is that the songs "have a purpose: it's got to move you on some emotional level".
Musically, there's a conscious decision to write short songs. The longest song currently recorded for the album clocks in at 3½ minutes although there's great variety in the musical styles used. When Londonist appeared at the studio, a Latin-beat song was being recorded (not as horrendous as that might sound) and the promo CD's five tracks all offer something very different. Says Kemlo, "We don't have any formula for 'this is what we do, this is our sound', which would be a lot easier for us, but I think it's also more interesting for us this way."
Kemlo offers up the example of the song Shotgun Wedding. "People who watch Friends would like this song! I'm proud of that because it's something I never thought I'd write. It's not remotely angst-ridden, which is a breakthrough for me!"
Show me the money and I’ll show you what I mean (Green Is For Go)
Despite receiving great reviews for the 7" singles put out last year, The Colonies await a recording contract of any great substance. The live experience has also been a source of frustration with headlining bands hogging soundchecks so that The Colonies have often taken to the stage on a wing and prayer and no little trust in the sound engineers.
Again, Kemlo turns this into a positive, by saying it has done their confidence some good, by proving to the band that they are good enough musically to be able to cope with situations like that.
In a bid to take some of their destiny into their own hands, The Colonies have started their own club night. Not only do they get to headline a gig, they also get to hand-pick the bands on the bill with them, which should make for a more enjoyable experience all round. The inaugural club night (The Breadcrumb Trail, named after an early song) takes place at The Albany Pub on 18th March.
Dylan Kemlo's good like that. Despite the frustrations of playing to small crowds when he surely must know he deserves much better, he remains focused on his vision of bringing The Colonies to the world. If you like intelligent, sensitive, catchy, spiky guitar-driven pop, you should start paying attention.
18th March - The Colonies perform as part of their Breadcrumb Trail club night. In support are Isle of White trio John Steam. The night features a short MASS (Mystery Acoustic Singer Songwriter slot) and the 'Seven Inches of Love' DJ collective, plus some other surprises. The Breadcrumb Trail takes place at The Lowdown (basement of the Albany pub, opposite Great Portland Street tube station), 7pm to 2am and entry is a measly £3. Food and beer will also be available, and you cannot say fairer than that.
If you know of or you are in an up-and-coming band you think is worth a feature or review on Londonist, get in touch with us and we'll get back with further contact details.