Blast From the Past: Brilliant Colors
This originally ran in MRR 319 / December 2009 you can pick it up here
Brilliant Colors was formed in 2007 by Jess Scott, inspired equally by old Postcard 45s, the Shop Assistants, and early ’80s San Francisco lesbian separatist punks, Wilma. Several line up changes ensued, documented by two 7”s on the Make a Mess and Captured Tracks labels, but now the line up is final, with Jess on guitar and vocals, Diane on drums, and Michelle on bass. There’s a forthcoming LP on Slumberland which is worth investigation if you are intrigued by that mysterious post-punk girl sound… Plus Michelle is the touring guitarist for the Slits!
Interview by Layla Gibbon.
MRR: Brilliant Colors has existed in various forms for a while now, and this current line up is the first time it has really felt like more than just the Jess Scott experience-do you wanna talk about the many mutations of Brilliant Colors?
Jess: I’ve been at a computer for eight hours, then had a tall boy. I’m not exactly at the mental peak right now. I guess there’ve been a shit ton of people. Two or three bassists, two or three drummers…
MRR: So you’re basically Spinal Tap
Jess: Yeah. We got together, me and Michelle maybe a year ago, and Diane came just after New Years of this year. All of our recorded stuff so far is from the two original people, from late 2007, so it’s actually pretty old. Now there’s new stuff, which features this line up.
MRR: Do you feel like…
Jess: No. I don’t feel.
MRR: How do you feel about the older line-ups compared to now?
Jess: It was just really random. It was just my friends, whoever was around kind of, and then…
MRR: Did you write together?
Jess: No, I have always written everything until now, I feel like we’ve moved beyond that now. But basically I wrote songs, then I got a band together. I finally found people who wanted to play music more than like, “Spring Break!” or whatever.
MRR: All of you have been playing music for a while, what was the first band you were in, or more how did you start playing music?
Michelle: The first band I was in was in New York with my friend Phil, who was in this band called the Nurse, and Matt who plays in Matt and Kim now.
Diane: You could be famous right now!
Michelle: I could be famous! We all got boyfriends and girlfriends, and then the band broke up. Then I came out here and played in this band…
MRR: But you also play in the Slits right?
Jess: Don’t be modest-you are in the Beatles right?
Michelle: Jen and Shell from Shellshag set up a tour to South by Southwest with them, and the Slits’ guitarist backed out at the last minute, so they called everyone that they knew that played guitar, and I was the one that said yes. Suckers! No, seriously, that sounds mean. It was actually really fun, it was stressful but it was fun—it wasn’t like a tour I’d ever done before. Normal tour for me is sleeping on floors, eating out of dumpsters, rather than like staying in hotels and having a per diem, showering… Sitting in a car, navigating with an iPhone…
Jess: This was in the seventies right? (Laughter) Speaking of which, I saw this thing online, where you can listen to music, last.fm, I don’t know what it is, but I was trying to find Brilliant Colors videos from this fest we played. So I clicked on this page, and people had left comments, “Listening… Don’t like!” and someone had left this comment, “Wow you guys look really good for being from the early ’80s.” I was trying to think of what they could be talking about, Brilliant Corners maybe? I was laughing, like how could someone possibly think something like that, I wasn’t even born then. It must be the hair gel…
MRR: Why is there a huge thing of hair gel here?
Jess: We put it on this window—have you seen the cover of the album yet? I got the idea from a Sly and Robbie 12” where there was a photo that was all fucked up, it was like they were behind mutated glass. We tried all these things, like baby oil, but then this tub of mess worked perfectly.
MRR: Diane, I met you when you came out here with Carnal Knowledge, did you play music before that?
Diane: No that was my first band, other than like orchestra and band camp, and none of us knew how to play instruments.
Michelle: Band camp sucks, I went to band camp.
Jess: What did you do?
Michelle: I played flute… OK, I was a flag girl. I was on the color guard because they said there was going to be free pizza at the meeting, and so I went and three of my friends also did it, and it was actually kind of fun. The pizza was pretty good. I was also in regular band. I do have some cred!
Jess: Yeah, doing band is really cool.
Michelle: I had lots of really great extra curricular activities!
Jess: I had lots of extra curricular activities too…
MRR: Did you learn to play while practicing?
Diane: Me and Krista, who played drums, we would get together in her basement and just play and jam around.
MRR: I know you guys just got back from some fest in Brooklyn that was Captured Tracks related; do you feel part of that world?
Jess: Ummm. Well we have a record out on Captured Tracks, but I feel like our music is not really… like we’re not super blown out or…
MRR: Bedroom goth.
Jess: We live all the way out here, so it’s like, short of just knowing those people I wouldn’t like… I feel like our music is pretty different from the other bands you know?
MRR: Well I kind of meant more than musically, like um culturally? Well like people will talk about you in the same breath as like the Dum Dum Girls or Pains of Being Pure of Heart and Vivian Girls, and like I don’t think of you as being part of that scene, I think of you as being sort of informed by more than those bands seem to be. Coming from a more DIY perspective.
Jess: I don’t know, I mean, looking at the trajectory of all of those bands—I was writing these songs way before any of their stuff was out.
MRR: I guess I was thinking about it because when you play shows here, you’ll play with the Make a Mess bands, like Grass Widow, Nodzzz and so on, which I think of you as being a part of that sort of scene, then when you play out of town shows it seem like you are taken out of that context or something. Like everyone in that scene here has shared values or something, whereas outside of here it’s more like booking agent/PR person…
Jess: yeah I feel kind of awkward out of San Francisco, I’ve realized from hearing other people talk about it, but like so many different kinds of people go to the same sorts of shows, because everyone is friends here, whereas other places things are a more segregated along genre lines. I feel like we either get these saccharine twee invite things or like with the Captured Tracks thing in Brooklyn, all that stuff is good, but I don’t feel like we sound like it really, but they like us so we play with them. We’ve only played out of town a total of three times. One to play festival that a label who put out one of our singles was putting together, and the other two were put together by Judd from Sex Vid with Gun Outfit. I don’t see how our out of town behavior negates our local values, if that’s the implication. I would say it is our aim to preserve a connection to who/where/what we are playing, but by being outside of your element, you are by definition changing resources—sometimes you need to take advice about what show to play. However, you won’t see us playing some Raprockpalooza just cos it’s outside of SF
MRR: What about that show you guys played with the Homosexuals, that weird Hollywood post-punk club night, Part Time Punks.
Jess: Yeah that was terrible, I mean Bruno from the Homosexuals was a certified real deal freak, but that night was weird. I don’t want to just talk shit
MRR: I was thinking about it because in this one way your band could be seen as being part of a sound or a scene that is happening…
Jess: Well, maybe because of the labels we’ve been on, I mean maybe people would think something because of that, but I don’t think there’s anything beyond that. I am not complaining, I don’t really give a shit
MRR: What was a formative punk rock experience for you? For me it was going to see Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear on the first tour, and realizing that that was what I wanted to do
Diane: My sister was hella punk, ten years before me. When I was really little she built this skate ramp is our drive way and she and all her friends would skate it, but she would always kick me off. I always wanted to hang out with her, she would be listening to really cool bands, bands that I listen to now. She’d always have like copies of Maximum around and shit. I’d say that was the stepping stone for me at least.
Jess: But then how did you rediscover it?
Diane: Well she’s a business woman on Wall Street now. She handed me down all her old tapes and shit, then when I was in 7th or 8th grade I started hanging out with a bunch of…
Jess: My thing was pretty similar, my other mom, well my mom dated this woman who she lived with for a really long time when I was a little kid, and she had like a Mohawk, and she would play Patti Smith and X records, when I was like six. So I always knew about it, but it was like my mom listened to it, it was never really unknown. It was always there. I got back into it when I started playing guitar in high school, by myself. I was never really in bands, but punk was the thing to look towards because I wasn’t exactly shredding Van Halen or anything. Naturally I looked to people with my standard of playing,
Michelle: I don’t think I had like a formative experience, I just would listen to it; maybe I indentified with punk the most out of everything I was into?
Jess: Well you’ve been into it for like 35 years. (laughter)
Michelle: I started playing keyboards when I was five and I remember sitting my mom down and playing her a song that I wrote, I wrote it down in a notebook and just like stood on a stool and sang it to her.
Jess: I think it’s interesting because people our age, people in their early 20s are the first generation to grow up when punk was always around you know, and now we’re in bands and stuff, so it is sort of interesting to think about.
MRR: But I am older than you, and when I was a kid I remember spiky punks on the King’s Road and stuff
Michelle: I hate to say it but I think I got into stuff through grunge
Diane: I hate the ’90s!
Michelle: I love the ’90s.
Jess: Someone said to me that I sure do wear a lot of plaid for someone that hates the ’90s. “You did not… Ooh. Touché!” I was trying to back pedal, like my people have always worn these things! Man, I’m so much more interesting in person I swear…
MRR: You guys just recorded an LP?
Jess: Yeah at the Pool in Portland, which is Alex from Mississippi records, it’s coming out on Slumberland. We accidentally recorded over a song, it was an older song from the uh, transitional Colors era so I wasn’t that bummed about it.
MRR: The cover’s gonna be soft focus, Vaseline smeared lens…
Jess: we did just see the Vaselines play-they were the best, just as hilarious as I dreamily daydreamed about when I first got into music.
MRR: Wait so how many reunion shows have you guys played??
Jess: We did just play with the Urinals. Pansy Division next week. The first wiener I ever saw was inside the Pansy Division 7”, I was like heebity jeebities….
MRR; In England it’s pronounced u-rye-nals here it’s ur-inals
Jess: Man, that’s awful, it’s like vagina, angina, oran-gina.
MRR: You do a tape label too, Tape it to go?
Jess: It’s the most genius thing of all time, you named it.
Diane: I just got that! Tape it to go, take it to go
Jess: Oh! You mean Tape It To The Limit? I was trying to figure out what you were talking about. You called it the wrong thing in your column. Tape It To The Limit is my empire, in association with Walmart, that I produce releases on. It’s cassette only, mostly because I can steal everything from my work, I have a high speed dubbing device, and I’ve been putting out releases, mostly by my friend’s bands and projects. Initially I was going to do one hundred of each tape, but that was just too many to deal with. Most of them are like three minute things, or just a few songs, and I have played on nearly all of them. The first one was Fl!!!pper with you.
MRR: So what’s next? I know you are moving to Los Angeles
Jess: Well, I am moving to LA for school, and Michelle is going on tour with the Slits for a month, but we’re still a band. Our LP is coming out in the fall, and we’ll go on tour at some point, next summer maybe…
MRR: Are Brilliant Colors a skate rock band?
(undecipherable laughter and talk that goes on for 5 minutes but I have no idea what anyone said at all)
MRR: You just came back from playing a bunch of shows in the North West, how was that?
Diane: We played a show in Olympia at an awesome pizza spot
MRR: Old School? That place rules. I saw Sex Vid there and kids were stage diving off the counter
Diane: We got free pizza.
Jess: Will play for pizza.
Jess: I had pizza before this interview in fact
Michelle: I had free pizza today too! We finished our round at the Mosquito killing center and we got free pizza!
MRR: Wait what? You should talk about that because that’s a crazy job—you’re the touring guitarist for the Slits and a mosquito killer?
Michelle: I work for a company that is contracted through the City to control the mosquito population. I ride my bike around San Francisco and I drop pellets of non toxic mosquito abator into storm drains in the sidewalk and stuff
Jess: What’s abator? Are you the master abator? So basically your job is being a master… abator.
MRR: Jess, you’re like the eternal little brother!
Michelle: It’s a cool job, I just ride my bike around the city all day. I have killer calf muscles from riding up hills all day
Jess: She’s the buffest Brilliant Color—sorry Diane
Jess: You are the finest, we already asked Cha Cha
Jess: Cha Cha is this thing you text questions to…
Michelle: Oh I asked it who was the cutest Brilliant Color, and it said, I would have to say Diane.
Michelle: Meanwhile across town Jess pouts…
MRR: Who is the coolest Brilliant Color?
Michelle: Maybe we’ll have to ask Cha Cha
Diane: Apparently Eric asked who was the coolest or cutest Nod, and the Cha Cha people were like, “We don’t know who Nodzzz is.”
Jess: This is going to be a fascinating interview. I am braindead from work, and I just drank a beer so I am also weirdly buzzed.
Diane: We should go get pizza and skate.
MRR: What is the scariest thing that has happened to Brilliant Colors as a band?
Diane: The scariest thing I have witnessed was you driving back from Portland by yourself.
Jess: That was actually scary. I have almost perfect vision, and I couldn’t make out signs, my eyes were blurry and I was totally out of my mind. It was like natural drugs.
MRR: How come you drove by yourself?
Jess: She doesn’t know how to drive a stick, and Michelle had to leave on tour from Portland.
Michelle: I picked up another tour
Jess: Michelle has a solo project
Michelle: I will say like, oh I’m playing a show tonight, and people will be all, “Oh what band?” No, it’s just me. Me and my guitar. “Oh I feel like I’ve got something going on…” Jerks. It’s got a bad connotation, you know?
MRR: We recently had some scary ghost experiences at MRR, mostly in our minds.
Jess: I remember when I was over, you guys were reading those Russian ghost stories, and you were like, No Jess we really wanna hang out! Tell some jokes! Jess, don’t go please! You wanted me to stay to ward off the ghosts, that was like the only time you really wanted me to stay, in case any ghosts attacked. What sort of protection would I be? I’m all bark. In reality I am side straddling a bike, screaming over a cockroach. That’s the scariest thing that’s happened. There are roaches that are like the size of my foot in our practice space, and they fall from the ceiling. I was playing a song, and I looked up and one fell to the ground. I threw my guitar at Diane, shrieked this high-pitched shrill scream and jumped onto my bike. Diane and Michelle were looking at me like, it’s a roach dude. It was big…
Diane: Are you talking about length?
Jess: Ok OK
Michelle: It was like thumb size.
Jess: A big picture of a big thumb. The biggest thumb you’ve ever seen or a cockroach…
MRR; I wanted to ask you about Essential Tremors.
Jess: Before I converted Diane into a Brilliant Color, I tried to play in a punk band with her and Zane from Needles. I played guitar. But Brilliant Colors needed a drummer, and it was clear Diane ripped, and she didn’t have time to do both things, so she picked Brilliant Colors. Essential Tremors was fun, we recorded a tape on uh, Tape It To Go. I’m going to tape you to go! Your stupid column… My one moment in the spotlight, in the twilight rather…