A quiet sensation and his girlfriend, mere minutes before he goes live to a room full of City faithful—spent mostly talking about Built to Spill and public access TV.
It's the coldest night this April by a good ten degrees, but that hasn't stopped me from interviewing one of The City's quietest local sensations on a lamplit corner off Burnside. He's a young (seriously, his jacket looks older than he does), rather protective raccoon, blue-tinged fur and emerald eyes he peers out at the world with. Yet that world, and all the scenesters and hipsters in it, want copies of his hissy, homely bedroom folk. And he only goes by Colton.
He's holding hands with a girl as we talk, a tiny and quiet fennec fox girl wrapped in a maroon cardigan, who I can only assume is his girlfriend. "She's been off at college for a few months, but she came home to see me play," he tells me. "Madeleine's the one who got me my 4-tracker, actually."
"Really? What model?"
"Uh, I forget. It's a Fostex. I have to speed-calibrate it constantly."
The cheap gear is often mythologized as a major part of the Colton sound, but it's more his lush, layered acoustics and lonely, occasionally achy voice that fill the room. It's with her (whom he tells me illustrates the trees and rivers that adorn his few properly-released tapes) that he grew into his voice, musically and vocally, and gained the courage to tackle the loss of family and impermanence his music often deals in.
Yet, he's eager to talk about everything except his own music. Like, say, the last Built to Spill album.
"No one writes songs like Doug Martsch does. Have you ever heard what he does with his guitar? He'll have a riff, just like any other guitar riff, but then he'll go—" Colton proceeds to make a variety of twangy, fuzzy, squeaky noises with his mouth, a fairly faithful emulation of a Spill guitar solo.
"Like an engine?" Madeleine chirps up at him.
"A little like an engine, yeah. I dunno. I wish I could write songs like they do."
Madeleine stretches up to nuzzle at his face. "I like your songs better," she purrs, and Colton giggles and squeezes her close in one arm.
And anyway, he seems to be doing something right. Colton's due to play a show to 100 at The Green Room at the top of the hour—not bad at all for a 19-year-old who doesn't even have a full album out.
Yet, whenever I press him, he's unassuming and modest about it. "I'm just glad people like my music, really. I don't really tour or anything on it." When I ask about why, he defers further. "I'm not pretty enough to tour."
I half-expect a smile with a remark like that, but it never comes. Only when my brow furrows does he seem amused.
Worse yet for me, Colton keeps his background close to his chest. He does admit to being a City native (at one point, he waxes nostalgic for KCTY-TV, Channel 11's infamous public access station—"that's where I learned what a guitar was"), but how he made it to Apricot Bay (where he and Madeleine now reside), how he met Madeleine, or even when he picked up the guitar for the first time—he's not telling.
And that's the way he likes it, it seems.
Stranger still is just how such an isolated, young, guarded heart got his music in front of The City in the first place. Colton credits some of the circulation to the rise of the internet. "That was Madeleine's idea, really. We run the 4-tracker into the back of her computer and she turns them into MP3s, and those go on a few sites and Napster and some other places...but how people find it, I don't really know."
Perhaps he should look closer home. In mere months, Colton's music has become a staple on KCCB-FM's Out in Orbit, their prime unsigned rising star indie band and artist showcase, both on campus and around campus.
"Sometimes stuff comes totally out of the blue and you just have to let it rip," senior disc jockey and senior at Cascadia University "Uncle" Wayne Martin told me when I interviewed him at the start of the past school year. "I got this tape from one of my Raiders, and it had this cute, handmade cover and it said "Colton" all over it. And my guy said "Wayne, you gotta listen to this tape, this kid's amazing." And goddamn, he was right! We've been trying to get him into the studio to play for us, and we can't because no one knows where to find him!"
Hopefully Wayne's at the show tonight then, because Colton's not staying. "Madeleine's gotta be back at school by tomorrow."
The fennec girl nods her head at me. "We'll likely sleep on the train ride home..."
"It's nothing I'm not used to."
When in parting, I ask him if a Colton CD or some wider release is on the horizon, he's as laconic and unassuming as ever.
"I dunno. Would people really buy that?"
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