Building Colony House

Colony House’s Caleb Chapman talks with Pollstar about the band’s debut album, life on the road and what makes a good tour “diffuser.”

One might think the son of singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman would have an easier time than most bands when it comes to developing a music career.  But like any up-and-coming group, Chapman and his Colony House comrades are building the fan base the old-fashioned way by playing as many dates as possible in support of a strong debut album.  Released in July, When I Was Younger hit No. 7 on iTunes Alternative Rock Charts while the single “Silhouettes”  became the No. 1 track on Sirius XM’s “Alt Nation.”

Pollstar connected with Chapman when the band was headed for San Francisco following a gig in Portland, Ore., the night before. 

The album is being promoted as a debut LP yet Colony House has releases predating When I Was Younger.

As Colony House, we kind of did a rebrand.  So you won’t find anything from Colony House before When I Was Younger.  We did release an EP as Colony House.  We gave it away for a little bit of time and a lot of the songs ended up on [the album].

Before that, our name was “Caleb” and we had a few EPs out.

What prompted the switch to Colony House?

I think it was just like, if this was our first full-length album … it was a step in a different direction.  Not a complete shift but it definitely had a different vibe, and we felt it would be a smart call to start with a clean slate with the first full-length.  It was a business decision.  I think it was inspiring for us to feel like, “We can really bill this as something brand new.”

You and your bandmates have been together for quite a while.  Is it difficult to suddenly find yourself being presented to the public via one album?

That’s what we do as artists – keep plugging away until we figure out something that resonates.  So it’s discovery.  It’s not difficult for us, in that sense, because it’s also been an experience in this whole learning curve for us.  Let’s keep digging until we find something.  I think that’s part of the excitement for us.  It’s like, “Oh, that works.  Let’s build off of that for the things to come.”  Obviously it’s fun to play the old songs when people request them.  That feels good as well.

Who did you listen to while growing up?

It’s everything from early, early on, in middle school I started listening to Switchfoot a lot.  From there, when I got into high school, I went through different phases.  Things you definitely wouldn’t pick up on a record, like hardcore [bands].  Then there were bands that were really inspiring in the beginning for when we tried to form [the band], like Boxer Rebellion … and, obviously the big dogs like Kings Of Leon, The Killers, Phoenix, Vampire Weekend.

Certain tracks on When I Was Younger have a very lush sound.  How do you and your two bandmates reproduce that sound on stage?

That was a big question when we were in the studio.  You want to be able to represent  yourself live but it’s always tempting in the studio to build something lush because you have all the toys at your disposal.  For us, we travel as a four piece.  We hire out a bass player.  We just try our best to incorporate.  Sometimes we’ll do different versions of songs if they don’t feel the right way, live. … It’s definitely more raw live.  But as opposed to stripping it down … if anything, it seems a little bit more like rock ’n’ roll live.  You hear more of the guitars … more of the core of those tracks as opposed to the lush things happening around it.

Getting back to When I Was Younger being a debut album – Are there any debut LPs by other bands that you particularly like?

Lord Huron.  I thought their debut album [Lonesome Dreams] was pretty awesome. It provided a nice soundtrack for a lot of long van drives.

Some of our good buddies, Ivan & Alyosha. I don’t know if I’m biased, but I think [All the Times We Had] is one of the best full-length albums I’ve heard.  I know they’ve had music out before … but [their debut] is one of my favorite records of the last couple of years.  It’s amazing.

We’re all huge Keane fans, so Hopes And Fears is a pretty magical debut album as well.

Are you seeing bigger audiences since the album came out? Are you getting more gigs, selling more tickets?

Honestly, it doesn’t feel different.  We feel a lot busier and we’re gone a lot more.  We played Portland, Ore., last night and there were over 200 people there, and we had never played Portland before. That was one of those things like, “Oh.  It works when you put music out and radio grabs a hold of it.” In that sense there are bits … driving a van and trailer across the country, it does work.  It just takes time.  I think there’s definitely been a change.

Artists often comment that they had all their lives to write the first album but only 18 months for the second one.  Are you already working on the next release?

Yes.  I’ve witnessed it happening to friends and family that are in the industry, songwriters and everything else, those albums sneak up on you.  So I’m trying to get ahead of the game a little bit. There’s quite a few [songs].  My voice memos are starting to fill up my iPhone. [The album] is in the works, for sure.

How do you approach songwriting?

A lot of times … it’s like a 15-second clip, something catchy that I can remember for 15 seconds.  A lot of times I operate under the rule like, “OK.  Don’t voice memo it yet” unless it’s just something I want to remember later.  If it’s a legitimate … song idea [I’m excited about] I won’t record it. I’ll let it sit and when I wake up the next morning and if I can remember it, I’ll go, “OK.  I need to keep working on that.” If I can’t remember it, I’ll think, “Maybe somewhere down the road it will come back to me, but it’s not important enough or memorable enough for me to continue it right now.”

I kind of approach the beginning that way.  A lot of times it always starts like a singer/songwriter, acoustic guitar and vocal, and then the lyrics come in last.  Then I take it to the rest of the band. We take it from this coffee shop song … flesh it out and make it into a Colony House [song]. Everybody puts their personalities into it.

What do you actually present to the band? Do you play a demo recording or do you perform it in front of them?

It’s happened both ways but normally, it’s during sound checks and rehearsals, and I’ll start playing an idea for them and we’ll start messing around.  So it’s usually fleshed out live.

Who are some of the songwriters you admire?

I mentioned Switchfoot, so Jon Foreman. … What he writes resonates with me.  Johnny Cash is a big influence. Cash and Foreman – there are no walls between them [and the audience] … Tom Waits is an amazing songwriter.  Brandon Flowers of The Killers, I love the way he writes.  Of course, my dad is a singer/songwriter, so he’d probably have to be the No. 1 influence.  I grew up watching him run in to the bedroom and say, “Don’t talk to me for 10 minutes.  I need to figure this song out.”  I learned the craft from him.

How much does the band use social media to reach out to fans?

I’d say we’re really active.  That’s such a huge part of it for us right now. We’re kind of our own promoters a lot of the time.  We understand, too, that right now we’re building the fan base that will be with us for a long time.  The ones that are seeing us when there’s 50 to 100 people in a room.  Those are the ones that will be there … next time when, maybe, those numbers start climbing.  And they’ll have that memory like, “I was there for the first show.”

So it’s [social media] is important for us.  For example, we try to make a personal connection with every single fan we can.  On this tour there are a lot of shows that are 21-and-up, and that leaves out a lot of people that want to come to the show.  Social media has provided a way.  We’ll go, “If you want, we’ll tweet after the show that we’ll be out by our van and if you couldn’t make it to the show, come down to our van and we’ll play an acoustic, stripped down, five or six songs.”  Things like that help us make the personal connection.  Shake the hands, see the faces, hear the voices.

Do the fans ever surprise you in being something you didn’t quite expect?

That happens quite a bit.  But it’s always a pleasant surprise.  We were in Spokane, Wash., and two girls came up and said, “We’re from Brazil, but we’re here on an exchange program.  We’ve loved your band for a long time.”  Or the people that take a flight to see you or hopped in their cars and drove five, six hours.  Those are the ones that surprise you.

Recently Gene Simmons remarked in an Esquire interview that he felt sorry for new bands coming up because the record company system that backed KISS doesn’t exist anymore.  But it doesn’t sound like Colony House is missing that promotion machine that helped build KISS into a monster act.

Obviously it’s not the same machine and I won’t ever know what that world was like.  But we have amazing people working for us and we have a system. We have to grow, ebb and flow with the way it works.  Our model is work to with people you like.  It doesn’t matter how big it is, just make sure they’re 100 percent onboard and believe in it. … All the people that are heading up certain aspects of our careers, we’re 100 percent confident they’re really excited about Colony House and making it work. I have no complaints. I have nothing to compare it to.

Do you and your bandmates have any pre-show rituals?

The ideal situation is like … 30 minutes before, trying to get someplace quiet.  That’s not always possible in these small clubs.  We usually talk through the set, and any different changes we’re making that night.  We usually pray right before we go on stage. … getting yourself out of the normal pace of life and slowing it down for those 30 minutes before the show and recalibrating.  I think that helps.

When you’re in a van traveling all day, there are a lot of conflicts that arrive. Our big thing is we’ve got to love each other on stage or it’s not going to work off of the stage.  Making sure we’re all on the same team once we walk onto that stage – that [preshow] time always helps that.

Is that difficult considering you and the band are jammed into that van day after day?

We try to keep [a band member’s] wife or girlfriend out here with us.  They’re good diffusers.  They take the edge off.  We all behave ourselves a little bit better.  We’ve got our ways of trying to make it work.

How do you juggle touring with a home life?

Fortunately, we all have awesome families.  Every one of them, wives, girlfriends, siblings, they’re all 100 percent onboard with what we’re doing, which makes it a hundred times easier leaving home. … Making sure they know … it’s not like a party when we’re on the road.  It’s work. You don’t end the show and go rage for hours.  You end the show and hop into the van and drive from Portland to San Francisco, hopefully [arrive] in time for the soundcheck.

There’s a post on the band’s Twitter feed in which you said, “I was nominated for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by my manager [Michael] Krumper and my brother in law.”  How did that work out?  Did you get soaked?

I did. I was the only one of my band, though. The other guys, they never ponied up.  My little sister was begging me, she hadn’t been nominated yet, and she was begging me, “Please do it and nominate me.”  I don’t know.  I think, typically, you’re not supposed to ask someone to nominate you.  It’s supposed to be organic.  But it’s hard to say no to my sister.

If you could talk to Caleb Chapman in 2019, what would you ask your future self?

I would ask him if I’m treating my wife the right way. If I’m loving her good. I think I would make sure that my relationships at home and on the road were all in check.  I would say [to myself], “Are you still brothers with your brothers? Are you still taking care of the people you love around you, your band mates and your family?”

“Our big thing is we’ve got to love each other on stage or it’s not going to work off of the stage.”

Upcoming Colony House shows:

Sept. 24 – Kansas City, Mo., The Record Bar
Sept. 25 – St. Louis, Mo., The Demo
Sept. 26 – Cincinnati, Ohio, Various Venues (Midpoint Music Festival)
Sept. 27 – Nashville, Tenn., Mercy Lounge
Oct. 1 – Indianapolis, Ind., Hi-Fi
Oct. 2 – Grand Rapids, Mich., The Intersection / The Stache
Oct. 3 – Milwaukee, Wis., Club Garibaldi’s
Oct. 4 – Chicago, Ill., Schubas Tavern
Oct. 5 – Saint Paul, Minn., Turf Club
Oct. 6 – Omaha, Neb., Reverb Lounge
Oct. 8 – Houston, Texas, Fitzgerald’s
Oct. 9 – Bryan, Texas, Grand Stafford Theater
Oct. 10 – San Antonio, Texas, Sam’s Burger Joint Music Hall
Oct. 11 – Dallas, Texas, The Prophet Bar
Oct. 12 – Austin, Texas, Zilker Park (Austin City Limits Music Festival)
Oct. 14 – New Orleans, La., Gasa Gasa
Oct. 16 – Birmingham, Ala., BottleTree
Oct. 17 – Atlanta, Ga., The EARL
Oct. 18 – Charlotte, N.C., Evening Muse
Oct. 19 – Carrboro, N.C., Cat’s Cradle
Oct. 21 – Washington, D.C., U Street Music Hall
Oct. 22 – Philadelphia, Pa., Milkboy
Oct. 26 – Boston, Mass., Brighton Music Hall
Oct. 27 – Albany, N.Y., The Hollow
Oct. 28 – Pittsburgh, Pa., Stage AE
Oct. 29 – Cleveland, Ohio, Beachland Tavern
Oct. 30 – Columbus, Ohio, The Basement
Nov. 5 – Toronto, Ontario, The Garrison 

For more information about Colony House, please visit the band’s website, Facebook page, Twitter Feed, YouTube channel and Instagram page.