Recently I had the pleasure of talking with Joel about Colletto and the project’s song, “Throne”.
Part one of the interview is here.
Ez: Sort of as an aside, with previous projects, was recording more live, or piecemeal?
Joel: Done both. The main difference with previous stuff is that it was done more as a collaborative band, whereas Colletto, it’s literally just myself and Elliott in the room, or Candace or other collaborators if they come in.
Ez: But it’s very minimal input.
Joel: It’s very quick in terms of decision making. You don’t have to arm wrestle multiple other people but you also miss out on that collaborative input at times, so I think part of the skill now is learning when to pull people out of the room and then pull them back in so that I don’t get too stuck in my ways either and maintain that creative edge.
Ez: Obviously with the type of music that is under this moniker, it is recorded much more piecemeal. You could probably do it live but you’d be wrangling people in, but just with the mode you’re working with at the moment, piecemeal works better in that aspect.
Do you feel that because you’re spending more time putting a song together just by necessity it gives you more time to actually think about things?
Joel: I think so, and because it’s more pop than ever, it’s more vocal centric as well, whereas previous projects are more band focused projects. You really want lead guitars or other sonic elements to shine at certain moments ’cause that’s suitable for that. [With] pop it comes back to cranking the vocal and cranking maybe the snare or the drums, so I find that it’s way more selfish for me as a singer to be able to dabble in. It’s really fun because it zeroes in the priority unashamedly to hit those pop licks.
What I’d like to think differentiates this project from generic pop is the instrumentation allows to kind of reference period pieces or different sonic… You know, like you mentioned before, those noir elements. That’s definitely an element I’m wanting to bring in more and more and marry with the branding, which was harder in my rock projects or whatever *laughs*.
Ez: Getting back to “Throne” then; did lyrics come first, or the vocal melody?
Joel: Definitely melodies as I was improvising different vocal licks in those different blocks and then zombieing together the actual main melodies. From that process I got a bunch of lyrics which is great, and the overall concept which steered the lyrics. The lyrics were refined with Elliott and Candace in and out of sessions, which I find really helpful in terms of polishing lyrics to add that extra punch.
Some artists really almost lock the lyrics writing process to themselves only. In the past I’ve tried to do that but I find my best work is reflected when other people can help iron out the kinks, even in the grammar or phrasing or whatever, and seeing someone else add creatively to your concept or whatever you’re trying to go with it actually is really something I enjoy these days, so I’m less controlling in terms of lyric writing than I’ve probably been previously. I’ve found that really rewarding and I think the outcomes are much better.
Ez: Do you feel that having the vocal melody first made fitting lyrics in more challenging, or do you feel it made it easier?
Joel: At times probably both. Overall it probably made it easier. It definitely made it easier in terms of collaborating. “So here’s the scope of what we need the lines need to do. Can you help rework XYZ to fit that well or effectively?” So it made that element easier but at times it can be really hard when there are things you want to express lyrically [and] match to a melody and phrase that’s already locked in, so that can be frustrating.
Ez: Do you feel that, what with pop being more focused on vocals being more at the forefront, that would allow you to – on future songs – treat vocals more as a sound than a distinct thing?
Joel: I think in terms of scope of this kind of pop project, the vocal is obviously front and centre but it’s definitely a texture in itself. I’ve had to learn over the years to really like the sound of my voice and really try and play with different pitches and ranges to really colour the song or add those different textures.
I’ve loved that in my music career, from yelling, screaming, singing. If you asked if you were a vocalist or a singer, I’d probably say I’m a vocalist because deep down I really love what the voice can do, the different timbres and textures of the voice.
I’d like to play with that even more and I’d love to learn more vocal techniques, especially from some of each era or period. There’s a lot of jazz vocal techniques that I really love to add to the arsenal for the future, to colour the songs even more. In my mind it would help make new elements that I’m yet to personally explore shine.
Ez: Talking about the theme of “Throne”, from what I’ve read – please correct me if I’m wrong – it’s about the… duality is probably not the right word, but the conflict between having to work an office job that is very time consuming, even outside of office hours, verses the desire to create and express in artistic fashion. Is that right?
Joel: I guess that’s kind of probably more related to Colletto Bianco in general. Part of the fun or part of the satire or part of the kind of creative kick I get out of the project is a bit of a piss-take on my own life juggle between working in corporaté and pursuing my creative dreams, and some of the frustrations of patience I’ve had to learn in that space. I guess that does spill into “Throne”, though in that where we see Colletto who is a hard worker. Yes he’s a bit of a psycho; Yes he’s maybe in the wrong crowd, but we see him do the ugly hard work across the clips; Well that’s the intention anyway. And so hopefully the audience has some admiration for him even though, again, he is this crazy kind of character.
In “Throne” it’s meant to be conceptually zooming in on some of the tension he has with his peers or his seniors and that wrestle of frustration between respecting the process and circumventing it. What I’d like the song to allude to is the potential consequences that come with that. In a completely different way that’s been part of my maturity journey. You can cut corners in life or you can cut corners with your dreams or what have you, but there are real consequences to it, and part of what defines you is how you deal with those or how you manage those or how you address those.
In a really crazy, extreme kind of cinematic way “Throne” deals with all that stuff. Don’t get me wrong; I use it as a vehicle to laugh at myself as well, but part of that is authentic to me and I get to translate that to a totally fictional world to express myself.
Ez: In the film clip you don’t so much dance but you’re very exaggerated and your motions are a fair bit dramatic. Is the film clip sort of like a complete visual depiction of the song, or does it deviate in places?
Joel: As a concept I think it really nails it on the head. Jack Shepherd, the DOP that shot “Throne” and also “Choke”, he really pitched the concept and the kind of zoom in on maybe one moment on the more montage style that was “Choke”. [With “Throne”] he really fleshed out the narrative and then collaborated with myself and Jess, the director, to really iron out the different elements of the narrative, including on the day. A lot of it is kind of tweaked on the day and on the fly, depending on all the other variables.
From a conceptual perspective it is absolutely bang on with where the character is at in terms of the song and that uming and ahing or that “Will I or Won’t I take action?” In this certain area. And all the frustration and negative and positive energy or roller coast ride that can go with that thinking.
Is a clip ever fully conducive of the themes of a song? Probably not. There’s a lot of even personal references I’ve snuck into that song just for myself really *laughs*, but it really does I guess amplify the themes of a song in a way that I feel like the audience could understand some more. Without seeing the clip maybe the song would sound even more sinister and a little bit foreign, so I see it as a pretty important bridging mechanism for what I feel is a great song to an audience that might struggle to understand it or get where it’s coming from.
Ez: Was there a push to hit – without spoilers. No spoilers, the film clip is short enough for anyone who is listening to or reading this. Just watch it.
So without spoilers, was there a push or desire to hit certain narrative beats as certain parts of the song were reached, or was that less of a concern so long as the overall concept and feel and narrative was expressed?
Joel: I think when we set out to create this clip, conceptually and thematically things were aligned. I was pretty happy and I think the team was too, but as we got into the planning and the detail it became clear that we needed to block out how the song would build and those narrative moments tied into the song became more and more essential. Because of that it was probably the most calculated and scripted I’ve ever been in a video before, or in a project before.
We filmed no filler to cut in in case there were shit takes which is terrifying as we didn’t have much time in that beautiful location. There’s no generic music video performance shots to fill. There were adlibbed dancing moments but they were intentionally for those sections so that is one thing that definitely made me sweat on set but I’m really proud of the outcome anyway. Some of the takes… You know, I’d love if my performance maybe was a little bit more switched on in certain moments that probably only I will realise but that’s more a learning thing for me for in future.
But yeah; it was blocked out really intentionally, which was a really good challenge. It meant I had to pull this off or it’s just going to look lame *laughs*.
It felt bold, but it felt right.
Ez: I will admit I did find the playing the piano keys in the air to be a bit cute.
Ez: It was kind of cute, it was really, really dramatic. ‘Cause you did mention things about stereotypes of heritage earlier, and discovering that you were Italian made me think “Is he trying to play something up here?”.
Joel: The whole character is fictional so I’m definitely playing things up but hopefully in a manner that lands or is believable.
Ez: It feels like a darker take on drama. There are some parts that feel… I don’t want to say excessive. I don’t want to say extra either but that little bit more than you’d normally get. It certainly does play out in a certain way that is very dramatic.
Joel: The intention is to be quite larger than life. This project is not meant to be half done. If I look at it as an artist I really want it to push boundaries for myself, and everything about Colletto Bianco should be a bit uncomfortable for me and go the extra mile and be vulnerable by being bold.
I think that’s why I’ve been lucky to have people want to jump in and create it or bring it to life with me as it’s not a safe project. And that’s why it’s exciting as well, but yeah; It’s very confronting. By its nature there is meant to be a little bit of shock value, or there’s meant to be a confronting clip or sound or whatever so you’re sucked into that world. That, to me, is what some of the best entertainment is, so that’s what I’m trying to make.
Ez: Do you worry about putting too much of yourself into it?
Joel: Not really I think because at it’s core it’s a character project and it’s worldbuilding so the parts I’m my most truest, self in, most vulnerable in, all the references, all the, you know… The stuff pulled from my personal life into the project it’s so buried behind this character and this worldbuilding that no one could really know, so I feel quite safe to kind of… it’s a very safe vehicle to explore who I am ’cause it’s just one project and it’s not Joel on the screen or in the song. It’s Colletto, which is really fun *laughs*.