RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW CANADIAN BAND ORDINARY // COLOURS
What made you decide to start the band?
Near the beginning of the pandemic, I sought a creative outlet to deal with some of the anxiety and frustrations that I’d been experiencing up to that point. I had a bunch of old demos and sketches that’d been percolating for awhile, so I started to flesh some of them out. In the process of doing so, it felt therapeutic because it was helping to take my mind away a bit from the outside world. That’s why I decided to start up Ordinary // Colours.
Introduce us to yourself and your musical history?
The band is just myself (Justin Chee) at the moment and I play, record and mix everything at home. I started learning the piano around age 8 and took lessons for about 7 years, although I wouldn’t say I was (or still am) that technically proficient at it! Around high school, I discovered an old classical guitar my dad had stored in the basement, so I started to pick that up on my own as well. Then, my friends and I started jamming together and we ended up forming a punk / alt-rock band which lasted about a year, where I played the keyboards and bass. Even though we weren’t very good, I had a lot of fun and the experience spurred me to start writing my own songs. By university, I’d accumulated enough of these that I recorded and released them under my own name, while playing some local shows. Afterward, I went on hiatus to focus on my career. I did occasionally demo some more sketches in my spare time but I didn’t really focus on finishing any of the songs until I started to revisit them during the pandemic, as mentioned above.
What’s one question you’re sick of being asked when interviewed?
I haven’t been interviewed before, so I can’t say at the moment that I’m sick of any questions just yet! Should I have the opportunity to do a few more, I can probably provide a more concrete answer then!
We set up RGM Canada to share music with both countries, good idea?
Absolutely! Music is one of the great unifiers of society and the more available avenues for everyone to discover new things and find common ground, the better we can be.
Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories?
Not really, I’m pretty skeptical towards the majority of them because they tend to rely on believing that there are always huge master plans in place, with competent people to execute them. It’s difficult enough as it is to make anything go according to plan, without anything falling apart at the seams.
Did you buy anything you don’t need in the pandemic?
I bought a Suzuki Q-Chord, which is like a more modern Omnichord, because I wanted to try and incorporate glissando sounding harmonies into one of my songs but it didn’t really turn out how I imagined from the get-go, so it’s kinda just collecting dust right now. Maybe one day, it’ll get into another song.
What useless party trick do you have?
Not sure if this one is particularly unique but I’ll share because everyone can actually do this: if you don’t talk too much, you can gradually blend into the walls…
What was the most fun you have had on stage?
I played one show for an old weekly series in Toronto called Wavelength, which occurred on Sunday nights. Even though the crowd was tiny and I was just playing along to some pre-recorded backing tracks, the vibe was great because it had a dream like atmosphere and people were really getting into it. It was also really fun because it was the first time that I experimented with building a lot of tension and release, by live looping a bunch of distorted / shredded guitar and then playing around with my pedals to gradually turn these loops into something like ambient music. I have fond memories of that show because it was probably one of the few times where both sound and audience-wise, I was able to successfully evoke the mood that I wanted to initially set out.
What was the worst experience on stage?
There was a show with a couple other bands, where I was slated to play third. I arrived a bit early for my soundcheck and watched as one of the bands just finished theirs. At that point, the person who was supposed to play second had not shown up on-time, so I was slated to go up to do my check. As I was setting up on stage, the second guy suddenly showed up at the last moment and demanded to check right then and there because he had to leave early. Initially, I thought, “fine, it’ll only be another 10 minutes, shouldn’t be too long because he’s only playing from his laptop”. It ended up taking almost three times as long because of various technical issues and by that time, the show was about to begin, so I didn’t get to check at all. That guy ended up playing only 15 minutes altogether and then, as promised, promptly dipped. Even the venue owner was surprised his set was so short. When I got up on stage, I attempted a very quick 2 minute check and started my set. I couldn’t properly hear my vocals the whole time, one of my pedals ended up malfunctioning about a quarter way in and there were just wonky levels all over the place. My friends later told me that they couldn’t really hear anything other than my guitar!
Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about?
Probably when I tell people that I make music, because, at first glance, a lot of people don’t really expect it!
If you had to describe your music to an alien how would you describe it?
One of my past show bookers probably described it best: like the ocean breeze drying your tears. I’m assuming these aliens can cry and have oceans full of liquid methane.
What makes you stand out as an artist?
For better or worse, I think what makes me stand out is probably my DIY ethos, which likely stems from those high school punk band days, when I first learned how to crudely mix stuff by importing songs we recorded using a cassette karaoke machine into the computer. All the writing, arrangements, playing and recording are done solely by myself, so the songs have a really homespun quality to me and their essences are representative of how I really want them to be presented. It’s a bedroom project in the truest sense.
Right now, what’s pissing you off the most?
I feel an overall disappointment with the current state of politics, especially in the U.S., in light of more recent issues like the restrictions on a woman’s right to choose, the increasing desensitization towards gun violence and the continual rise of extremist elements on the far right. Distorting facts and handcuffing the government from actually working in its citizens’ interests appears to be the playbook that corporate lobbyist groups and political action committees are using to further their own aims. It drives a form of hateful tribalism by encouraging the division of people from one another and it seems like these groups are using this to their benefit. As a neighboring Canadian, I feel like I’m starting to see some of these strategies increasingly seep into our own politics, so that worries me a bit.
What’s your favourite song to play live and why?
My favourite song to play is an old one called Honolulu, which was previously released under my own name. It’s just a ukulele, some rain/insect chirping sounds and my voice. Since the ukulele is not as overpowering an instrument as the guitar, it’s easier for me to get into because I can really sing and project those vocals on-stage. The song serves as my go-to set closer and I’ve received a nice reaction every time I’ve played it. Because it’s so barebones in contrast to the rest of my set, people will usually quiet down a bit and give it a listen.
I hear you have a new single, what can you tell us about it?
It’s called Pacific Division and it’s the first single from this project. I was imagining the story of someone who was leaving their hometown to go to a new city to seek opportunities and get away from the problems they were facing but nonetheless, finds themselves in almost the same situation when they do actually get there. It was just released on July 15.
Talk me through the thought process of the single?
The song initially started off from a demo where I was improvising a bunch of guitar chords and glockenspiel melodies over top of a drum loop. I wanted to have glockenspiel on the track because I thought it would be interesting to make the music sound slightly pretty and shimmery, to contrast the lyrical themes. When it came time to record vocals, I sang them more-or-less stream of consciously, based on what I was imagining. I left the song for awhile and later on, when I returned to listen, I realized I couldn’t really understand parts of what I sang because the vocals had been drenched through a very heavy echo effect. Keeping in mind the original vision of the story, I ended up putting in words that sounded similar to what I thought I initially sang. From that point on, I started recording the track into the computer and fleshing it out.
What was the recording process like?
Pretty long and drawn out because I spent a lot of time making sure the sounds were engineered correctly, so that all the instrumentation sounded as good as they could going into the computer. The glockenspiel, in particular, turned out to be a bit of trouble to record and mix because, as beautiful as it can sound, it’s also a pretty shrill and dynamic instrument, so just the process of listening to it over and over again started to really trigger my tinnitus. Recording and mixing the vocals was, like the glock, also somewhat difficult due to the dynamics. Add to the fact that they were recorded in my parents’ house’s walk-in closet, so I had to be mindful of singing quietly at times so that I wouldn’t be disturbing them too much!
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the single?
Just figuring out how to sculpt and carve together all the elements so that they weren’t fighting each other too much within the mix, because this song is probably the densest thing I’ve ever made. I found it beneficial to sometimes leave an arrangement or mix for a couple days and then return to it afterwards because at times, I would get hyped about how it sounded at the moment but later on, when I listened back with a bit more objectivity, I felt that the song could work better if some particular arrangements or instruments were changed or removed. It was really about keeping in mind the overall vision of the track and not feeling too precious about losing certain elements if they didn’t end up making sense, in spite of how hard I worked on them.
Would you change anything now it’s finished?
Maybe a couple things in terms of levels and balancing, like on some of the guitar leads and handclaps, where it could’ve been a bit louder or more extreme. Despite what I said earlier about being DIY, I’ll admit that I had some pretty tired ears by the end and I am starting to see the benefits of bringing someone else to mix, as it could help to provide a more balanced outside perspective on what works and what doesn’t. That being said, I’m still quite happy with the end result!
What are your plans for the year ahead?
I’m still in the midst of working on a bunch of other songs, so I will look to hopefully release another song or two by the end of the year and then likely a full length album sometime in 2023.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
I just want to give my thanks for having the opportunity to share my music with everyone and to please keep supporting all independent artists as they pursue their crafts. If you wish to hear more of my music or reach out, you can find me at the links below: