Back Issue__ COLIN MUNROE
WE HEART...COLIN MUNROEby: Hana May
Colin Munroe is a self-described lone wolf. As an only child he was homeschooled until his freshman year and might explain why this musician is a truly solo act, even playing all his own instrumentals from xylophones to classical percussion.
Functioning independently has made this 28-year-old wary of collaborations. ‘I often find it to be a watering down process of two flavors that are really nice and don’t ultimately join to make something new,’ says Munroe. But despite these objections, Munroe has quite the whose who of up-and-coming rappers on his mixtape ‘Colin Munroe is The Unsung Hero.’ The list of 13 artists ranges from Wale to Dallas Austin to fellow Torontonian, Drake, who’s featured on the track Cannon Ball, for which Munroe is currently working on a new video.
Colin Munroe is best-known for his remix of Kanye West’s song ‘Flashing Lights,’ which he titled ‘(I Want Those) Flashing Lights.’ Even though Colin Munroe may want to move past this point of reference, it was this remix and its memorable opening line--‘you’ve got your name in lights and they can’t seem to spell mine right’-- that gave him the recognition he needed to reach to a wider audience.
We caught up with Munroe right before he was about to hit up SXSW in Austin and the Winter Music Conference in Miami (last we heard he may have had a sunburn) to chat about musical genres colliding, his collaboration-heavy mixtape and his mild obsession with early 20th century British politics. We also shipped Munroe a Polaroid camera and got him to shoot portraits of himself and his some of his favorite pieces from his wardrobe. Using the correct spelling—We Heart Colin Munroe.
You’ve described yourself as a lone wolf. Does it worry you coming into the limelight?
Not really. I don’t believe any artist that says anything about ‘oh you know, I’m not doing this for any type of attention. I’m not doing this for any type of audience.’ I mean yeah at the heart of every artist, there’s something missing that needs some sort of validation and we find ourselves pursuing these types of careers and these types of dreams because of that thing. So yeah, it might be at odds with part of my personality but it really works with another part of my personality and when the two collide we’ll see what happens, and hopefully they get a chance to collide.
You make music that crosses a lot of different genres and it seems like we’re in a time when genres are colliding. Why do you think people always want to define artists to one genre?
I think because we’re used to the sort of divisions of genres as they exist. What’s changing is the mode of consumption based on genre. I think radio had been so important in the past in driving how we consume our music and it was already broken down by genre. There’s R&B stations, there’s rock stations, there’s adult contemporary stations. But as radio has become less and less important, and the internet is how people consume their music more, and digital mediums are how they’re playing their music back, I mean everything gets jumbled together—it’s like one big washing machine load of music and everything just kind of gets mixed up. And everybody, has everything on their play lists these days. I just think it’s going to be something that starts to change. People wont be as eager to define people as genres. I mean it will take time and I wouldn’t want to see genres disappear completely, its nice to have those distinct flavors but I don’t think they’ll be as unified, or uniform across the board simply because radio is becoming less important and the internet is how people consumer their music now.
From someone who makes a combination of genres, are you contributing to genres disappearing, something you don’t want to happen?
Well what I’m saying is, I would hope that there isn’t a blurring of genres to the point where everything becomes the same ‘cause then it defeats the purpose. I guess what I’m doing is individual to me and it sounds like me but if for whatever reason people started blurring genres in the same way and ended up sounding the same, yeah it would be boring. But if people blur in their own individual ways and get flavors that are distinct then, hey, that’d be great.
Who was someone you reached out to that you really wanted to work with on ‘Colin Munroe is the Unsung Hero’ that you didn’t get to work with?
We weren’t able to get a hold of Cudi and that would have been really cool. Which is funny because we have like a bunch of mutual friends and ended up hanging out after the fact but I guess for whatever reason the lines didn’t get connected the first time. So he was probably the one that I would really like to be able to work with eventually.
Who was your favorite out of that list to work with?
I really get along and work well with Black Milk. I mean for whatever reason. We’re from two completely different worlds but somehow meet in the middle in terms of how we communicate and our musical sensibilities, so he’s really great to work with, very professional, really responsible and I hate to say it but some of the stereotypes about musicians are true. You know like not getting shit done on time.
Oh yeah, I’ve experienced it.
Yeah, well I’m sure. He’s totally pro and he makes it happen and even for that reason alone, it was really good to work with him.
So you only worked with male artists on the mixtape?
Yes that’s very true, well pointed out. You’re the first person that’s ever pointed that out.
Why is that and are there female artists you will be working with in the future?
I guess the simple answer is we really couldn’t find any that fit or that would [do it], or that responded. The idea came up to have Emily Hanes from Metric do something, and we were able to get in touch with her, but because of her live schedule and I think some studio commitments she had, it was just, it just wasn’t possible. Marsha Ambrosius, I think we reached out too but the dots didn’t get connected there. I think, yeah, for whatever reason it was just…and to be honest in urban music, I think women are just a little under represented when it comes to MCs.
Are there other female artists, besides the ones you just mentioned, you would like to collaborate with in the future?
I’ve always been curious about working with Feist. I think I would either love it or hate it.
Being somewhat pessimistic about working with others, you worked with a bunch of different people on the mixtape. How did you feel after the whole process?
I felt like I’d dodged many bullets. Like, ‘oh my goodness that could have gone so badly,’ and it turned out pretty good. Just cause you never know. I mean what if you get back a verse from a rapper and it just doesn’t fit and you know he’s a talented guy and you know he does his thing really well but for whatever reason your two worlds didn’t collide beautifully, they kind of resulted in a mess, what do you do. I’m just fortunate that that didn’t happen.
You’ve said that you and Kanye have given nods to one another. Is anything in the works?
Nope, we have far too many mutual friends for it not to happen. At some point, I would think so, but I’m particularly sensitive to not wanting to look like I’m trying to ride that thing anymore. So I’m certainly not pushing it from my end. I would just hope it happens as a course of my journey taking me further up and higher and beyond to where I might cross his path naturally. Not have to make it seem like, ‘oh could you help me I’m that kid that did that flashing lights thing?’ You know.
When is ‘Don’t Think Less of Me’ dropping?
They are gunning for May, June. I imagine it will be like June, early June sometime.
Is it finished?
It’s officially now finished.
Yup, I put the finishing touch on it, I guess last week and we’ll probably tweak a couple mixes here and there but it’s done and was sent off to the head of Motown for her to take a listen to. And we begin I suppose.
Being someone that hasn’t toured that much are you nervous about heading out on the road?
No. I’m kind of excited. As long as everything is smooth and is organized properly and everything is in order and my voice is fine and everything, I think it will be an adventure, you know, I like change I like moving around I get kind of antsy if I’m in one place for too long.
Do you have any other hobbies besides music?
I really like collecting books about Winston Churchill.
That’s totally quirky.
Yeah, he’s maybe the only person in the modern world or in the history of the world that you could almost say could have the title of single handily saving the world. Like that’s not something that many people in history can have. You could make a case for that when it comes to him and everything that he was involved with leading up to and through World War II and his actions and many of his ideas, did save the world and, yeah, I find that just fascinating. That and he’s very quotable. He seems like a really interesting personality, so I’m fascinated with him. I love films, my university degree was in cinema studies. So I love film and I’m always kind of digesting that when I get a chance.
Where’s your heart at?
It wanders constantly. Yeah it’s part of the reason that I don’t feel particularly bound to one genre of music, one city or one country, it’s just me right now. I don’t know if it will always be that way but, like, my favorite song of all time is U2s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,’ and when you kind of step back and look at all of that in perspective, I think it just kind of makes sense and I never feel like my heart is in one place particular.