Music

Psycho Color: Calgary garage-punk legends Color Me Psycho celebrate vinyl release of lost (and lost) debut Kiss Me Then …

“We were talking about the old shit. You get all these old punks together and we’re more nostalgic than hippies!”

 Tom Bagley is all smiles and laughter recounting a Saturday in mid-July when he joined Al Charlton, Dan Hayes and Mark Igglesden at the latter’s Bridgeland home. 

People of a certain, uh, vintage, might recognize this as a reunion of the early-1986 lineup of Calgary garage-rock greats Color Me Psycho. It was the first time they had been all together in 35 years. 

“Everybody was the same,” Bagley says. “Nobody has changed. Nobody went through super dark times. I think I hitched my horse to the right wagon back in the ‘80s.”

The four gathered to celebrate the recent vinyl reissue of their 10-track debut, Kiss Me Then… Color Me Psycho, a low-budget, indie cassette released in 1986. This 200-unit reissue, pressed on multi-coloured splattered vinyl and including reproductions of two gig posters, has been a long-time pet project of Charlton’s friend Jack Tieleman, a garage-rock enthusiast and founder of Lance Rock Records, onetime home of Neko Case, Chixdiggit, Man or Astroman?, among others.

Tieleman has been a fan of Kiss Me Then… from the start, hearing it for the first time when he worked at the University of Victoria campus radio station CFUV.

“It was right up my alley,” he says. “It’s the combination of the songwriting, the lyrics, the hooks, the melodies and all the parts that make it a great rock record. And it’s done in a style that pays homage to the bands that those guys love but it doesn’t ape them. That’s why it stands on its own.”

Tieleman first approached the band about a vinyl reissue about 20 years ago — and was met with a collective shrug. “Nobody really cared,” he says. “It was: ‘Well, yeah, go ahead if you want to.’ ”

His own enthusiasm undimmed, Tieleman pushed forward. He sought out the missing master tapes. He found them. He shipped them to a mastering facility that subsequently shut down. The tapes went missing again. He found them again, only to find out they had degraded and were unusable.

The project finally gained some traction over the past year, when Charlton sent Tieleman a CD copy of the master, which was then spruced up by Arlen Thompson of Wolf Parade.

“It was a long process,” Tieleman says. “It’s one of those things that you say you’re going to do it, you don’t do it, you feel bad about it, so you exorcise your demons by putting it out.”

And now that it’s out, the makers of Kiss Me Then … are clearly excited about the project: during their get-together last month, they autographed each other’s copies. Yet their initial ambivalence is understandable. Color Me Psycho, after all, was just one brief stop on all of their musical journeys, which now span five decades. Before Color Me Psycho, Charlton and Igglesden had made their mark in early Calgary punk groups The Sturgeons and Riot .303, and following Color Me Psycho’s split in 1988, its members would go on to form a host of other bands, including the Von Zippers, Curse of Horseflesh, the Choads and Forbidden Dimension. 

Bagley, who continues to perform and record with Igglesden in Forbidden Dimension, admits he hadn’t listened to his cassette copy of Kiss Me Then … since its release. He remembered the tape as being nothing more than “juvenilia.” Hearing it again — remastered, on  vinyl — has changed his opinion.

“Jack got it remastered really nicely, beefed it up, so the album sounds better than the tape ever did … It sounds like a punk record,” says Bagley.

The Scene suggests the seeds of his artistic aesthetic — equal measure garage-rock scuzz and B-movie horror, now fully flourished as leader of Forbidden Dimension and as a highly sought-after illustrator — were first planted during his days with Color Me Psycho.

“I think so,” Bagley answers. “The stuff that I was influenced by then? A lot of it was ‘60s punk. I was really into this record by the Remains out of Boston. There are songs (on Kiss Me Then …) that are wholesale ripoffs of Remains riffs. Black Corvaire is basically Boss Hog by the Sonics. You can spot the influences.

“And everything is too fast. We’re playing a million miles an hour. When we did the guitar solo overdubs, I borrowed Al’s SG and everything was faster because it was easy to play. So it’s like Manowar guitar solos on this garage rock record.

“But there was stuff I didn’t like back then that I love now. I remember Dan did this keyboard solo in Genius at Work. I said, ‘Gee, this should be like a ‘60s combo sound,’ because we were using a synthesizer to do it. It sounded like The Rockford Files (theme). Now I just love it. I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s perfect.”

Bagley says there are no plans for a one-off Color Me Psycho reunion gig to mark the reissue. However, there are discussions to release on vinyl the demos for the band’s 1988 sophomore LP and swansong, Pretend I’m Your Father. 

Bagley is also working on releasing two Forbidden Dimension titles on vinyl this year, starting with the 1990 cassette Mars is Heaven, expected sometime next month.

“It’s like revisiting old girlfriends,” Bagley says, laughing.

For Tieleman, the online excitement about the reissue confirms what he’s always believed: that Kiss Me Then … Color Me Psycho is a special record.

“The fact that people are going bonkers that this came out is a testament to it — that it’s a great rock record, a great punk record, a great garage record, whatever you want to call it,” he says. 

“When people thank you for putting out an album, you know it’s a good one.”

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