Friday, July 3, 2020

"The Seven Colors" by Dara Tucker

ARTIST: Dara Tucker
SONG: "The Seven Colors"
WRITERS: Dara Tucker
ALBUM: The Seven Colors on Watchman Music Group
YEAR: 2019
SITE: Dara Tucker
BUY: The Seven Colors

Dara Tucker is an artist and songwriter I have long admired. She and I have been acquainted for six or seven years now, but only met in person in December of 2019—one week before she left Nashville to embark upon a bold, new chapter in the New York City area. Still, I feel a kinship with her and was so delighted when she agreed to do this interview. The song I've chosen to speak with her about is the title track from her fourth and most recent album, The Seven Colors. Knowing Dara the little I do, I've been privy to some of the back-stories involved with this piece of music. I believe they should be shared here, with all of you. Enjoy.

BA: Hey Dara! Thanks for agreeing to do this! As you know, I’ve been spinning your most recent album, The Seven Colors, for the past few weeks. It’s a stunning body of work.

DT: Thank you so much, Buick. It’s a satisfying thing to have your work thoroughly absorbed and appreciated. As an artist, I’m sure you feel the same. 

BA: As much as I’d like to talk about every song on the record (and we may end up doing that anyway), the song I want to start with is the title track, “The Seven Colors.” I believe it was the last song written for the record—and one you initially called an afterthought. Can you tell me a little about how it came to you, and in what pieces?

DT: I was meditating on a title for the album after it had been completed. I wanted it to have some connectedness to the projects that had come before it – “The Sun Season” and “Oklahoma Rain.” Since those previous two albums spoke to where I was at the time, and did so through evoking nature imagery, I wanted this one to do the same. In a way, the three albums can be viewed as a trilogy. With “The Sun Season,” I was finally coming into my own as an adult and a singer/songwriter. I was allowing myself to write about joy and longing. Little did I know, it would be released in 2014, the year both of my parents passed. Oklahoma Rain, released in 2017, was naturally a reckoning with the grief process. 

By 2019, I was ready to talk about the renewal that came after the storm – that’s where the rainbow imagery came in. I decided to call the album, “The Seven Colors” to denote the rainbow after the rain – the healing process, really. I also wanted to reference the fact that I was melding all the musical influences that have made my sound what it is – Gospel, R&B, Jazz, Singer-Songwriter, Theater, Blues and Americana. So, I came up with the title and was just going to call the album that, and I found myself wanting to sing about what that meant. 

So, the song came from that. It’s just a two-chord vamp, so nothing too challenging. I just wanted to create a palette of sound and feeling that would evoke the yearning and hope I was experiencing, and to pay homage to my brothers and sisters, who had helped me get through the most difficult stage of the grieving process. I wrote it all in one night, which is unusual for me. I wanted to ‘feel’ it, as opposed to ‘thinking’ it. I think that translates in songwriting. 

BA: When you heard the studio version of the song, did it feel like it was the keystone piece? Is that how it became the title track? Did the album have a different title before this song emerged?

DT: Well, I had made the decision to call the album, “The Seven Colors” maybe a day before I wrote the song. Since we had already finished recording the album, I wasn’t really sure what we would do with the song. It was a deviation, in a way, and would represent something different for the listener. I knew it either had to be the first or last track of the album for that reason. It had real significance for me, but I wasn’t sure how it would sit with my bandmates or the audience. 

BA: Charlie Hunter produced this record, but he is not actually the producer of this track, correct? I remember a great video you made about this track in which you talked about the record’s engineer, Jon Estes, encouraging you to embrace the song—and became the de facto producer of the track. Does it sit differently than the rest of the record for you?

DT: It feels quite different than the rest of the album. Stylistically, it probably fits a little better with “Oklahoma Rain.” I was concerned that Charlie would look at it like a clunky add-on since he had already headed back home, and the album was finished, as far as we were all concerned. I wrote the song and did a rough demo of it. I sent it to Jon Estes and asked him to just add it to the end of the album like a bonus track. I wasn’t even going to list it in the album credits. When he heard it, he called me and insisted I come into the studio to do a proper version of it. He said he really liked the song, and that it deserved a real treatment.

We decided to have Kris Karlsson play guitar on the track. Jon and his wife Liz put strings on it and really captured the emotion I wanted to convey. Once it had been properly produced, I knew it had to be the opening track. Thankfully, Charlie ended up liking it too.

BA: Please tell me about the recording process for this song. You’ve said it was recorded in a few short hours. The blend of sounds with your voice is so lush, so dreamy. Is it what you heard in your head when you wrote it, or did the song take shape in the studio, as things sometimes can?

DT: I always heard strings with this song, although the pared-down way I initially did it would have been fine too – just me and the piano. Jon Estes, who produced the track, is one of those rare souls who can do a million things equally well. He arranged the strings on the spot. His wife Liz is a great improviser. I’m a piano player, but a lot of what I write, I hear on guitar first. It was Kris Karlsson’s job to interpret what I did on piano and make it sound like it was written for the guitar. 

I always feel a little self-conscious about writing unabashedly sentimental songs. But some of my favorite music – standards and singer-songwriter music of the 60’s – 80’s was unabashedly sentimental. That’s what I wanted this to be. 

BA: I know that your family is very central to your story. Both of your parents were musicians and at least some of your siblings are. There are other moments on the record that reference your parents, like “A Place Like This.” Certainly “The Seven Colors” is a love letter to their legacies. In a video about the record, I saw you say that you and your six siblings are the seven colors. I’d love to hear more about this spectrum of souls and how they fit into this song. 

DT: I have 6 brothers and sisters, and together, we make up the seven colors of that rainbow of promise, as it’s referred to in scripture. We are the fulfillment of our parents’ dreams in this earth. The hopes they both had were never fulfilled in any earthly sense. I’ve always felt a deep connection to my parents’ search for significance and achievement in this life. There were so many impediments for them. I’d like to think our lives represent an extension of theirs, and that our accomplishments are shared by them. So, in that way, we are their rainbow of promise. It can all sound a bit corny I suppose, but that imagery of the great flood, and what that rainbow represented for Noah was at the top of my mind. 

We all grew up singing together in church. Music was the first and greatest gift our parents gave us. The impact we have when we sing together is unlike anything I had experienced on my own.

BA: How do your siblings feel about the song? 

DT: I think they like it? I have to laugh. They’re not too generous with the compliments. They sang it with me at the CD release show I did in Tulsa, OK (my hometown) and they all seemed really cooperative. I would have heard lots of complaints if they hadn’t liked it, I think. Again, this question makes me laugh. 

BA: Which color of the rainbow are you? Does it change?

DT: I see myself as a bright red, but maybe everybody does. Maybe that’s a function of seeing ourselves at the center of our own story. I think others would probably see me as green – circumspect, thoughtful, and observant. I see the rage and fire underneath.

BA: I have to say, the tying in of your previous albums in the first verse of the song is some masterful lyrical writing. For those who might not know, you released an album in 2014 called The Sun Season, and then in 2017, an album called Oklahoma Rain. The songs, “The Seven Colors,” starts with:

After The Sun
Arrived the Oklahoma Rain
A light did come
That would illuminate the plains

That’s a pretty perfect and effortless tie-in. Did it just fall out of your mouth like that, or was there some planning in there? Also, am I hearing a loving send-up to Stevie in the “ribbon in the sky” line?

DT: Thanks so much. I don’t know if many people got that, but that’s alright. Sometimes, giving a wink to a few careful listeners can be satisfying. I knew I wanted to reference both albums, but finding the right wording was something I had to spend a bit of time with. 

And that’s very keen of you to notice the nod to Stevie. It should go without saying that he’s the reason I’m doing what I’m doing. He’s the foundation of it all.

BA: I watched a video of your live performance of this song, from the ISIS Music Hall in Asheville, NC, from August of 2019. What a totally different energy it has on stage! It manages to be equally as captivating, but the electric instrumentation lends a different set of voices and parameters to what you’re doing. Do you prefer one presentation to the other, now that the song and album have both been in the world for a little while?

DT: It’s funny, because I started hearing this groovier, more band-oriented version of the song in my head shortly after we recorded it. I think the version we did on the album works best in a studio setting. But when I would sing the song to myself after that, I only heard the version we do live with the backbeat. Maybe that’s because I’ve performed with Greg Bryant (by bassist) so long that I knew what he would do with it. So, it’s really a reimagining of that song from his perspective, I think. It’s one of the few songs I have written that I feel has two distinct versions that work equally well. 

BA: This track and “Miss Me” have such intimacy to them, in part because of the production and instrumentation, but also because of the writing. Did you experience any vulnerability shock around releasing either of them?

DT: Absolutely. I’ve never heard the term, “vulnerability shock” but it’s a perfect way to describe what it’s like to put a piece of your heart out into the world, and to hope somebody cares. 

Unabashed sentimentality and tenderness always make me feel a little silly. Then I remember what Nat Cole and Mel Torm√©’s albums sounded like. I remember James Taylor’s, “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and I’m reminded that vulnerable music is my favorite kind of music. You can feel the sacrifice that it took for those writers to lay themselves on the line like that, and you find that you’re in good company. 

BA: What's your favorite song (by anyone) right this minute?

DT: Ooo… “right this minute”. I love the non-committal nature of that question. I have my ‘of all time’ lists, of course, but I love to talk about music that’s reaching me at any given moment in time. Last night, I listened to Lucky Daye’s “Misunderstood” about 5 times. I love how musical he is, while still feeling completely contemporary. 

I’m getting to that age where I don’t feel like top 40 music is being written for me anymore, so I seek out artists that can help me plug into the current sound. I never want to feel like I’m completely disconnected with the music of the current era – I want to appreciate and understand it as best I can. So, artists like Daniel Caesar, H.E.R., and Lucky Daye keep me plugged in. I love them. 

BA: Thank you so much for your time, Dara! I look forward to a season of life when we can all meet up in person again. I’m hoping to be able to see you perform live on some New York City stages before too long!

DT: I’m looking forward to seeing you again soon too. Crazy how we moved up here and everything just shut down. It almost feels personal at times. *Laughing at myself again* But I’m enjoying figuring out what life looks like now. I’m finding lots of creative outlets, and I hope you are too. Thanks so much for having me.