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."
"She's 88, but she's built with fire," Erikson says. "She's one of my heroes."
9. "Kimber Lanning likes us and is distributing our record."
Another hero is Lanning, owner of Stinkweeds and Modified Arts. "She has been an unbelievable support to us," Wright says. "She's been our label/manager. She's getting us into listening stations in all these stores across the country."
10. "We're older, out-of-touch-with-reality drunks."
11. "Our drummer threw a bottle at someone's face."
12. "Our bass player is annoying."
13. "Somebody in Colorstore must have acquired venereal disease by now."
Admittedly, there's speculative padding here that could be cleared up with a simple lab test. For the record, bassist David Marquez isn't annoying, but these guys can put away the drink. A drunken Wright did, indeed, hurl a bottle at someone's face in the rush to defend his girlfriend's honor.
"It ended amicably," Wright allows.
You mean he got to keep the bottle?
"No, I paid half his dental bill, which was extensive," he says. "Not a proud moment for me."
Across the table, Erikson seems momentarily glad it's someone else spilling his guts for a change. Until he's forced to elucidate on reason 14:
14. "I'm having an affair with a semi-famous person."
15. "We procured a horn section."
We were really hoping "semi-famous" meant a local newscaster or maybe a minor league pitcher. Turns out it's singer-songwriter Lonna Kelley, whom Erikson reminds us is "semi-famous in Europe and here." Currently, she's recording with Howe Gelb of Giant Sand and will also be playing the Colorstore CD release party. And hopefully, so will the horns, which really lift up key cuts on the album, like "Mr. Julio Mena Is a Menace."
The horn players came through Robin," Wright says. "He took up a Sunday morning church gig. I've never heard it, but I know they've done 'Jesus is Just Alright With Me' by the Doobie Brothers! From that, he got this tuba and trumpet player who are unreal. Mike Red from Sonorous and Sound of Birds, he played trombones and some trumpet."
16. "Robin turned down touring with The Format."
"Well, that is true, and it's really too bad I couldn't go," Vining says. "They asked me to go after I played a few shows with them in the fall of 2005. Those guys are super-sweet, but my daughter was only a few months old and I couldn't imagine giving up that time with her to go on the road. Additionally, both Sweet Bleeders and Colorstore had been working on recordings that were almost done, and I couldn't let those just sit unfinished."
17. "It may be our last album."
Anyone can say their new album could be their last. We all have the life expectancy of a screen-saver. Erikson seems more uncertain about where it's all going to end. "As you get older and have families, everyone isn't as gung-ho as when you're in your 20s. I also know that we have a very long year ahead of us, pushing this album and touring during the summer. That's my personal goal."
Vining is a bit more realistic. "I really don't think that any of us are done in any way with recording and making music. What else would we do? Take up gaming?"
Sat., Jan. 24, 8 p.m., 2009