Color Theory 101

Brian Hazard of Color Theory here. I’ve been putting out records since 1994, and right now I’m in the process of wrapping up my 11th album. If you’re just discovering my music now, you may not know where to start, so I picked out a dozen songs as an introduction.

If you’re in the good ole USA, you can listen through the set, along with my corny narration, on Pandora here.

We’re going to start with a track I just released last week called “Backward”. It’s the second single from the upcoming album Lucky Ago, which I’ll talk about a bit more after you hear it…

Next up is “Feral”, the first single. My inspiration for the album, sonically at least, is the album I’ve probably listened to the most in my life: The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds. For details, check out the lengthy origin story I wrote called Why and How I Made My Supernatural Synthwave Album.

Thematically, each of the songs revolves around a different superstition. “Backward” is about ladders, or more specifically, about cancelling out bad luck by walking backward underneath a ladder. “Feral” deals with the dreaded black cat in your path. Without further meow, here it is…

My 10th album came out last September, called The Majesty of Our Broken Past. It’s my first synthwave album, although some of my earlier tracks may also qualify as synthwave. I have yet to hear anyone coherently explain the difference between synthwave and synthpop.

The most popular song on the album is “In Space, No One Can Hear You Cry,” mostly because it was included on a super-popular Spotify playlist called Synthwave from Space. The song is half Morrissey, half Blade Runner. I knew Vangelis relied heavily on the Yamaha CS-80 when composing the score, so that was my primary synth as well. In fact, you can hear the iconic bassline from Blade Runner towards the end of the track.

I describe “In Motion” as “an accidentally cute theme to an 80s adventure movie that never was.” It was actually inspired by the opening theme of an anime called Recovery of an MMO Junkie — mainly just the way the intro stops and starts before launching full steam ahead. Considering the lyrics and energy of the track, I think it would be the perfect theme song for a travel agency commercial, so if you happen to own a travel agency, please keep me in mind.

Alright, so now we’re jumping back a few years to my 9th album, Adjustments. This is before I had to release a song every month on Patreon, and because I didn’t have any looming deadlines, the album took a full six years. I released each of the tracks, plus remixes of every track, over the course of three EP starting in 2012. That’s around the time when I really started getting into what we now know as EDM, mostly by listening to Deadmau5. The album blends progressive house elements with my established synthpop formula, which you can hear on my favorite track, “Slot Machine.”

During the course of recording Adjustments, I was invited to produce three songs for one of the Just Dance video games. One of those was a cover of Owl City’s “Fireflies.” Of course, I couldn’t use any samples from the original, and I created most of the synth patches from scratch. I probably spent 10 hours just on that opening sound! Dissecting the track in such detail gave me a deep appreciation for the production, which inspired me to write a new song using the same set of sounds. As you’ll hear, even though the sounds are familiar, the chord progression, melody, and lyrics are entirely my own. Here’s “Productivity.”

My 8th album The Sound was released in 2010. I don’t remember having any clear inspiration, but I was definitely listening to The Postal Service a lot at the time. I launched the album by showcasing 30 song snippets on my web site, and asking fans to pick their favorites. From there, I developed a dozen of those snippets into full songs, ten of which made the album.

Now’s as good a time to mention that my selections here aren’t necessarily my greatest hits or fan favorites. I could easily create another lists with songs just as good or better, but this just happens to be what I’m feeling today.

In that spirit, here’s “Extroverts at Play,” my ode to introversion:

And now, a short detour into self-indulgence. “Too Close” may be my favorite Color Theory song, but it isn’t a fan favorite by any stretch. I’m not sure why. Maybe there’s some missing ingredient I wrote into the recipe that never made it into the actual dish. My feeling is, if you took my entire discography and put it into a blender with ice, you’d make a “Too Close” smoothie.

As a side note, the synth oboe solo was inspired by the classic Camouflage song “Love is a Shield.”

The Thought Chapter was both the name of my high school band, and the name of my 7th album. The songs all have the same sonic foundation — a little software drum machine called Limelite. One Limelite’s presets is simply called “Music”, which refers to the Madonna song, but I didn’t know that at the time because I stopped listening to Madonna in the 90s.

So I accidentally released a song with same groove as Madonna, and it turned out to be my legit greatest hit. It’s called “We’re Not Getting Any Younger”, and if the sentiment was true back in 2008 when I wrote the song, it’s even more poignant now.

I like to write songs about death. I guess I’m just intrinsically morbid. The best of those songs actually won an international songwriting contest, the John Lennon Songwriting Contest to be exact. As a result, I received over $8000 in prizes. Plus I felt validated for a couple weeks.

All joking aside, I’ve had several people tell me that they want this song played at their funeral, and it’s truly humbling. Here’s “If It’s My Time to Go”:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. If you know one factoid about Color Theory, it’s probably that my song “Ponytail Girl” was mislabeled as a Depeche Mode b-side and spread around the world on Napster. I actually approached people on Napster about it directly, and one person told me he knew for a fact that that was Martin Gore singing.

So I did what any die-hard Depeche fan would do — I recorded an entire tribute album to the band and tacked on “Ponytail Girl” to the end.

What do you think? Would this have been at home on the Exciter album?

I’m going to close with a song that has been inexplicably popular on Pandora over the years. In the early days I had a tradition of ending each album with a piano/vocal ballad. This one is from my third album, Perfect Tears, though it’s actually not the closing ballad.

Beyond this one song, I’ve left my first five albums, half of my discography, unexplored. I’d like to think I’ve gotten better over the years, but some fans genuinely believe I peaked with my second album in 1997. Personally I think of those early albums as demos, that never would’ve been released if I were signed to an actual label. I’m still proud of the songwriting, but the production leaves a lot to be desired.

If you’ve made it this far, I’m truly grateful that you took the time to listen through this little playlist. I know how hard it is to find that kind of time these days.

Stay tuned for more tracks from what I already consider my best album, Lucky Ago.

And here’s the not-so-grand finale, “Now I Know”:

What now? You can hear more on Spotify, Bandcamp, and the rest.

For the inside scoop going forward, be sure to sign up for my monthly-ish email updates!

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Thanks, as always, for listening!