The story of a band, a pandemic, and what comes next for these indie rockers and live music performances.
After eight years in Beijing playing the underground music scene as frontman of the band Disaster Chat, Jesse Emanuel, the red-haired Oklahoma native, wife in hand, left China and the band behind. It was time for a bigger stage. And there is none bigger than New York City. It wasn’t long after settling in Manhattan that Jesse would get to work seeking musicians to bring together to form a band that would become, The Color Yes. After finding work at a nearby recording studio, he'd be in the perfect place to do just that.
One day while at work Jesse’s ear was drawn to the rhythmic drumming of an Incubus song. The person behind the percussion was Yuichiro Soma. Soma had been trained by the legend Yutaka Watanabe at the Mesar School of Arts in Japan. He moved to the United States to be closer to the New York music scene. After the two musicians hit it off, Soma would become the band's drummer and first addition.
Together they found David Castro who plays bass and is the only native New Yorker in the group. David has been playing since he was a teen and studied music theory extensively for four years. He became the youngest member in the group but brought with him the music knowledge of a veteran player.
While at work one day, musician Raphael Mendez, watched a young kid come in looking to purchase a record player. He was struck by that. A kid wanting to listen to vinyl? Perhaps in the fast-swiping TikTok world of today, when it’s more difficult to capture a kid's curiosity, let alone musical appreciation, the sight of a kid looking for an involved and delicate record player was all it took for the musician in Raph to be inspired. He hit the paper looking for bands in need. Mendez would become the last member to join the fold as the band’s lead guitar and keys.
The group spent 2019 jamming and honing their sound, planning their first official release as a band. After composing and recording a self-titled five-track EP, the group released their first debut project.
It was December of 2019.
Little did the guys know that in just a handful of weeks the world would go to Hell in spectacular fashion as a global pandemic would bring the world to a grinding halt.
We caught wind of the band in the early New York summer while lockdowns were in full swing with face masks strapped on tight. As The Empire State got past the worst of the pandemic and entered into phase three of reopening, we reached out to the band and made plans to spend time with them in the studio. It would be the first time the band would play for someone in months.
Our day with them started off by winding through a maze of studios in a building that had probably heard more music than anyone there. It was dark, dimly lit, and a little seedy. In other words...perfect.
For a few hours, it was like a small escape back to when things were ‘normal’. They played their whole set for us. It was a concert for two and it was amazing. Earplugs in, beers in hand, we were taken back to a longed-for time, even if not long ago, when you can sit together with people and friends immersed in the powerful live sound of music being made with instruments and singing and pounding and strumming. The band trotted out the five tracks that make up the EP released in December.
The following is our official review of the band's debut EP, courtesy of lummoxi’s music editor, Brian Todd:
The Color Yes literally evokes images from a 'colorful' palette of atmospheric soundscapes. Initially, the band may give off the impression that their music seems uplifting at times, but the lyrics counter that notion; foreboding at times, but not dark. The name of the band, along with the thumbnail artwork they use on this, their first self-titled, 5-track EP, definitively set the mood, indicating how this will play out before listening.
This is not to say the band won't leave you in suspense. Contrary, the E.P. ensures the band has some surprises that aren't predictable. The song structures may at first appear straightforward, but just when you think you have them figured out, they unexpectedly take you on a journey of some interesting time signatures with changes that create interesting twists in the music, rewarding the listener, ensuring you will return for more.
Pointing out highlights specifically on this E.P. is futile, as a high standard is maintained throughout. We hope to hear more from this band. In the meantime, the self-titled 5 song E.P. from The Color Yes is off to one great start, an enjoyable listen, all coming from a band defiant of description.
After the music session was wrapped up, we were off to the bar for a chat with the band. Outside seating, of course.
Who does the writing?
We all contribute to the lyrics, but Jesse handles most of the melodies.
How would you describe your music?
Every song is a little different due to our different tastes. Raph is very into Post Rock, others are fans of Radiohead, Incubus, and Death Cab for Cutie. It all comes out a little different in the lyrics and beat.
What if going back to ‘normal' isn’t in the cards’? Musically, what happens then?
Church bells tolled in the distance as I asked this question. At first, silence. Then the table erupted in laughter after such a dark thought.
“Wow! Dropped a bomb, right off the bat!”
“I thought we were friends?”
The thought of not having or limiting the freedom of performing for a live audience was like a punch in the gut. Their faces all grew a bit somber, really bringing to light just what it means for, not just the band, but all of us as humans, to have this ritual of coming together and losing ourselves with a band as they play their music through thundering amplifiers.
There was optimism though.
Jesse: “If things don’t go back to the way they used to be and there is a new normal where there aren't live music venues, packed crowds in small spaces, music as a whole industry, as a whole experience would change for everyone, forever. I wish we could say we’re smart enough to predict what that would look like, but we’re just really hoping, probably like the rest of the world, that as long we just wait it out, things will get better eventually and we can start playing shows again.”
David: “But, in the meantime we’re still investing time in producing new material, brainstorming, and planning for when things do get back to normal. It won’t be like we’re just starting from the beginning. We have a plan, and as soon as things get back to normal, we’ll be ready to go. That includes merch, promoting the band, and recording the full-length album.”
Soma: “We do understand that adaptability is what’s going to keep us alive as a band. We write music. That's what we do and that's what we'll continue to do, no matter what.”
After such a heavy question...I needed to break the ice.
Red Hot Chili Peppers were known to perform in the nude with only socks on their cocks. With COVID-19 in mind, if things don’t go back to normal, would you guys be willing to pioneer the use of a full-body-COVID-condom, if it meant you could perform for a packed house again?
After some laughter, we had a taker...
“I’m down”, said David courageously.
“We’d have to do it for the whole crowd though, right? ”, Jesse finally chimed in with reddened cheeks.
After the giggles subsided, the guys had a more nostalgic and thoughtful response about being able to perform again...
Raph: “I do understand the nature of the question. It does speak to how things are very unpredictable now. I don't know, the beauty of music is, going to a show, sweating next to a stranger, the communion of doing that...
Soma: “I’ve always seen coming together in a venue for the experience of live music like a prayer. Not in a religious way, but in a social and spiritual way. And now all we have are...walls. Shows are on hold. It’s tough. ”
Jesse: “I think something that we have been very aware of is, most of us have been in bands for a long, long time, and the way that bands develop is very different than it used to be. You used to be able to play shows, then play more shows and more shows. You get more attention, people share your music, you get a larger following, and it’s not really the case anymore. We’re very aware that in order to grow as a band, it’s not really only about shows. It’s about online presence and how to engage that online presence. It’s unfortunate for people who don’t like social media or Tik Tok, but especially for musicians, it’s just a fact of being a musician today. You have to engage those audiences and those platforms. It’s all about Spotify and streaming and working those channels too.”
Considering all this, there may not be enough demand for the COVID condom to get through
R&D after all.
Do you think 2020 had a silver lining?
The answer at first was a quick NO! (Can you blame them?)
After a moment of thought, acknowledging the time to compose that they otherwise wouldn’t have had was the cumulative answer. They were also able to produce their video and have one in-person practice session a week. They were thankful for that.
As a unit, the guys all agree and feel very strongly about the connection between music and people. They acknowledge that there’s something different, something special about live music that just can’t be replicated at home. There is no connection between musician and crowd via online performance. Drinking in your living room is not the same as swaying back and forth to your favorite tune surrounded by your sweaty friends and strangers. In Soma’s words, “life brings inspiration, not a lock-up.”
What it ultimately boils down to is, musicians need to make music. It’s what their heart pushes them to do. So if need be, they will adapt. They will push on, keep moving forward, and keep doing their thing. One way or another, they and other artists will make their music, and I am thankful for that. As much as they need to produce it, we need to listen.
As for The Color Yes, they are a fun group of guys making some great new music, and we can’t wait to see what comes next for the band. We hope you’ll have a listen.
Lastly, don't forget to subscribe to the lummoxi newsletter for more great new music. :)
Listen to the full self-titled EP here.