Interview: Colin Munroe

. Dec 2, 2008

WHO IS THIS UNSUNG HERO? To say that he's multi-talented is an understatement; in fact, to throw any adjective will hardly reach anywhere close to what he brings to the table. After emerging on the scenes with his Flashing Lights Remix ("I Want Those Flashing Lights"), this guy not only got the blogs and DJs buzzin', but even the man himself - Kanye West - couldn't help but to co-sign this Canadian singer. What was simply a "creative urge" suddenly landed him with Dallas Austin, world-renowned songwriter, producer, and musician, and a label deal with Universal Motown Records.

Let's just say Colin was destined to be a great musician; born on Paul McCartney's birthday and in the same year as John Lennon's death, Colin taught himself how to play a variety of instruments from the beginning: drums, keys, guitar, bass, glockenspiel, you name it.

But to get a true picture of Colin, you need only to listen to his music to determine his influences. Easily extractable from his production and lyrics is his love for Dilla and Dr. Dre, as well as for Van Morrison, U2 and Tin Pan Alley. Now Colin has emerged once again to provide his own version of a mixtape before the much-anticipated release of his album "Don't Think Less of Me". Features from Wale, Joel Ortiz, Mickey Factz, Drake, Saukrates, Blaqstarr, Dallas Austin, Izza Kizza Black Milk, and Novel make his latest project ("Colin Munroe is the Unsung Hero") a highly-decorative combination of various genres and an incredible collaboration of variety and ingenuity.


IV: What's going on Colin? How you been? So, to the few people who have not heard about you, introduce yourself. Who is Colin Munroe?

CM: I'm sure there are more than a few! I'm that kid who you never really paid much attention to in High School but had a secret superpower he was waiting to unleash!

IV: Please describe your musical influences – from day one to present day.

CM: I grew up on my parents' records. Van Morrison, Rye Cooder and other names from the 60s and 70s. They didn't really want me listening to popular music when I grew up so I had to be real clever and find ways to sneak the radio on late at night and flip through the dials. I would hear music but never really knew who made it. Those were my influences for many years. To this day I'll come across something that I would hear during those years and now I get to find out who it was.

After I moved to Toronto I got deeper into different kinds of music. I discovered Dilla who became a big influence and Brazilian music which I love.

IV: Yeah, Dilla's a favorite over here at iLLVibes. REST IN PEACE!! So out of anybody in the industry, who'd you want to work with the most?

CM: That's always a tough question cause I usually work by myself. I still think Brandy has something special and would love to work with her. Guilty Simpson is another one I'd love to work with somehow.

IV: Yeah, what Brandy's been pushing out has been going strong lately. We truly respect what you're doing and everything you bring to the table. While you are best known for your remake of Flashing Lights, you are willing to cross over boundaries to produce all types of music, beyond more than one genre. What other types of genre, if any, do you plan to incorporate into your musical palate?

CM: I haven't made any plans to incorporate any particular genres. I just do what feels natural. I think I'm part of the first generation that is truly without genre barriers. It use to be that kids were rock kids, hiphop kids, punk kids etc. But these days everyone's playlists have everything on them and we are able to understand and move comfortably between genres without it seeming fake or forced.

IV: Hmm, that's a really interesting take on music nowadays. We really appreciate the fact that you play so many instruments. For us, that not only garners more respect from the fans (especially when you write your own lyrics), but also makes for a better live show. How'd you get into playing so many instruments?

CM: I had to. I didn't really have anyone around me that I could play with. I wasn't into bands and that whole thing but I had all these instruments at my disposal. It just worked out that way. I'm not particularly great at playing any of them, I just do what I need to do to get the sound out.

IV: To us, that's the beauty behind music – not necessarily the final product. What fans take for granted is the process in making the music, which most do not see. That is why I love the fact that you have YouTube videos of your practicing your songs and making music – very similar to the way Ryan Leslie shoots behind-the-scenes footage of his making new beats/songs. But, seriously, we're amazed by your abilities, the abilities to play (and correct me if I'm wrong) four instruments at once. How did you even decide to make that set and figure out you could handle all of them?

CM: Again, that was just out of necessity. I didn't really have money for a full band so I figured I'd just try to do it myself. Initially I thought I'd just do a thing with two guitars, but then I thought I'd try to add a kick drum and then a snare drum and then it just snowballed from there! I wouldn't want to do this forever though. It's really hard and everything hangs together by threads. I'm gonna find a way to expand it but keep it unique.

IV: Describe your experience in the industry – your behind-the-scenes work until now, including your decision to flip "Flashing Lights".

CM: The industry has been both kind and cruel to me. I don't really fit into any particular mold so there have been a lot of doors slammed in my face because people don't think I have a place. But then at the same time, I've had some really great people become my champions and help to keep going. I would never have found this great situation at Motown if it weren't for my manager, our friend Folayan Knight and Dallas Austin.

The decision to flip "Flashing Lights" was a simple creative urge. I thought I could make something fun out of it. I never really thought it would get the attention it did.

IV: Yeah man, it definitely swept the industry and especially the blogs. I mean, you received such a huge response from every blog, not to mention a co-sign from the man himself, Kanye West. I'm pretty sure everyone's been asking: did you even expect such a huge response, let alone a shoutout from Kanye?

CM: The nod from him meant the most to me cause I was initially concerned when it started to blow up that people would take it the wrong way. The rest of the support from bloggers and websites and djs is a huge part of my story.

IV: Tell us about the new mixtape you plan to drop. Is it still in the works? And when do you plan to drop it?

CM: I almost don't like calling it a mixtape 'cause it's not like most mixtapes. It's obviously not hip hop and I don't do the usual mixtape things on it. I guess it's what you get when you're a white kid from Canada and you try to make a mixtape! Some of the people that have jumped on it have blown me away with their willingness to get on tracks that were maybe different from what they usually do. It will be available in November.

IV: What about your new LP? How far along are you on it? What can we expect from the album – conceptually, musically, etc.?

CM: The LP has been finished for a few months now and ready to go. It's the record I've been working on for the past 4 years so it's come a long way since then. I started it in my Grandfather's attic and I finished it in Dallas Austin's studio. The album is kind of a chronicle of the period of time when I was leaving home and moving to the big city and really jumping into life for the first time. You'll hear some naivety, some optimism, some depression. I do everything on the record except for one track that I did with Dallas.

IV: We really enjoy your latest single, "Will I Stay", and to me, it's an interesting take from a male's perspective. What persuaded you to create this record? Tell us the story behind.

CM: That song just happened. I didn't mean to write about any particular situation at the time, but looking back i was in that exact scenario in real life. I think I just wrote it and didn't pay attention to where it came from.

IV: We're truly even more excited to hear the remix with Wale. Wale's a DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) native who's been holding it down for years, and like you, he's an upcoming artist who recently signed with a label. And, believe me, if you see him live, as I've had several times, it's just a breathe of fresh air – from his passion to his lyrics and his live band. What attracted you to Wale, and what is it like working with the guy?

CM: He is part of this new generation of emcees that are emerging right now that are also members of the genre-less generation that I was talking about earlier. They are comfortable and clever at coming up with flows over unconventional tempos and tracks. He is just as passionate in person and loves to be productive. I really respect that combination because you don't always find it in an artist.

IV: Wale's going to be a major problem in 2009, and we are looking forward to what he has to offer. What other collaborations can we expect from you, whether in your new album or your mixtape or any other drop?

CM: I did a track for Black Milk that is on his Tronic album that was just released. He is also on the mixtape as well. He is part of the next generation.

IV: Yes! We're really digging his latest cut "Give The Drummer Sum". So you've got to feel confident about hooking up with Dallas Austin. I mean, the man is a legend throughout the music industry. How'd that go down? What is it like working with the man?

CM: He was given my music by a mutual friend from NYC. She manages some great writers and producers and was trying to help me out at the time. Dallas heard my solo record and flew me down for a few days to hang out. He is like me, a bit of a lone wolf who doesn't belong in any particular genre. I think maybe he just understood the path I was on and was cool enough to help me walk it.


IV: What are your long-term goals in music? What do you want to be known for?

CM: I want to make other people feel what I felt listening to that radio late at night when I was a kid, or when I discovered Dilla for the first time, or fell in love with the Beatles. I want to add to the collective cultural fabric of the music of our time, whether that is a whole different piece or maybe just a few new threads.

IV: Let the fans know anything else you'd like them to hear that maybe didn't come across from the rest of this interview.

CM: No i'd have to say that was pretty thorough!

IV: Well, Colin, we appreciate everything and thank you for taking the time out with us to speak to us about what's going on so far. We wish you nothing but the best and hope to hear from you soon!

FOR COLIN'S MIXTAPE, GO TO THE POSTING. My favs are definitely Will I Stay (remix), Cannon Ball, and Brick in the Wall. Oh yeah, probably one of the illest intros!!