The music industry's current condition can be accurately described in one word: limping. And it limps along due to the fickle tastes of all parties involved (mainly consumers), unpredictability, the poor economy at large, and the impact of illegal downloading. It's refreshing to find a band prepared to spit in the face of this grim picture.
Primarily made up of Jackson, Mississippi, natives who have played together in various bands since high school, the Colour Revolt came together about three years ago at Ole Miss. Belying their average age of 23, the band carries itself like a group of veterans. Jimmy Cajoleas, Len Clark, Jesse Coppenbarger, Sean Kirkpatrick, and Patrick Addison put a special emphasis on the wisest, and last, vestige of rock-and-roll survival: touring. Coppenbarger remembers touring with his first band ... in the 9th grade, with another member's father as the driver.
As the one remaining aspect of music that cannot be attained through a computer and an Internet connection, touring has risen to the lead in terms of fan satisfaction and the generation of artist income. Amassing a large local draw does nothing more than provide a biased, inaccurate form of feedback, slamming a band into a glass ceiling that only the road can shatter with its integrity-building ups and downs.
"These days, if a band or artist wants to make a career out of it, touring is the only way possible. Labels are not signing bands anymore just because they're good. If you don't have a good touring record, it's too much of a risk for the label," Coppenbarger says. "It doesn't really mean anything ... getting a great crowd in your hometown. Then you first get out, and nobody has heard of you. Nobody likes you. It's helpful in every sense to play bad shows and great shows."
Beginning three years ago, Colour Revolt played approximately 150 shows a year, while the members were attending Ole Miss. The Jackson-based Esperanza Plantation, an indie label run by a childhood friend, released their six-song, eponymous EP in 2006, and the band had a song included on a Paste magazine compilation that same year.
Plenty of bands have weathered a short romance with a major label, only to continue with a better life elsewhere. Colour Revolt is no exception, but their particular experience is a weird one, to say the least. "Single-release contract" is not a common phrase in the major-label vocabulary, so imagine the band members' surprise when Interscope Records decided to re-release their debut EP.
"We don't really know how it happened. We talked to a few people at Interscope, and this one guy was particularly interested in it," Coppenbarger says. "But we told them that the only way we'd do it is as a one-off release, and they weren't interested in that at all. But after about several months, they called us back and said they'd re-release it."
For a bit of context, a one-release, option-less contract with a major label may be rare, but when the release in question happens to be a re-release of what's not even a full album, the situation is virtually unheard of. This left Colour Revolt the freedom to shop the demos that were to be the EP's full-length successor. Once six songs were tracked, the band looked to another label: the venerable and eclectic Fat Possum.
"We gave Fat Possum our two demos, a video, and the EP. They called us later that night and asked, 'You guys want to have dinner?'" Coppenbarger explains.
"Before, they had looked at us like an Oxford punk band or college band — a local band. Then they realized that we had done 150 shows per year, for the last three years, while being in college. We had a booking agent, a lawyer in New York, and I think that they thought, This definitely might be good for us. Maybe we won't lose as much money as we normally do by signing new artists."
The resulting album Beg, Plunder, and Curse is an expansion of the debut EP, with additional confidence and song-crafting prowess. Coppenbarger's vocals are throaty but tuneful. If anything, they add equal parts Tom Waits and Ian MacKaye (Fugazi-era) without being dominated by those influences. Colour Revolt puts a contemporary, structurally disjointed touch (see the excellent "Elegant View") on the more timeless moves of Pavement in their prime, Fugazi in theirs, plus this decade's indie-rock trend of moving toward personality-driven, prog-rock-influenced songwriting. (Dramatic vocals way up front, odd rhythmic shifts, an emphasis on loud drums.)
Two days after graduating, Colour Revolt embarked on a two-week stretch opening for the Breeders (Kim Deal playfully addressed the members as "Mississippi" or "The Boys"), then wound around the country with a run of smaller shows that eventually put them back home.
"We just graduated from college. We don't have to come off of tour and write a 10-page paper or buy $500 worth of books. We have our foot in the door, and this is what we've been waiting to do since high school — make a career out of this," Coppenbarger says.