By Jeff Kollath
Claude Coleman is a busy, busy man. As the drummer for Ween and the front man for the underrated and underappreciated rock/soul outfit Amandla, Coleman is spead pretty thin, but found some time to sit down with MoB and answer a few questions about Amandla’s upcoming Midwest tour, their new record, and his role as a music teacher. Ever since suffering life threatening injuries in a 2002 car accident, Coleman has pushed himself musically, personally, and professionally, creating incredible music in numerous forums. Check out Amandla over the next three nights at the following venues:
It has been a while since you have been up our way. What’s new with the band and what can we expect to see during your mini-run of shows in IL and WI?
Amandla has never been as tight live. I’ve got new players, cats like “Chocolate Chip” Moore who’ve I’ve played on and off with forever – I always wanted to play with him in Amandla. They’re hardcore musicians; like to play with charts! I’m slipping them mescaline-laced drinks at night playing Brian Eno through my room walls to loosen things.
You guys are working on a new record (“Laughing Hearts”). Tell us a little bit about it, when we might see it, and how, if at all, will it compare to “The Full Catastrophe?”
Well, it’s just me again building everything thus far, but I am inviting a lot of my friends a bit more on this one. I’m gifted with a lot of friends, and lot of ‘em are incredible. I’m really hoping to ramp up the keys side of things and would love to have Glen McClelland on just about everything, and also players like I’m hoping folks like John Medeski who agreed to contribute on catastrophe to contribute.
Musically, it feels like the best material I’ve ever, ever written for myself, which for me is always the way I approach songwriting. The tunes serve and heal and speak for me, all of the above.
Compared to Catastrophe, I think it’ll be a bit more live, a bit more beat driven, but still pretty rich, and still pretty much song oriented. And it’s going to be exceedingly happy dammit. Catastrophe was for me to finish after a mishap, and this one is all fresh and it feels great. Plus I have amazing spaces to record. I’m not fighting anything with my sound and embracing the freedom of it. I’m aiming for a late summer/fall release.
You do most of your recording in a vintage, 1940s-era radio studio. Talk about how you came into using this space and how the restoration process is going.
I’m tracking between CoMA Studios in Trenton, NJ, and my project space amidst a extreme-renovation project my wife and I are living in, in East Amwell, NJ. C.O.M.A. is a restored 1940’s era radio station with this massive live room designed for the Trenton Symphony Orchestra, who performed live as the station transmitted W.T.O.A.on the public buses.
The studio is nestled in a large factory complex that’s being turned into a artist’s campus, with rehearsal rooms, studios, show rooms, and plans for a venue, that will track straight to the studio. The complex also has its own radio tower, so the possibilities are endless. Partners Benjamin Keating and John Drezner are bringing in talented local artists and studio owners to create a form of recording studio co-op.
The office/staff area is furnished with woodpanel wainscoting, all the corners and door molding features beautiful natural-finish moldings that are curved for acoustics. The place is a fantasy, back in time. I go from this intense, studio environment to my 10×15 room with wall framing and bubbles of insulation sticking out everywhere – with great small room sounds and wood floors.
Besides being the front man for Amandla, you are the drummer for Ween, and a session musician, among other things. What really jumps out from your bio is your role of a music teacher. Tell us about how you started doing this and how it helps in the myriad other projects you are involved with.
I first starting teaching in summer camp programs in 2002, with a NYC program called Music Ascension. In addition to group music games by the lake, I ran a recording studio program that enrolled a small group of kids that wrote and recorded music on a semi-mobile ProTools system.
I communed on bunk beds in the woods working late nights in a cabin, everyday making and recording music the kids were writing, finishing the course producing a mixed CD at the end their songs. I remember being on the ProTools forums online at 2:30am, in the Staff cabin office on their 486 PC, trying to get an answer to a system issue.
Did that a few years, becoming hooked to it, then I became Director of the Paul Green School of Rock in NYC, as a sort-of right hand to Mr. Green, helping him setup the Manhattan branch. Now I teach here and there with school, mostly with the Princeton, NJ branch. teaching is great studying and I think part of why I’m so into my current stuff is because I’ve been dissecting Johnny Greenwood parts and firkin Badfinger tunes for over a year – both horrible and great – but you really go back to school, period.
I get to study then teach it on drums, bass, guitar, voice, as well as direct kids every week through rehearsals for the shows, which is usually fun but pretty impossible shit – kids are literally scaling the PA on sugar rushes. In the end, every single time, the shows are pretty slamming, and to hear young talent is pretty great.
We’re always on the lookout for new artists — any new discoveries that you’d like to share?
You know, I’m not too up on what’s going down with a majority of newer music, and usually find things late. I have personal favorites that are pretty subjective because I’ve either worked with them or I know them. That being said, I hear a lot of actually beautiful stuff in a current sea of poop, and I feel hopeful about certain directions of music. I don’t get to follow through on most of it. I’m all about re-discoveries of the past; I’m a crate digger.