Q&A: Colleen Green Talks TV, Akon, And Her Intensely Personal I Want To Grow Up
Up until now, Colleen Green has been painted as a slightly stoned hero of the DIY underground. She boasts one of the funnier Twitter handles in popular music (@colleengreen420), and has crafted the kind of too-chill-to-stand-up-straight persona that might make her songs seem almost perplexingly simple if you’re unfamiliar with her lonely aesthetic; Green recorded her first two albums, Milo Goes To Compton (2012) and Sock It To Me (2013), entirely on her own. To make her third full-length, she traveled from her longtime home of Los Angeles to work alongside friends Casey Weissbuch (Diarrhea Planet) and Jake Orrall (JEFF The Brotherhood) in Nashville, Tennessee. I Want To Grow Up is the Orrall-produced result of that collaboration, and it is Green’s most emotionally wrought work to date, a simply rendered collection of anxious songs whose bubblegum sheen belies the pain beneath. Green is a master at reordering the mundane, at recognizing the small things that make relationships, friendships, skirting addiction, and intimacy, seem impossible when life isn’t going according to plan. In ten tracks, she purges herself of a series of internal monologues, seeking out the answer to why, at the age of 30, growing up seems just as difficult as it did at 18. Stream I Want To Grow Up and read a Q&A below.
STEREOGUM: I Want To Grow Up is being advertised as your first “studio album.” Is that mostly in reference to the fact that it isn’t self-recorded?
GREEN: Well, I probably wouldn’t call it a studio album, just ’cause I wouldn’t call anything that. I would just say it’s like … an album. All the other ones before it I’ve either recorded in my bedroom, in my friend’s living room, or in my friend’s basement, so this is the first time that Colleen Green has been recorded in an actual, legit studio.
STEREOGUM: What was it like to work with Jake Orrall from JEFF The Brotherhood and Casey Weissbuch of Diarrhea Planet on this album? What’s your relationship with those dudes? How did you guys all end up working on this record together?
GREEN: I’ve known both of those guys for a few years now. I played a show with JEFF The Brotherhood in, like, 2011, and that’s how we met. We really liked each other’s music and just kind of kept in touch. Casey and I met when JEFF The Brotherhood took Diarrhea Planet and me on tour in 2012. We kind of just clicked, we’re like kindred spirits. We became really good friends and kept in touch after that, and he makes a lot of music outside of Diarrhea Planet that I really love, so we all three just kind of respected each other musically. I knew that I didn’t want to use a drum machine on this recording, and I knew that I wanted to work with someone else to produce my songs. So I figured that would be a good fit because Jake and Casey are best friends, and they hang out all the time anyway in Nashville.
STEREOGUM: What was different about working with other people on a record compared to doing most of the instrumental work on your own?
GREEN: It was a lot less work for me, first of all. That’s the main thing, because usually I play it all and then I record it all and then I mix it all, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job mixing in the past. I’ve definitely achieved the sound that I wanted, but it was a lot easier this time because, instead of obsessing over one thing and being by myself and not having anyone to bounce it off of, I would be like, “Hey, what do you think about blank?” It was just more collaborative, and it took a lot of pressure and stress off of me. I really like recording and mixing, but it just was less of that stuff that I had to worry about, less work for me and I could just focus on making the songs sound as good as possible in the time that we had. So that was nice, it was nice to have other people help and support me.
STEREOGUM: When Sock It To Me was released, many reviews focused on the song “Heavy Shit” as a kind of centerpiece, an homage to things sucking, but that song isn’t lyrically specific. On I Want To Grow Up there are moments that employ a stream-of-consciousness approach in a way that’s relatable but also intensely personal. Can you speak to the content of the record a little bit?
GREEN: There are a lot of moments in the lyrics where I was like, “I don’t know if I can say this, I don’t know if I want a bunch of people to be knowing that I had this thought.” Then on the other hand, it’s like, I should just say it, because I think people appreciate that honesty, and also, I always appreciate in music when I hear someone saying something in lyrics, when I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve thought about that before,” but you never hear it out loud. For the lyrics on this album, I was kind of just going with the darkest thoughts I could think of, or the deepest or weirdest thoughts I could possibly come up with. The album is personal, and it actually makes me a little uncomfortable listening to it now.
STEREOGUM: The album is called I Want To Grow Up, which automatically assumes that maturation is a central theme, feeling the need to separate yourself from your former existence. What are some of the anxieties that produced the lyrics, especially on songs like “Things That Are Bad For Me” parts one and two?
GREEN: I still have a long ways to go, but I think that it helps to recognize things that you might want to change about yourself, or need to change about yourself, or recognizing that you have problems in your relationships, or socially. I know that I have kind of an addictive personality and that I definitely do a lot of things that are bad for me on a daily basis. Even if it’s just, like, drinking coffee. I’ve been “trying to quit” coffee for like three years now, and that’s something that I want to stop, and that it will be way better if I do, but I just can’t. “Things That Are Bad For Me Pt. I” isn’t just about substances; it’s about anything that you can be addicted to. The first part is like, “Okay, I’m recognizing the fact that I need to stop doing certain things, I need to stop being so addicted to things and just be normal because I want to be healthy and happy, and I just want to be the best me that I can be.” So that’s the optimistic view, that’s like day one, or whatever, and then the next day you’re like, “FUCK, I’m depressed, I can’t get out of bed, I need coffee, I’m just going to smoke weed all day and do nothing.” It’s after you’ve recognized and made that acknowledgment that there’s this voice in your head, or just this nervousness, a feeling running through your body that is just like, “I’m bored. I’m lonely. I don’t know what to do. I’m just going to get drunk. I’m just going to do drugs, or whatever. I need to just get fucked right now.” So those songs are like two sides of the same coin to me.
STEREOGUM: The songs on the album do seem to focus a lot on escapism — you have a way of balancing these deep ruminations with thoughts like, “I’m just going to go watch a lot of TV, ’cause I won’t have to interact with anyone.”
GREEN: Right, exactly.
STEREOGUM: I love that the song “TV” is kind of philosophical in a completely straightforward, to-the-point way. What shows have you been watching?
GREEN: I try to watch Jeopardy! and Conan every night. Those are my two that I actually know what time they’re on, and they’re on every day of the week, 7 and 11 every night. Those are my faves. I also watch Law & Order SVU, ’cause they usually will show like 80 of them in a row, so you kind of just don’t have to do anything else, and I watch Forensic Files a lot. I really like the Millionaire Matchmaker on Bravo, too. Those are the main ones that I usually watch. The dumbest, most mindless stuff ever, pretty much.
STEREOGUM: When you spend so much of your life performing or making music, giving so much to people all of the time, it’s crucial to have chill time, or “not-thinking” time.
GREEN: That makes perfect sense, actually. I like that, I’m gonna go with that.
STEREOGUM: You were saying earlier that there are certain lyrics on I Want To Grow Up that you thought, “I don’t know if I should put this in the song, but fuck it I’m gonna do it anyway.”
GREEN: Yeah, “Deeper Than Love,” that entire song. I spent a long time writing that song; I knew that I had to get the lyrics just right for it to be effective, for it to work. I was really scared of putting that out there, but I thought that it was some of the most interesting subject matter on the record, and I knew that I wanted to have a song that sounded like that. But I was really scared, mostly ’cause I know that my parents are going to want to listen to this. Yeah, I’m 30 years old, I’m an adult, I have my own thoughts, I do stuff, get over it, whatever… but it’s still really scary. I talked to my best friend about it and she didn’t know exactly what the lyrics were, but I told her that it was kind of fucked up, and that I would be kind of scared for people to hear it and I told her why and she was just like, “Man, you just gotta do it.” I knew that in my heart, but it helped hearing it from my best friend. I was really nervous to share “Deeper Than Love” with Jake and Casey, because I was just emailing them my demos, and that was the last one I sent them, I think, and I was like, “Okay, you guys, this song is kind of fucked up, and I’m kind of scared about it, but here it is.” I sent it to them, sent them the lyrics and Jake just wrote me this really great email back that quelled all of my fears. He was like, “That song is actually pretty fucked up, but it’s a really provocative and deep subject matter that I think a lot of people are going to be forced to think about, and I think a lot of people are going to be able to relate to it, so we should just do it.” That made me feel so much better, and then after the record was recorded and everything was done and we had CDs of it, Casey was listening to it in his car, and we came home one day and he told me that “Deeper Than Love” was his favorite song, and Sarah from Hardly Art said so as well, and my best friend loves that song, so after that I thought, “Okay, these people have heard this song and they still want to be my friend, so I figure it’s gotta be okay.”
STEREOGUM: Every time I listen to I Want To Grow Up, I get stuck on “Deeper Than Love.” That’s the song that hits me really hard. It must be incredibly difficult to strip yourself down and pose all of these anxieties that, even though they are personal, a lot of people can relate to. Maybe it’s not as fucked up as you think. Do you usually write your songs in bits and pieces and then put it all together some way down the line, or do you just sit down and start working on them?
GREEN: Usually I’ll get an idea for a lyric, I’ll just be thinking about whatever and then one line will stick out in my head as somewhat poetic, or somewhat thought-provoking or whatever, and I’ll try to write it down if I can, or just try to remember it. Usually it comes over the course of several months — I’ll have an idea, I’ll write a couple of lyrics, I’ll just chill on it and think about it, and think about it, and think about other stuff associated with that idea, and just keep going back to it and writing more lyrics. Sometimes, once in a great while, I’ll just sit down and write a whole song, but that really doesn’t happen very often.
STEREOGUM: People reference Descendents when they talk about your work, because of Milo Goes To Compton. Are there any artists that inspired this record?
GREEN: On past records I would be able to be like, “This song is a Cars song. This song is my Pat Benatar song,” but I didn’t really have that on this record. It just came out of me and I think that it sounds like all the stuff that I have loved over the course of my life. I knew that I kind of wanted it to sound like JEFF The Brotherhood, like a mix between JEFF and Colleen, ’cause I just love their music and that was another part of where Jake came into the equation. I knew that Jake was into grunge when he was younger, and I was more into pop-punk and punk stuff, so I knew that it would kind of sound like a mix of those styles, and I think that that is exactly what we achieved. I think people are gonna hear Veruca Salt, probably, which is awesome, because I love Veruca Salt and Jake loves Veruca Salt, too. Other than that, it’s just kind of like ’90s grunge punk rock to me. “Deeper Than Love” was inspired by Akon.
STEREOGUM: Really, Akon? Which song?
GREEN: Just like every song of his, really. I just love Akon’s music, and I love how he has so many lyrics in every song. He sings and raps really fast, and there are just so many words in his songs that are really strong. I knew that I kind of wanted to have a song like that, in that style. I actually was planning on having “Deeper Than Love” be like spoken-word, almost rap. But it started coming together, and the melody just came out, so I went with it.
STEREOGUM: I like that I Want To Grow Up concludes with “Whatever I Want” because it leaves you sounding hopeful. Did you write these songs in the order that they’re presented in?
GREEN: No, I definitely didn’t write them in that order, and actually now that I’ve listened to it a bunch, and now that it’s just about to come out, I wish that the sequence were different on it, but oh well. That’s okay though, it’s an okay sequence, but I would’ve done some things differently now. I think maybe “Things That Are Bad For Me (Part I)” is the first song that I was working on, which kind of makes sense because it’s kind of like the thesis of the record. Sequencing is hard.
STEREOGUM: How did you go about that?
GREEN: I had anchors. I knew I wanted “I Want To Grow Up” to be the first song, because it kind of is like the introduction. This is what the album’s about. And then I knew I wanted “Whatever I Want” to be the last song, ’cause it’s kind of a send-off, and a hopeful song after all this bullshit has been expelled.
STEREOGUM: When you go on tour, are you going to bring a full band, or are you going to be be doing the solo thing, still?
GREEN: The problem is that Casey lives in Nashville, and I really wish he lived in L.A., ’cause I really want to play music with him, and make more music with him, and be in a cool band with him. But he lives really far away so it’s not that easy to just get together and do stuff, or plan tours together. And logistically it’s also just really hard, ’cause you know, you have to have drums, and you have to get a vehicle big enough to fit them, and you have to carry them, and make sure they’re stacked right and all that shit. So it’s just so much easier if I just go on tour by myself. I just have a drum machine and my guitar. I actually really like playing solo. I feel like it’s a bit polarizing because some people are just like, “What is this? Anyone could do this. She’s not doing anything up there.” And some people think it’s really cool. People have actually said to me — and I kind of agree — that it’s just more special to just see one person up there on stage, alone, just singing their songs. I really like the idea that my performances are completely different from my recordings, ’cause listening to the album is one experience and coming to see me is a different experience. Maybe one day I will be able to play with Jake and Casey, but for now, I think that the solo thing is really cool.
I Want To Grow Up is out 2/24 via Hardly Art.