Songwriting duo Alexandra Spalding and Adrian Olson mark their debut together with Hypercolor. It’s a band forged through equal parts studio wizardry and notes picked up from an eclectic variety of previous Richmond, VA-based groups, which the two friends once played respective roles in.
Montrose Recording Studio radiates an unabashed reverence in the local community, and even extends beyond. The serene tangle of wilderness surrounding the facility, coupled with the magic of Mark Linkous’ famous 1969 Flickinger recording console, creates a unique environment.
It’s no surprise that Hypercolor borrows from the artistic elasticity of this environment to produce music unlike anything else around. At times brooding and poetic, and occasionally brimming with psychedelic abandon, the two-guitar lead attack of Olson and Spalding belies more than a hint of chemistry.
BTR talks with Spalding to understand what goes on behind the scenes of Hypercolor’s creative process.
BreakThru Radio (BTR): So to start, tell me a little bit about the origins of the band. Where did everything begin?
Alexandra Spalding (AS): Hypercolor was actually born out of the track “Yellow Brick Road” off of our EP “Urz & Magda.” We had been trying to put together a band for a while in Richmond after The Razorektors fell apart. Nothing quite stuck until the night we randomly wrote and recorded that song at Montrose Studio. For some reason or another it was the inspiration and confidence we needed to start a project together.
The “Urz & Magda” songs are just the two of us in the studio experimenting. After a period of time, like many other artists, we felt the need to start playing them in front of people. If I remember correctly, I think we booked a gig before we had even put together a band. Enter Cre (drums), Chrissie (bass), and Hugo (guitar). I knew Cre from my restaurant gig, Adrian knew Hugo from college, and we met Chrissie through a mutual friend.
BTR: You’ve been in a lot of groups–including The Razorektors which you mentioned earlier, but also Annie & the Beekeepers and Lost in the Trees. What makes Hypercolor different, and what experience do you bring to this group that you’ve learned from the others?
AS: Hypercolor is the first band that Adrian and I wrote songs for. In previous bands we’ve helped arrange, helped with specific lyrics, melodic lines, maybe a verse and definitely production ideas. It’s the first band I’ve sung lead in, and the same goes for Adrian.
I grew up playing cello and Adrian, the drums–forever the “side-man.” This is for sure one of the reasons Hypercolor started. Both of us had been writing our own material for a few years and finally felt the need to bring them outside of the acoustic bedroom scene.
Looking back, I think it was the challenge that both of us were looking for at that time in our lives.
BTR: What’s your favorite part about working at Montrose Recording Studio?
AS: I feel so incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to be surrounded by so many awesome instruments, inspiring studio toys and a constant stream of creativity. It’s an incredible source of inspiration and creative energy.
Also, Montrose has acted as the central avenue into the Richmond music scene for me. I’ve met so many amazing musicians, music lovers, producers, engineers and friends all because of Montrose. The studio is tucked away on a 20-acre historic farm just outside of the city. It’s magical. Everyone who goes out there feels that.
BTR: For those in our audience who don’t know, Adrian’s dad is Bruce Olsen of the Offenders. Has he played a role in the band’s musical development?
AS: For sure. Bruce has been super supportive from day one. He is always very honest too, never afraid to tell you how he really feels about what you’re doing and how he thinks it could be better. He and Adrian continue to run the studio together, and he continues to write really great songs. He also played drums on “Told you Once.”
BTR: What’s the band’s songwriting process like?
AS: Well it happens one of two ways generally. The first: outside of the studio setting, a song appears as a melodic/lyric idea over a simple guitar rhythm and chord structure. Through experimentation with arrangement and production direction in the studio, or at rehearsal, it then grows into a full song
The second: we’re in the studio and we just start recording a structure that is not necessarily based on a pre-existing song, but rather based on a mood or feeling. These are two vastly different ways of writing. I love them both, but what happens with the later has become more interesting to me in recent years. We decide on a random chord progression, come up with the drum feel, record that, and then start layering/over dubbing all sorts of instruments and sounds.
BTR: That sounds far more organic and exciting.
AS: Usually in the midst of all that you have an “Aha!” moment. You start singing a melody or have a lyrical idea that you can’t get out of your head. Maybe it comes from a guitar line or the rhythm of the drums–maybe you have to search for it a bit.
BTR: What’s your favorite part about working with Adrian, and how would you describe your dynamic?
AS: If I hadn’t started writing songs with Adrian I don’t think I would have ever found this method. Often times, it’s Adrian in the studio creating these song beds, and then I’ll venture in later to see if anything hits me melodically/lyrically. Adrian is incredibly good at coming up with super cool sonic scapes. If he’s not into what he’s making and I am, and I’m able to come up with something that he ends up liking or vise versa, the song isn’t lost. That’s really the coolest part.
This isn’t how all of the songs are written; it’s just one of the tools we have used to successfully complete Hypercolor songs. We have very different ways of working and at times they clash within the context of writing a song from the start together. But it seems we’re always able to build ideas off of each other’s initial individual ideas. We tend towards starting something alone and then coming together to finish it together. Maybe this is because we’re both only children! (Laughs).
BTR: Plans for 2016?
AS: At the moment, Cre has moved back home to South Carolina, Chrissie is playing in another rad Richmond band called Lady God, and Hugo has a full schedule of teaching guitar. However, Adrian and I live and breathe in the studio and yes… there is something brewing.
To hear more from Hypercolor, check out their bandcamp, or tune into BTR’s very own In the Den.
Feature photo courtesy of Coldon Martin.