WHEN LIVING COLOUR’S DEBUT ALBUM, VIVID, HIT IN 1988, THE NEW YORK CITY-based
hard rock quartet shattered the genre’s glass ceiling by proving an African-
American band could go multi-platinum and reach audiences of every demographic.
Its success also established the group’s founder and guitarist Vernon Reid as a
modern day guitar hero, whose virtuoso shredding prowess and use of forwardleaning
effects and synth technology would influence countless players. Living Colour’s
other members—drummer Will Calhoun, vocalist Corey Glover, and bassist Doug
Wimbish—are also upper-echelon performers whose every move is tracked by legions
of fans worldwide.
After a three-album run, the group
broke up in 1995, so the members could
pursue solo endeavors. Living Colour
reunited in 2003 to release Collideøscope,
a provocative disc that reflected on the
events of 9/11. Several tours and one-off
projects followed, including the band’s
participation in 2007’s Guitar Hero III:
Legends of Rock game with a re-recording
of its 1988 hit “Cult of Personality.” It took
six years for the group’s next album to
emerge, though The Chair in the Doorway
[Megaforce] was worth the wait. The
record’s 11 tracks feature some of Living
Colour’s tightest, fiercest, and most compelling
output to date.
Reid also remains very active outside
of Living Colour. His last solo CD, 2006’s
Other True Self, was a career highlight,
with an impressively diverse approach
that melded fusion, world music, prog
rock, and blues elements. He also continues
to tour and record with Free Form
Funky Freqs, an all-improv power trio
with bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and
drummer G. Calvin Weston. The group’s
first CD, 2007’s Urban Mythology Volume
One, captured a live studio session that
focuses on exhilarating deep-funk-meetsjazz-
Reid took us behind the scenes of the
making of the new Living Colour release.
Why was there such a long gap between
Collideøscope and The Chair in the Doorway?
One of the issues was a lack of support
for Collideøscope from Sanctuary.
There wasn’t much press or radio happening
in America, but there was great
interest in Europe and Latin America,
which are places we spent a lot of time
touring. Also, the notion of Living Colour
coming back again has been contested
inside the band, though not in a neck
vein popping out kid of way. When we
first returned in 2003, I asked, “Why are
we doing this? Is it just to cage gigs?” I
had similar concerns this time. I don’t
think bands should exist just because
they can. It’s a conversation about being
a band of a certain vintage and worrying
about it turning into a repertory company
that just plays music from the past.
Many bands adopt that philosophy and
others choose to be an ongoing creative
entity. The latter is the model we’ve chosen
and the new album reflects that.
What was the origin of the album title?
It came out during the press we did
do for Collideøscope. Corey and I were in
Paris waiting to do an interview and I
said to him, “You’re always saying ‘The
chair’s in the doorway.’” It’s his way of
saying there’s a gorilla in the room and
it may be 300 pounds or 500 pounds, but
there’s an obstruction there that no one’s
bothering to move. I love the title because
it’s both concrete and physical as something
you envision, but it’s also abstract. A
lot of the record talks about “Why do we
put up barriers in the way of our own
progress?” and “How do we get these things
out of our way?” After our discussion, the
journey towards the new record started. It’s
the first one for which we had a title before
we had songs.
What was the creative process that drove the
It was written and recorded in starts and
stops. Some songs were written in a compressed
timeframe and others literally took
more than ten years. “Burned Bridges” was
a song I started when the band broke up in
1995, and it took until this album to complete
it. All of us also had a lot of other projects
going on, but between 2007 and 2008,
the focus really shifted to making this album.
We initially did a series of jam sessions at
Doug Wimbish’s home studio. We then did
a lot of recording at Sono Studios outside
Prague in the Czech Republic. We also
worked at studios in America with both Ron
Saint Germain and Andre Betts, who previously
worked with us to produce Stain in
1993. The Count produced some of the
tracks too. The last sessions were at Pierre
De Beauport’s studio in Massachusetts. The
body of songs created through those myriad
sessions became the record.
You played a prototype of your new signature
Parker guitar on most of the disc.
The new record is where my transition
from playing a custom Hamer Chaparral to
the Parker occurred. I had been playing the
Chaparral since the early ’90s, and it’s on
some of the album. But I had great conversations
with Jody Dankberg at Parker and
began a dialog about what I’d like to see in
a guitar. When I learned that Terry Atkins,
who worked on my guitars at Hamer, was
now the head of production at Parker, there
was a sense of continuity that made me want
to work with them to develop this new
instrument. It has a really different body
shape than other Parkers, Seymour Duncan
pickups, a Roland GK-3 hex pickup, a Floyd
Rose tremolo, 22 frets, and a V-shaped neck.
I really feel at home with it. The string spacing
and neck are a tiny bit wider than the
Hamer’s, which lets me get around the
instrument better. It’s also excellent for combination
picking, which I’m really getting
into. Sound-wise, it sustains really well,
which is great for alternate picking, and it
can also deliver a percussive and punchy
sound for my hammer-on playing.
You’re a self-described plectrum fetishist.
What are your favorites at the moment?
I really like the custom bone and ebony
guitar picks by Cristophe Brossard. They’re
very sharp and pointed, and have a serious
elegance about them. I also use Ra Denny
Surf Picks, which are made of Lignum Vitae
and have the wood’s natural oil in them.
They’re terrific, sensitive picks that feel wonderful.
I have a lot of different picks. If
everyone I’ve given a pick to at a concert got
together to compare them, they’d be shocked
at how different they all are. I think about
them the way golf players think about
clubs—each one creates a different feeling
How does the Roland GK-3 pickup figure into
your tonal equation?
It gives me so many sonic possibilities.
Besides allowing me to assign different
sounds to each string if I want to, it enables
me to control hardware units such as the
Roland VG-99 V-Guitar System, which is my
primary tone source, and software such as
Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig, which is my
secondary tone source. I also use the Fractal
Audio Axe-Fx Ultra amp- and effects-modeling
unit, and lots of additional software,
including IK Multimedia AmpliTube and
Peavey ReValver 3, and soft synths such as
Native Instruments’ Reaktor 5 and Absynth
4. My Bugera amps—two 333XL heads with
4x12 cabs and two 333XL-212 combos—are
set clean. [Reid’s signal path is actually so complex
it would take an entire page to explain it.]
What are a few of your most important effects
My wah, pitch-bending, pitch-shifting,
and detuned effects are mostly done on the
VG-99, but I use a Boomerang Phrase Sampler
for live looping, and Eventide ModFactor
and PitchFactor pedals, a DigiTech Space Station
XP300, and a Line 6 MM-4 Modulation
Modeler, among others.
“Method” from the new disc has some crazy modeling
stuff going on. Describe what’s happening.
Towards the end, the track has a lot of 8-
bit, really glitchy-sounding textures, and
that’s happening via hex control of a software
sample player called UVI Workstation,
which is a free download on the Web. I used
it to assign a different sample of a circuitbent
instrument to each string. Circuit
bending is where they short-circuit things
like kid’s toys and old guitar effects to create
new and random sounds. That track is a
good example of where you hear guitar and
electronic guitar combined in a really interesting
You also use old-school devices such as the
DigiTech Space Station XP300 pedal on “Burned
Bridges.” What do you dig about it?
It’s old tech, but it really works great, and
is one of my favorite pedals. One thing it does
is lower the pitch gradually, and you can make
it sound like your guitar is slowing down and
stopping. It’s as if you’ve put your hands on
a reel-to-reel tape and are gradually stopping
it from moving. I used it for the backwards
guitar stuff and the odd-sounding pitchy stuff
on that track.
How did you put together the searing solo on
It’s a whammy thing that started with a
solo I that I initially didn’t like, but ended up
using anyway. I tried taking another solo, but
then thought, “I can live with the first one.”
The truth is, you can always take another solo.
In terms of construction, it’s improvisationbased.
Some guitarists look at solos like
classical music in that they’re completely structured
and played exactly the same every time.
But I prefer to take phrases and create variations
on them that come out of improvising.
What else can you tell us about your soloing
I think genre conventions are to be
respected, but that they are there to be played
with. Blues, funk, and metal all have phrases
that can cross over into other genres. They
shouldn’t be chained down. I try to speak
through my instrument and see what conversations
I can create. When I solo, I’m
typically considering three things: what the
genre dictates, what the song is talking about,
and what’s in my heart, mind, and soul at
that particular moment. I believe there is an
opportunity for transcendence every day.
And during a solo, it can take place when
you transcend those considerations. That
moment is rare, but open to everyone,
whether you’re a master musician or you
haven’t been playing that long. The beauty
of it is you can’t define it—it’s elusive. You
can’t practice to make it happen. The trickiest
thing about it is that my desire for it is
a barrier to achieving it. When it does happen,
it’s the most wonderful and fantastic
Photo by Dave Brubaker