Stellar review of The Black Sky Sequined by Hunter Styles, Valley Advocate

Check out this great review by Hunter Styles originally 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 and in-store at select businesses in Amherst, Easthampton, and Northampton.•

Music Emissions Interviews Colorway Frontman Alex Johnson

  1. Colorway frontman, F Alex Johnson was recently interviewed by international music blog, Music Emissions. Read the whole interview after the jump  

Interview by Jason Hillenburg, originally published on 10/9/15. 


Northeastern based Colorway, fronted by singer/songwriter and guitarist F. Alex Johnson, have made an impressive impact in recent years with the release of two full length albums. The first, a self titled effort, introduced the world to a lean, muscular guitar-based attack that embraced pronounced pop sensibilities while practically crackling with intelligence, wit, and insight. The band’s most recent release, The Black Sky Sequined, is another well-crafted collection that develops the first album’s promise into an impressive musical and lyrical statement. It was my good fortune to speak with F. Alex Johnson recently about the band’s first two albums, his songwriting, and the band’s future.
For more information about Colorway, visit their website at

Music Emissions:
I was wondering if you could compare the writing process for the self-titled debut as opposed to the second album, The Black Sky Sequined. Did it come harder?

F. Alex Johnson:
When I was doing the first album…
I’d kind of written those songs before I put the band together. Half of them were around before then. I’ve known the two guys on both of the records for years and, while I wouldn’t say I wrote those songs like someone would a movie knowing who would be playing individual roles, but I did have an idea about who I wanted in the group with me and what their strengths were. I started out writing the first record thinking about my love for people like Jimmy Page and the big riff, so I kind of started out with some of the riffier songs like “Avalanche” and “I’m Still Running”, but as the rock side came out, the softer side came out too, along with the pop that you hear in songs like “We Move On”, “Everyone Makes the Day”, and stuff like that. I had intended on making more of a rock album, and while there’s plenty of rock on it, it ended up being more of a pop rock album. It defined the band for that period of time. The first album had only been out for a few months before I called the studio and booked time for the second one. The first one… it was like writing your first novel and full of the experience that had come before it, so I had a lot more time to get those songs together than I did with the second one. Once things got dislodged and the writing started happening, though, it became a little easier. The second one was easier in the sense that the ball was already rolling, but harder because I had cemented a style and had to keep it within that style. Every artist wants to break new ground, but I was happy people had liked the first one so much that I thought, ok, let’s just stay on this path. I thought this was going to be a heavy rock guitar album and it ended up a much different thing. With the second album, I had all of this music coming to me in my dreams, waking up with these melodies, so it was easy to put them on paper. Since the second record’s been out though, I’ve only had a dream song come to me every once in a while, but certainly not as much as there had been. I think it’s my mind saying, whoo, ok, you can take a break now. [laughs]

I think the first album seems like it’s pouring out, impassioned, while the second album seems more considered somehow despite its shorter gestation time.

I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that when we put that first record together, we hadn’t played any shows as Colorway. Our first gig was the cd release party for the first record. So between June of 2013 and May of 2015, we had two years of playing gigs. We had a chance to play songs from the first record and debut songs from the second album. We might have just finalized the structure to one of the songs, have a gig, and do like a lot of bands do, say this is a new song and you’re the first ones to hear except for my girlfriend and people hanging around the rehearsal space. In that respect, if you want to call it considered, I guess it’s because the music had a home, a forum, to live and you had other songs you could compare them against. I wouldn’t have written a reggae song and say, hey, this is our new tune, but I can do that now. Anything goes at this point – not that I have any reggae songs in the works, [laughs], just sayin’ I could if I wanted to. We did what we set out to do, to a certain extent, and that’s why things are changing.

To elaborate, there’s something almost volatile about the first album. It sounds like a band, but it sounds like a band learning to play together, like you pointed out.

There are plenty of singer/songwriters who will put a band together and say I need to get this bass player and drummer to make my music with me. If they don’t play bass and drums, they have no choice. That’s not what I did, but I can see that happens a lot. People just say this is my music and these are the people making it with me. For the second record, the three of us had a lot more interaction. I produced the first album with help from the engineer, but on the second album, everyone received credit because I felt we really did produce it together.

It’s clear again, after listening to the albums over the last couple of days, that each one has a definite design. For instance, each album ends with an extended track. What’s the thinking behind the structure of each record?
I grew up in an era of mix tapes, the 70’s through the 80’s, and when you put a tape together, you have to work backwards a little bit and think about what your last track is going to be because you don’t want your tape to end before the song’s over. It’s about putting an album together that’s a collection of songs. The songs weren’t written last and that’s why they were put there. When it became apparent that these were going to be long songs, it just made more sense for them to go there to go out with a bang, to make the big closing musical statement, like the prog rock of “A Temporary Occupation” on the first album or the Zappa-esque guitar solo on “Telephone”. They kind of directed themselves to be the closing song of each record. It’s to the dismay of some who’ve told me “A Temporary Occupation” should have gone on in the middle of the album. [chuckles] It’s so easy to skip over songs, to listen to the twenty seconds of the first four songs that you don’t even get to the fifth song. It’s tough to look at any playlist on Soundcloud, Spotify, or wherever and see the first song gets all the hits and it drops down as the songs go on. This wasn’t the case back before it was so immediate to just push a button. At least with cassettes you had to wait and check that you’re on the next track. Part of me wishes those songs weren’t so far at the end, but I think they both put a nice period on the end of each record.

I agree with that. I heard both songs as climatic statements of a sort.

It made sense, lyrically, to do that too. “I wish, I wish it wasn’t over/I have so much more to say”, the last words of “A Temporary Occupation”, kind of sets up the next record, like the end of a movie when you think, oh man, they’ve got to come back and tell that story in the sequel. The same thing is going on in “Telephone”. “If I could hold you in my hand/I could fulfill my dreams” opens things up to what comes next, so let’s play this big guitar solo as we ride off into the sunset or something.

I appreciate the aesthetic of these albums – sequencing is important, construction matters, things hold together. I appreciate that a great deal.

Well, I grew up in the 1970′s, for better or worse, and that’s how they did it. I don’t think we’ve ventured far afield from that either, I think there are many who still yearn for that cohesiveness, they want to understand, they want to hear music that seems to have some sort of forethought and not just, well, we’ll just throw these songs in a hat, pull them out, and however it comes out, so be it.

Speaking of influences, I’m sure many have influenced you as a musician and songwriter, but I wanted to talk about two in particular, Richard Thompson and Xtc. I was wondering if you could relate how you discovered these artists and, if you can identify it, an important way that each has informed Colorway’s music.

Sure. I have a good friend from high school who turned me on to both of those artists in the mid to late 1980′s. They are both very different in sound and style. Richard Thompson, coming from the British folk/rock area with Fairport Convention, has a very distinctive songwriting style grounded in tradition while what Xtc writes in a much more pop-minded vein. They both loomed large in my consciousness when I started taking lots of psychedelic drugs. I think for anyone who does that, the music they’re listening to when those things start entering their lifestyle will always make a gigantic impression on them. For a lot of people, it’s The Beatles, Pink Floyd, or whatever. It was those bands for me too, but Xtc and Richard Thompson… Richard Thompson’s not the most psychedelic of songwriters, but his guitar playing is like no one else. Having the sound of his Stratocaster in my head is one of the reasons why I got a Stratocaster. Xtc just write the most perfect songs ever. Their production is always the best and most records, though not all, have a different producer and, if you go from 1983 or 1984 onward, a different drummer. Their songwriting is just unmatched. It’s probably The Beatles, The Kinks, and Xtc in order of importance for me. Both main songwriters, Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, have made a huge impact on the way I write and Richard Thompson has a huge impact on the way I play guitar. I always try to be interesting when I play and I’ll always criticize myself when I don’t play something fast enough or hit a wrong note here or there, but I’ll criticize myself because I want my playing to be interesting. I don’t want it to be like every other guitar player. I want to have a style and I think that’s the goal of any guitar player who’s gotten out of their teenage years and is maturing. It’s not to be “the best”, because it’s so hard to say what that is, but to have a style and have people being able to identify it and say I know who that is, it’s so paramount.

I agree with you again and think your guitar playing has that. It has a tremendous amount of melody and your vibrato is unbelievable. It has such a vocal quality and sings so well. There’s an emotive element in your playing that has a flashy aspect, but everything you do makes sense within the context of the song.

Thanks, that’s great to hear. I have a couple of guitar students and I’ve only been giving lessons for a little over a year. One student, who just turned fourteen… it’s really eye-opening to have a student to whom I can impart what I know, because I don’t really know what I’m doing, I just do it, so in teaching, I’m learning how and why I do what I do. Watching someone bend a string who’s never bent strings before and telling them you have to put all of your fingers behind it and each one has a different amount of push. It’s amazing to see someone else, a kid who reminds me of me at that age, learning what you show them, getting better at it, and knowing that one day they’ll do it without even thinking about it. He actually played his first gig this last week and it was a total trip for me. He’d never played guitar before a year ago and now he has two and played his first gig. I couldn’t be more proud.

I bet that is an unique experience. I think “Live with Me” might be one of the most genuine and adult love songs I’ve ever heard. It has humor, beauty, everything. I was wondering you could talk about its genesis.

Well, that song, as is the case with so much of the writing I did, stems from… well, initially getting sober after a love affair with weed, booze, a couple of other things, and cleaning up after twenty odd years and finally finding someone I could share this life with. Part of the reason I think this music came to me is because I have a person in my life who I could turn my attention towards and when I pick up a guitar it isn’t to write I’m so lonely, my life is in turmoil, I’m so sad. But the thing is, no one really wants to hear happy songs. It’s a fine line to write about when you’re happy and avoid sounding like you’re bragging about being happy. The way to go is writing in such a way that someone who might be lonely or unhappy can get something out of it, maybe make things better. It’s about asking my girlfriend to move in with me, which she did in 2011, so that’s one of the really early songs I had for the record. I wrote it, played it for her, asked her if she’d move in with me, and she said yes. It was the single too and the local Triple A radio station took to it, so they played it like crazy, just like they’re playing “Come Back July” still. You know, I was happy to make the record and share it, but to hear my music on the radio was a huge, amazing step for me.

Another song I wanted to talk about on the second album is “The Cycle”. I thought that it really stood out as something unique compared to the surrounding tracks and the short lyric, suggestive rather than specific like the album’s other songs, helped it stand out. I was hoping you could talk about the origins of that track.

The lyric and vocals are my homage to Brian Eno and work he did on a couple of albums, Another Green World and Before and After Science. He worked with these long, extended vocal lines with big harmonies on them and I’ve always been a huge fan. He’s another artist I came to know when that window in my mind opened up. His music will always resonate in that way. I also wanted to have a song that showcased the guitar primarily and something that was thematic and broke away from the standard verse-chorus-verse-bridge-solo-chorus formula. I had the basic chord progression and rhythm first, but that intro line works off all of the chords that surround it. I wanted this record to be a bit more like, I won’t say a rock opera, but I wanted it to have more depth and surprises. I was thinking of it too in a similar way to how Willie Nelson wrote Red Headed Stranger – themes come and go, then they cycle back again.

Another question. I was wondering if any of the material has held new or unexpected surprises for you when played in a live setting.

It’s funny to have that moment when you realize something you’ve written can be universally enjoyed. We recorded the song “Come Back July” well before it was the single with a video too, long before the radio stations started playing it, and when we were playing it live then, it would always get the biggest applause. It was funny to me because it’s the one song which has a very short, methodical solo, it’s pretty much straight ahead, and it’s very different in form than a lot of the material. I wrote it like that, it was intentional, I wanted to write as near perfect of a pop song as I could. I knew that was going to entail not going crazy on the guitar and writing a guitar solo that has the melody entrenched in the song as well. So when that song ended up being the most popular song in the set [laughs], I thought, oh, you like that one, maybe I should just be writing pop songs from now on? Of course, that’s not what happened.

“Gen Exit” was that song for me. It’s so terse and pared down to the bone. There’s a lot of guitar on it and it’s such a driving, forceful opener to the album. There’s no extra bells and whistles and no time wasted.

That’s right, there’s no time to be wasted, even if you’re invested in the group. People wanna hear the hits. “Gen Exit” has been a good set opener before because it gets the crowd ready, it preps people, gets the mood up. It’s kind of what I envision a good live show to be about and, if I could do James Brown splits, I’d be doing them in that song. [laughs]

What are your particular favorites from the second album?

“Me and my Baby” is one of my favorites because it was sort of written for my aunt after she passed away. My mother and her lived together and, after she died, my girlfriend and I had to go there together on a weekly basis, kind of excavate the place, and get it ready for sale. We’d have a timer on in the kitchen window and the light would go on, so when we’d show up there in the winter time and sometimes the light would be on, but of course, no one was home. That’s where the line “There’s a light in the kitchen window/but there’s nobody home” comes from. It’s a song I know she would have liked because it’s kind of got an alt-rock feel, a little Tom Petty-ish groove going on. It’s just a fun song to play and I really get to just throw it all out there with the muscular guitar playing and three part harmonies. The melody for that song came really easily. Me and my girlfriend Jodi were driving a long and I just started singing that line, “Me and my baby/my baby and me/goin’ to see what there is to see”. I stopped and said, that’s pretty good, will you turn my voice memo on? [laughs] So, a couple of days later, I sat down and fleshed it out into a song. The music comes from all different kinds of places.

Is melody the foundation of everything you write?

Well, I don’t have that much range vocally, it’s very middle of the scale, so while I’d like to say yes, it’s just what I’m capable of. I try to use what I’ve got, so I try to not make the melody as predictable as it could be. The same thing with the guitar playing. But yeah, melody is very important, the story’s really important too, but a food has to taste good before you’ll eat it, even if it’s really good for you. If I was just writing for myself and didn’t care if anyone else heard it or enjoyed it, melody might not be so important, but you want to send a message and, hopefully, the music will play on after you’re gone. You think of melodies from all throughout history and it’s what people remember. It’s not necessarily the guitar tones or solos, we remember the melodies mostly.

With news of the band’s new additions, you’ve mentioned you look forward to opening up the sound more. Can you elaborate on that?

I’ve always been a fan of Phish and a little more exploratory stuff. Not that I necessarily want to play fifteen minute long jams, but my basis is in 60’s and 70’s rock and most of the bands that came along during that time had a good basis in the jam scene. I want to have more surprises with the music. I’m looking forward to playing with a new bassist and drummer who currently play with another group, Shokazoba, and they are an Afropop group who started out doing covers, but now do their own music. They do longer songs, 10 minute tracks, and there’s a lot more depth. We’ve been recently doing songs like “Come Back July” and “Style of the Time” off the first record starting them off with a little bit of jamming, layering the bass and drums, bringing in the guitar, putting some delay on it, maybe doing a loop here and there and building things up more instead of saying, okay, here’s the song, sit down and eat, enjoy this quick meal before we move on to the next thing. I’m really looking forward to opening things up. Now, I could have done that with Dave and JJ, it’s not that they weren’t into that sort of thing, but it takes a lot to change a vibe after something’s developed. So now that our lives diverged and I had to make this shift, I’m eager to see where we can take things sonically.

Two Shows Coming Up On Saturday 10/10

Hi gang,

Hoping you are all enjoying the beautiful colors of the fall wherever you are.

Matt, Riley and myself are currently enjoying the colors of the new arrangements of the tunes we’ve been working on these past few months. And while I’m at it thanks to all who came to our show at The Basement last month. It was a grand experience to debut the new iteration. From the reaction of the packed house I think it was a success. Great to bring Kimono Dragons in from Albany. If you missed their surf rock barrage you can check them out their Bandcamp page right here.

We have two shows coming up this Saturday, 10/10. It looks like it will be the perfect fall weekend: crisp and clear with plenty of foliage at or near its peak. 

We are so happy to be coming back to the Hyland Orchard Pavilion (2-6PM) in Sturbridge and also to have our good friends, The Filth open the show. 

That same night in Providence, RI (9PM-midnight) should be a fantastic time as well. This will be our first show at The Spot Underground and we can’t wait!

Anyway, the full details on both of the shows follow after the jump.

Hope to see you there.

Thanks again for supporting independent music everywhere!

All the best,


Saturday, October 10 at the Hyland Orchard Pavillion, Sturbridge, MA (early show)

Leaf peeper? Apple fan? Beer aficionado? Music lover? If you are any or all of those things come down to the beautiful, wide open, fun and family-friendly Hyland Orchard in Fiskdale (Sturbridge), MA for a whole afternoon/evening of music. Free to get in, free to listen, and free parking!

We are excited to have one of Worcester’s best and brightest bands kicking things off at 2PM: The Filth. You can check out their Facebook page and listen to some tunes right here.

Colorway will play two long sets for you all starting at around 3:30 PM. It’s outdoor and under a permanent covered pavilion with plenty of picnic tables and chairs.

The Hyland Orchard is a great place to take the whole family as there is so much more to see and do. There’s a petting zoo, wagon rides, locally made food products and just a beautiful atmosphere to spend the afternoon. Also, Rapscallion Brewing Company makes their beer right on the premises. You can drink it in the pavilion, in the tavern and/or take some home in a growler or two.

When: Saturday, October 10
Time: 2-6pm 
Where: 199 Arnold Road Fiskdale, MA
Click here for directions. 
Price: FREE All Ages!!!

See you there!!


Saturday, October 10 at The Spot Underground, Providence, RI (late show)

After spending the day playing in Sturbridge (see above) Colorway keeps heading in a Southeasterly direction towards Providence, RI’s best sounding rock room, The Spot Underground. 

Come check out Colorway at 10PM and then stick around for some great rock and funk courtesy of the Tai Chi Funk Squad. One more band will be on this bill, TBA. Check back for more info.

This will be our first Providence appearance so let’s make it a special one and come on out to check out the new lineup and cheer on the Fall River boy who spent his most formative years in the Providence-area clubs both on and off-stage.

When: Saturday, October 10
What time: Colorway plays at 10PM
Where: The Spot Underground
180 Pine St Providence, RI
Directions here

9:00 TBA
10:00 Colorway
11:00 Tai Chi Funk Squad
All times approximate

Know you’re going? Want to invite some friends? Join (and share) the Facebook event page here.


Remember, the new album is available at on CD and 180gram vinyl, as well as at for the digital download. But you can also pick it up an any one of these great Valley establishments. Support your local musician and support you local music store.

Turn it Up
5 Pleasant St
Northampton, MA

Platterpus Records
28 Cottage St
Easthampton, MA

Cup and Top Cafe (CD only)
1 North Maple St
Florence, MA

Wild Mutation Records
52 Main St Suite 6
Florence, MA

Mystery Train Records
178A North Pleasant St
Amherst, MA

“No music, no life.”