Sweet 17

Valley rockers Colorstore provide more than a dozen reasons why they won't be closing up shop anytime soon

Before tax specialists H&R Block admitted to overstating its earnings for 2003 and 2004 by $91.1 million, founder Henry W. Block used to appear in its TV commercials, itemizing "the 17 reasons why you should let us prepare your income tax." Taking a subliminal cue from the Block head himself, local musician Mark Erikson provided New Times with 17 reasons why we should do a feature on his band Colorstore and its new album Bonefish: The Legend of Mahogany Cass. And we might've held firm at "no," except the reasons kept sounding more desperate.

Meeting at Lost Leaf Gallery with drummer Jeff Wright and a steady stream of hops-and-barley truth serum (with absent bandmate Robin Vining later chiming in via e-mail), we picked apart each possible story hook.

1. "That Sweet Bleeders/Colorstore story you did on us was over three years ago."

This cut no ice, since that 2003 New Times feature sufficiently outlined the strange dynamic of two Valley bands sharing the same key members, with Erikson and Vining switching leadership and main singer/songwriter roles, which still holds true today. And if we were gunning for a "longest interval between New Times stories" angle, it's been 13 years since our last Zen Lunatics story.

2. "We finally made a good record."

Actually, it's a devastatingly great album, the kind you pop on and are unexpectedly moved by. Colorstore's last record, When We Float the River, was good. But since Colorstore took three years to record it, they were sick of it upon release. Maybe that's why they gave it a half-hearted push and invited musician friends to write scathing reviews on the CD Baby Web site. Bobby Lundberg of Huskies declared, "I'd rather receive the head of a childhood friend in the mail than listen to Colorstore," while Christopher Pomerenke of Less Pain Forever and Runaway Diamonds weighed in with "Colorstore = Shitstore."

3. "Bonefish was recorded in 3 months. (That's quick for us.)"

To be fair, that first Colorstore album was recorded in tandem with the Sweet Bleeders' 2006 album Bzzzz, which took a comparably breezy two years.

4. "We recorded it on 2-inch tape."
5. "The last Colorstore album cost me my marriage."

It isn't until we arrive at reasons 4 and 5 and the possibility of Phil Collins pathos do we get to why Bonefish sounds a lot different from its predecessor. It's altogether possible that had Colorstore recorded the last record on two-inch 24-track tape instead of ProTools' endless amount of tracks, his marriage might still be intact.

"It was a huge factor in breaking up my marriage," Erikson says, as if this just occurred to him. "Robin and I were doing a lot of nutty late-night sessions. We didn't stop and didn't know how to. If songs are really strong and the band all contributing strong parts, why would you need 64 fucking tracks? We did most of the vocals for Bonefish in a day and a half."

6. "I have a major reputation for being unstable."

A rep buoyed by past songs like "Elephants Wear Cheap Perfume." Colorstore's neo-psychedelic output has always been impressive, but "poignant" and "heartfelt" aren't adjectives you'd attach to it. Those songs were less about communicating emotions and more about achieving a sound and being lyrically indirect.

"I really wanted a specific change to we were doing, to write a few songs that collectively made sense," Erikson says. "These songs are more honest. Spilling guts. At the same time, they're much more upbeat."

While titles on Bonefish are similarly obscure to earlier works ("Moosh," "A Song About . . .") you never doubt that Erikson went through some life-changing experiences to write songs this vulnerable. Sure enough, most of the writing took place six months after his divorce and just after his 2-year-old daughter, Sofie, was diagnosed with autism.

7. "I'm a single father of a child with autism."

"To be a new parent, and someone comes and tells you there's something wrong with your child, you question it with everything you have," Erikson says. "Especially when you personally come from the more creative side of things. The more abstract ways of thinking, that's how my daughter's initially programmed — watching her build these amazing sculptures and paintings or her [emotional interactions]; she's brilliant. At the same time, I'm aware she's being looked at differently by her peers and other adults.

"With autism, there's misconceptions about it," he continues. "ASU has it classified as something that's psychiatric, but it's medical. Think of it as a broken arm. It's gotten better than it has been, but it's still a struggle."

8. "My grandmother is Japanese."

In dealing with hard times as a parent, Erikson found inspiration in his grandmother, who grew up in Seoul during the Japanese occupation of Korea, went from being rich to dirt poor, married an American serviceman and wound up a single parent in Los Angeles county, and raised two boys, all while barely speaking English. Erikson namechecks her in the album's final cut, "Kahitchingo Wins the World."

Adds Wright, "She's a stop for us on our tours, a little north of Burbank. We show up the day after a show, about 10 or 11, and she has this spread of baked goods and coffee. Then she takes us to the mall, buys Mark clothes, we eat at Islands, then we go back to her house, watch Conan the Barbarian, she puts out pillows and blankets, and we take naps."

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