Since their inception, Colour Tongues have taken hits and weathered storms, both literally and figuratively, and they’re still alive to tell the story. Boasting a nurse, a carpenter, an actor, and a dog walker, the band combines elements of math and progressive rock with dreamy indie-pop.
James Challis, Colour Tongue’s singer and guitarist is an Australian native whose father was a high ranking member of the Sahaja Yoga cult in the early ’80s and ’90s. Thankfully for Challis, his mother got the kids out.
As a child, Challis would bang his head on his pillow every night before bed. When his mother asked him why he answered: “I’m banging on my pillow to a song I have in my head.” Instead of ADHD pills, he was given a guitar.
As a young musician, Challis was in awe when introduced to Transatlanticism and Plans by Death Cab for Cutie. Inspired by the poetry and imagery in the lyrics, and the songwriting relationship between Chris Walla and Ben Gibbard, Challis was determined to form his own band.
Over the next couple of years, Challis leaned heavily into music and moved to Vancouver where he met bass player Dan Lavergne via craigslist. The two clicked musically and began writing together, forming the band Colour Tongues with two other musicians: Hamish Miller (guitar) and John Bazuick (drums). The band recorded a self-titled EP before Bazuick and Miller left due to internal strife. Challis and Lavergne, their bond now stronger than ever, continued, committed to finding the right musicians to complete their vision for Colour Tongues.
At around this same time, on the other side of the country, drummer David Taylor was at an impasse. The life energy of his teens and early ’20s had been sapped out of him, and after his third round of major depression, Taylor realized that to live life to its fullest, he needed to do the things that scared the living daylights out of him. Taylor quit drinking, smoking, and drugs, and made a list of all the things he wanted to do and vowed to start doing them one by one. On that list was: leaving his career in the Ontario Government, moving out west, becoming a nurse and picking back up an old favourite hobby: playing the drums.
After starting nursing school, Taylor met the love of his life, actor and writer Meghan Hemingway, who introduced him to Challis at a party in April 2017. Challis and Taylor got on like a house on fire and shortly thereafter, Taylor was invited to join the band. Their infectious dynamic has fuelled Colour Tongues ever since.
Meanwhile, guitarist Graeme Meekison was finishing high school feeling somewhat adrift. Not knowing what to do with his life, he refused to go to University without knowing his direction. Left to noodle around on his Ibanez, Meekison started writing prog rock-inspired solo work which caught the attention of Challis (again via Craigslist). Meekison was invited to join in a jam session with the group and voila – Colour Tongues was reborn.
The quartet played a series of shows in Vancouver in early 2018 to cut their teeth, then went on a 7-show tour across the Rocky Mountains in May of that year. Mid-tour with a couple of nights to kill in Cranbrook, BC, Challis canvassed local eateries to see if anyone would hire the band. One local restauranteur offered the band $500 to play for the dinner crowd and a deal was struck. The owner – not realizing she had hired a rock group – complained all night to both staff and patrons that the music was too loud just awful.’ Unsurprisingly, the venue never responded to the band’s inquiries about further employment opportunities.
After returning from tour, the band entered the studio with producer Elisa Pangsaeng to record two new singles to be released on their 2018 EP, entitled Almost East. The album charted on non-commercial radio across Canada and cracked Earshot Magazine’s top 50 list.
Tragedy struck in the summer of 2019 when on the day of the band’s first show in Whistler, BC, Lavergne’s mother died under mysterious circumstances in Winnipeg. Lavergne insisted on playing that night: “My mother would have wanted me to play – and that’s what I needed.”
Once the band reunited in the fall of 2019, they re-entered the studio, this time with producer Matt di Pomponio (Matty D) at Echoplant Studios to begin recording three new tracks. The band met Matty through the Calgary-based band Shuffalo and were impressed by his sonic creativity and work ethic. They were also endeared by his quirk of having episodes of The Simpsons play in the background while he worked. In February 2020, the single, “Control,” was released – the band’s first track that would break 100K streams on Spotify.
Shortly after this, the band went back on the road. En route through the snowy Okanagan to the first show of the tour, the band was hit by an oncoming driver who skidded across a double yellow line. Suffering relatively minor injuries after the head-on collision, the band made it to their show in Kelowna, but the psychological and emotional trauma would test their bonds for the remainder of the tour. Exhausted and spiritually drained the band made all their dates, finished the tour and made it back to Vancouver in one piece. They decided to take the rest of March off to undergo a period of soul-searching and self-reflection. Two weeks later the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, and provincial restrictions were put into place.
Taylor, now a registered nurse, was deployed to the Lynn Valley Care Centre (the first COVID-19 outbreak in Canada) to battle the virus while the rest of the band under Challis’ leadership took to writing the next generation of Colour Tongues’ music.
Reuniting in May 2020, the band was ready to focus on its future. Taking great caution during the pandemic, Colour Tongues returned to the studio with Matty D and completed work on their debut LP. The band kept active during the lockdown, performing many unplugged Facebook Live gigs and in January 2021 via live stream at Vancouver’s Blue Light Studios the band played a full show that incorporated synths and backing tracks, and finally captured the band’s studio sound in a live setting.
“Wasted,” Colour Tongues’ next track is slated for release March 4, 2021, with the debut LP, Midnight Island, to follow later in the year.