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Growing up with Modern Color

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Modern Color appear in our Spring 2024 Issue with cover stars Liam Gallagher/John Squire, Kevin Abstract, the Marías, and Palaye Royale. Head to the AP Shop to grab a copy. 

Like human tissue, Modern Color are in the business of regeneration. From the ashes of scattered South Bay bands they’d all belonged to over the years, with a steadfastly DIY attitude, they created a sound and an ethos built upon freedom, fluidity, and self-actualization. A project first spawned in the metal space, Modern Color swung post-hardcore, its members feeling their way through another instrumental landscape, drawing a map of clean and unclean vocals to match. Though today the group — whose lineup includes Chad Leaf, Chris Martinez, Vince Nguyen, and Fleming Valenzuela — may have surpassed categorization as “new” on the scene with 10 years under their belt, the exciting, shapeshifting sound is perennial. The band’s thirst to find and represent themselves authentically in their craft is proven by a catalog that contains many chapters, and something to satisfy all alternative palates.

Read more: In conversation with Scowl and Frank Iero

While wrapping their latest LP, There Goes The Dream, and despite busy schedules, Nguyen, the band’s drummer (who also plays guitar in Militarie Gun), and Valenzuela, vocalist/guitarist, sat down with AP to unravel the vivid backstory of Modern Color. 

You have talked about how there’s more of a goal for your new album. What was it?

FLEMING VALENZUELA: With this record, we really wanted to home in on storytelling and get more personal with our lyrics. I had grown up in LA for my entire life, and at that time was moving away to San Diego. It was this weird pivotal moment. I was reflecting on growing up and maturing in the South Bay, where we’re all from, and looking at it in review as I was leaving. It was all happening at the same time. We really wanted to write and express ourselves a little more honestly — while simplifying our songwriting, having a little bit more fun, and, like I said, telling stories about growing up in this space, with music. We’ve all been friends since middle school/high school, and we’ve had a lot of time together. I just wanted to encapsulate that in a way, and almost put an end to our thoughts on living in the South Bay. 

VINCE NGUYEN: Before, with our writing, we would take personal experiences and purposely make them vague — because we really didn’t feel confident telling real experiences in our songs, or in our songwriting at that time. But like Fleming said, these are direct stories of growing up in the South Bay, which is initially where we all were at one point, and now we’re all not. It’s about where we grew up and growing away from that.

VALENZUELA: We went through a lot of different phases, and there were a lot of cool people that we were exposed to growing up that were involved in different scenes. We were raised by a ton of different people in that world coming up, and so many in the South Bay really looked out for us.

Bear with me, it’s a little corny, but do you remember the first music you heard that went beyond just being music, but had this storytelling power as well?

VALENZUELA: As corny as it may sound, “American Pie” by Don McLean. Hearing that song as a kid, I was captivated by the story, its length, and how it took you through highs and lows, all while this really cool melody played in the background. I remember being like, “Oh, music can get you somewhere…” That kind of storytelling lyricism is what we’re trying to do now. It feels more genuine than what we were doing [before].

How do you feel like you are able to tap into that? Is it an action, or does it just come naturally with growth?

VALENZUELA: When I was younger, I felt all these angsty feelings and whatnot, and I tried to make these big, epic songs that tackled really heavy emotions. Now, it’s more about what feels the best, and what is the most honest to myself. It’s a challenge to write something simple — and I feel like taking that on is me growing up as a songwriter. I can do without all the bells and whistles and just try to write a good song today. 

When we’re younger, we all put so much effort into sounding mature, meaningful, and having this major impact. That being said, Iet’s touch on the beginning of Modern Color, before the maturation, so I can better understand this growth arc.

NGUYEN: Modern Color started out as another metalcore band in the South Bay scene. But a lot of the shows we were going to and playing at the time were feeling pretty stale to us, and we really wanted to do something different. What truly inspired our shift in sound was when we got into Title Fight. They were the first band that made us feel like we could play that style of music confidently and have fun. So we started out as a totally instrumental band, ready to just make melodic music — but after a while, it wasn’t that cool.

Then, after trying and failing to find a vocalist, eventually me and Fleming were like, “Well, we’ll just try to do the vocals ourselves.” And at the time, what we felt comfortable doing was screaming over the songs we were trying to write. Over the years, a big part of our progression has been Fleming becoming more comfortable singing, and stepping into being a melodic singer. We started to write music around Fleming singing, and trying to make actual good songs. Not that we hadn’t before, but as we grew up as artists, we became less motivated by trying to prove ourselves musically and technically, or writing a song to show that we can. 

VALENZUELA: We had played metalcore for so long, and we’d felt like we were in a box — just doing the same thing. But there was this cool indie scene happening — with fucking Joyce Manor and Title Fight. It was freeing to think, “Oh, we can play whatever the fuck we want.” I was listening to Deftones and True Widow and just getting into Duster — and it was all speaking to me on a new level, where I felt like I was rediscovering music. It was all fun again. 

Did you get shit from the metalcore scene when you shifted from that sound? Or the indie scene, for that matter?

NGUYEN: When we first started, there was definitely shit on both sides. Nobody really got what we were trying to do. The ambiguity just wasn’t “good” to people, whether they were metalcore or melodic. A lot of people didn’t want to book us shows because we didn’t “fit.” We had to find our own way to play, by booking our own shows and showing face around different scenes so that people would actually start to believe in us and take us seriously.

I would argue that a relentless DIY approach and artistic ambiguity are key secrets to success. If people get it off the bat, then it’s probably already been done.

NGUYEN: Looking back on it now, we’re super happy and proud with the path that we’ve chosen. We’ve shifted and changed along the way, but really, it’s all the same. We’ve just gotten a lot stronger.

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