“Great stuff!” –Chris Collingwood, Fountains of Wayne/Look Park
“Bravo!! Bravissimo! Universal material that will appeal to people from all over the world, at any age!” –Patrick Moraz, The Moody Blues/Yes
“You gotta hear this band!” –Peter Holsapple, The dB’s/REM
“‘Come Back July’ . . . is a perfect representation of the band’s ability to craft an impossibly catchy pop-rock tune.” –Chuck Armstrong, Diffuser
“When you talk about great guitarists in the Valley, Alex Johnson’s name is always in the mix. Whether he’s playing meaty and melodic hooks with his rock trio, Colorway, gigging solo or handling myriad riffs as part of the backing band for the Young@Heart Chorus, Johnson’s in complete command of the fretboard.” –Steve Pfarrer, Daily Hampshire Gazette.
“Great player, great band!” –Davy Knowles, Back Door Slam
“Amazing and inspiring . . . ” –Richard Lloyd, Television/Matthew Sweet
“Alex is lighting up the world with his music.” –Natalia Muñoz, 1400 WHMP Radio
“it’s really refreshing to hear an album with well-crafted, un-fooled-around-with rock songs that stand on their own.” –Jake Bissaro, Motif Magazine
“In total, Colorway has released one of the finest rock albums of 2015.” —Ric Albano, Modern Rock Review
“. . . if you’re a fan of no-nonsense, head-boppin’ rock albums, you’ll wear a nice groove into this one.” –Hunter Styles, Valley Advocate
“. . . 10 tracks of 100% pure shots of classic pop-rock songwriting brilliance.” –Kevin Matthews, Power Of Pop.
“That [Colorway], manage to create as full a sound as they do as a trio, and to bring a kind of rugged enthusiasm to their approach, is a mark in their favor.” –Francis DiMenno, The Noise.
“[The Black Sky Sequined] is a rock album for people who like smart, memorable music with tastefully adept musicianship.” –Chuck Foster, The Big Takeover
“. . . a solid album.” –Alex Chagun, SLUG Magazine.
“Do yourself a favor and track down a copy of The Black Sky Sequined. You won’t regret it.” –Jeffrey Sisk, Pittsburgh In Tune
“At times [Alex] reminds me of a mash up of Clapton, Mark Knopfler, and that Aussie dude, Keith Urban. Wrap your head around that combination.” –Craig Hartranft, Dangerdog Music Reviews
” . . . that disregard for what’s trendy is exactly why Colorway is worth seeking out . . . with Colorway, you sense an unspoken credo: Stick to what you know, and do it at the highest level possible.” –Michael Hamad, Hartford Courant/CTnow.com
The Republican/Masslive’s Donnie Moorehouse had this to say about Colorway’s performance opening for Foreigner at The Calvin Theater on 5/6/16:
Local rock trio Colorway supported the show with a strong opening set, putting a Valley-band touch on the power-trio with hints of the Beatles, understated Clash, and lo fi / Americana. Led by F. Alex Johnson (Drunk Stuntmen) the band delivered great hooks with driving rhythms and soaring guitar.
Live Music News and Reviews did a nice piece on our show at The Root Cellar in Greenfield, MA with Flux Capacitor on 9/3/16.
Interview with Alex and show preview in Newport Mercury
Check out a great interview with Alex that gives some backstory to his time growing up in the South Coast of New England.
Written by Kathleen Troost-Cramer. Originally published in Newport Mercury 11/15/16
In his wild youth growing up in Fall River, Massachusetts, F. Alex Johnson would head south to Newport to hear the local music scene. Now at the age of 46, he’s returning, not to listen, but to play. Johnson’s trio Colorway, based in Northampton, Massachusetts, will perform their rootsy pop rock at the Broadway bar Pour Judgement on Friday, Nov. 18.
As continuing lead guitarist for the internationally-renowned senior rock ensemble Young@Heart Chorus, Johnson played the Jane Pickens Theater and the Newport Folk Fest in 2008. Now he’s eager to introduce Newport crowds to his newest band formed in 2012. In the four years since Colorway’s founding, the band has opened for the likes of Foreigner, Delta Deep, Richard Lloyd and The Yardbirds. They also played the 2016 Green River Festival. Johnson was also co-founder of the 1990s alt-country group Drunk Stuntmen.
Johnson said Colorway is “a combination of all the things I’ve learned” over a lifetime of professional musicianship as well as an exercise in “making music that I want to listen to.”
“I’m excited to play Newport,” he added. “I’m excited to be playing with these new, young guys,” referring to bandmates Matt Clegg (bass) and Riley Godleski (drums). “They love music just as much as I do.”
It’s a love that goes back to Johnson’s childhood, when he started out by learning the violin — although, growing up on classic rock, he didn’t always play it in the traditional way.
“I’d hold my violin like a guitar,” he recalled with a laugh, “and I’d pluck it like I was Rick Springfield.” Shades of things to come were on display when the young Johnson adorned the classical instrument with a Harley-Davidson skull and wings sticker.
Nevertheless, he did take playing the violin seriously, even winning the gold medal at Durfee High School’s Fiddle Festival three years in a row starting at age 10.
Johnson’s violin training taught him to read music, but it also taught him much more about himself and his talents. “When I started to connect how the intervals make sense, attaching the letter to the note, it made me think I could possibly be good at this. The violin was when I realized, music makes sense to me.”
That wasn’t the only thing he realized. He also discovered that he could make use of school time to pursue his passion. “I could actually get out of science class and play with the jazz band and no one could say anything to me,” Johnson recalled — a habit that led his mom to write his violin teacher a note saying, essentially, “don’t let him miss math class anymore.”
“I got really good at (the violin),” Johnson said, “but the time came when I had to choose, and guitar won out.” He credits this choice to hearing “Stairway to Heaven” during a school music class at age 12. “I went home and picked out the notes,” he said. And he was hooked on guitar from then on.
Two years after this eye-opening experience, Johnson received his first guitar as a gift, one he didn’t keep to himself for long. “When you start playing music,” he said, “you do it for yourself first and foremost, but you want people to enjoy it too.” So at age 15, the budding musician started playing guitar in what he refers to as “Portuguese wedding bands” in Fall River, and a year later he was playing with cover bands. A musical career seemed a natural fit.
Since then, Johnson said, “there are no mile markers for me. I’ve just been playing music. I’ve managed to stave off a 9-to-5 for the past 10 years.”
But playing isn’t enough for Johnson. Driven to share his knowledge and passion for music with others and to invest in music’s future, he has been teaching guitar to teens, with a focus on classic rock, since 2014.
“There are so many ways you can learn guitar, so many ways you can teach it,” he said. “It’s nice to work with kids, when you can see when they start learning. Maybe in 25 years my students will be in a rock band and I’ll get to see them break out.”
For their Pour Judgement debut, Colorway will be performing songs from their acclaimed album “The Black Sky Sequined,” named after a poem penned by Johnson’s late mother Judy, along with two new new numbers. The band is currently working on material for a new album as well.
“Maybe some day a cover band will play my music,” said Johnson. “That would be a treat.”
Show preview and album review from Motif Magazine
Written by Jake Bissaro. Originally published in Motif Magazine, 11/9/16
On Friday, November 18th, the Western Mass rock band Colorway will be treating the Ocean State to a free show at Pour Judgement in Newport. Colorway combines Big Star hooks with guitar wizardry to create catchy earworms that make the repeat button come in handy.
Some may know frontman Alex Johnson as the former lead guitarist for Northampton alt-country outfit Drunk Stuntmen and as the guitarist from the Young at Heart Chorus, a group of 70+-year-olds who sing punk songs. In 2013, after decades as a sideman, Johnson decided to step into the spotlight, with excellent results.
Colorway’s second album, The Black Sky Sequined, came out in 2015 to much acclaim. From the sound of it, Johnson has settled into the new digs easily, doubling up on lead guitar and vocals, often at the same time. The band also has a great rhythm section and awesome harmonies courtesy of Matt Clegg on bass and Riley Godleski on drums.
I’m a sucker for a well-crafted guitar solo, and Colorway’s are way more than just tearing through the pentatonic scale. Johnson pulls from a sizable bag of tricks that help keep every song fresh.
He’s no slouch in the lyrics department, either. After years of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, Johnson got sober, and reflects on his newfound lifestyle in “I Never Changed.”
“I washed all my clothes in gasoline/And abandoned my unique identity/All my plaids/All my stripes/Burned a brilliant runway white.”
“Telephone” is an entertaining look at the overbearing presence of technology.
“I used to look ahead/But this is the future/In the palm of my hand/No matter where you are/A plane a train a car/Just can’t beat my telephone there.”In a time when it’s so easy to grab a MacBook and throw in tons of reverb, delay and whatever else the kids are using these days, it’s really refreshing to hear an album with well-crafted, un-fooled-around-with rock songs that stand on their own. And they totally pull it off live; other than occasional extra guitar track, what you’re hearing on Black Sky is what you’re getting in the flesh.
Colorway is based in Northampton, Massachusetts, the center of the great music scene that has recently produced acts like And the Kids and Speedy Ortiz. The Western Massachusetts scene reminds me a lot of Providence: big enough to be interesting and diverse, but small enough that you’re able to grab a beer with the guy you just saw doing a stage dive. I attended UMass Amherst right down the road, and have many fond memories of the Iron Horse and Pearl Street.
This will be a good one, so get out and see it if you can!
Colorway plays Pour Judgement on Friday, Nov 18 at 10pm. Show is free!
Stellar Review by The Valley Advocate!
Review by Hunter Stylesoriginally published in the Valley Advocate, 10/29/15
Where on the spectrum does Colorway play? I might say these musicians are best at capturing the light, bright tones of late morning or mid-afternoon, given their talent for writing sunny and engaging pop songs.
But band leader F. Alex Johnson, one of the founders of the alt-country group Drunk Stuntmen, has a nocturnal cast about him. He is a veteran of the local roadhouse rock scene, lit by neon and bathed in shadow. From his thick and gritty guitar work, it shows.
The songs on Colorway’s second full-length album, The Black Sky Sequined, strike a sublime balance between light and dark, sweet and dour. Across 10 tracks — some good; some great — the band leans radio-friendly, and nothing here reinvents the wheel. But if you’re a fan of no-nonsense, head-boppin’ rock albums, you’ll wear a nice groove into this one.
Through his un-showy singing style and introspective lyrics, Johnson mostly comes off as a softie — his other regular gig is playing guitar with Northampton’s Young@Heart senior chorus — and here he is wishing on good deeds and second chances. “Maybe all the pressure/ didn’t make a gem/ Anyone can sparkle/ We can live again,” he sings on “Gen Exit,” the catchy opening track. “Take me, I am ready/ I can feel it kicking in.”
That song — full of driving drums, crisp electric guitar riffs, and rich moments of harmony — sets the tone for a streamlined and cleanly-produced record. With nice work from Dave Hayes on bass and JJ O’Connell on drums, these tunes are full of texture, but sleekly composed.
That’s no big surprise, since the self-produced album — which was recorded by Mark Alan Miller at Sonelab in Easthampton — was mastered in Portland, Maine by veteran sound engineer Bob Ludwig, who won several Grammy awards in February, including two for Beck’s Morning Phase, which won album of the year.
At one point, Johnson says, Ludwig exclaimed that the fifth track had “a great solo … there’s lots of great solos on this record.” Ludwig is right. And the song he was referring to, called “Me and My Baby,” is one of the album’s standouts, leaping back and forth between crunchy blues-rock verses and dreamy power-chord refrains, like a Black Keys song swept up by Fountains of Wayne.
“Maybe you’ll see me tomorrow/ and we can try it again,” Johnson sings. “Maybe you’ll see me tomorrow/ and we can try to be friends.”
That’s Colorway’s message in a nutshell. When Johnson sings about life’s trials, he has mud on his boots but stars in his eyes. He has been around the block a few times. But whenever he circles back to familiar turf, he’s prepared to see it in a new light.
Colorway plays The Half Door in Hartford on Nov. 4. The Black Sky Sequined is available for digital download at colorwaymusic.com and in-store at select businesses in Amherst, Easthampton, and Northampton.•
10/3 Singapore’s Power Of Pop gives The Black Sky Sequined a rave review!
Review by Kevin Matthews originally published 8/3 at Power Of Pop.
Now this is what I call rock ’n’ roll! Colorway’s sophomore effort finds the trio once again burning their way through 10 tracks of 100% pure shots of classic pop-rock songwriting brilliance.
Singer-songwriter-guitarist F. Alex Johnson and the steady rhythm section of Dave Hayes (Bass/Vocals) &
J.J. O’Connell (Drums/Percussion/Vocals) have delivered the perfect antidote to those who believe that good old fashioned pop-rock music is somehow irrelevant in 2015.
If you think 5 Seconds of Summer is guitar rock, then you might want to keep sucking your pacifier – this is music for adults – where a penchant for smart lyrics & sophisticated songwriting are married with an honest application of rock instrumentation.
From the opening driving “Gen Exit” to the closing epic “Telephone”, it’s all tight as a drum without any flab whatsoever. No mean feat. Highly recommended!
8/29 High Praise for The Black Sky Sequined from Modern Rock Review
Review by Ric Albano. Originally published in Modern Rock Review, 8/29/15
The Black Sky Sequined, is the second album by the Massachusetts-based trio, Colorway. The music is a showcase for vocalist and guitarist F. Alex Johnson, who fuses strong elements of new wave and classic rock with well-formed melodies and arrangements which are just unique enough to give everything a nice edge. While the compositions on the surface seem standard, even simple, they each contain enough underlying complexity to require additional listens to fully catch and appreciate everything presented here.
For about a decade through 2008, Johnson and drummer J.J. O’Connell were in an alt-rock group called Drunk Stuntmen. Johnson admits that he embraced the “Drunk” part of the group’s name too strongly and decided to leave the group and take a break from music for several years. However, the music sought Johnson out as he woke at night with new melodies in his head which he slowly developed into songs. In 2012, he got back in touch with O’Connell and recruited bassist Dave Hayes to rehearse and record new music. The result was Colorway’s self-titled debut album which was released in June 2013 with the trio playing their first ever live gig at the CD release party. Both the recording and live performance were well received and the group has been steadily playing since.
While Johnson again wrote most of the material for The Black Sky Sequined, the sound was forged more collectively as a true working band. Like the debut, this album was recorded at Sonelab in Easthampton, MA and co-produced/engineered by Mark Alan Miller, with whom Johnson has been working for about twenty years. Further, it was mastered by Grammy Award winning Bob Ludwig, who has over 3,000 credits to his name dating back to The Beatles, the Stones and Jimi Hendrix. The album got its title from a poem written by Johnson’s late mother, Judy.
The album begins with “Gen Exit”, with a straight forward pop/rock drilling riff until more variety is added to the riff in the later verses. The slight guitar lead is simple but effective, with the profound lyrical message of; “Its awful gray between holding your own and just hanging around.” “Come Back July” features a strong, thumping bass and overall rhythm throughout the verse that really draws in the listener. The highly melodic vocals that get the point across of the lyrical theme of life going by too quickly. The first single from the album, “Come Back July” was actually written by Johnson between 9pm and midnight on July 31st, where the prospect of August meant the coming of Fall and the cold of New England.
Come back July I never said goodbye, Light all those lonely Roman candles into that August sky…”
“I Don’t Want to Go Home” is a song which has a different vibe than the previous two, a much more classic rock approach, especially with the thick, bluesy electric guitars and fine guitar lead by Johnson, arriving for the first of many times on the album. This song also references the album’s title in the lyric. “Explain” has a jazzy rock approach, especially with the animated bass and top notch drumming by the rhythm section. There is also a different melodic approach originally before the song does eventually build with a stronger rock arrangement. In contrast, “Me and My Baby” has a dark country/rock feel, slow and direct with plenty of room for strong guitar notes to whine throughout this six minute, extended track. This complex song goes through various interesting changes in the middle before returning to the main theme and a fantastic ending guitar riff which persists through a long outro with multiple vocal harmony parts reminiscent of a technique used by Phish.
The oddest song on the album, “The Cycle” begins with rich vocal harmonies over a simple intro guitar before the song then enters a long guitar lead for its entertaining duration. “Tiny Town” returns to pop/rock with assertive riffing between the melodic words and animated drumming by O’Connell that nicely works in tandem with the thumping bass line of Hayes. A later overdubbed, whining guitar dances around the crunchy original rhythm guitar, which never relents in the mix, offering some odd musical tension that makes this track distinct. “Everybody Wants Me to Love You” is, perhaps, the closest to filler on the entire album, not all that terrible as a rapid ska-influenced track, but also not all that inventive compared to the rest of the music.
“I Never Changed” is a bluesy song with entertaining lyrics and an interesting overall arrangement which was co-written by Jodi Lynn Nicholas. Overall, the measured interplay between lead vocals and guitar licks make it one of the stronger tracks on the album. Perhaps the strongest overall, is the closer “Telephone”, which starts as a happy-go-lucky pop song commenting on contemporary culture and reliance on technology. Later on the song makes some interesting turns before it finishes with an excellent, extended guitar solo along with the inclusion of a slight horn section as a closing jam which leaves the listener wanting for more.
On The Black Sky Sequined the group successfully forged the kind of music which maximized their talents while being accessible to a large listening audience. In total, Colorway has released one of the finest rock albums of 2015.
6/16 Skope Magazine gives TBSS 4/5 Stars
Review by Jason Hillenburg originally published in Skope 6/16/15
Lou Reed never believed rock music, the great populist art form of our age, was condemned to disposability. He devoted significant time in the second half of his career to writing works of extraordinary depth like New York, Magic and Loss, and Songs for Drella with the hopes these albums combined the thematic weight of a literary work with the visceral punch of rock instrumentation. Opinions vary wildly about the merit of such an exercise or his ultimate success. Colorway, without question, aspires to the same ideal on their album The Black Sky Sequined. They couple wiry, lean musical textures with sharply observed lyrics in an aural equivalent of Hemingway’s “iceberg theory” that if writers know “… enough of what [they are] writing about [they] may omit things that [they know] and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” From the failed and faded dreamers in songs like “Gen Exit” to the anguished narrators and clenched-fist survivors of songs like “Explain” and “I Don’t Want to Go Home”, Colorway and lyricist F. Alex Johnson know more than they are showing and The Black Sky Sequined is a better experience for it.
“Gen Exit” opens the album and sets the sonic paradigm. Johnson’s guitar work has extraordinary suggestiveness. His terse phrasing has such a clean, decisive touch that each line seems bristling with barely contained energy. The rhythm section of Dave Hayes on bass and J.J. O’Connell on drums is wiry and unobtrusive, but their penchant for creating space in the composition distinguishes their playing and Johnson fills these spaces with attentive vocals. There’s not a great deal of emotion in Johnson’s vocal beyond an appealing, darkly sardonic edge. That’s the point. This is an observer’s voice offering listeners a precise character study in miniature and those moments of implied judgment in his vocal add immeasurably to the performance.
“Come Back July” invokes nostalgia for lost time in its first two verses with almost Proustian recall of detail. The opening simile sets the tone for simple, yet breathtakingly exact, imagery like tearing up a calendar, shaking the sand from your shoes, and driving to the water. Johnson’s technique of marrying the specific with the universal is on full display here with the song’s later turn towards generalities and the band’s minimalist backing approximates the rousing energies of the season with confidence and tastefulness. The mid-tempo blues burn of “Explain” will immediately grab attention with Johnson’s authoritative tightrope walk on the fret board. It’s easy to fall into overstatement on a song like this, but his playing maintains a delicate balancebetween pathos and guitar-hero histrionics.
Colorway take an unexpected turn with the largely instrumental “The Cycle”. Rather than offering up more of the stripped-down guitar attack of earlier songs, Colorway elongates melodies and stretches out instrumentally without ever losing the economy of approach characterizing the album as a whole. “Everybody Wants Me to Love You” percolates with a caffeinated bounce and shows off more humor than perhaps any other track on the album. The Black Sky Sequined concludes with the layered, yet subtly humorous, “Telephone”. It’s perhaps not the most original of subjects, looking at the alienating effects of technology on our basic human need to connect, but Johnson’s lyric and another convincing vocal colors familiar ground with unexpected flair.
It isn’t a perfect outing. Some songs are a bit longer than needed and will upset, for some, the aesthetic heard elsewhere on the album. Colorway’s The Black Sky Sequined excels when everything is pared back to the bone – at its best, the clarity and immediacy are overwhelming
Score: 4/5 Stars
5/11 Brooklyn’s The Big Takeover on The Black Sky Sequined
Review by Chuck Foster.
Two years after their debut, Northampton, MA trio, Colorway, hone their sound with a solid, no-frills sophomore release.
The Black Sky Sequined attacks with a hook-laden power-pop punch that pervades through all ten songs. A classic rock sensibility also marks the album, allowing sophisticated songcraft and excellent execution to come to the forefront. With very few exceptions, the recording consists solely of guitarist/vocalist/songwriter F. Alex Johnson (Drunk Stuntmen, The Young at Heart Chorus), bassist Dave Hayes and drummer JJ O’Connell with minimal overdubs, giving an intimate, live feel to the overall production. As the tracks progress, Johnson’s guitar mastery blossoms, his guitar solos hinting at prog and Frank Zappa. It’s a rock album for people who like smart, memorable music with tastefully adept musicianship.
Whether Colorway become indie rock sensations or remain Northampton’s best-kept secret, they’ll continue to create strong music because that’s who they are. Hopefully, it doesn’t take another two years for the next one.
Originally published in The Big Takeover, 5/11/15
5/6 3.5 out of 5 stars from Pittsburgh In Tune
Review by Jeffrey Sisk.
If straight-forward, guitar-driven rock is your thing, I’d suggest you give “The Black Sky Sequined” a handful of spins. It’s the sophomore full-length from Massachusetts trio Colorway and provides a nice blend of driving riffs and hook-filled melodies.
Colorway released their self-titled debut in 2012 and are fronted by F. Alex Johnson, who cut his teeth in alt-country outfit Drunk Stuntmen and senior citizen sensation Young@Heart. He’s joined in the band by bassist Dave Hayes and drummer J.J. O’Connell, and Colorway’s lead single “Come Back July” is a terrific introduction to the band and the album.
“I love the summer as any New Englander would,” Johnson says of “Come Back July.” “But you know what comes after August? The fall. And with it comes the cold, things start to die, and then it all goes straight to hell. I wanted to write a love song to the time of year when my little slice of the world feels the most alive.”
Additional standouts on the 10-track, 45-minute platter include “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” “Me and My Baby,” “Tiny Town,” “Everybody Wants Me to Love You” and sprawling set closer “Telephone.” Do yourself a favor and track down a copy of The Black Sky Sequined. You won’t regret it.
Originally published 5/6/15 in Pittsburgh In Tune.
4/29 review of The Black Sky Sequined from The Noise, Boston, MA.
Review by Francis DiMenno.
Opener “Gen Exit” is classic ’70s rock with elements of BTO, Deep Purple, and other arena-rock stalwarts. The ’70s-centric approach sets the stage for much of what is to follow. “Come Back July” has the casual feel of Wreckless Eric, but with a similar arena rock superstructure. “I Don’t Want to Go Home” reminds me a bit of the hippified excursions of Steve Miller, with a bit of Beatles tucked in. “The Cycle” offers a bit of a change-up, with harmony vocals and a new-agey chiming guitar as intro and a melancholic guitar line which is an intriguing bit of rock craftsmanship. The excellent, lively, “Everybody Wants Me to Love You” has a rhythm reminiscent of XTC’s “Crowded Room,” which devolves into a chugging rock song replete with clangorous guitar runs and a slap-happy hook in the refrain. “Telephone” is a jaunty number, with an impressively catchy rhythm line and horn section, and with extended guitar runs stretched out to epic length good enough to encourage nearly every budding young guitarist to go and do likewise. That Northampton-based guitarist and songwriter F. Alex Johnson, with bassist Dave Hayes and drummer J.J. O’Connell, manage to create as full a sound as they do as a trio, and to bring a kind of rugged enthusiasm to their approach, is a mark in their favor.
Originally published April 29, 2015 in The Noise.
4/23/15 The Black Sky Sequined gets 4 of 5 stars from Dangerdog Music Reviews
Review by Craig Hartranft. Originally published 4/22/15
Colorway is the creation of the quite accomplished Boston guitarist and songwriter Alex Johnson, along with his rhythm section Dave Hayes on bass and J. J. O’Connell on drums. Put power trio out of your mind for the moment. Colorway is definitely a platform for Johnson’s voice in songwriting and guitar.
Johnson has a consistent sound across the album. The tone of his guitar has a balance of raw and crispness, a sharpness as it were, but still smooth. At times he reminds me of a mash up of Clapton, Mark Knopfler, and that Aussie dude, Keith Urban. Wrap your head around that combination. I liked it best when the licks and groove of his leads were extended, in the true sense of a guitar solo, as within The Cycle or Telephone. The latter song demonstrates Johnson’s gift for arranging, countering his guitar with some horns. Additionally, Johnson is a solid vocalist with a clean melodic style. He works his voice with the rest of the band for some strong harmonies. As for the rhythm section I was looking for some descriptive words. Unpretentious, but solid and skillful, a complete compliment to Johnson’s guitar and compositions.
My conclusion, in the end, is that Johnson’s guitar work overshadows most everything here, from lyrical voice to basic song composition. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily so, but it did have me listening more for his guitar chops than anything else. So call Colorway and The Black Sky Sequined a guitar-centered album. It’s rather self-evident. Recommended.
Read this review and many others at Dangerdog Music Reviews.
4/2/15 Punk Globe with a quick take on the new album
Thanks to Ginger Coyote at Punk Globe for her quick review of The Black Sky Sequined.
“The CD has ten good tracks and well worth a listen.”
Colorway in the news
9/1/16 Sounds Local: Change Isn’t Slowing Colorway Down
Originally published in the Greenfield Recorder, 9/1/16
By Sheryl Hunter, staff music writer.
It’s been a busy year for the pop -rock band Colorway. Since releasing its sophomore album, “The Blue Sky Sequined,” in May of 2015, the Northampton-based band has been steadily building its audience and performing throughout the northeast.
Colorway, which is led by guitarist/singer/songwriter F. Alex Johnson, underwent a major lineup change soon after the album’s release when original members bassist Dave Hayes and drummer JJ O’Connell departed and were replaced by bassist Matt Clegg and drummer Riley Godleski.
Johnson has been a regular on the Valley music scene since the early 1990s. He spent many years playing guitar for the popular alt-country band Drunk Stuntmen and has been a longtime member of the backing band for the Young at Heart Chorus. And for those of you interested in open mics, we should also mention that he recently began hosting a successful open mic every Wednesday night at Brew Practitioners in Florence. His bandmates, Godleski and Clegg, also have years of experience playing in various local bands, and in addition to their work with Colorway, they are both members of the afro-pop band Shokazoba.
A lineup change like this could slow some bands down, but that hasn’t been the case with Colorway.
“I’ve been excited to have this new band,” said Johnson in a recent phone interview.
“We played our first gig together a year ago, then we spent the winter and spring regrouping and teaching the new guys the songs. From there the focus was on getting some good gigs,” he said.
And the band has played some good gigs in cities like Boston and Providence, in addition to some high profile shows here in the Valley.
“We got to open up for Foreigner at the Calvin and it was huge sold out show and we rocked it,” said Johnson. “We also had a great experience opening for for Delta Deep (featuring Phil Collen of Def Leppard) at the Iron Horse and playing the Green River Festival was awesome.”
“We are trying our best to bust into other markets, and we are lucky to live in an area where we are close to places like Boston, New York and other cities,” he added.
However, during the month of September, Colorway has a series of shows that will keep them close to home. This weekend, on Saturday, Sept. 3, at 8 p.m. they will serve as the opening act for Flux Capacitor at the Root Cellar in Greenfield. On Saturday, Sept. 17, the band will be at the Basement in Northampton, on Saturday, Sept. 25, at The North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival in Orange and on Sunday, Sept. 25, you can catch them on the deck at Whetstone Station in Brattleboro.
Johnson is particularly excited about the Root Cellar show this weekend, as the band will have the opportunity play a brand new venue and to open up for Flux Capacitor.
Flux Capacitor is a trio of brothers from the Philadelphia area, who blend guitar, bass synths, organs, drums and percussion to create a very unique brand of jam heavy psychedelic rock. The trio’s music includes traces of rock, improvisation and electronica. Every shows features what the band calls “encounters” that are filled with improvisation, musical segues, spontaneous covers and teases, to create a one of a kind experience. Flux Capacitor is fast making a name for itself on the national music scene and is currently on a U.S. tour in support of its latest release, “Monolith..”
“Flux Capacitor is definitely a band on the upswing,” said Johnson about opening for the group. “They played Bonnaroo this past year and the Peach Festival. We are looking forward to hearing them, plus I am a huge Back to the Future fan,” he added with a laugh”
“It’s going to be fun, and we are hoping we can tap into a new market of people, sort of the jam crowd.” He added, “As much as I like to think of this band as a pop/rock band or at least that’s kind of the way we started, we are doing a lot of extended stuff, taking the guitar to a whole new level and trying to really make this more about the musical journey as much as the story that the songs tell.”
Johnson, who is a very accomplished guitar player, said that with the new lineup he is really trying to build the sound around the guitar. And he was encouraged to hear are recent story on WNPR where they claimed that the guitar is enjoying a bit of a resurgence, after being pushed back in favor of electronic instruments.
“It’s kind of nice to see, because I’ve always been doing this and I’m waiting for people to pay attention again and it sounds like they are and that’s a good thing,” said Johnson.
With the new lineup settled in, Johnson is starting to write music for the next Colorway album all while keeping the focus on growing the band’s fan base.
“This new group has been about getting to know to play with people who I am not familiar with their style and vice versa,” said Johnson, “in addition to trying to write new music and expand our market to other areas where people love music around here.”
Tickets for the Colorway/Flux Capacitor show are $5 in advance and $8 at the door. Tickets are available at: www.rootcellarbar.com. Music begins at 9 p.m. The Root Cellar is located on Fiske Avenue in Greenfield. For information on Colorway’s other upcoming shows, visit: www.colorwaymusic.com
Tonight kicks of a series of shows at the Wheelhouse, the club located at the bottom floor of the Arts Block in Greenfield. The subterranean venue, as they call it, is a cozy little room with the kind of vibe that you’d expect to experience in a classic rock club. The Arts Block, which is now under new ownership, is officially relaunching the room with these shows that are being presented by The Buzz, A Honey Pot Production. The show tonight will feature the power duo Wydyde and progressive rock/jazz band, Hot Dirt. The series continues with The Mary Jane Jones on Sept. 8, Sean McMahon, Seth Newton and Casey Opal on Sept. 15 and Fat Bradley on Sept. 22.
Doors open at 8:30 p.m. and music begins at 9:30 p.m. Admission is $5. The Arts Block is located at 289 Main St. Patrons are asked to use the Arts Block back alley entrance.
The Arts Block has a new website that has more information on these shows and other upcoming events, including information on purchasing tickets. Visit the Arts Block at: www.theartsblock.com
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at email@example.com
2/19/15 Colorway’s Unspoken Credo: Stick To What You Know
Originally printed in the Hartford Courant, 2/19/2015.
By Michael Hamad, staff music writer.
About three minutes into “I Never Changed,” the penultimate song on Northampton trio Colorway’s forthcoming album, “The Black Sky Sequined,” singer-guitarist F. Alex Johnson plays an unfashionable guitar solo, over a show shuffle groove.
He bends and stretches strings, alternating single lines and chords. He harmonizes a composed melody with an overdubbed second part, in thirds and octaves; finally (gasp!) Johnson taps on the fingerboard, ’80s hair-band style, with his picking hand. When it ends, he shouts the chorus: “I’ve never changed!” Clearly, he hasn’t
But that disregard for what’s trendy is exactly why Colorway is worth seeking out. It’s why you root for Johnson and his bandmates — drummer J.J. O’Connell and bassist Dave Hayes — who released a self-titled debut in 2013 and will put out “The Black Sky Sequined” on May 5 in digital formats, CDs and 180-gram vinyl. With Colorway, you sense an unspoken credo: Stick to what you know, and do it at the highest level possible.
In the early 1990s, Johnson played with Soup, a jam-band that “never embraced the hippie aesthetic,” he said. When the alt-country craze hit, they became Drunk Stuntmen. “No Depression” ran an eight-page spread on them. Johnson bought a pedal steel guitar.
“We were touring 200 days a year, in various vans that met their demise,” Johnson said. “It was one thing after another. We had run-ins with bad luck. We toured, made friends and had amazing experiences. We learned a lot about longevity, about how hard it was to be in a band.”
Soon, Johnson got sober, fell in love and started writing music. He reconnected with O’Connell, Drunk Stuntman’s drummer for a time, and Hayes, an old friend and bandmate. “I have a lot of history with these two guys,” Johnson said. “I’ve known them forever. It’s great to make music with them.”
Colorway’s music splits the difference between two competing forces: Johnson’s ability to write catchy, short-ish pop songs and his deep-seated love of guitar-based rock. Johnson’s voice is rough but sturdy; he doesn’t sweeten it with excessive overdubs or vocal effects. Some songs — “Everybody Wants Me to Love You,” say — have sneaky-advanced, Squeeze-like chord progressions; others, like “Telephone,” offer a glimpse of what their live shows sound like.
Johnson’s other gig is with the Northampton-based Young@Heart Chorus, a singing group for members who are 70 or older. Young@Heart was the subject of a 2008 documentary, appeared on “The Tonight Show” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and has toured extensively in Europe and Japan. “I’ve been with them for 10 years,” Johnson said. “They’re an amazing group, and I’m really lucky to be a part of it.”
Colorway performs with the Dress-Ups and Rick Murnane at the Outer Space in Hamden on Thursday, Feb. 19, and they’ll likely tour in the spring. Meanwhile, Johnson continues down the path of what he calls his “third life.”
“I really feel like I’ve lived three lives up to now,” Johnson said, “the life up until I started excessively imbibing, the second one up to when I stopped, and the third from the time I stopped drinking until now. My life is different now in almost every way. I notice new things all the time. That’s what keeps me sober.”
COLORWAY performs on Thursday, Feb. 19, at the Outer Space in Hamden, with the Dress-Ups and Rick Murnane. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $5. Information: theouterspace.net.
5/7/15 Greenfield Recorder speaks with F. Alex Johnson on the release of The Black Sky Sequined
Originally printed in the Greenfield Recorder, 5/7/2015
By Sheryl Hunter, Recorder music columnist.
“Then it began.
Rockets, Stars, Flowers blooming
The Black Sky Sequined.
Reds, yellows, blues, greens.
Silver and gold.
Fireworks and the cheers of spectators.”
The above poem was written by Judith Johnson, the mother of F. Alex Johnson, the singer, songwriter and guitarist for the Northampton-based band Colorway. Johnson came across this poem when going through a notebook of his mother’s letters after she passed away in 2007.
“She was a bright, beautiful and stunning woman. It captures her essence completely and makes me smile every time I think about it,” Johnson said of the poem.
Johnson who resides in Florence, included the poem in the liner notes of Colorway’s self-titled debut album, which was released in 2013. He also decided that the phrase “The Black Sky Sequined” would be the perfect title for the follow-up album that came out this past Tuesday.
Colorway also features drummer J.J. O’Connell of Haydenville and bassist Dave Hayes (who many know as the online as “Dave Hayes the Weather Nut”) of Deerfield.
The band will celebrate the release of the new album with a show at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton on Thursday, May 14, at 7 p.m.
“The Black Sky Sequined” features 10 tracks, all written by Johnson, except for “I Never Changed,” which was co-written with Jodi Nicholas. Johnson said his goal was to combine his love of rock guitar and pop songs. As a result, “The Black Sky Sequined” embraces a classic guitar rock sound brimming with catchy hooks, fiery guitar solos and memorable riffs. It’s the kind of disc that leaves you asking “why doesn’t anyone make records like this anymore?”
In the current musical climate, it seems most bands are going for an indie-rock sound or else looking toward traditional music for inspiration. Colorway bucks these trends and instead goes for the kind of timeless rock sound beloved (and missed) by many.
The disc opens with the powerhouse rocker, “Gen Exit” where Johnson sings: “He was a model man/A Beatles fan/A catch in any blessed sea/But he spent every day/A world away/Wondering what he could have been.” The song features the tight rhythm section of O’Connell and Hayes, who firmly anchor Johnson’s lyrics. The song nicely sets the tone of the disc with highlights including the insanely catchy “Everybody Wants Me to Love You,” the first single “Come Back July,” which is an ode to the joys of summer, and “Telephone,” a song that explores our current obsession with our phones and which benefits from a full horn section.
Johnson started writing this material last summer and kept himself on a tight schedule to guarantee the album would be completed by spring. Some songs like “Come Back July” came quite easy — he wrote that song in about four hours, coincidently on the last night of July. At other times, melodies would come to him in his dreams.
“On some lucky mornings, I’ll still have the melody in my head when I open my eyes,” Johnson said. “Then, I’ll sneak into the bathroom and hum them in my scratchy morning voice into my iPhone’s voice recorder. Then, I’ll try to see if I can make a song structure with them.”
Johnson started pursuing a career in music at 14 and was the longtime guitarist for the local band the Drunk Stuntmen, which he left in 2006. He is also the guitarist for the band that backs Northampton’s Young at Heart Chorus.
Hayes and O’Connell are longtime players on the local scene. O’Connell has worked with numerous bands, including Spouse, Hospital and Heather Maloney, while Hayes counts time playing with Rick Murnane and Superkart among his many credits. The three musicians have known each other for over 20 years but didn’t play their first gig together as Colorway until the night of the CD release show for the debut album. Since then, they have played numerous gigs, which has led them to be a more cohesive unit.
“That’s something you can only get from working as a group, and it certainly becomes apparent when we put the songs together at rehearsal,” Johnson said. “Dave and JJ helped shape the songs on the first album, but on this one there was a lot more collaboration with arrangements and production.”
Be it blending their voices together on “Explain” or the instinctive way that O’Connell and Hayes know when to step back so Johnson take center stage with one of his amazing solos, this cohesiveness is very much heard on the new album. In addition, Johnson sounds more comfortable and confident as both a singer and songwriter. On the first album, Colorway was testing the waters. On “The Black Sky Sequined,” however, the band dives right in and is open to whatever happens next with songs.
“Music can move people on so many levels,” Johnson continued. “If I can reach one of those levels with the listener on even one of these 10 songs on the ‘The Black Sky Sequined,’ I’ll call it a grand accomplishment.”
Johnson said “Come Back July” is getting airplay across the country as well as locally on WRSI 93.9 — The River out of Northampton. The band also just returned from its first ever tour of the Northeast, which took it as far away as Virginia.
“The response has been fantastic,” Johnson said. “This has been a great tour for building up a fan base away from home. I just love seeing people smiling and nodding their heads to songs that are new to them and haven’t been played to death by us.”
But next up is the hometown show and the band is excited about it. Opening will be another local act, Goldwater the Second, a duo that made up of ex-Figments front man Thane Thomsen on guitar and his partner Melissa Nelson on cello.
The CD will be on sale and will also be available on 180-gram vinyl.
Advance tickets are $12 and available at the Northampton Box Office at 76 Main St., Online at www.iheg.com by phone at 413-586-8686. Tickets at the door are $14. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Show is all ages.
5/14/15 Colorway in The Valley Advocate
By Gary Carra
Originally published in The Valley Advocate, Nightcrawler 5/14/15
After the band’s successful East Coast mini-tour, Colorway’s May 14 Iron Horse engagement certainly has all the hallmarks of a homecoming show. It’s also a CD release party, celebrating the band’s recently completed sophomore studio effort, The Black Sky Sequined.
However, for Alex Johnson — whose words and compositions serve as the palette from which all Colorway music is painted — this Thursday’s show smacks of a very personal Mother’s Day.
“The title of our new album comes from a poem I found in a notebook in my mother’s handwriting,” he explains. “It was one of the last things she wrote before she died. So it seems more than a little fitting that we celebrate Black Sky on what would have been her 74th birthday, May 14.”
Recorded at Sonelab with Mark Alan Miller over a three-week period last fall, Black Sky Sequined brings two of Johnson’s life-long dreams into its fold as well.
“I got to work with the great Bob Ludwig, who mastered the disc up in Portland, Maine,” he says. “Another heavy hitter, Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman in Hollywood, helped us cut 180-gram heavyweight vinyl. So my tunes on vinyl and Bob Ludwig? It’s been a pretty boss year, indeed.”
Tix for Colorway’s CD release party are $12 in advance, $14 at the door and available at iheg.com. And if opening duo Goldwater the Second looks familiar, it’s not a figment of your imagination. Rather, its the latest project of Figment frontman Thane Thomsen, accompanied by cellist Melissa Nelson.
5/12/15 The Springfield Republican/Masslive.com
By George Lenker, music columnist
Originally printed in the Republican/Masslive.com 5/12/15
On Colorway’s recent brief East Coast tour, a man met the group in a Philadelphia elevator and asked them if they were in a band.
When they said they were, he told them he was a drummer and played in his church. As the elevator doors were closing, he added, “No music, no life.”
“I’ll remember that for a long time,” said band leader and songwriter F. Alex Johnson.
For Johnson, music seems to be life. As a former longtime guitarist for Drunk Stuntmen as well as part of the Young@Heart Chorus’ backing band, music would probably flow from any cut he sustained.
Johnson, along with Colorway bandmates Dave “The Weather Nut” Hayes and J.J. O’Connell, will be playing a CD release show at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton on May 14 at 7 p.m. Goldwater the Second opens the show. The concert celebrates the release of “The Black Sky Sequined,” the band’s sophomore record. Johnson talked a little about the record and the band in a recent interview.
The new album seems different in several ways from the first one. What were you trying to achieve in trying to make it different?
My favorite part of getting older is realizing what you liked about certain things and trying to incorporate them more into your life. And, of course, vice versa.
When I put this band together and recorded the first album, the band had never played live. The songs had only been tested in a small rehearsal space and, even though I’d known Dave and J.J. for years, it’s a different thing when you say, “This is our ecosystem and these are the goals for survival” and then go put yourself out there. So while I liked finally having my own platform to express myself musically, I learned in short order that to connect I had to make my music “our” music. And while the songs are still my compositions the collaboration was deeper.
We had time to play live a lot in the last two years and see what works when there’s no erase button. I’ve heard from a few people now who have said that the new album sounds like a real band and not just my songs with two guys backing me up. I think that leads to more finesse when it comes to production and things just seem to flow better. We learn as we go, we learn as we grow.
What do you like better about the new album compared to the first one — and is there anything you like better about the first one?
I think the first album has a rawness to it that I dig. That said, I’ll always love the acoustic instrumental “For The Birds” and the couple of more mellow tunes that we don’t really play much anymore.
The new album has a more confident and relaxed feel, I think. And part of that probably stems from a mindfulness course I took last spring (a gift from my girlfriend who sensed my amplified stress level). I think realizing that this moment right here is more important that the one that happened a week ago or the one that’s coming around the bend is a powerful tool. Once I learned a few of those lessons, I found the songs came from a more cohesive place–a place I’d want to hang out in and invite some friends over.
How has the band itself changed from the first record to now – in terms of dynamics and playing together?
We play more to each other, I hope. I try to look back at each guy more even though it’s somewhat difficult being in the middle, singing, comping and soloing. But these things come with time. The more we play, the more we play well together.
You don’t see a lot of three-piece rock bands these days. What are the advantages — and disadvantages — of using a sparse lineup?
We can get one hotel suite with a sofa bed for all of us. That’s a definite plus. And while, who knows, someday we may add another guitarist or keyboard player, I think the visual symmetry of the trio is attractive to me. I think it’s gotten easier to split the rhythm/lead stuff up as we’ve grown as a band. It’s challenging but totally worth it when you see and hear it happening.
Colorway press for the 2013 debut album:
9/18/13 Praise from Singapore
Originally published 9/18/2013
Rock n’ roll will never die! This just might be power trio Colorway‘s manifesto on this eponymous debut. Rollicking numbers like “I’m Still Running” and “Live With Me” get the point across very succinctly. But singer-songwriter F Alex Johnson is also able to shake things up somewhat with the the sweet lullaby “Go Back to Sleep”, the acoustic instrumental “For the Birds” and the luscious ballad “A Temporary Occupation”. Highly recommended.
~Kevin Mathews, Powerofpop.com, Singapore
Originally published in the Valley Advocate, 8/22/2013
(Molehill Mountain Productions)
At its core, F. Alex Johnson’s debut solo effort is, in his own words, “a rock and roll record” through and through. Spanning the spectrum of rock styles (and the neck of his guitar), Johnson’s 12 original songs are held up as much by their sweet guitar riffs as by their catchy, stuck-in-your-head-all-day melodies. “I’m Still Running,” “This Happens to Everyone” and even “Style of the Time” are on one end of that spectrum, as hard-charging and head-banging as any mainstream rock song. The more surprising turns on the album come in the form of slower songs, like rock lullaby “Go Back to Sleep,” where Johnson and co-writer Jodi Lynn Nicholas relate the feeling of waking from a bad dream, and a gorgeous acoustic instrumental, “For the Birds.” Catchy stuff with nice rock harmonies.
Colorway, Colorway (Molehill Mountain Productions )
Drunk Stuntmen co-founder/guitarist and Young@Heart Chorus sideman, F. Alex Johnson, is in fine form on this stunning debut. Johnson’s Drunk Stuntmen days were no myth — the singer-songwriter nearly didn’t get out alive and the song cycle here reflects on that period in the partly confessional and partly apologetic songs, “I’m Still Running” and “We Move On” minus the recovery pathos. While Johnson’s songs are introspective and self-reflective in nature (“This Happens to Everyone”), they positively crackle with the intensity of someone who’s survived their own self-destruction and acquired some folksy wisdom (“Go Back to Sleep,” “Live With Me”) along the way.
Backed by veteran western MA musicians, Dave Hayes (bass) and J.J. O’ Connell (drums), Johnson’s guitar playing is agile, ferocious and perfectly paired to his tight rhythm section. Stand out tracks like “A Temporary Occupation” with its gorgeous string arrangements and blissed-out guitar solo, and the philosophical “Everyone Makes the Day” underlies Johnson’s journey into self-discovery (and satisfying Steps 8 & 9).
~Vincent Bator Springfield Indie Music Examiner
Colorway In The News:
The Color of Dust
F. Alex Johnson cleans the countertops of his soul with his new band, Colorway.
(Published in print June 27, 2013)
By Tom Sturm
Much of the material on Colorway’s debut album came from dreams, says songwriter and primary creative force F. Alex Johnson. On his nightstand the singer/guitarist keeps an iPhone, whose voice memo app he sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night and hums melodies into.
“This never used to happen,” he says. “It used to be so hard to write music—now I don’t know if it’s the sobriety, I don’t know if it’s the enjoyment of life, I don’t know if it’s me being in love, I don’t know if it’s the seasons changing or what, but for some reason they started coming to me.”
Johnson isn’t shy about recounting his years of alcohol and drug abuse; he’s documented them extensively in his locally known blog Fearless By Default, and he’s very open about how his life and his songwriting have changed in his five years of being sober. A longtime member of The Drunk Stuntmen, his role in that band—perhaps because of his generally limited functionality at the time—seemed to have settled into the background as a sort of George Harrison to Terry Flood’s and Steve Sanderson’s Lennon and McCartney.
“I think I always had an ego waiting to come out,” says Johnson, “an alpha behind the beta. At that time though, my ego just basically manifested itself by saying, ‘I can do whatever I want,’ and if what I wanted was to drink a bottle of vodka, then that’s what I did. If it was on a gig day, I felt bad, but that was how it was.”
Johnson says his interest in exploring a trio format was piqued by an earlier side project, The Spoils, which alternately featured bassists Ed Mubarek, Kurt Fedora and Kevin O’Rourke and drummers Brian Marchese and Don McCaulay. In Colorway’s trio equation, the rhythm section of Dave Hayes (bass) and J.J. O’Connell (drums) has brought him back to a place where his is the primary voice—be it sung or played on his instrument. Is it his mission to bring back the guitar solo?
“When you and I grew up, we listened to Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, etc.—now they call that ‘classic rock,’” he says. “I want to make music that makes people feel like I felt when I heard those songs on the radio as a kid. Is it my mission to bring back the guitar solo? I guess you could say so, yes, and I would like to bring back more of what they call ‘classic rock,’ and maybe make it current again.
“My vocal range doesn’t have much in the high end,” he reflects, “so I guess my guitar playing is an extension of that; it goes farther than I can sing. I like to give a little bit of melody, and a little bit of “zazz” or “zazzle”—whatever you want to call it.”
Johnson’s new songs, and the fact that he whipped them out in a period of perhaps two months in between touring with the Young@Heart Chorus, are also deeply conscious of his own mortality, and perhaps playing with the Chorus (which lost more than a few members in the last couple of years) has kept him keenly aware of the brevity of human life in general.
“My family’s shrinking rapidly,” he says. “I don’t know what’s around the corner. If I go by my family history, my mom, my aunt, my grandmother, they all died in their 60s, and I’m 43. I’m not going to say that I’m afraid of dying tomorrow, but time is ticking faster, or at least louder, and I feel an urgency to get this stuff out.”
Johnson also seems to have finally arrived at a place wherein his songwriting more accurately reflects his own life, feelings and whatever personal philosophy he’s cobbled together.
“From the time I was 18 until I was about 38,” he says, “I would write in other peoples’ characters, like I was someone else. If you look back at those Drunk Stuntmen songs of mine, they’re all about characters. Since I stopped drinking, since I stopped smoking, since I stopped doing everything, I’ve written from my own first-person perspective, talking about ‘me,’ ‘we’ and ‘I’ instead of ‘he,’ ‘she’ or ‘it.’ That’s something I didn’t even realize until I listened to the record.”
If there’s a theme to Colorway, it seems a bit of a lonely one.
“Dave and I are both only children, and none of us have kids, so maybe there’s something about that,” says Johnson.
Still, the man has been dramatically transformed by the events of the last decade, and his life at the moment is not what you’d call lonely. His companion Jodi Nicholas is, he states, a big part of his life, and is credited for a song on the album (“Go Back to Sleep”) because it was essentially transcribed from something like a lullaby she sang to him when he woke from a bad dream one night.
“That song wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her, and I don’t know if I would’ve been here if it weren’t for her,” Johnson says with a palpably genuine tone of gratitude in his voice. “I don’t want to get too mushy, but she’s a big part of my life and a big part of me keeping my shit together.”
At the end of our interview I corner Johnson with a metaphysical question that he, to his credit, meets head on with the honesty and self-examination that have clearly been required of him in the last half-decade.
VA: What do you think about most of the time?
AJ: Dust. It’s infinite. I clean it from countertops every morning and it goes into the windows and gets exposed by raking light.
When I stopped my excessive lifestyle, the little things like keeping my house clean became so important to me. I like to keep everything in place in my house, because who knows if I’m coming back? I’ve had a lot of loss in my life. Even contemporaries can just… vanish. Life is so random like that. Also, dust is us—most dust is made from our skin. So it’s not quite rock ‘n’ roll, but I think about it a lot.•
Daily Hampshire Gazette:
Clubland: Guitarist F. Alex Johnson releases CD with new trio, Colorway
(Published in print June 27, 2013)
By Ken Maiuri
Guitarist F. Alex Johnson started his musical path early in life, playing violin in first grade — though he eventually stuck a Harley-Davidson skull sticker on his instrument case “to try and make it a little more rock-and-roll.” (A hint of things to come.)
Christmas 1980 was momentous for the then 10-year-old Johnson in his Fall River home: His loving mother gave him a kid-sized Castilla acoustic guitar. He’d already been holding his violin like a guitar, plucking out notes; it didn’t take long for him to decide he preferred the real thing.
Freshman year in high school found him in his first band, named CIA, which stood for Creative Image Artists. “I came up with a logo and everything,” Johnson said with a memory-lane grin during an interview last week.
He reminisced about the day he grabbed his guitar and small amplifier and descended into the drummer’s basement for his first-ever, full-on band rehearsal — “rockin’ out — it was the best feeling in the entire universe,” he said.
“We ended up playing one of the school dances, which was a bit of a catastrophe, but we did it. I said, ‘I have to do this forever.’ ”
Johnson has held onto that passion for making music, and this year marks a milestone for the guitarist, best known for his time in the Drunk Stuntmen (which he co-founded, but left in 2008) and the Young@Heart Chorus band (of which this writer is also a current member) — he’s started his first “real” project, a trio called Colorway.
It’s a uniting of longtime musical friends. Bassist Dave Hayes first played with Johnson at the Hadley Pub in 1991, right after the guitarist moved to the Valley; drummer J.J. O’Connell spent years behind the kit for the Stuntmen.
The threesome celebrate the release of Colorway’s self-titled debut CD with a show at the Iron Horse in Northampton Saturday at 10 p.m. Dave Houghton will start off the night with a solo performance.
When Johnson was asked what made him decide to move into the spotlight now, with his own band and his own songs, he said, “I lived my 20s for 20 years,” he said.
“Turning 40 was a big change for me. You start to feel mortality,” he added. “I won’t say you start to feel time ticking away a little bit louder … but you kind of do. The seasons move faster. I didn’t want to play ‘making a band.’ I really wanted to do this the right way, and do it all the way.”
That newfound sense of purpose is apparent from the album’s forceful first sounds — a distorted, crunching guitar and Johnson’s impassioned voice: “I’ve never felt this before / These eyes won’t ever be the same / I am ready.”
The song is “I’m Still Running,” and its last line is “How the hell am I alive?” Johnson gave some background on the tumult he went through as 2007 turned into 2008.
“I got into a little bit of legal trouble, and it was just time: I had to stop drinking, stop smoking, stop everything, and try life as-is. I got sober. It was on the heels of my mom dying, who was my everything.”
Death is the underlying subject of the upbeat, power-chord-filled “This Happens To Everyone,” a song inspired by one of Johnson’s long-ago ex-bandmates, a drummer who’d stayed in Fall River, “lived hard” and was suddenly gone at age 43. “He was the first of my contemporaries to pass away, and that really shocked me,” he said.
The varied album, recorded in full-spectrum sound by Mark Alan Miller (another recurring collaborator in Johnson’s musical life), includes the folky fingerpicked “Everyone Makes the Day,” the jazzy lullaby “Go Back To Sleep,” plenty of big rock and inspired electric guitar solos but also a solo acoustic instrumental, “For the Birds,” which holds its own among the louder numbers just like Steve Howe’s “Mood For a Day” did on Yes’ classic “Fragile” album.
And the closing song, the nearly eight-minute “A Temporary Occupation,” lifts the album to another place. The shifting chords are beautiful and the striking string section, arranged by Dave Trenholm, makes the song seem related to Love’s “You Set the Scene,” but with a darkening sky, a heavy heart and a coda that sounds like a slow sink into the quicksand.
“This is a temporary occupation because we are occupying this life for however long,” Johnson said. “It could end tomorrow, it could end in 40 years. Hopefully we get good at it and enjoy it to its fullest before we go. I know some people who went through life seemingly on a treadmill, never really enjoyed things, never really figured out that life is here to live.”
“I try not to preach,” he added, “but I tried to make this record a bit of a living will, or just a reference point so I can look back and say, ‘This is how I was feeling, this was the clarity that I saw.’ And hopefully the clarity will continue.
The Greenfield Recorder:
In a good place
Now sober, F. Alex Johnson has more music to make with Colorway
You’re about to meet me again/For the first time/And the last time I can hardly wait to begin/At the ending,” sings F. Alex Johnson on “I’m Still Running,” a hard-rocking tune that opens the debut album from his new band Colorway. The song features an ear-grabbing chorus and some of Johnson’s amazing guitar work, but it is lyrics like “I made it out with my life/the lucky man who played with fire,” which allude to his years of drug and alcohol abuse, that serve as the launching pad for the entire disc.
Johnson, who lives in Northampton, was the guitarist for the roots-rock band The Drunk Stuntmen for 15 years. He left the Stuntmen in 2008. That decision followed a number of major life changes, including the deaths of his mother and aunt. But perhaps the greatest change occurred on Dec. 27, 2008, when a DUI arrest forced him to take a hard look at his life and come to terms with years of substance abuse.
“I was lucky enough that fate, the law, my bod, it all, said ‘stop’ and I listened,” he said in recent interview at a Northampton cafe. “So when I say you meet me again for the first time it’s as this new person. I stopped everything that Dec. 27th, and it took a long time to get to the point that I felt real again. But now I’m living this new person’s life and I don’t want this person to go anywhere, because I like him and it’s taken a long time for me to like me.”
Five years into his sobriety, Johnson is in a good place, both personally and professionally, and he is more than ready to begin the next phase of his musical life with Colorway.
In addition to Johnson, Colorway includes seasoned valley musicians drummer J.J. O’Connell and bassist Dave Hayes. The trio will make its debut and celebrate the release of the new album with a show at the Iron Horse Music Hall on Saturday, June 29, at 10 p.m. Dave Houghton of Fancy Trash will open.
While this is Johnson’s first recording in five years, he has not been idle by any means. He has been writing, including a personal blog at www.fearlessbydefault.blogspot.com, and has been playing guitar and traveling the globe with the Young at Heart Chorus since 2004.
Johnson started playing violin at the age of 5 and picked up guitar at 10. Music has always been the centerpiece of his life, but there was a period toward the end of his substance abuse when that wasn’t the case.
“Music just didn’t hold the pleasure that it used to and that was why I knew it was time to do something, because a life without music isn’t worth living,” he said. “I slowly but surely regained my love of music to the point where I could create in my own voice and bring it full circle, where I could go into a recording studio and put it all on a CD and let the world say ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’”
When songs started coming to him in his dreams, it not only set him on a writing frenzy but also got him thinking that it was time to do a record. Once he made the decision, the project quickly came together.
“It was done fast, but I have a great band and what helped is that J.J. and Dave are such quick studies,” said Johnson. “Even though I wrote all the songs, they helped arrange some things and they both sing.”
Superb production and playing, memorable tunes and honest lyrics about love, loss, hope and desperation make “Colorway” a debut listeners won’t soon forget. Johnson calls it a rock album and said that the disc will appeal to listeners who enjoy Richard Thompson, Wilco and The Black Crowes. And while the disc does indeed rock and features his excellent expressive guitar work, there are some decidedly nonrock moments here, including the acoustic instrumental “For the Birds” and the lighthearted pop of “Live with Me.” The song Johnson said he is most proud of is “A Temporary Occupation,” a 7½-minute tune that closes the disc. A beautiful sweeping song that features strings (impeccably arranged by Dave Trenholm), it builds up to Johnson singing “I wish it wasn’t over/ I had so much more to explain.” It is a truly standout track in a strong collection of songs.
“That song is kind of me telling you I have more to say, but I have to stop here,” he said.
“I feel that it sums up the record. It ends the conversation the best way I could imagine.”
The Iron Horse show not only marks the debut of the album, it is also the debut of the band, whose only previous appearance was at a local Robyn Hitchcock tribute show. This will be Colorway’s only show of the summer.
Johnson said he looks forward to the show and said it feels good to be performing with a clear head.
“It’s easier to get on stage now, but it’s still scary because there are millions of things that can go wrong. But now I know that I won’t make a mistake or forget the words because I am not in a state that I shouldn’t be in.”
Johnson admitted that releasing an album is a scary prospect, but he is pleased with “Colorway” and hopes that listeners will find it worthy of their time.
“I had stopped creating and enjoying music because I felt there was no more music for me to make,” he recalled. “But finally I feel there is more music for me to make and I want to do as much as I can with this music and this record. “
Tickets are $10 in advance and $13 at the door. Advance tickets are available at www.iheg.com, charge by phone at 413-586-8686 or at the Northampton Box Office on 76 Main St. The CD is available at iTunes and Turn it Up! on Pleasant St. in Northampton.
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Club Scout: Colorway brings 50 shades of playing to Iron Horse Music Hall
Published in print June 27, 2013
F. Alex Johnson has led a colorful life so far.
From his high-wire guitar acrobatics with the Drunk Stuntmen to his current globe-trotting gig with the senior citizens of the Young@Heart Chorus, Johnson has seen many hues of life’s spectrum. So it’s no wonder he dubbed his new band Colorway. The group makes its debut appearance at a CD release party at the Iron Horse Music Hall on Saturday at 10 p.m.
Johnson has a different explanation of the band’s name however.
“I can’t read music,” he said. “So the way I write, hear and feel the notes and chords is by the colors they evoke. A Bb has a different color than an B. It provokes a different mood. I liked the idea of music and color being so connected. Even if you’re colorblind you still see varying shades.”
Starting in 2008, Johnson took some time off from writing music to focus on getting clean and sober, as well as blogging about the experience. But he never stopped playing guitar.
“Time passed on and I found myself in my forties. It’s a beautiful age–the burn of leaving one’s twenties a distant memory, and still far enough away from fifty to consider voluntary major life shifts a challenge and not a burden,” he said.
So having written a handful of songs in the past few years, Johnson decided to take a leap. He called bassist Dave Hayes and and drummer J.J. O’Connell who both enthusiastically jumped into project. Wasting no time, Johnson booked studio time with local impresarios Mark Alan Miller at his new SoneLab Studios and even booked the Iron Horse gig long before the record was done.
“If I let something sit too long it’ll either go stale or get up and walk away on me,” Johnson said of his sense of urgency.
The recording process went quickly and smoothly, he said.
“There wasn’t a ton of second-guessing. When it felt right it felt right,” he said. “I’ve worked with Mark on several Stuntmen albums and so we have a great rapport.”
The result is a forceful rock ‘n’ roll document that has just enough round edges and bits of sweetening. Johnson gives a lot of credit to his bandmates for the electricity of the record.
“We all knew from the start that this was going to be a rock record. There’s some deviation from that, of course, but the rock remains the focus,” Johnson said. “And both of these guys know all too well how to make that happen. As a rhythm section they seem to be able to give even the most basic of progressions a boost of confidence and urgency.”
The Iron Horse is at 21 Center St. in Northampton.
In his own words: a review by Connolly Ryan
SHE COMES IN COLOURS EVERYWHERE
The Colorway Coming Out Party—review by Connolly Ryan of the Irish Jew Gazette
Last night at the Iron Horse a nascent slice of history ensued. The evening began with Dave Houghton (Fancy Trash): the one-man acoustical cavalry. The freakish intensity of his 12-guage body language: contorting like a union worker under the blows of a corporate goon’s blackjack; his pearl-black guitar convulsing like compassion’s jackhammer, wired with a procreative destructive torque, fully aware that the stakes are deadly and that the world is in peril, all served to give this gracefully maniacal troubadour’s performance the kind of edge that takes hostages and makes delicious love to them. When Horton hears a Houghton (that is, when Dave opens his life to spill forth song) a crazed and gorgeous alchemy is uncorked: a seamless melding of rage and prayer, of openness and brokenness, of assurance and assault—pain without restraint is how he paints our planet, and bliss minus regret is where he plants his stars which, unlike the ones in Hollywood, are visible all around him. In short, Dave Houghton kicked the shit out of shit itself and opened the way for the barrage of improbable colors on deck.
Dirty and Tight
Dirty: the raucous squalor of Alex Johnson’s irrepressible axe, conjuring a snarling galaxy of legendary decibels: the bottled shatterings of Robert Johnson (yes relation!);the mystical riptides of Page; the clean horror of Slash; the tortured matrix of Hendrix; and even the latticework calculus of Fripp and Eno. Dirty, filthy, punishing, watershed, astonishing : your-daughter’s-run-away-from-home explosions of truth that make your ears long for welder’s goggles lest the bulwark sparks set those delicate organs ablaze.
Dirty: J.J. O’ Connell’s reckless exactitude, whip-crack precision: A stroke-triggering backyard tree-snap squeezed into a drum-kit. Primitive and futurist at once: measuring the tempo with painstaking poise, drenched in fierce loyalty to the project at hand and then unleashing a murderer’s madrigal, a deafening beheading of inertia, cracking the fuck out of any escape-plan. Like a freight-train through a fricasseed prairie, raising the stakes and razing the sticks… his reassuring Robin Williams Torso cleaving away at its sultry art: to pulverize as well as cultivate. His mantra: to detonate is to celebrate. By evening’s end his drumsticks, disfigured and traumatized, cry out for Mommy Earth.
Dave Hayes on Bass. So filthy he’s immaculate. Radiating commodious melody and merciless funk; delineating liquid parameters lest the sonic caboose go barreling off the perspiring precipice. Hayes clutches his church-key and jams it into the sky-socket, anchoring the celestial anarchy (a Mingus amongst nimbuses) of his mercurial band-mates as only a true weather nut can. Navigating the nerve-splintering codas and cadences; negotiating a firmamental covenant amid the haunted lullabies, derelict homilies and third-rail psalms of Colorway’s all-devouring opus.
Tight. Sleek. Loping. Profuse. Ornery. Refined. Sustained and stunned. The old wooden Iron Horse stage done morphed into a cauldron of clarity, symmetry, fluidity and light. Alex’s lyrics and vocals mellowing and lulling, protective of something unnamable yet tangible all the same. Flashes of the confessional tactfully nestled into the bristles and thistles of the naked agony they’ve arisen from. A marriage of cleverness and vulnerability abuzz inside each song. And each song a singular anthem of intimacy: a tapestry of complications and conflicts, vigorously addressed, but compellingly, brilliantly unresolved of yet. Dirty, tight and beautiful: one exited the Horse exhausted and exulted, throttled and grateful, inebriated with the certainty that this Colorway concert will be the first of a thousand resounding ones to come.