As an album title, Aqueous’ new Color Wheel — premiering exclusively below — covers a lot of ground, both musically and lyrically.
The Buffalo-based quartet’s fourth studio album, and first full-length since 2014, is its most far-reaching to date, adding hip-hop flavors (“Split the Difference”), reggae (“How High You Fly”) and balladry (“Good Enough”) — as well as acknowledged influences such as Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu, Robert Glasper, Incubus, Gorillaz, Fleet Foxes, Daft Punk and more — to Aqueous’ regular blend of proggy jam band psychedelia.
“We definitely went in some interesting directions, musically,” guitarist Mike Gantzer tells Billboard. “But, honestly, it’s a pretty natural thing. There’s never too much preconceived thought. I think we’re a product of our influences at any given time. We listen to a lot of music, so it’s just natural after awhile they’ll start to seep in and be put through the filter that is our band and we’ll make our own versions of those sounds. It’s been fun to experiment with some of those sounds.”
Gantzer and company also made Color Wheel differently than its predecessors. Working in Goo Goo Dolls bassist Robby Takac’s GCR Audio in Buffalo, the 10-song set found Aqueous working on brand new material in the studio, rather than bringing in material that had been woodshedded and road-tested. “Most of these songs had never been played live, or if they were they were reworked for the studio format,” Gantzer reports. “Seventy percent of the songs were written weeks or even days before we went into the studio, so there weren’t many preconceived notions going in this time, which made it pretty exciting.”
The process also helped generate songs that, lyrically, were very much of their time, reflecting topical and current concerns — though in a more analytical style of commentary.
“The general concept was kind of a critique or analysis of our habits as humans with the Internet right now,” the guitarist explains. “For me a color wheel represents a palette of emotions. So we were looking at how we present this perfect version of ourselves on the Internet; We set out to make a cookie cutter version of our life that’s really idealized, but that does not represent at all the emotional complexities of a person’s life — the color wheel of different emotions.”
With Color Wheel out on Oct. 12, Aqueous is already out on the road, with dates booked through December and a pair of hometown shows on Dec. 30 and New Year’s Eve. But the stylistic expansion of Color Wheel the group is also hot to get back into the studio for more. “We really want to keep this direction going,” Gantzer says. “There’s more influence now from kind of, I don’t want to say folk but more classic songwriter type of music — Simon & Garfunkel, Wilco, Joni Mitchell, anything from that spectrum. That’s started to influence me quite a bit and changed my approach to songwriting, so I want to see where that may lead us.”