Colony House was in Minneapolis when they heard the news. The coronavirus had gone from distant curiosity to looming crisis, and their tour had been canceled. It was a sudden, brutal end to the era of Leave What’s Lost Behind — the band’s excellent 2020 release that was supposed to define this season of the band.
The indie-rock group — made up of brothers Caleb and Will Chapman, and their friends Scott Mills and Parke Cottrell — is used to rolling with the punches. Over the course of three albums, Colony House has gotten used to vulnerable writing that makes no secret of the hardships endured the growth that can come from pain. But this new challenge is a global one, and it’s significant.
RELEVANT caught up with the Chapman brothers in quarantine to hear how they’re dealing with being an artist on lockdown, how they’re spending their time and how a song they wrote about COVID-19 has ended up being about something very different.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
So you all got yanked off the road, mid-tour. That sounds like it must have been a real bummer.
Our producer, who is just a dear friend and mentor in a lot of ways, he texted me about a week after everything had shut down. He was like, “Hey I know you’re probably feeling a lot of things and a lot of uncertainty, but just know you made the right record for the times. The songs were supposed to come out when they came out. Regardless of what happens, on the business side of things, just be confident that these songs came out and they were supposed to.” That was just a good reminder of that’s why we do what we do: to put light into the world.
For us, that’s what we feel like we’re supposed to do. When times like these hit, that’s when people really turn to music and books and movies to draw from, to be inspired by and hopefully help guide us out of it. Those are the things I look to help me navigate it all.
What have you learned from having that time taken away?
I think what we started really locking onto with this album and even these few shows that we were able to play this year is who we are and what we’re supposed to communicate and just dialing in the DNA of the band.
We’ve always said we want to be a conversational band. We want it to be a two-way street. Not just us putting music out, but us putting music out and then really listening to the response and hearing how people translate these lyrics. What they’re responding to as a collection of songs, and then the next batch of songs is usually a response to that.
So I think it’s just tuning our ears in. This season is like tuning into those conversations and being like, “All right. Well, where are we going next? If it’s not going to be in person, how are we going to take this conversation forward?” It’s just new territory.
So you’re already working on new music?
Writing and recording an album for me is really fun, but it’s like you’re training as an MMA fighter. You get in the ring and just get your face beat in and your body torn apart. And then you’re like, “OK, well I did that. And, and now I’ve got some time before I do that again.”
But this is like, “Actually… Hey, can you get back in that ring real quick and start getting beat up again?”
Because the album process is when you dive into all of those deep insecurities. As much as it can be a really exciting. fruitful time, it can also be that time where you’re stepping into a dark place and holding up a mirror and being like, “All right. It’s time to do some soul searching.” And that is scary too. So jumping back into the ring is… well, we’re down for it. We’re still young. We’ve got fight.
With so much going on right now in the world, do you feel any pressure as an artist to speak into it? Obviously, Colony House isn’t Rage Against the Machine or anything — but people do look to artists for help making sense of what’s going on.
The short answer is yes. Everything we write about is observational and personal. It’s the journal, entries of our souls and the thoughts that we’re having in regard to what we’re seeing. Like our new song [“When the Walls Come Crashing Down” featuring Jon Foreman and Jillian Edwards], we thought was written about the world shutting down and a pandemic happening. The observation there was, who would have thought that I could walk by a stranger and been like, “How are you doing?”, and they know exactly what I’m referring to. That’s a weird phenomenon that has never happened. There’s a weird connection that all of a sudden you have with everyone else in the whole world.
Now the lyric of this song has changed over the last week or two in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement. That is not a new movement at all, but I think it’s finally being given an appropriate spotlight. And that’s what I love about music and lyrics. This song was written long before these protests and now, it takes on this whole new meaning. There’s a lyric about holding the match while covered in ashes. And this idea that so often we’re looking around us at what the problem is. Why are there fires raging around us? And then you look down and you’re like, “Oh, I’m the one holding the match. I started this fire.”
So the lyrics take on a new meaning. So many times, artists are coming from it as like, “Here’s my solution.” That’s a bold statement. What’s put us all on our heels in a really beautiful way is we’re all having to go “Not only do we not have the answers right now, but we are a big part of the problem and we never knew it.” That’s scary and exciting as a writer. To be like, “How am I going to communicate something that is empowering and hopeful, but also convicting?”
I think if we’re humble in how we approach communicating with people, there will be more profound things than we could even plan on writing. And that’s what excites me.