MEB: First things first: who are you, what do you do, and what is your favorite movie?
My name is Garret Rapp, I am the vocalist for The Color Morale, and favorite movie is A Nightmare on Elm St 4.
Wow! Better than 3?
Close, close tie, but ultimately I think 4 is my favorite movie of all time.
Nice. So you guys have just released your fourth full-length album Hold On Pain Ends, which is also your first release through Fearless Records, so let’s talk about that. What was the recording process like this time around, and who did you work with?
We recorded the record with Mike Green in LA. It was kind of a different approach; we had more of a focus on structure on this record. Kind of a more polished sound, but not a fake sound. So yeah, just wanted to focus on that this record.
Right. So what was your primary goal when writing this record?
I think the goal was just to keep it straightforward with lyrical content, and just reach as many kids as possible. I did the entire Know Hope record cycle with the goal to do merch for my own band and make myself extremely accessible, and in doing so, I had a lot of kids come up to me all over the world to talk about their personal issues and struggles. Know Hope was a very personal record for myself, and I wanted to do this record based on what I observed that kids are struggling most prevalently with in today’s culture.
And how do you feel you’ve progressed from previous releases?
I think this record was kind of a “less is more” record. It’s a different sound, a different style – not too dramatically – but The Color Morale has always been this pigeonholed metalcore band, and this was a record where we could pull back the reigns a little bit on the technicality and be more straightforward and focus more on the overall songwriting, and make things more easy to digest. There’s been a huge fan base that’s grown with our band, and it’s very young. It’s that fine line that teeter-totters between sustaining integrity as an artist but also doing what the kids want to hear, and our band is all about them, so we had to find that fine line between the two.
Yup, absolutely. So your lineup has also undergone a handful of changes over the past couple of years; how do you feel those changes have affected your music, if at all?
I’d say we have a very tightknit group of guys right now. Our first guitar player, Ramon Mendoza, had a very distinct guitar playing style, and I feel like every member we’ve gone through has brought their own thing to the table, whether it be stylistically or songwriting-wise. There are so many dynamics to a band member outside of just writing and playing music, so personality-wise, I feel like we have a pretty perfect group of guys right now. Touring in a band fulltime is not easy, and it’s not for everybody. It really takes a lot out of you on a personal level, so it’s natural to go through members, but I’m pretty happy with who we have now.
Good! So what provoked your decision to scale back on the harsh vocals and put more emphasis on clean vocals on the new record?
I think it’s just getting older, and I’m not really listening to a lot of heavy music right now. There are a couple of releases that came out this year that got me kind of excited again, but for the most part, I’m just really into singer-songwriter stuff. I’m not really into much heavy music right now, so that’s kind of dictating what I’m doing in this band. I’ll never do anything just because I “need to.” It’s whatever emotional outlet you have, and I find it best represented in singing right now, so that’s what I’m doing more of.
Have you ever considered dropping the harsh vocals altogether?
Well it’s another one of those things, you know…I dropped the metalcore style of screaming because I had no emotional connection to it anymore; I didn’t feel anything when I listened to the first two records. It was a good thing, and some of our old fan base was kind of disappointed, but everybody else was very happy with the new style. I don’t know, it’s just something I don’t feel anything from anymore. If I can’t feel anything emotionally from doing a style of vocals, then I shouldn’t be doing that style of vocals. It’s not because I can’t. And if you’re not being honest with your own music, then do you even expect anyone to believe you or listen to you in the first place?
Right. So which song on the record was hardest for you to write?
All of the songs, to a degree, were difficult to write because they all came from kids, and stories, and conversations, and messages on the Internet, and letters that were given to me. I made myself very, very connected last year, being at merch all night, playing acoustic shows, and just spent a lot of time with The Color Morale’s support system. It’s kind of this cool synergy we created, where it’s cool to not be looked up to as a singer in a band, but yet connect with somebody who has had the same struggles and perseverance, and that’s what I try to put into our music. I get that there’s this whole gimmick, this cliché thing behind the “hopecore” stuff right now, I get that, but I’ve been doing this for 10 years. Naturally, if the band has grown exponentially and experiences the success that it has right now, people start second guessing and questioning the integrity of the band, or even of me, but those people haven’t been out in trenches with me seeing what I’ve done over the past year, or what I’ve gone through over the past 20 years. So you can’t really expect them to understand without seeing firsthand.
So on that topic, how do you feel about the current state of “hope” in this music scene? Do you think the message is being conveyed effectively to kids?
Yes and no. I’ve watched the same thing happen with Christian hardcore. It got big, and then every band was a Christian hardcore band, and that was a huge thing for a while, but then it fell off. Now, half of the music festivals I enjoyed attending don’t even exist anymore. And so it’s like, is that happening with the whole message of hope? I don’t know, maybe. I kind of see this wave of popularity that’s happened with the whole message, and then you see this wave that follows with people questioning the integrity of everyone doing that. So people can question all they want, and there’s always going to be that certain degree of ignorance that’s involved in anything. But for me, I’ve found it’s easiest to just not worry about what anyone else is doing and completely be myself, and do what I feel I need to do while I’m here. Unfortunately, the entertainment industry is something that comes and goes with popularity, rather than to have something that resonates, something with substance. I’ve learned quickly that you can’t measure success on a scale of finances or popularity. Those one-on-one conversations that I have, all of those kids, I’ve gotten to watch grow up with the band, get married, have their own kids, and go from extremely detrimental areas to extremely positive areas. I’ve seen kids lose 80 pounds and make themselves very confident. I am encompassed by these things, by our fan base – though I hate referring to it a fan base –but I’ve seen kids grow up with the band, and regardless of what’s big in the minute, or whatever, I’m still going to have the best times of my life playing in a packed, sweaty VFW hall. That’s where it all started, and that’s where it will all end.
Awesome. Could you see yourself writing primarily about hope again on the next record, or are there other lyrical avenues you’d like to explore?
I’m not really sure. We’ve got a whole record cycle to do with this record, and we’re doing bigger tours, and we’re touring with all kinds of dynamic artists and personalities. Through all of that, it’s easy to get lost in the hailstorm, but I’m going to try to stay true to who I am and what I believe in. I observe a lot, and so we’ll see what the next record calls for. Maybe we won’t scream at all, maybe we’ll do the heaviest thing we’ve done in our career on the next record. It’s kind of hard to say, but that’s the curveball that is The Color Morale and I love that about us – we’re a very dynamic band, and we do whatever we set ourselves to do musically. It’s just a matter of figuring out what that is, and what we want to do with that.
As long as it’s not a country record, right?
(laughs) I mean, I went and saw Garth Brooks last week, and it was probably one of the best shows I’ve seen in my life.
Well there you go! So this year has been a busy one for you guys, thanks in part to your first bout with Van’s Warped Tour. What is the most significant experience or encounter you’ve had on tour in 2014?
Man, that is a recurring event. I had a standup moment at Warped Tour, which we actually just put on one of our t-shirts and made a poster out of. There was a day in Colorado, and I was singing, and I saw a young man in a wheelchair get crowd-surfed up and over the barricade. At that point, I just had this surreal amount of emotional flow through me. That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen while performing on stage. Seeing his excitement, singing lyrics I wrote from a wheelchair, then talking to him backstage, it was just a surreal moment. Luckily, a friend of mine who is a photographer caught that moment, so I get to have that memory for the rest of my life. It was just a really, really amazing experience that day, and it was one of my favorite moments of Warped Tour.
That’s awesome. Rumor has it that you have been working on a different type of project recently – that is, writing a book. What can you tell us about that?
You know, I never really had aspiring dreams to be a singer in a band, or even be in a band. It kind of just happened on accident. One of my biggest dreams has always been to write a book. So it’s sort of a self-help manual, collection of poems, free writing, and basically just doodles I’ve had since I was a kid. I think I’m going to release a book and maybe an EP with it, just some stuff I’ve been working on. It’s not cognizant of The Color Morale, it’s a very different style of music with just singing, and much more acoustically-driven. It’s going to be a busy year, but I’m hoping I can finally wrap that up and put it out for people. I think some of the content involved will really help kids out in a lot of areas. So yeah, that’s something I’m really looking forward to putting out this year.
So what is the content of the book looking like so far?
I’ve been through a lot of detrimental areas in life. As a kid, I began my passion for writing just as coping mechanism. And I’ve saved all of my old notebooks and everything since I was a kid, so going in and out of religion, trying to find longevity in faith, and even being sexually abused as a kid, I just never really went anywhere with that. So I just poured it all out in notebooks. Looking back and reading through that stuff over the last few years, and then being so open about myself in the band, it’s really given me a sense of resolution – if I’m open about these things, they can help other people. The problem is that I spent many years battling depression, secluded, away from people, just burying myself in a hole and digging myself out over and over and over again. Especially as a kid, at an adolescent age, that’s a hell of a way to live. And being where I am now, it’s so obvious that I didn’t have to live that way if I would’ve just known where to go. That’s the problem with a lot of kids at this age, they don’t have the parental guidance and they don’t have to direction in life to know where to go for help. It kind of makes my issues and struggles very necessary, and the more open and vocal I can be about them, the more I can help kids. So why wouldn’t I be?
Yeah, it sounds like quite a big project!
Yeah, it is, and between getting this new record out and signing to Fearless, it’s been a very hectic experience. But I’m super proud of it and super proud of the record, and seeing what the record is doing, so it’s onto the next project! I have to constantly be creating. I’m a right-brainer, so I’ve got to constantly be building something or else my mind starts to wander, and that’s when I start going nuts. I’ve got to be making something.
You guys did something really special for the final track of H.O.P.E., where you asked fans to write their own lyrics and those who were selected actually got to come into the studio and record some group vocals for the last chorus of the title track. Do you have plans to do anything else special like this in the future, or any other ways for fans to get involved?
Oh yeah. I’m always thinking of different creative ways to get our fans involved. That was an idea I had way before Know Hope actually, and luckily after signing to Fearless, I explained it to them and they were so stoked and so onboard with it. They helped it come to life, and it was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had in my entire life. Just getting all those kids involved, seeing their faces, coming to the studio and seeing how excited everybody was…it was like, this is our biggest record to date, and this is literally you guys singing on the record. And especially with the lyrical content and what the song is about, it was just a very powerful experience. It’s so amazing how many opportunities we have to do things because of music, and that’s another one that I wanted to capitalize on because I knew how much of an amazing experience that would be for them, and for myself as well. I must’ve listened to that track a thousand times at the studio, just smiling, thinking “man, this came together so perfectly.” And it’s one of those things where again, I just envision myself as a kid writing on a doodle pad. That song was written walking down Sunset Boulevard in LA, and that’s where I wrote all the lyrics to the song, and I wrote the chorus based on what the kids had written for the song. That was literally a song we wrote together, so call The Color Morale what you will, call it cliché, call it whatever you want, I don’t give a shit what you call it. But in that moment, in that instance, that is The Color Morale and that was my moment with those kids, and you will never be able to take that away, you won’t be able to say anything about it, because it’s there. Beautiful experience.
Well you guys have been around for quite a while now and have seen some major success over the past year or so. So where do you go from here? What do you see in store for the future of The Color Morale?
I think that’s a decision we need to make, and like anything in life, you’ve got to figure out what you want to do and then apply yourself. Stay kind and stay humble; that’s where you’ll experience success in life. I’m a firm believer in “you get what you give,” so figure out what you want to do and put 110% of yourself into it, even when you don’t know how to, and you’ll always be successful. I’m already thinking about what we want to do for the next record. Who knows man, maybe we’ll dabble in some pop punk a little bit, maybe drop the whole screaming thing altogether, maybe do the heaviest track I’ve ever heard in my whole life, you know, it’s hard to say. It’s wherever I’ll be creatively in that moment. I’ve always tried to not preconceive things too much, and just write in the moment. All of the lyrical content from Know Hope came from in the vocal booth – I just wrote it in the moment, and Hold On Pain Ends I wrote all in the studio, so I don’t like to prepare too much. I like to do and say things in the moment, and I think they come out more organically that way. Sometimes I probably sound like a total idiot, but that’s the roll of the dice I guess!
And what do you see yourself doing once the touring days are over?
Touring is temporary for me. I know I’m supposed to be a guidance counselor, or a social worker. Something to do with giving back to kids, or just people in general. I really see myself being a guidance counselor or maybe a substance abuse counselor. I think that’s what I was put here to do. I like to be creative, and I like to give back and help people who are going through what I’ve gone through, so that’s where my passion comes from. That’s what I’ll do when I’m done touring.
Awesome. And where can fans catch you guys on the road for the rest of 2014?
We’re out with We Came As Romans, actually just started yesterday in Michigan. We go from this tour straight into Europe with The Word Alive, and back to a full tour in the States with The Word Alive. So it’s going to be busy busy busy.
Alright, if you could say just one last thing for every one of your listeners to hear, what would that be?
Thank you. Thank you for the support, thank you for everyone who’s picked me up in times when I’ve been overwhelmed by all this stuff, and thank you for all the support with the new record. This is the most successful record we’ve ever had, I was kind of blown away by that. So thanks to everyone for sticking with us and supporting what we do. Our record Hold On Pain Ends came out September 2nd through Fearless Records, check it out if you have not!