Interview: Eddie Roberts Talks Color Red, The Payback & More
Words by: Kelley Lauginiger
Humbly deflecting gratitude to his community, The New Mastersounds guitarist Eddie Roberts won’t take all the credit for the heaps of positive work he’s been doing. Since August’s launch of his new Denver-based label Color Red, Roberts has been busy releasing new collaborative music each week, writing a fresh Mastersounds album for upcoming release and planning The Payback benefit for Denver’s homeless youth.
In preview of The Payback event and the upcoming debut album performance, I talked to Eddie about how much fun he’s having making music at his studio, what to expect from The Payback and all things Color Red.
JamBase: Thanks for chatting today. I’m so excited to learn about Color Red!
Eddie Roberts: Of course. Thanks for doing this. We’re excited about it, too. We launched back on August 28 officially, then did a big launch party at Cervantes on September 28. So we’ve been going a few months now.
JamBase: Congratulations, that’s amazing. Was Analog Son’s album Funky Mother the first release on the label?
ER: That album was released through Color Red, but actually, I released Matador! Soul Sounds’ album in March, so that was first. We didn’t make a fuss over it then, as we looked to August as the big unveiling of the label.
So, even though that was a band that exists already, the whole point and purpose of Color Red, is that it is more about collaboration. It’s based in Denver, where there is so much musical collaboration going on, and no one was capturing it. The rest of the world wasn’t getting to hear it, so we wanted to change that.
My partners and I worked on getting a lot of content ready for over a year before we went live so we could release a new weekly track no problem. We got the studio up and running back in March and just started cranking out material.
Matador! Soul Sounds – Go On, Love Captured by Jim Mimna
JamBase: That’s something cool and unique you are doing on Color Red. Can you talk about the weekly releases?
ER: Definitely. When you go to the Color Red website, you can sign up at the top to get a new track emailed to you, that comes from us each week. These will be collaborations from all the different musicians who come through the studio and like I said, give a chance to share all the awesome music being made here.
I am trying to capture the excitement of things as people come through town. But eventually it won’t just be Denver. I’m hoping to capture this whole global network of awesome musicians I’m tapped into, and share all the great stuff people are making. Alan Evans is feeding us tracks, and we’re working on some recording in the UK and some things in Madrid. The starting point and inspiration was Denver, since it’s become such a hub, but we see this growing to a global network.
JB: That’s great. And is your intention for Color Red to be genre-specific, and encompass solely funk music?
ER: I’m trying not to be too genre-specific, although it seems that everything I touch tends to get a bit funky (laughing). But you know, we had a lap steel player in who’s been on loads of country records just come in last Thursday. I had the drummer from Thievery Corporation, and the New Mastersounds bass player too. So it was a completely different sound. The day before that we had Brother’s Keeper, who John Popper plays with a lot, as well, and that session sounded more like The Eagles with a couple featured guests.
The nature of the studio is old-school, too. We’re using tape. We’re kind of getting that classic tape sound, which in and of itself, kind of makes it sound funky.
It couldn’t have turned out better. I had this idea and I hoped people would love it. And they do. People just love to come ‘round and hang out, and lay some horns on the track we made because someone else just happened to be in town, too. It’s fun to have that whole kind of thing going on.
JB: It sounds like you’re having a blast! You mention The Eagles, which reminds me that you did the James Gang’s “Funk 49” cover on the New Mastersounds recent release, Renewable Energy. Was that released on the Color Red label as well?
ER: So, up to this point, all the New Mastersounds albums have been through One Note Records, which is our self-owned label in the UK. But now, we’re finishing up this new December release which will go out on Color Red next year. We’ll release with Color Red moving forward.
JB: Wow, congratulations, Eddie! That’s so cool. You’re truly the king in the kingdom hosting these sessions for all your projects now. That’s gotta be so exciting.
ER: Absolutely. And like I said, we’re all doing this together. I’m really excited people are liking the idea.
We’re in the middle of a writing session right now, and we’re working with this singer who I met at some benefit shows, Lamar Williams Jr.. He is Atlanta-based, and his dad was Lamar Williams of the Allman Brothers Band. He sang with the Allman Brothers at The Beacon, and was in the band Les Brers with Oteil [Burbridge] and Butch [Trucks] and everyone. He came to Atlanta and guested with us, and it was just … wow. We just gelled so well and knew we wanted to make an album with him, so he’s in Denver right now and we’ve been doing a bunch of writing and recording with him at the studio.
This is a perfect segue to talk about The Payback, too, because what we’re doing is creating an album for two weeks leading up to The Payback show and the event at The Ogden. Lamar will be featured with us, performing all the material that we’ve been recording for the new album. So that’s kind of how it all ties in.
JB: That’s great. So will these tracks you’re creating only be released to those who donate to The Payback event?
ER: Hmm. Now that you come to mention it, I think that’s a great idea. I like the brainstorming we’re doing here (laughing)! It could definitely be something we include for the VIP package, or as something special from the sessions here at the studio. I like that. Obviously the album will be on release for the general public when it’s officially out, but that will take some time for me to mix and prepare. We’ll be recording from December 5 – December 14, and at that time, the album will be ready to perform live. But, I don’t think it will be officially released until April or so.
JB: I see. That makes sense. Can you talk about the origin of The Payback benefit event, and explain a bit about why you’re putting it on?
ER: First, I’ll say that the event is going to be on December 14 at The Ogden Theatre here in Denver. We’ll [New Mastersounds] be playing, with [Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe guitarist] DJ Williams opening with his band, Shots Fired. Like I mentioned, Lamar will join us, as well as some horns [Mike Olmos, trumpet, and Jason Mingledorff, saxophone], and we’ll be performing this new album’s material.
The origin of this whole thing started back when I lived in San Francisco, half a block from the Great American Music Hall on the edge of the Tenderloin. I really liked the community that was there, but there were some real problems going on with the homeless situation. So, while I found a great sense of community there, people outside the community found it to be a bit scary.
I just felt that if I was going to be playing shows in San Francisco, I wanted to be raising money for the community that was hosting it, essentially. So that’s why I started the first Payback; I think that first one was in 2012.
JB: So that’s how you got the name for the events, by paying back your community?
ER: Yes, exactly. That first one was just the New Mastersounds at the Great American Music Hall, but then two years later I met my business partner KP and we made it a proper thing, and we formed a 501c3. We did a couple of Payback’s at the GAMH, where we partnered with Compass Family Services, who focus their work on families with children under the age of five who are experiencing homelessness.
Then I moved to Denver in 2015, and here we work with Urban Peak, who focus on youth experiencing homelessness from ages 15 – 24. I happen to live next door to one of their transition apartment buildings they have, which is right by the Ogden, so it kind of all ties in this way. They do great work, and are a great, established organization.
For the last couple of years, what I’ve been doing is giving $1 for every ticket sold towards The Payback. But this event on December 14 is specifically being put on to raise money for Urban Peak, and every dollar from every ticket will be donated to their cause. We have sponsors and all kinds of people involved giving their time to make it work with production, too.
JB: That’s really amazing, Eddie. You’re doing something very special for this community.
ER: Well, thanks. Urban Peak does such great work. It’s shocking to me that in the Denver-metro area there are 2,500 homeless youth who are experiencing this. It’s not a big city, so that’s huge numbers.
JB: That’s absolutely shocking. Plus, I wouldn’t say it’s warm there. That’s horrible.
EB: No. It’s freezing here right now, like under 20 degrees with an icy drizzle. Just shocking when you think about it.
JB: So it’s you and KP working on The Payback organization, but who else works with you on Color Red?
ER: So, KP kind of helps a bit with everything. But my team for Color Red has four of us including me. I’m the overall A&R, CEO, President or whatever you want to call it. It’s my vision and I put the team together.
Then there is Zach Bloom, who is involved with all kinds of start-up stuff and technology. He knows the platforms, and how to get the music out there to people in this climate where everything is always changing.
Then we have Mike Tallman [Pretty Lights graphic designer, Euforquestra guitarist], as our Creative Director who has been doing the Mastersounds album artwork for a while now, and does a great job keeping things feeling retro.
That’s something I wanted. You know how you know it’s a Blue Note record as soon as you see the art? That’s what I want with Color Red. I think Mike does a great job with that.
Joe Tatton Trio – Bud Flood
JB: He really does do amazing work. So, will each record have the “Red C” logo for Color Red?
ER: Yes, that’s the plan. For sure. And Mike does all of that. He’s really talented. He’s also an engineer. He has many talents.
Then we have Josh Fairman, who has helped me engineer and produce the last four New Mastersounds albums, and he’s just a real studio expert. You may know him as the bass player in Analog Son and Sunsquabi.
JB: I do, actually. I’m a huge Analog Son fan, and saw them open for you many years ago at Cervantes and they blew me away.
ER: Yes, they’re a great band, really incredible. Being here in Denver, Josh and I built the studio together actually. Then, between Mike, Josh and myself, we can all produce sessions and content. So we don’t have to rely on just one of us to be able to do that, which allows us to have a lot of output for the weekly sessions and otherwise.
JB: Very smart. What’s something that has surprised you since you launched Color Red? Maybe something you didn’t expect?
ER: I just love the way the community has really gotten behind us and just ‘gets’ what we’re trying to do. People come to the studio, and it’s like coming to summer camp! It’s like being 16 again (laughing). You can only hope that something like that is going to happen, and you can’t expect it. It’s either going to happen, or it’s not, and it really truly is HAPPENING. It’s just such a joy to see that growing, and see how happy people’s reactions when they’re at the studio, asking, “when can I come back?” That feels really good.
JB: It really seems like musicians at your level are always looking to see where they can play when they’re on the road, too. So you never know what projects can come from these one-off, chance studio sessions, either.
ER: That’s exactly right. That’s it! It’s like, you can go into the studio together with a random group of people, and come out and say, “Wow! This is a band!” (laughing) That’s how great bands get created. It’s very exciting, and that’s what I hoped it would be.
JB: Amazing. And is it true that there are no recording costs to artists at your studio?
ER: Yes. The idea was to build the space where artists could play and record for free. I’ve been making albums for years and never had that opportunity, I’ve had to just pay for studio time. But, because our partners are able to engineer and produce the music into its final form, as musicians ourselves, we have a different thing going on than a lot of labels who would have to hire musicians or engineers to do that work.
We are the musicians. We are the engineers. We are the producers. We are the label. All in one. We’re all working for the same cause.
JB: Well put. And is this hospitality, too? You’re offering the studio as a place where people can stay when passing through town, as well, right?
ER: That’s correct. We set it up so there’s rooms, and I think we can house about seven people in the place. That’s one way we can capture our friends when they come through, then we’re all here in one place with a full studio and instruments. For instance, Joe [Tatton], who plays keys in the Mastersounds is in town this week, and I’ve put him on three sessions just while he’s here! I’m not sure if he knew he was going to be doing that part (laughing).
JB: That’s great, Eddie. Have you had a session that stands out as your favorite since August that people can look for?
ER: Good question. A really fun one was the WRD thing [Robert Walter, Eddie Roberts and Adam Deitch]. Robert Walter is touring with Mike Gordon right now, and he hit me up asking me to get a cocktail when he’d be in town. So, of course, I invited him to come to the studio and make some music. Then, Adam Deitch, who lives in Denver, came in the studio with us and we made four tunes in two-and-a-half hours. And THEN we went for a cocktail (laughing). We can move quickly when people are passing through town.
WRD – Red Sunset
JB: And as for The Payback, are you taking donations from attendees, or even people who can’t attend to go towards Urban Peak?
ER: Yes, absolutely. Anyone can donate on the website. We hope people will get involved for a good cause even if they can’t be there in attendance.