Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Bassist and former member of Train, Charlie Colin, is currently collaborating with three musicians from Newport Beach, California, to form a new band called The Side Deal – four friends who are drawn together by a passion for great original music. The band consists of Charlie Colin [Train], Stan Frazier [Sugar Ray], and Joel and Scott Owen [PawnShop Kings]. The Side Deal members have collectively sold over 20 million albums worldwide and performed 5,000+ shows worldwide to a cumulative audience of more than 6.5 million people.
Charlie Colin is a two-time Grammy award-winning songwriter and lyricist with three Billboard Top 10 Singles and three Platinum Records. He is also the Director of the Newport Beach Film Festival, where he arranges all the shows and performances for the festival!
I had the pleasure of speaking with Charlie about his latest musical endeavor and the passion that drove him to form this new band. His excitement about this band and what the future holds is contagious!
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me how the band got together?
Charlie Colin: I came back to my hometown in Newport Beach to do a charity show where the organizer put together a band so I could play some of the songs I co-wrote with Train. They assembled a group of great musicians who were all from the Newport Beach area. It turns out, Stan Frazier went to a rival high school of mine; his band was called Shrinky Dinks, which eventually turned into Sugar Ray. We have known of each other but never played together until two years ago. Joel and Scott Owen had a band called PawnShop Kings and released multiple singles and a couple of EPs. I recall seeing an article in Rolling Stone Magazine that said they were a band to watch! They sing so beautifully. We did the charity show, and I never experienced anything like it. I don’t want to sound disparaging to anything I have done previously, as I loved being in Train, but I thought I heard, saw, and did everything in that band because we went from nothing to playing in arenas. When we won the Grammy, Don Henley of The Eagles was the presenter, and he handed the award to me. That night I asked him, “How do you continue to make such great music over the years?” He told me, “When you sing with your friends, there is nothing quite like it. When you reach that point where your voices mesh, it’s a spiritual thing that you can feel. It was during those times that I felt most connected.” At the time, I didn’t know exactly what he meant, and then when the four of us sang together, it hit me! It filled me up, and we instantly connected with the audience. It was so enjoyable that we performed a few more times together. On a side note, I also met a girl from my hometown, as she grew up on the same street as me. I’ve known her my whole life, and now we are engaged. So now I live in my hometown of Newport Beach, which is where we are all from! It feels as if it was all meant to be. I’ve had an interesting life. I have lived in many different places like Singapore, Australia, and even lived on a boat in San Francisco. I was playing with Days of the New at the time and that kept me there. Every time I would leave, I would miss the guys, our music, and rehearsing. It’s great to write, record, tour, and produce other bands, but starting a new band was a big commitment with a lot of sacrifices. I love the band and the reception we get when we play live is so overwhelming, I had to do it.
Robert Cavuoto: It all sounds like destiny to me.
Charlie Colin: It does to me too! It was genuine because none of us said, “Hey, let’s start a band.” We all agreed that if we don’t do this, it’s going to haunt us.
Robert Cavuoto: The band has a unique writing chemistry, particularly with the new single “Ghosts.”
Charlie Colin: I love that song. It’s hip yet “old school.” I don’t know how to describe it. It has beautiful harmonies and the opening riff I played was a bass though a Wah-Wah pedal. When was the last time you heard someone start a song with the intro on a distorted bass through a Wah-Wah pedal [laughing]?
Robert Cavuoto: I recently saw a live video of the band. It seems you have several songs completed like “SOS” and “Unexpired.” How many songs are completed, and what made you choose “Ghosts” as the first single?
Charlie Colin: I went with my fiancé to see A Star is Born, and noticed Scott had sent me an outline for the song “Ghosts” on my phone. I thought I shouldn’t listen to it right then because I just saw this beautiful movie with these big songs and fantastic melodies; I doubted anything would hold up to that! I ended up listening to it twice that night and loved it. When I got home, I called Scott and told him that I thought he was on to something. The song is about friendship, loyalty, and the difficulty of balancing life as adults. That’s when life gets real as we are talking about some pretty heavy stuff. It’s also fun to play and puts me in a great mood. This band can tackle difficult subjects while putting their heart and soul into it. At the same time, people are singing and dancing when we play it live. We have some very beautiful songs, but I didn’t want to come out right away with a ballad. [Laughing]
Robert Cavuoto: How many songs do you have written?
Charlie Colin: We have 15 songs and we will record all of them. We will then pick the best 13 to go on a possible album. We haven’t decided if we are going to release a couple of songs as singles or an EP or just put out a full album. We are still working it out. The reason we are called The Side Deal is because we always have people sit in with us. Ironically, some of those people are my friends who just happen to be producers like Skunk Baxter. He is my mentor and one of the best pedal steel guitar players in the world. When I was in a band called The Apostles, with three of the members of Train, Skunk had a lot to do with The Apostles getting a record deal. We want to record a few songs with him. We also have Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads who did most of the production work on “Ghosts.” When he’s with us, it’s a different sound, but it’s still us. It’s diverse and eclectic. We just did some songs with Mark Howard too, who worked with Emmylou Harris on Wrecking Ball and U2. We have been prolific but trying to figure out how that works within a record. Our songs can stand the test of time if we do them right.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m always intrigued by a band’s writing process. Do you each write individually then bring the ideas in or does everyone go into a rehearsal space to collectively jam and write?
Charlie Colin: Totally both! Scott and I would meet at one of our houses to share ideas which we developed into songs. When we started playing live more consistently, we would work on songs while in the rehearsal room. The songs came together rather quickly. In fact, the reason we felt we had to start recording was we were getting backed-up with songs. Some of the songs we wrote, in the beginning, are innocently perfect. As we play and work together, the songs started to have more depth. I didn’t want to pass over the early songs, so we went into the studio. We have four songs in the chamber that I’m dying to record. We talked about putting out an album in the Spring. We are recoding earlier than most bands do – it took Train four years to make a record.
Robert Cavuoto: With everyone in the band having a great voice, will you each take a turn singing a song on the CD?
Charlie Colin: It’s been brought up. I can sing on key and have a higher register than most men. I can sing in a female register and do a full voice while hitting high harmonies. I’m really proud of that ability. I don’t necessarily like the job of being a frontman and having to talk to the audience the entire show. I want to be in a weird mood where I can be quiet one night then gregarious the next. I could sing lead, and the band is wildly supportive as I write a lot of melodies. They are always asking me to sing, and I’m like, okay maybe [laughing]. Pat Monahan of Train has pipes; he can deliver a message with power. When bands opened for us or I opened for them, and they didn’t have a guy like Pat; I couldn’t figure out why they would be involved in contemporary pop music? You need to have the Bono or Elvis factor and sing the way you want without apologies. I’m not that guy, I love to sing, but I don’t want to convince you of anything. I just want to put it out there for you to enjoy it. I don’t have the “fuck you” of Mick Jagger or the swagger of Hank Williams. I don’t want to be anybody but myself. When I met these guys, I thought everybody’s voice was amazing and could be or should be used in a Beatles kind of way. I think that is in our future. Scott and Joel when they sing together they sound beautiful like the Everly Brothers, it’s over the top. When we did our first show and performed “Calling All Angels” in two-part harmony, both parts were equally important. With this band, there is a dual lead vocal. Scott is very secure with that and doesn’t have the ego of, “I’m the only lead singer in this band.” He has serious range and power in his lungs which I don’t have, but when someone needs to take it over the top, Scott can do it and break your heart in a way that takes my breath away.
Robert Cavuoto: With 20 million album sales between everyone in the band, do you consider the band a supergroup?
Charlie Colin: [Thoughtful pause] That’s the question, isn’t it? I feel proud that we have elements of legendary bands as there is Rock & Roll royalty in this band. Some of the songs we have written will be heard with or without us forever. A lot of people recognize those songs and we recognize that response. There was a point where every country I went to, I heard our Train songs and they were hits there. That’s the mega quality. When I met these guys, there was a quality there. Something I have never done musically or professionally. So are we a supergroup? I just want to find our audience and connect with them. Whether that audience is 5,000 people or 200 million people, I don’t know. All I’m interested in is finding those people and connect with them. It’s something I’ve started to see and it’s a beautiful thing.
Robert Cavuoto: I understand you also paint.
Charlie Colin: I’m currently in recovery, which is one of the things that got in the way of my happiness and career. I want to make great art, whether with music or painting. I would call it abstract expressionism. If I was to paint an apple, I would look at the apple to discern the vibe of what it was trying to say [laughing]. It would be this shady round thing using charcoal with smudges all over the place. I’m always figuring how to capture the essence of something. I like doing smaller mixed media paintings using charcoal and acrylic paint, but lately, I have been building these giant frames 7′ x 7′ for something that alludes to a human but not in a realistic form. [Laughing] My favorite artist, Cy Twombly, once said, and I paraphrase, “To be a great artist, you have to lead a simple life and put all your craziness and acting out into your art.” That’s the variable “Pepsi Challenge” [laughing]. I’m not being presumptuous and calling myself a great artist; it’s just if I want to go for it; I have to get busy.
Robert Cavuoto: When you were writing and creating “Drops of Jupiter,” did you and the band feel it would reach the level of success it achieved?
Charlie Colin: Pat did most of the work on “Drops of Jupiter” as that song was his baby. When we were in the early stages of demo’ing the song, working with producer Brendan O’Brien, we all knew there was something special about it. It wasn’t a hard rock song and it wasn’t a ballad; it was piano-driven. It wasn’t your typical rock band song with a bunch of guitars; it was more like an old Elton John song. All my friends who like hard rock loved it and my girlfriend loved it as well because it was beautiful. The song appeals to a massive audience and demographic. I love that. It lifted people’s spirits; it got them emotional and got their hearts beating faster. That’s a very rare thing to do! I’m very proud of that song.