Interview Three Colours Dark (Jonathan Edwards & Rachel Cohen)

"We quickly realized that we were on the same wavelength musically"

(July 2020, text by Henri Strik, pictures provided by Jonathan Edwards, edited by Peter Willemsen)

The name of Three Colours Dark probably doesn't ring a bell for most people. However, some people do know the names of singer-songwriter Rachel Cohen - formerly knowns as Rachel Jones − and musician-songwriter Jonathan Edwards. Once they both played in a band named Karnataka as their lead singer and keyboard player respectively. Now, sixteen years later they joined forces again to share their musical passion. Their debut The Science Of Goodbye (see review) just came out and of course Background Magazine wanted to know everything about this new release, and how this all happened after all those years being separated.

Of course, the obvious question is how the two of you got together again? Did you stay in touch after Karnataka broke up?
Jonathan Edwards: “After Karnataka broke up in 2004 we stayed in touch intermittently while playing in our new bands Panic Room and The Reasoning, but following the demise of The Reasoning we lost touch largely due to geography since we live in different parts of the UK. Rachel had been pursuing an academic career,
Jonathan Edwards and Rachel Cohen
taking a break from music for a number of years when I got an email from her in 2018 just before Christmas, saying she was in town and asking if I wanted to meet up for a drink. We got to reminiscing about the past and Rachel mentioned how much she was missing making music. As Panic Room were on a hiatus we decided to see if we could restart our writing partnership which we had as founding members and writers for Karnataka. We started writing songs together with the only conditions being that the process had to be enjoyable and we would keep it secret until we knew whether what we created was something we felt was worth sharing. We quickly realized that we were on the same wavelength musically and the songwriting flowed very quickly and easily so we decided to make an album and so Three Colours Dark was born.”

Is there a special reason why you choose the name Three Colours Dark for the band and the name of the album The Science Of Goodbye?
Rachel Cohen: “Three Colours Dark is a creative take on the so-called 'dark triad' personality profile. The term was coined in a psychology research paper in 2002. It refers to three unusually negative personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. This came about because I work as an academic researcher in mental health care, and I have a longstanding interest in the subjects of narcissism, narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse, which is a form of psychological and emotional abuse. This informed the lyrics, which I discuss in my response to the second part of your question. The album title The Science of Goodbye sums up the overall message of the album, which is one of emotional healing and recovery, self-compassion, having the strength and courage to let go of the past, and finding new hope for the future.”

So, this means that The Science Of Goodbye has a theme or a concept or is it just a collection of songs?
Rachel: “I think it's probably a hybrid of all three, to be honest! As a lifelong music fan, I've always felt that lyrics are at their most powerful when they communicate feelings and emotions that are universal to us all in terms of human experience. I strive to combine personal emotional expression with plenty of room for individual interpretation, so that listeners can make their own meanings from what they hear and hopefully find comfort and reassurance in doing so. Our CD booklet includes a fully referenced reading list for anyone who's interested in finding out more about the meaning(s) and inspiration for Three Colours Dark.”

Did you write the songs together or did you add the vocals and lyrics later on to the compositions?
Jonathan: “The songs were all written together. I would generally come up with an initial musical idea which Rachel would than expand and adapt, writing melodies and lyrics. We'd work on the music together deciding on the overall structures, which instruments each song would require, with the lyrics being a guide to what mood or atmosphere was needed.”

All songs are credited as Jonathan Edwards & Rachel Cohen compositions except for Ghosts In The Wind. This piece was written by Richard Thompson. Why did you use his song for the album?
Jonathan: “I'm a big fan of Richard Thompson both as a musician and a songwriter and Ghosts In the Wind was a song I'd thought of covering for a number of years, but it had never fit with any of the albums that I recorded. As Rachel and I developed the original songs for The Science Of Goodbye and I could hear the musical arc that the album and lyrics were taking, it struck me that Ghosts In The Wind would work really well with our own songs without feeling out of place. We worked out an arrangement that honoured the original song while giving it a new setting and Dave Gregory's guitar arrangement really helped to give the song the atmosphere that we wanted.”

Would you please describe all individual songs briefly and tell me something about the lyrics?
Rachel: “As I mentioned earlier, I prefer to leave plenty of space for listeners to interpret my lyrics in a way that feels personally relevant and meaningful to them. As a lyricist, I think it's important not to be too prescriptive about these things! Multiplicity of meaning is massively important when it comes to the creative arts, and that's exactly how it should be.”

I would say that The Science Of Goodbye is a rather mellow album. Sometimes it even comes close to the music recorded by Luna Rossa. Was it meant to be this way or just a coincidence?
Jonathan & Rachel: “We really had no preconceptions about the kind of album we wanted to make. We knew that we didn't really want it to sound like any of the previous projects we'd been involved in, but of course our musical personalities will come through in any music we write, either together or separately. So while there are elements that are reminiscent of Karnataka, Panic Room or Luna Rossa, I think the overall sonic landscape of the album is unique to Three Colours Dark and it has a maturity and clarity to it that we're really pleased with.”

Tim Hamill contributes almost on every track on guitars, bass and drum programming. Is he the third member of Three Colours Dark or just an important guest musician?
Jonathan: “Tim Hamill has been the engineer and co-producer on every album I've made with Panic Room and Luna Rossa, so it was an easy choice when deciding who to ask to record and co-produce our album. In addition to his skills as a recording engineer, he's also a talented musician and as we needed additional instruments to achieve the sound we wanted, we also used his talents as a multi-instrumentalist throughout the album. Although he's not an 'official' member of the band he played guitar and bass throughout as well as helping with the song arrangements. We certainly couldn't have made the album without him.”
Steve Balsamo contributed on vocals, Nathan Bray on trumpet and flugelhorn, Dave Gregory on electric guitar, Chantel McGregor on electric guitar and E-bow and Kate Ronconi on violin. Was there any special reason why you asked these musicians?
Jonathan & Rachel: “In addition to Tim, we knew there were specific instruments that we wanted on certain songs such as a trumpet and a violin and we were able to draw on the talents of some our musician friends to play these parts for us and contribute some great performances. We had met Dave Gregory at a showcase gig for the record label that both our bands − Tin Spirits & Panic Room − were on at the time. Dave is a lovely guy as well as a great guitarist. We just thought he would be the perfect player to capture the atmosphere of the Richard Thompson song we were covering and he brought a really haunting vibe to it. We hadn't met Chantel McGregor before, but we knew her work so we knew that she would be able to bring a great bluesy vibe to Blood Moon Rising. We've both known Kate Ronconi already before our Karnataka days. She's a great violinist and did some great improvised playing across the album. With Steve Balsamo − Rachel had admired his voice for ages − and really wanted to have him sing on the album. As he was a friend, Tim Hamill asked him to contribute some vocals to the album and he came over to the studio and added his parts in a single day. Nathan Bray is a great session player that we found on-line. He's got a great CV including Robbie Williams, Paloma Faith, Mike Rutherford, etc. and he recorded his parts remotely and emailed them over to us. We've been really happy with the contributions of all of our fantastic guest musicians. They've really helped shape the sound of the finished album.”

Our reviewer wrote that the lead vocals reminded him of Annie Haslam (Renaissance) or Jon Anderson (Yes). He called Three Colours Dark a sweet version of Yes or a poppy version of Renaissance. What is your opinion about this comparison?
Jonathan: “I don't really hear much of either of those singers in Rachel's voice, but of course we're flattered to be compared with such great singers.”
Rachel: “I'm very flattered by the comparisons, too! I've heard the Annie Haslam reference before - which is enormously complimentary - and, interestingly, another recent review mentioned some Jon Anderson-esque inflections, although this isn't something I've ever noticed...”

He also hoped that the band add some edge to a future release, but at the same time maintain their enchanting sound.
Jonathan & Rachel: “We didn't go into this project with a fixed idea of how we wanted the music to sound. As the songs developed the instrumentation and arrangements were choices that we made to fulfil the emerging vision we had for each song. The album sounds exactly the way we want it.”

Is there any chance that there will be a second Three Colours Dark album and are you going to promote your debut with concerts in the near future?
Jonathan & Rachel: “We really enjoyed making The Science Of Goodbye and plan to continue making music together on future recordings. We've thought about playing live, but as there are only two of us we'd need to get a live band together, which is a big financial commitment, but you never know. If it's something that's practical to do then at some point it may happen.”

And what are your plans for the near future separately?
Jonathan: “As well as continuing to create music with Rachel, I also plan to start working on a new Panic Room album when the coronavirus lockdown situation allows us all to get together.”

Thanks for doing this interview and answering my questions.
Jonathan & Rachel: “You're welcome.”

More info about Three Colours Dark on the Internet:

       review album 'The Science Of Goodbye'

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