Although guitarist Eddie Roberts wasn’t able to tour last year with his group the New Mastersounds because of the pandemic, he’s been busy expanding Color Red, the Denver-based label he founded in 2018. Over the past year, Color Red has launched branches in Japan and France, released music from acts around the world, started the Roberts-curated vinyl club Rare Sounds, and also has a hand in the Larimer Records Cafe, set to open in Larimer Square on January 20.
Since most members of Color Red’s team are musicians, who weren’t gigging because of COVID-19, they were able to ramp up things at the label. Over the first years of Color Red, part of the vision of the imprint was to release a digital single, Roberts says, but at times in 2020, Color Red released five singles a week.
“Luckily, we recorded so much music before the lockdown for bands touring through that we still had plenty of content and plenty of stuff that needed mixing and getting out to the world,” he notes.
While the label has a number of Colorado acts on its roster, Color Red has released music from groups based on nearly every continent, including artists from Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Germany, while the Japanese outpost of Color Red is bringing together Japanese and American artists.
“The French thing is more our team representing the music that we're making here in the French language,” Roberts says, “because there's definitely a language barrier in France, and people don't really engage if it's not in French.”
With the New Mastersounds, Roberts has played a French festival for the past fifteen years. The festival’s director asked to be the voice of Color Red in France, and he’s helping to roll out releases there and get the word out via French-language media. As with the Japan-based branch, Roberts says there will be a collaboration between American and French acts.
“The whole spirit of collaboration is just really fun, and that was always my vision for Color Red,” Roberts says. “The more you do it, the more it spreads, and the more people like you come across it."
Just as Color Red had spread its reach to various parts of the globe, the New Mastersounds, who originally formed in Leeds, England, in 1999, are now based in a few countries. After spending several years in New Orleans and San Francisco, Roberts moved to Denver about six years ago; two members of the Mastersounds are still based in the U.K., one is in Spain and singer Lamar Williams is in Atlanta. Since the pandemic hit, the band recorded five singles remotely and produced a new song every month to post on the New Mastersounds TV premium channel.
This year also marks the twentieth anniversary of the New Mastersounds' debut album, Keb Darge Presents: The New Mastersounds, which Roberts says hasn’t been reissued on vinyl since its initial 5,000-copy run in 2001. The album was remastered from the original tapes from the sessions. There were also some tracks on the tapes that didn’t make it onto the album. The band just released “Fast Man,” one of those unreleased cuts, to celebrate the release.
Reissuing the debut on vinyl got Roberts thinking about the early days of the group, which he initially formed to play weekly gigs at the Leeds club the Atrium. The weekly residency lasted for three years, and the band played mainly covers of legendary New Orleans funk band the Meters, along with some originals.
Roberts also started thinking about the bands he met while playing with the Mastersounds, like the Greyboy Allstars and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, acts who helped shape the late-’90s funk and soul revival. That prompted Roberts to launch Rare Sounds vinyl club last year, with Keb Darge Presents: The New Mastersounds, the Greyboy Allstars’ West Coast Boogaloo and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings’ Dap Dippin' included in the club’s first box. Osaka Monaurail, The Sugarman 3, Galactic and Speedometer will also be reissued on vinyl as part of Rare Sounds.
“With Rare Sounds, I just wanted make the connection with all these musicians that we all knew,” Roberts says. “We've all known each other for so long, and I wanted to give that insight to the listener.”
Color Red also recently hosted a pop-up vinyl store over the holidays at the Famers Market LSQ, which TheBigWonderful founder Josh Sampson opened in October in the former location of the Market, at 1445 Larimer Street.
In late January, Color Red will open Larimer Records Cafe there, turning the space into a vinyl listening lab. Roberts says the venue will sell music by Color Red artists while also curating other bands and labels. Once things open up a bit more, he'll bring in DJs to spin vinyl, which people can buy there.
“I saw some statistics about vinyl sales in December, and they’re the highest they've ever been,” Roberts says. “If you can't go to a show, go buy a record.”
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