Colette Switches Sound on 'When The Music’s Loud' Album

Tom Casey
Colette

The Queen of House returns with an album full of firsts.

Like many diehard fans, house music lovers can be resistant to changes in their scene. Accordingly, not everyone in the house music community has taken kindly to America’s exploding interest in it. DJ and producer Colette Marino doesn’t necessarily share that opinion.

Marino can’t understand those longing for the past: “Some people are like, ‘Back in the day it was so much fun.’ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ We’re not 90. And even when I am 90, I’m going to kick it with whoever is around. I’m not going to stop loving music and I’m not going to stop enjoying myself just because it’s not 1993.”

Marino (known as DJ Colette) has been DJing since the early ‘90s, when she fell in love with house music in Chicago, her hometown. Trained as a classical singer, she has found success as a DJ as well as a vocalist and producer, having released over a dozen singles and two artist albums, all rooted more or less in the deep house sounds heard in her DJ sets and featuring her own voice on each song.

“When The Music’s Loud,” out tomorrow (Aug. 27), is Marino’s third artist album and her first through her own Candy Talk Records. It’s the first Colette album made entirely electronically without any live instruments, the singer’s trademark harmonies are largely absent and several tracks introduce what is perhaps the biggest change of all: the use of vocoder.

“People know what I sound like,” she says. “They know I can sing. It’s very different for me but these [effects] are really interesting textures. And I’ve always loved the vocoder."

“When The Music’s Loud” was written by Marino and Tim Kvasnosky, known as Tim K and one half of DJ and production duo House & Garden. Kvasnosky and Marino collaborated on her previous albums, 2007’s “Push” and 2005’s “Hypnotized.”

“We wrote a lot of this record when I was pregnant,” Marino explains. “I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself to finish the album before I gave birth, which is crazy.”

Marino and her husband, actor Thomas Ian Nicholas, had their first child less than two years ago in Los Angeles where she has lived for more than a decade. While she did finish a set of songs before becoming a mom, feedback from some friends had Marino reconsider the direction of the album.

“It was great because they were actually honest,” she says of those early listeners. “I always remind people: it’s just music, it’s ok if you don’t think it’s good. It’s not like you’re saying my child is ugly.”

Deciding that half of the songs weren’t a good fit, she took five months off after her son was born, then returned to the studio to write and record what would become the balance of the album.

“Tim and I have been writing together for so long that it was really no holds barred,” Marino explains of her relationship with Kvasnosky. “We could be very honest with each other and I don’t get my feelings hurt.”

Rounding out the album’s production team were DJ Teenwolf, known primarily for his work with Ninjasonik and Brooklyn-based Nick Chacona, both of whom were first time Colette collaborators. It was during the process of making the album that Marino amicably parted ways with her longtime label, San Francisco’s Om Records. Citing a desire for complete independence and control over her record, she formed Candy Talk, initially as a singles imprint, though it is now primarily a vehicle for her own work and the eventual album.

Fittingly, it’s a sort of anti-nostalgia that serves as the subject of “Best of Days,” the lead track from “Loud,” produced by Chicago production duo Santiago & Bushido, with whom Marino had worked with on her previous album. Written for and about Marino’s friends from the very dance music community she’s shaped and been a part of throughout her career, the track finds the artist in familiar musical territory – a house four to the floor beat, a melodic topline, warm synth samples.

However, the title track that follows it delivers a wallop of bass heretofore unheard on a Colette record. Produced by Kvasnosky, its driving synth, hyper-effected vocals, and after-dark hook-laden lyrical storytelling, “When The Music’s Loud” alludes to three decades of dance music and the future of it in just over four minutes. It sets a tone for experimentation and boundary-pushing that the rest of the album follows upon. “Catch My Breath,” produced by Chris Santiago, recalls the lushness in recent work by Marino’s former labelmate and fellow Chicago house head, Kaskade. Tracks like “Electricity,” produced by Tim Bushido, and the Teenwolf-produced “We Feel So Hot” play with the contrast between dry, sometimes cold production against the warmth of Marino’s voice. The Tim K-produced “Physically” rebels against a formal song structure altogether.

While the influence of ‘90s house runs throughout the album, 909s and 808s pepper many of the songs, adding an element of surprise to the typical instrument-based house sound. If there were a singular influence on “When The Music’s Loud,” you’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint it.

“We were really inspired by a lot of early ‘90s house music,” Marino explains. “We were looking at Romanthony songs and Afrika Bambaataa; just feeling inspired by when I first got into dance music.”

Perhaps because she still feels a connection to the music of her early years on the scene, Marino is particularly heartened by the changes she sees in her audience.

“I have a really diverse group of people coming to shows,” she says. “I have people who have been there the whole time and then there’s all the kids who just turned 21. It’s interesting to watch this collection of people sort of merge.”

Hailing the success of Disclosure as an example, Marino affirms the legacy of community within house music: “They’re such a blessing. They’re really solid musicians and producers and I’m so excited that they popped up out of nowhere.”

Still, for a DJ who cut her teeth on vinyl, a few of those who occupy DJ booths are the source of some minor frustration.

“I’m still so confused as to how people who don’t know how to DJ are calling themselves DJs,” she says. “I think there’s an artform to DJing. Where I come from people would cheer for the blend sometimes more than the actual record.”

And although she doesn’t have too much affection for the “bigger productions” in the EDM world, she’s not calling anyone out. “I don’t like every underground house song either. Dance music is a wide genre. Just like rock.”

The video for “Best of Days,” which drops in a few weeks, features DJ Colette with her friends from her days in all-female DJ group Superjane, including DJs Heather, Lady D and Dayhota.

“It’s more like a documentary,” Marino explains. “It’s us. It’s us playing. It’s Chicago. It’s us having fun. It’s a nice snapshot of how I started. The main line in that ‘best of days aren’t over yet,’ because they’re not. ”

Here’s hoping.