by Brian McNash
The Neighbourhood have always done things their way- their music videos, album roll outs, alter egos, and experimentation with sound within their music are all examples of that. When the public tried to fit them into a specific mold, they pushed back against those attempts and fought to control their own narrative and image. Any band that comes out with a hit song early in their career ("Sweater Weather," which has over half a billion plays on YouTube) deals with the repercussions of quick fame and taking off, one of which is public perception. The reality is that every artist or band that has been around long enough inevitably changes as their image, music, and sound evolve. But some special artists and bands seem to have that "thing" that is a constant theme, a big part of their image, or what they are known for. ZZ Top are known for their beards. Gwar are known for their elaborate, horror inspired costumed characters. And for much of their career, the Neighbourhood have been known for their black and white aesthetic.
The band has centered a lot of their image and music around this monochromatic aesthetic. Their lead singer, Jesse Rutherford, suffers from achromatopsia, which is a partial or total loss of the ability to see color. He has partial red-green color blindness, further explaining why the band adopted this theme early on. The band's first two studio albums, I Love You (2013) and Wiped Out! (2015) were very different from each other. One showcased where the group began as young adults barely out of high school (I Love You) and the other tackled them navigating their early to mid-20's, dealing with internal strife, and fame in general (Wiped Out!). But both were based around the idea of black and white, starting with every music video off their first album being shot in black and white. Their debut album cover features gray clouds with tones of black and white featured throughout.
In an interview with VEVO LIFT in 2013, the band talked about the monochromatic influence. The members spoke on how they feel like the visuals are just as important as the song. They spoke on how black and white sets the right mood for the music that they make. Former drummer Bryan Sammis said, "If all of our stuff was in color, I think that you would hear our band differently." In an interview with LA Weekly, lead singer Jesse elaborated, saying "When we keep things consistent with black and white, that's one thing we can show to people and say hey this is how we view it, and this is how it should be felt." To them, the visual influences how the sound is perceived. By painting that monochromatic theme throughout their initial releases, they set the tone (no pun intended) for how they wanted their music to be heard, perceived, and what their image would be.
Monochromatic themes in general invoke darkness, dreariness, and haunting feelings. Listen to five random Neighbourhood songs and those songs will probably evoke similar feelings. The parallels are there, whether it's deliberate, happens naturally, or is a mix of both. In between their 1st and 2nd album, the band released an alternative hip hop mixtape, #000000 & #FFFFFF, which is hexadecimal color coding for black and white. To hammer the point home, a voice can even be heard whispering the words "black and white" throughout the mixtape. The grayscale theme remained a constant in their late night TV show performances, live performances, and throughout the release of their 2nd album, Wiped Out! (cover art and all). The group even requested that they only be photographed in black and white.
But, as they embarked on recording and releasing their 3rd album, Hard To Imagine The Neighbourhood Ever Changing, color was introduced into their aesthetic as they promoted the album through a series of EP's and videos. In the middle of promoting that project, they returned to monochromatic themes for their EP covers, promo pictures, and visuals. Change is hard, isn't it?
In 2020, they dropped the Middle of Somewhere tour promo, which was shot in half color, half black & white. It introduced an alter ego, Chip Chrome & The Monotones. The music videos for their latest studio album, CC&TM, featured front man Chip drenched from head to toe in metallic gray (skin and all), the Monotones dressed head to toe in black, and their trademark upside-down house logo with a chrome tint. If you mix black and white together, that makes gray. Chrome is a darker tone of gray. Their monochromatic theme has clearly evolved to something bigger along with the group. When it comes to this latest evolution, the group's bassist, Mikey Margott, explained it in an interview saying, "Now that our music feels more colourful, it's only fitting to change the direction to colour." Remember that artists and bands grow & change as their careers progress? The music they make then and now, the alter egos, and the methodical approach to crafting their image and controlling their own narrative show that.
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