UI graduate starts band to perform alternative movie soundtracks


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Audio: The Color Pharmacy

"Airplane Song"

A University of Iowa graduate will return to Iowa City this weekend with his band, the Color Pharmacy, this weekend. Daily Iowan reporter Audrey Dwyer had the opportunity to chat with Jake Dilley, lead singer and guitarist, about the band’s success and its upcoming show. Dilley is from Des Moines and graduated from the UI in 2006 with a studio-arts degree. While in school, he created an alternate soundtrack to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and after graduation, he made another alternative soundtrack for the 1957 French film Red Balloon. In 2007, he started a band to try to perform the alternative soundtracks live. The Minneapolis indie-rock trio includes Jake Quam on the drums and Dan Larsen on bass. The Color Pharmacy will perform at Gabe’s at 7 p.m. March 3.

DI: What is the significance of the name of the band?

Dilley: It came about when I did the Willy Wonka alternative soundtrack. I wanted something with that influence and my name to explain what I was trying to do. It became “Jake Dilley and the Color Pharmacy Project.” After a while, it became apparent that it was more indicative of what we were trying to do. It represented synesthesia, which is when a person’s brain confuses certain electoral impulses — when your brain perceives one sense as another with senses of taste, seeing color, and smelling. I kept thinking about what the keys on the piano smell like or what does yellow sound like. … We like to think of music as hallucinogens or a kind of psychedelic experience without the loss of control. I think that’s what music is for people.

DI: How would you describe your sound or the genre of the Color Pharmacy?

Dilley: We always like to joke with this question because there isn’t really a definite answer. But we like to jokingly say, “trash metal of the spoken word.” In short, we are a rock band. But we are big fans of incorporating indie-rock, pop, folk, and some psychedelic elements into our music.

DI: What was that like creating an alternative soundtrack? How is it different than what you do now?

Dilley: It was a mind-expanding process. It was a different animal to try to write music to a pre-existing piece that had its own timing, camera switches, mood, and atmosphere. To do something new with it and try to expand on some of the undercurrents in what was going on visually in the film.
From there, it really helps the process of just writing music for the sake of writing music, because I was free from the shackles of interference from the movie and was able to develop more of the music. It was nice, because it was a learning process as far as creating an atmosphere and trying to coexist with something already well-known.

DI: On your band’s website, there was a bit in the bio about some of your inspirations. What was it about seeing Back to the Future and Johnny B. Goode that inspired you to create a band?

Dilley: I grew up idolizing Michael J. Fox, and I was blown away by back the film Back to the Future. It took me a couple years to understand why the Fischer Price toy guitar wouldn’t perform like Johnny B. Goode’s. After a while, my folks bought me a $25 electric guitar from a garage sale. If I played that guitar without shoes on, it would shock me. I got a lot of electrical shock therapy [laughs]; you could say it prepared me for when we have stuff like that happen in the recording studio.

DI: The new self-titled record was made in just four days at Pearl Studios — how did you do that in the amount of time you had?

Dilley: Well, it wasn’t easy but was well worth it. We did a lot of preproduction and demoing on our own before we went in and recorded it all. We wanted the arrangements to be just right so when we brought it in Pearl Studios could elaborate on what we were trying to do.

On the first day we tracked the drums, second day was bass guitar, third day vocals, and fourth day was the percussion, piano, and organ. It was very nerve-racking every project we had done before was drawn out. One of the best things about how fast it was recorded is that it felt way easier than other things in the past.

In addition to the ease of it, there is a definite atmosphere to the album when it is recorded at one time and in one place. The producer wanted to make sure it was like a snapshot in a moment in time rather than perfect. Imperfections give it character and human elements.

DI: What is the story behind the “Aperture” music video?

Dilley: It became my love letter to Minneapolis in a weird way. I codirected it with Jimmy Morrison, who is also a videographer. He came to Minneapolis last fall for a couple days, and we went around with my girlfriend, Claire, who is the girl in video. We used tilt-shift effects, and essentially the images are saturated and sped up, but we also changed the frame rate to look like it’s stop-motion-animated. We were able to create a miniature world with real footage. We went out to shoot and we stumbled upon places. There was no real thought of how it would fit together, but within a couple of days, I started to realize you could create a logical path of the story line as well as the area.

We had a funny thing happen with one of the shots seen later in the video. It was at a Halloween party we had, and we wanted people to cross the street in the opposite direction. That scene, my girlfriend was out of town, so my cousin played the part, and a truck almost hit her. It literally stopped in the middle of the street, then went on its way. That was an exhilarating experience to have some of these concepts.

DI: The lyrics to “Airplane Song” include the phrase “I know, I’ve been there before / Let go, be stranger to these strangers / They all may share your destination / But your destiny is no one’s but your own.” Where do you become inspired for that song? People travel on planes almost every day — how did you make the connection to destiny?

Dilley: This song just kind of developed. Beginnings of that song came around two years ago. My process is to just keep playing and singing in tongues until words come out in a logical order. The lyrics came out about the uncertainty of flying on a plane alone. When going somewhere, you have a lot more time in your head; you sort of travel in your brain without really moving. There is always that small chance you may not make it where you’re going. Strangers on the airplane are in same position as you. Wherever it is you end up will be unique to each one of those people. Everyone has his or her own story, whether similar or dissimilar to everyone else.

DI: What has been the most influential show you guys have performed at? Why?

Dilley: Oh man, that’s tough. We have had some really great times over the years. But probably my favorite would be Tom Morello’s Street Sweeper Social Club with Rage Against the Machine in Texas. It was a great outdoor venue and filled up to capacity. We stood on the side backstage, and watching Street Sweeper Social Club perform was like watching a master class on performance and musical intensity. Emotionally, we were blown away by the sound coming from the stage. A lot of smaller shows were fulfilling as well, but the personal connection is as fulfilling as playing a big show.

A moment at a concert isn’t just by musicians but also audience and the vibe they are putting out; it’s cyclical. Really, only recently music has become a combination of performer and the audience members. I think that aspect is still there for those who don’t have instruments in hands; their influence is as important as those making all that racket.

DI: Where would be your dream venue to perform?

Dilley: Oh man, Bonnaro for sure. It would be a dream come true or even Coachella. We have had some great experiences in the past but nothing on a level like those festivals. We are happy where we are but always looking to the future.

DI: Are you looking forward to being back in Iowa City again?

Dilley: Of course. We always have a great time in Iowa City. I have an extra special time because I can see old college professors and good friends who come out to the show. It’s always good to catch up with them. We have been playing in Iowa City for the past four years. Usually, it gets a little hazy but definitely an awesome time, and the people at Gabe’s have always been good to us.

What: The Color Pharmacy, with Flash In A Pan, and The Post Mortems
When: 7 p.m. March 3
Where: Gabe’s, 330 E. Washington
Admission: $5

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