Get To Know: Dallas Austin’s Latest Recruit Colin Munroe and His Remake of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”

If you were born in Canada, sharing a birthday with your idol Paul McCartney, and listening to J Dilla while growing up, you might end up a little like Colin Munroe. A producer and writer from the suburbs of Ottawa, Munroe was pretty well know, having worked with Ray Robinson, Chauncey Black (formerly of Blackstreet), […]

If you were born in Canada, sharing a birthday with your idol Paul McCartney, and listening to J Dilla while growing up, you might end up a little like Colin Munroe. A producer and writer from the suburbs of Ottawa, Munroe was pretty well know, having worked with Ray Robinson, Chauncey Black (formerly of Blackstreet), Glenn Lewis, Divine Brown, Saukrates and Sean Price of Boot Camp Clik.Munroe then decided to blaze the solo trail, logging more than 350,000 YouTube hits after collaborating with an art student for his avant-guard video, “World of Pain.” But Munroe turned Hip-Hop heads by remixing Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” with an equally visually impressive YouTube clip, “I Want Those Flashing Lights.” Dallas Austin quickly snatched up Munroe from our neighbors from the north, and the newest Rowdy Records recruit is planning his debut album, Don’t Think Less of Me, a blend of rock, pop and soul. If his influences served him well, Munroe could be the next new artist to parlay his internet fame into real world success. Below, Munroe talks about his newfound fame, creative freedom and how he’s sick of everybody trying to be so Alternatives: “Flashing Lights” is a pretty distinctive song on Kanye’s CD. What made you want to tackle it?Colin Munroe: That’s really part of the reason. Just listening to Kanye West’s album for the first time, that track stood out in such a way that kind of touched a little creative nerve in me. I wanted to try and see if I could do something a little bit different with it. It was really just an experiment that got way out of hand. [laughs] I didn’t really expect it to turn into what it turned into. I’m certainly not mad at that though!AHHA: The video for “I Want Those Flashing Lights” and your song “World Of Pain” are both very artistic. What was behind the concept?Colin Munroe: I cut both those videos with a friend of mine who goes to an art school around the corner from where I live. I really think it’s these kinds of places where you find some of the best ideas for this day and age. These days, it is really difficult to make a conventional video that actually gets attention. Big budget videos have the same old story lines.  It’s boring and I don’t think people really get into it. I’ve always been on the look out for people who bring video ideas that are a bit more forward thinking. Both ideas were like, “Hey, why don’t we try this!” We tried it and on both occasions it worked out pretty well. So we are going to keep working together.AHHA: What do you think of your success on YouTube? You’ve had more than 350,000 views of your video “World Of Pain”.Colin Munroe: I think it’s pretty cool! These days that is better than having a billboard in Times Square. That’s the world we live in. And you always would have had to pay for a billboard in Times Square, but you don’t have to pay to get yourself all over YouTube.  AHHA: Anything weird or crazy happened to you since becoming an Internet celebrity?Colin Munroe: Umm, I wear that mantle very lightly. [laughs] I’ve just been getting more attention…more attention from certain people. I’ve definitely had attention from people who wouldn’t give me the time of day before. It’s been interesting. I’ve had my head pretty squarely on my shoulders my whole life. It has kind of helped me to see when people are being real and who is jumping on what they perceive to be as some kind of bandwagon that’s going somewhere. You begin to know who your real friends are. AHHA: How did you meet Dallas Austin?Colin Munroe: He was introduced to me actually, through a friend in New York who has been like a complete angel to me. She’s a manager for writers and producers. She very randomly heard my music when I sent her a package like six months ago. She got back to me six months later, and she was like, “I’m so sorry! I really want to see if I can help you guys out!” She’s been trying to get our foot in the door, introducing me to different people. Dallas was one of the first people she thought would get my music and get me for who I am, this kind of musical mutt. She played him the music and he flew me down for a few days last summer. We hit it off and have been working together ever since.AHHA: You have a very unique sound, are you concerned about your label pushing you to sound too R&B or too Alternative?Colin Munroe: Dallas has been extremely open in giving me creative freedom. The first month in the studio, I just made some changes to the project that I always felt were needed. And he said to just go for it. I didn’t see him for about a month! It was just me and an engineer. Every now and then he’s popped in. I was really impressed. At the beginning, I was thinking maybe he’ll take over and this is not going to be my thing. But he totally took a hands-off approach, and I will respect him for that forever. I feel like I’ve been extremely fortunate to be allowed to be myself. That’s not a chance that many artists get early in their career. That was a really great revelation to me. For the most part the album is complete and 100 percent me. AHHA: Are you concerned with being lumped in to a “Blue-Eyed Soul” category?Colin Munroe: Yes and no. If somebody labeled me “Blue-Eyed Soul,” I’d say, “really?” How does my music sound like other blue-eyed soul? I think inevitably, they’d have to see that it doesn’t really. Having this album, by no means indicates I want to stop making music for other people in other genres. I hope that my work speaks for itself. People are able to accept musicians who are more than one genre. One person can dance in a couple different arenas. AHHA: You got your start in Toronto, doing production work for Ray Robinson, Glenn Lewis, Sean Price and other urban artists. How is the sound you created for them different from what you create for yourself?Colin Munroe: That came out of a love for that kind of music. I was working with those guys when the whole Philly thing was at its height. I really fell in love with that. Like, Voodoo by D’Angelo is a really important album for me. Seeing all of that up close, because there was a lot of Toronto connection to that movement at the time. I was kind of completely in love with that music at the time. So, what I was doing was a white kid from the suburb’s take on what was going on in Philly and Detroit. It came out as a little bit different, but it came out real enough that people in the community endorsed it and wanted to be a part of it. I’m totally appreciative of that. That was me kind of trying something different and seeing if it worked. I guess it did. AHHA: You’re a big J Dilla fan. If you could sing over one J Dilla beat, which would it be?Colin Munroe: I got a hold of a beat that I heard was going to be used for a new A Tribe Called Quest album. But the album fell through. I wrote to it anyway, because it has to be one of my favorite of all times. I don’t know what the name is. Other than that, it would have to be maybe the beat from 2U 4U by Slum Village on Fantastic, Vol. 2. That’s another one of my favorites.AHHA: If you could remix a Beatles song, which song would it be and how would you freak it?Colin Munroe: I’d love to try something, just because you would expect it, but nobody’s ever done it properly; “Strawberry Fields Forever.”AHHA: What’s the last song you heard that you wish you wrote?Colin Munroe: This old, old song from Bobby Caldwell. He wrote this song called “It’s Over,” and I’ve had it on loop for about a week, wishing I had written it. AHHA: How would you describe your music, using your five senses?Colin Munroe: It tastes like sugar. It feels like a pinch on your arm. It looks like purple. It sounds like a shout. It smells like your bedroom. AHHA: What’s a trend in music that you wish would go away?Colin Munroe: It’s not an aesthetic thing. I think these days music has swung to a place where everything needs to be way too cool. There’s just no vulnerability anymore for anything real to squeak through. Everything has a cool facade. You don’t see people who just want to be open and honest. People are trying to be cool. There’s always going to be a certain element of coo, when you are dealing with music. It comes and it goes. But now it’s kind of taking over. It’s a bit of a shame.