“I want to make music. Everything else proceeds from that.”
Vehlinggo is excited to present a Q&A with Color Theory, an Orange County, California-based veteran synthpop artist who was doing some kind of 80s thing after it was first a thing and before it was again a thing. He recently released a new EP, Adjustments, Pt. 3, the latest in a series he kicked off three years ago.
If you haven’t heard the music of Color Theory (AKA Brian Hazard) on MTV shows such as The Real World, you’ve maybe heard his work on the video game Rock Band or know him because of a Robots With Rayguns remix?
You might have also thought his work was a Martin Gore solo project or Gore-led Depeche Mode songs. You wouldn’t be the only one. At one point, at the height of the Napster era, one of his songs was mislabelled as a Depeche Mode cut, which led people to circulate it as such — he sounds that much like Gore.
There’s also his mastering house, Resonance Mastering. He’s mastered the works of the likes of freestyle legends Information Society and 80s synthpop deities Heaven 17, in addition to fine-tuning the sound of video games for companies such as Microsoft.
In this interview Hazard talks about the new EP, the impact of the 80s on his work, what it’s like to have nearly two million followers on Twitter, and what he’s going to release in the future, among other things. Also, stick around to the end, because I’m experimenting with something new. I allowed a big fan of Hazard’s to ask him a couple questions to be featured in the post.
[Editor’s Note: The interview, which was conducted in two exchanges over email, was edited for style and typos — mostly mine.]
Vehlinggo: The new EP is the third in the Adjustments series, the first of which was released a little more than three years ago. How have the songs changed with each installment and how have they maintained a similar sound or theme? Three years is a long time in today’s Internet-driven music world. Style templates change swiftly.
Hazard: My mixing habits have changed somewhat — less low-cuts [and] more shelving EQs, for example. Each EP was purposely made with the same gear, so I don’t suspect things have strayed too far. Now that I’ve made the implied “adjustments” to my sound, I’m ready to mess around with some new production techniques.
As far as the songs themselves, the latest EP is more “mature” than the previous two. I dare say a 20-year-old couldn’t pull it off. My piano teacher in college once said you have to be at least 40 to understand Brahms. I suppose it’s the same sort of thing.
Were there any challenges executing Pt. 3?
Just the usual work-life balance stuff. I spend most of my working hours on other people’s music, and work on my own only when I’m caught up. It’s easy to get sidetracked for months at a time. I feel like I should be able to complete a song per month with time to spare, but so far it hasn’t happened.
Why did you choose the EP series route, instead of a full album? Also, is Pt. 3 the end (until you start making prequels)?
Ha! I was inspired by Robyn’s Body Talk EPs and album. Same basic idea, except I chose to add a remix of each track.
I’ve tried releasing a single before, and it didn’t get much traction. I think I’d need a video or some other “event” around each song for that approach to work. With that in mind, I’ll probably keep releasing EPs. Maybe 4-5 originals, or maybe one song with a handful of remixes.
What are your tips for home electronic producers looking to get syncs or more of a solid social media base? You have had success with both.
Time to plug my music promotion blog, Passive Promotion! [Editor’s Note: Hazard’s Passive Promotion blog is an in-depth how-to for independent artists who want to improve their marketing impact without investing a ton of time in the process. He calls it “set-it-and-forget-it” music promotion.]
I’m letting Marmoset and Music Dealers handle the syncs. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do it myself, and I’ve narrowed it down to those two companies. I’ve got a social media manager for Twitter, my main social network. Facebook and the rest only get updated once or twice a week.
What’s the secret to your longevity in this business? You’ve been releasing collections of various kinds for 20 years, and for much of that time have been able to make traction with new fans, with TV shows looking to use your music, and with mastering the art of Internet marketing.
I guess what it comes down to is, I want to make music. Everything else proceeds from that. Having an audience for that music keeps me motivated. I’m always willing to try new marketing approaches, even though most fail.
For example, I had what I thought was an absolutely brilliant idea. I burned 100 CD-Rs of my greatest hits, and passed them out to people standing in line to buy Depeche Mode tickets. Not only was it my exact target demographic, but I was able to pick and choose who to give them to.
The result? Nothing that I could tell. Not a single sale, mailing list subscription, or even an email saying “thanks.”
One other completely useless effort was the Color Theory app, for iOS and Android. Because everything’s going mobile, right? I premiered a song via the app, and I’m not sure anyone heard it.
It makes sense when you think about it, though. How many bands are worth installing an app for?
It’s been a awhile since this was news, speaking of longevity, but you were once tied to Depeche Mode during the late 90s/early 2000s Exciter period. Your voice is very much like Martin Gore’s and because of that, along with your style of synthpop, one of your songs, “Ponytail Girl,” was incorrectly associated with Exciter.
It’s gotta be a pretty cool honor to be mistagged as one of your seemingly biggest influences. In the years since then, have you ever met any members of the band — say, at a show or maybe in Santa Barbara, where Gore lives? Did you ever hear from them at the time about the song?
Sad to say, I’ve never met or heard from any current members of the band. I’ve chatted on Facebook with [former member] Alan Wilder a few times [Editor’s Note: !!!!!!], and he even commented on my blog, which was quite a thrill!
My guess is that nobody in the band has any idea who I am, and have never heard “Ponytail Girl” or my tribute album. From what I understand, they don’t really keep up with internet goings-on. Probably smart for a band of that stature.
You were doing “the 80s thing” before 2011’s Drive soundtrack, along with other avenues and artists, made it the thing to do. What’s your take on how synthpop has progressed in the past five to 10 years? We’ve got synthwave, outrun, and other 80s-infused takes on synthpop, in addition to acts like CHVRCHES that are inherently modern but use 80s tropes or nods in their arrangements.
I love the attention that synthpop is getting! I’m quite fond of CHVRCHES, Purity Ring, Dwntwn, and several others. And then there’s the EDM stuff blurring the lines. Ellie Goulding and even Zedd are basically synthpop, on paper anyway.
Future plans? Will you finally go live?
I can reach two million people on Twitter, but only a small percentage engage with me consistently or support me financially. I’d prefer to spend less time trying to acquire new fans, which I find draining and impersonal, and more time interacting with the true fans that have stuck with me over the years. With that in mind, I’m considering some sort of patronage model where I can really get to know them, and deliver what they’re looking for.
Live? Not a chance! I’m a recording artist, not a performer. 😇
Questions from Color Theory fan Randy Roosekrans
Roosekrans: I love so many of your songs. I have a separate playlist just for Color Theory. I believe my favorite is “A Safe Distance.” Are the lyrics based on a real-life relationship from your past?
Hazard: You’ll have to ask my subconscious! It came straight from a dream. It was one of those extended and very specific dreams that I actually remembered in the morning.
I see from a bit of research that you are associated with some big names and organizations in the industry: a-ha, The Real World, Rock Band — all impressive. What has been your most high-profile, rewarding experience to date (aside from this interview with Aaron)?
Probably winning the John Lennon Songwriting Contest with my song, “If It’s My Time to Go.” It turns out that winning an international songwriting contest means I meet the “notability guidelines” for Wikipedia, so I don’t have to worry about my entry being removed! But more importantly, it’s really gratifying to be recognized for my art rather than my hustle.