Colleen Green On How Dogs, Weed, The Pixies, & More Influenced Her New Album Cool
In the year 2021, being a bona-fide “grownup” has never looked more disjointed. Some 30-somethings are married with mortgages and kids. Others, not so much. If you’re in the latter camp, you definitely aren’t alone (thanks to two recessions and a pandemic), but that doesn’t mean you won’t spin out about where you “should” be from time to time. This strain of millennial existentialism is plenty familiar to lo-fi troubadour Colleen Green — in fact, she released an entire album on the subject in 2015, aptly titled I Want To Grow Up. Six years later, Green is still trying to figure out what adulthood looks like to her, but she’s a lot more at peace with the process. That brings us to her latest work, Cool, out today, which she calls a “natural progression” from its predecessor.
Teaming up with producers Gordon Raphael (the Strokes) and Aqua (Jay-Z) plus drummer Brendan Eder, Green again leans into the DIY power-pop aesthetic that defined earlier works like 2012’s Milo Goes To Compton, 2013’s Sock It To Me, and the aforementioned I Want To Grow Up. This time, however, the compositions are slicker, and Green experiments with her trademark detached delivery, opting to rhythmically speak over two tracks, opener “Someone Else” and “Highway.”
Thematically, Green offers fresh insight around “adult” milestones, inspecting the prospect of marriage on the wryly upbeat “How Much Should You Love A Husband?” Chatting over the phone from her hometown in Massachusetts, Green says, “I think my generation — our coming of age is maybe later than previous generations. I’m 36 and not married. Don’t have kids. I know a lot of my friends have done stuff a lot later than our parents, and I still know a lot of people who are also still not married and don’t have kids and don’t own houses.
“A lot of the touchstones of ‘adulthood’ that my parents’ generation thought that we should be well past by this point, I’m still trying to figure it out,” she adds. “And I don’t know exactly what that is. I think I’m still trying to come of age and just process what I’m supposed to be doing.”
These are just some of the ideas within Cool — like any body of work, Green’s new album has been influenced by plenty of outside factors, such as what she was reading, watching, listening to, and (ahem) smoking. (Her Twitter handle is @colleengreen420, after all.) Ahead of its release, Green hopped on a call to discuss what helped shape Cool, touching on everything from classic alt-rock bands to Lifetime reality TV shows, and even words of wisdom from a former basketball coach.
I remember a long time ago, I was reading an interview with Debbie Harry, and they were asking her how [Blondie] came up with their band name. And she said something like, “Oh, well, I walked down the street and people are always yelling in my face, “Hey, Blondie.” It just was right there in front of my face. It was the most obvious choice.” Something like that.
I just always remembered that and thought about that. I think that’s definitely an important lesson that I’ve learned over the years, is to just kind of trust my instinct. I feel like the most obvious choice sometimes just is the best choice.
And I feel like over the years, people use “cool” as a descriptor for me a lot. I mean, I don’t… If I’m cool or not, whatever. But it just seemed like a very obvious choice. And I just figured, just go with that. Why not? It’s kind of tongue in cheek too, I guess.
Since 2014, I always had roommates that had dogs. There were many years where I lived with a dog, but wasn’t responsible for it. And I didn’t have a job this whole time. So I would just kind of be sitting in the house alone with the dog, who was also sitting in the house alone. They were waiting for their owners to come home. I was waiting for one of my friends to get out of work or something so we could go out or whatever. I would lay around on the couch. They would lay around. And they would bark at the door, which was closed and locked and there was nobody there, but they were just barking anyway.
It was just several years of observation of these behaviors, and just comparing myself to these animals, and just seeing a lot of similarities. And just thinking that things would be simpler, and I’m kind of already halfway there. So why can’t I just be a dog? I’m already doing all these things.
The more I looked into it, I started researching why dogs wag their tails. I was just thinking about communication. [When I was living in LA], I definitely identified as an East Coaster. And trying to relate to people in LA over the past 10 years could be difficult at times. I would be having a conversation with somebody, but we were almost speaking two different languages. And it was like, “What’s the point of using these words when I’m not getting anywhere? I’m trying to relate to people, and it’s like I’m barking at a locked door.”
So I was researching what it means when dogs wag their tails, and just started thinking about that more. When a dog wags its tail, it means that they’re happy or excited. Or when they come up to your bed in the morning when you first wake up, and bark or give you a certain look, you know it means they want to go outside. There’s only a few things that dogs can do, but you kind of know what they’re saying. I kind of just felt myself being jealous of that. There’s a lyric, “I’m just trying to be understood.” And that was shortened, because what I really wanted to say was,
“I wish I didn’t have to use words in order to be understood.” And dogs don’t have to use words. We still pretty much understand what they want and what they need.
Married At First Sight
I think the second season is the first season that I ever watched. It was in New York City, and I was really intrigued by that. It was three couples and that was good enough. Now it’s six couples, and you can kind of tell they are getting a little wild with it.
I was fascinated by that whole concept. [Editor’s note: Married At First Sight is a reality show about couples who are set up by matchmakers; the first time they meet is on their actual wedding day. After two months, they are given the option to stay married or get a divorce.] Just listening to what the participants had to say about how they felt about marriage and love and relationships. The fact that they’d be like, “Yeah, I just really want to be married. I just really want a partner and somebody to just share my life with,” you know? I love that idea. But just thinking about that, and thinking about myself — could I ever do that? Am I the type of person that could ever do an experiment like that? Would I thrive, or if I would hate it? I don’t know.
That’s something that I thought about a lot. And in a way, I really admire those people for just being like, “This is the most important thing in the world, and I’m going to just make it work no matter what.” In a way I admire that, but in a way I’m just like, “No, bro. No.”
I was trying to think of what my influences were, and I realized that instead of me being like, “I’m going to sit down and write a song that sounds like the Pixies,” or whatever, the song would come first, and then once it was completely done, I would be like, “Oh, this song is the Pixies.” It doesn’t occur to me at the time when I’m writing it, but then it does after. Like, I realized in the middle of writing “I Want to Be A Dog,” I was like, “This is ‘Cut Your Hair’ by Pavement.”
I realized on this album I have a lot of little guitar lines that are like the “Where Is My Mind?” riff. Which was huge in the ’90s power-pop kind of stuff, I guess. Superdrag and stuff like that. I realized that’s all over this record, and I was kind of like, “Maybe that’s a reverse-influence.” I wasn’t really cognizant of it while I was writing it. But now that it’s done, and now when I listen to it, I’m like, “Oh yeah, that’s Superdrag.”
That’s kind of what led to me hooking up with Gordon [Raphael], because I realized when I was listening to [the demo of] “I Believe In Love,” something about the guitars on that song, I was just like, “Oh, this is The Strokes.” That’s when I felt the light bulb above my head illuminate. I was like, “Oh, I should have Gordon Raphael produce.”
loudQUIETloud: A Film About The Pixies
There’s a moment in the Pixies documentary, loudQUIETloud, when Frank Black is talking about “Bone Machine. I mean, I saw this documentary long ago, so I’m going to definitely fuck up what he said. But he was talking about “Bone Machine,” and how there’s that moment where the upbeat becomes the downbeat. And he was like, “Oh my God, it’s the fucking Cars.” You could say that you’re influenced by, I don’t know, the most avant-garde artists in history, but then when it comes down to it, that song is the fucking Cars.
I had a shortlist of producers that I thought would be cool to work with. It was like three people, maybe – a very short list. I think I just told Hardly Art who I was thinking about, and when they saw his name on there, they were like, “Okay, we know Gordon, he’s a Seattle guy.” And Gordon was super into it. We started communicating, and we had a couple of little Skype calls. I sent him my demos, and he was super onboard.
The more I talked to him, the more I just realized that he was definitely somebody that I wanted to work with and just get to know. Working so much with drum machines in the past, and knowing that I wanted this album to have live drums, I kind of wanted to make that bridge between the two worlds. And on those two Strokes records [Is This It and Room On Fire], I just think that the drumming is so metronomically correct, that you can’t really tell sometimes if it’s a drum machine or real drums. That’s exactly the type of vibe that I wanted this record to have.
“Deeper Than Love”
I wanted [I Want To Grow Up track] “Deeper Than Love” to be spoken. I wanted it to be almost like a rap song. And I just didn’t have the confidence to pull it off. I really wanted to, and it just didn’t happen. And I always regretted it.
Even now, I don’t listen to that song. I’m just like, “Man, it would have been cooler.” But I just always regretted that I didn’t just go with my gut. And I had the idea for “Someone Else.” I had the idea for “Highway” long ago, several years ago. And I had a couple of other songs too, just ideas for songs that I was just like, “It’s going to be one lyric throughout the whole song. I’m tired of singing. I’m just going to repeat the same word throughout the whole song, and just speak it. Fuck singing,” you know? I was like, “This time I’m going to fucking do what I really want to do.” And so that’s where “Someone Else” and “Highway,” that’s where the vibe for those songs came from.
It just seems kind of fitting for a feature called “Under the Influence.”
I can’t deny that [weed] played a huge role in my life over the past 15 years. I was definitely smoking copious amounts during the whole writing of this album. Which was over the span of probably seven years or so, just here and there. Maybe that’s why it took me so long. But I’m not even going to go there.
But yeah, I wrote a lot of stuff while I was high in those days. And that was kind of a really big part of it. I mean, when I first moved to LA and I was just totally alone and didn’t know anybody, I would just get high and play around with my drum machine for hours and hours. That’s how I learned how to use the drum machine. And that’s where the entirety of Milo Goes To Compton came from, was me doing that.
For Cool, I just have a memory: In 2017, I was dating somebody that lived in Philadelphia, and my friend Marisa [Dabice], from Mannequin Pussy, was going to be on tour for a month, and I wanted to know what it would be like to live in the same city as the person I was dating. So she let me stay in her apartment for a month while she was on tour, and I kind of used it as an artist retreat. And I just remember, I set up shop, and I would just get really high and let the drumbeat ride, and just sit there and play guitar and kind of noodle out to the beats for those songs, like “Someone Else” or like “Pressure To Cum,” which have a lot of meaty guitar lines in them.
That’s where a lot of those melodies came from. I was like, “I said it all on I Want To Grow Up.” I feel like I just spilled my guts, and I kind of have nothing left. I just want this record to be a lot of melody and a lot of guitar. I just want to have fun with that. So yeah, I would just sit there and just play guitar over the drum beats, and that kind of really shaped the record a lot.
Things people have said to me
I must have been in seventh grade. I went to a week-long basketball day camp. One of our instructors was a high-school kid, he was the son of the guy that ran the camp, and his name was Chris.
The camp was a lot of different things: It was primarily about basketball, obviously. But then we would also have little times where the instructors would just talk to us. And he kind of gave a speech one day, and I don’t really remember the bulk of what he was saying, but I do remember clearly him saying that, “No matter how good of a basketball player you are, what really matters is that you’re a good person.” I mean, that was 20 years ago, but I still think about that a lot. I don’t know, I guess that just really struck a chord with me.
I wonder if it affected anybody else as much as it affected me. I’m still thinking about it all this time later. And I really agree with that. I remember my friend’s mom at one point saying, “You can say whatever you want, as long as you’re nice about it.” It’s that kind of stuff that influenced a song like “It’s Nice To Be Nice.” And it influenced my ethos as a person, trying to grow up, and then I wanted to grow up, and now I’m trying to do that. I think what I’ve figured out is, It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re a good person. But it’s still really hard for me. Like, I say terrible things, and I have terrible thoughts sometimes. A lot of times. But that’s what I’m working towards.
I used to work at a call center, when I was in college. And their whole slogan was “Choose Your Attitude.” That’s also something that I think about a lot. It is a choice, and it can be a tough choice sometimes. But you really do have to choose how you are going to act and react. And, yeah, you can hopefully make the right choice, but it can be something that takes a lot of work.
Cool is out now on Hardly Art.