By: Garrett Bethmann
Denver’s Manycolors is an easy band to get into and a hard band to get out of your head.
Together, Brant Williams (guitar), Braxton “BK” Kahn (drums), Eric Luba (keys) and Kirwan Brown (bass) are immediately inviting and intriguing on record, crafting cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-
While the music itself is surely an elixir, watching Manycolors do its thing live is quite the high. The laid-back tones they drop on wax become more bold on stage, with Manycolors taking those simple structures and drawing them out into vivid, impressionistic jazz-hop soundscapes, with Pollack-like splatterings of rock and soul for flair. It’s a marvel to watch them pick from their own internal record collection by playing a lick from Nirvana or a beat from J Dilla, and journey through a tonal wormhole together until they come up with a song that is unrecognizable to its source material, but unmistakably Manycolors.
The cherry on top of all that musical goodness is the stupefying fact you can count the amount of rehearsals the band has had on one finger: ….just one. What?! It’s like looking under the hood of a Ferrari and discovering the engine is the Energizer Bunny, it just flies in the face of common sense and science. Whether in-studio or on stage, Williams lays out the initial chord changes and vibes before each song and then Luba, BK and Brown just fill in the gaps, relying on the feel of the song and listening to what the others are playing to determine what it’ll be. It’s hard to fathom an outfit as tight and intricate as Manycolors (or any band for that matter) operates on such an instinctual level, but it only speaks to the immense talent of the players, the ingenious collective outlook on creating music and the incredible confidence they have in each other.
Manycolors have created a colorful, singular sound and its jazz-centric ethos of operations means every time these found dudes from Denver plug-in together, it is a representation of the here-and-now, immediate and open to possibilities.
Read Going Left Music’s interview with Manycolors guitarist Brant Williams down below. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Manycolor’s music feels like it’s from someone who just creates beats. The first time I listened to your music, I didn’t feel like it was a band, but rather a producer like J Dilla or Nujabes. But is that what you hear? How does how you hear and feel about the music square with what other people say they hear and feel?
It sounds like it, for sure. At the first session with Color Red, where we got “Bangs,” I told the guys to play like they were being sampled, as sort of an aesthetic thing. It’s funny because I’ve been getting into making beats, and I’ve already started doing that live with Manycolors, before I ever did it with Ableton. If people are listening to our music, whether they think it’s good or bad, if they have an opinion and are expending the energy to figure it out, it’s awesome (laughs).
What’s the core of what you are trying to accomplish as a songwriter, especially in an instrumental band? For example, for me as a writer, I’m always looking to explain something in the coolest, most specific way possible. What is the goal of your creative expression?
It really depends. I used to do a bunch of lyrics-based stuff and that’s a whole other bag with stories. Nowadays, it’s not so much a story or trying to paint a picture, I kind of just start writing and edit from there. I’ve been playing 16 years and it’s more about texture, especially with the Manycolors guys. I’ll just give them chords and I’ll play the melody and we’ll just groove out. Also with my guitar playing, I’m much more of a texture guy and not a lead player.
I like the idea of being unfamiliar with the stuff. I’ll write on piano and go to the gig and give the guys the chords and I’ll figure out what I was doing on the piano, on the guitar, on the spot. From there it kind of opens up approaches on how you play your instruments. It’s a cool way to do it I’ve found.
You’ve written lyrics and dealt with writing out the story before and have gone down that road. Playing in an instrumental band, what does that afford you that can’t be done if you incorporated lyrics and a singer?
It leads to more exploratory stuff, I think. If you have a singer, people can identify when you say,
“I’m doing the dishes.” But when you are playing it, it’s more of a feeling than a hardcore construct. It’s led to a lot of pretty cool stuff (laughs).
We’ve kind of developed our sound by not talking about what we were gonna do. I just give them something and we’ll go for 10 minutes and explore it. Since we are not concerned with the audience, we can kind of explore the tune more. It’s been a really cool process. I don’t tell them what to play, I just tell them where to go harmonically and we fill in the blanks.
When you realized things were starting to form, did you have an idea of what you wanted it to be or are you still figuring that out?
It just happened. We don’t really talk about what we are going to do. We’ve had one rehearsal ever, for a J Dilla show at Dazzle in Denver. We essentially have a paid rehearsal for shows. As we’ve picked up steam with Color Red stuff we’ve been searching how to get better and bigger gigs. It takes a lot of work and money to get to the next level, which we don’t really have.
Somewhere in there I started listening to J Dilla and we started working that into our overall sound, it was right around the time the band got together. I had a revamp project I did, where you keep the melody but change all the chords, so we’ve had a couple shows where we did that. We did some hip-hop with Nirvana tunes and it opened my eyes to different types of harmonic stuff, which recycles itself into the Manycolors tunes.
At one point during the Dazzle show I saw you play in February, a sample played of J Dilla’s mom explaining that she was relatively unaware of her son’s prominence and influence in music because he never really talked about it. He didn’t point his mother to press and articles and stuff because his primary focus was the music. Do you relate to that sentiment?
Absolutely. It’s really hard to get hired and do stuff as a guitar player, Denver specifically. Keyboard and bass players get hired all the time, because you have a lot more work. Guitar players tend to book a lot of stuff and run bands and there are just so many of them. I used to get that in my head, about not getting hired a bunch. Manycolors is a product of that. I had to be foremost the booking agent and I had to get gigs to pay these guys to play with me. I stopped giving a fuck about crowds and shows and focused on the music. It’s always fun to play in front of a good crowd, but first and foremost is the music and process behind it.
Is there stuff you’ve recorded outside your first three singles with Color Red?
We have pretty much a full LP we haven’t released, but I’ve kinda been waiting for it because Color Red has given us such great support. I’m hoping we’ll get a record or LP out through Color Red by the end of the year. The fact is we are poor (laughs), and the fact they don’t charge for sessions has really helped us out. I usually record every show we’ve done on a phone or a recorder, but it’s not professionally done.
Do you have any thoughts on what would be “pushing the boundaries” for Manycolors at this stage in the game?
It is kind of where we already are. In terms of pushing the envelope, it’s the most comfortable I’ve been uncomfortable. I am loving what we are doing. We are kind of on the edge, being uncomfortable to me is where it’s at (laughs). You have to rely on your instincts and you can’t spend time overthinking what is happening right there.
Everyone in the band is a really honest player, no bullshit in terms of what we are doing. It’s a lot of listening and I’ve learned to let it fall out of you and not overthink what you are doing. We’ll do these things called “Dilla endings” where we’ll play a whole tune and then end on the last chord and BK just starts a beat and we’ll just go into this modal thing based on whatever we just did. It’s been a really cool way to let go and through that we’ve made several tunes just improvising that way. It’s a leave it all on the field situation.