Prague’s favorite local band that isn’t.
Thursday, November 7th
Divadlo U Hasičů
Římská 45 in P2
“I just got in to find the bad news. We no longer have the hard disk,” Colin Stuart says into his mobile phone in the back of a Prague 7 creperie. “By the way, do you want to play a gig with us at U Hasičů?”
He’s talking to Stěpán Tůma, the drummer who recorded with the band on Colorfactory’s debut album; the hard disk he’s referring to held the band’s latest recordings. Noel Le Bon, seated next to Stuart, rubs his brow. “We were away for two weeks. Someone just broke in and took it.” This is Colorfactory today. Color-factory, as seen on November 7th will be a completely different, much more composed animal.
I first heard the Colorfactory in 1991, when my friend Tim Rudek from Laguna Beach, California, sent me a demo tape of his new band. Poppy harmonies, electric guitars, and hook-filled songwriting filled the tape, and some of the tracks seemed like they could be hits. Tim had started playing bass with his long-time friend Mike Freeman less than a year before. They first recorded Mike’s songs as a duo. Later, they added another guitarist, Jeff Bayliss, and Paul Scott on drums. This foursome, brought together in the summer of 1990, formed the core of the original Colorfactory.
During this time, Tim sent me some letters sharing the highs and lows of the band. One in particular captures the rising hopes of Colorfactory: “We’ve got one new addition, Colin Stuart – a friend of Paul’s from London. The bonus about Colin is his forte, engineering – exactly what the Colorfactory needs at this time. Colin’s got good connections. Steve Lillywhite [U2’s producer] was in the L.A. area ... Mike F. and Colin went to give him a demo. A week later, Colin called him in London. ‘I’m into the band,’ was Steve’s reaction, his words. When we start shopping for a deal, we can use his name – I doubt this will pan out. Too fairy tale-esque ...”
Another letter received months later describes the band’s end. “Everything was healthy for awhile, and then our English drummer is introduced to drugs, and the living and playing situation becomes intolerable. We played two shows, both went okay – but Mike and I dissolved the band after much deliberation ...”
Of all the members of the original Colorfactory, only Colin Stuart has remained consistently active in music, as both a producer and musician. In Prague, he first worked with Jan P. Muchow on Ecstasy of Saint Theresa’s acclaimed debut. He then moved on to record or produce other new Czech bands – Naked Souls, Toyen, and the Sebastians – usually with the assistance of Ivo Heger. All these bands sang in English and were well-received here. Their recordings are recognized as representing an important generation of post-revolution independent rock from 1991-1993.
After the breakup of the Sebastians, Czechs David Volenec and Stěpán Tůma suggested re-recording the Colorfactory songs. Colin says of the rebirth of the project, “It just sort of happened synchronously without any effort on my behalf at all. And only because some of the people who were fans of the songs said, ‘We’ve been thinking about recording these songs because we like them.’”
The Czech line-up came to include Jan P. Muchow, Jan Cechticky, and Dusan Lipert of Ohm Square. And thus, almost all of the music written by Mike Freeman and first recorded in America resurfaced in the guise of a collection of well-known, younger Czech musicians, along with Colin, once again calling themselves Colorfactory.
The next time I heard the band was in early 1996 on Prague’s Radio One. The single “It’s Always You” was released by Monitor-EMI, but was not heavily played or promoted. Later that year, however, the Czech film Septej was released with a tornado of promotion and acclaim. The film’s soundtrack? Almost entirely Colorfactory songs. Septej isn’t a great film, but it perfectly captures the experience of the unique teen to 20-something generation of Prague after the revolution. The most memorable scenes have the soundtrack inseparably tied to the action, and sometimes the story actually seems to be built around the songs.
The popularity of Septej instantly catapulted the obscure Colorfactory to the top of the Czech pop charts. The videos for “It’s Always You” and later “Gauguin” were regularly seen on TV for months. After winning the Czech equivalent of a Grammy award for Discovery of the Year 1996 and Rock & Pop magazine’s annual readers’ poll for both Best Newcomer and Best Album, the band capped their success by opening up for Sinead O’Connor, Erasure and Spearhead at a Prague summer festival. Soon after, the members went their separate ways.
“Colorfactory is more of a project than a band, and in that sense it never truly dissolves or breaks up,” says Stuart of the long lapses between sightings. “The nature of the people involved in the project is transient – we get together for a specific purpose; to record or to play a gig.”
“Colorfactory,” adds Le Bon, “as it has existed here, is an atmosphere we all share. Colin focuses that creative force, and only recently have some of the musicians decided to form a more cohesive band.”
Second Infinity, released in 1999, includes a few more songs by Mike Freeman, but it’s mostly a repertoire of collaborative efforts that the group had been working on for years. Second Infinity is ambient, and most of it doesn’t match Mike’s talent for writing catchy, sing-a-long songs. Colin says of the album, “My intention with the music is purely to try and give people good vibes, and let the music transport them to wherever they can be transported by it.”
The concert on the 7th will be recorded and some songs may appear on a new album, now in the works. More than half of the concert’s repertoire will consist of new songs. The lineup will include Colin Stuart, Le Bon, Ivo Heger, Rene Starhorn, Iva Stuartova, and Lucy Fillery (all Prague musicians). Various former collaborators may drop by as well, including David Volenec, the original singer, and Jan P. Muchow, hot on the heels of a new Ecstasy of Saint Theresa album release.
While no one in America appreciated the original Colorfactory, a younger generation of Czechs and Slovaks made this California outfit their own. In Stuart’s own words, Mike’s songs are a “breath of fresh air.” The Colorfactory as led by Colin Stuart transported a small collection of thoughtful, sensitive songs to a place that seemed destined to better appreciate them. The project has grown and changed through the years, but it has by no means lost its ability to transport an audience.
Micah Jayne contributed to this report
January 28, 2009
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