3 Colours Red: Evel Superstars!

3 COLOURS RED are drinking, throwing up and rocking the hell out of the USA. And they’ve met Evel Knievel! But make no mistake, they’re sensitive chaps as well. And they’ve met Evel Knievel! Evel Knievel!

“I CAN’T remember what happened,” chuckles Chris McCormack, 3 Colours Red’s rabble-rousing guitarist. “I got on the tour bus and as soon as the driver moved off, I started feeling a bit dodgy.”

“We got on the bus going, ‘That was a nice drink. I’ll just go to bed now’,” adds drummer Keith Baxter. “Ben ended up looking after us all when we passed out. He put me to bed, cleaned up Chris’ puke…”

“I’m going to buy him a drink, actually,” continues Chris, genuinely grateful at the charity afforded by his co-guitarist, Ben Harding.

BUSINESS AS usual for 3 Colours Red, then: drinking, throwing up, playing some out-of-this-world gigs and storming the charts in between. With that in mind, the chances of finding out what makes this band tick are about the same as having a quiet drink in Las Vegas with Evel Knievel.

Welcome then to the Caesar’s Palace Hotel.

In Las Vegas. It’s 2.30am and we’re in a bar overlooking the biggest amusement arcade you’ve ever seen, a place where row upon row upon row of slot machines flash their primary colours over more green baize tables than Stephen Hendry’s had hot dinners.

Sharing a cocktail or two at the Maker table are 3 Colours Red. Although we don’t know it yet, at the bar, in a fetching checkerboard leather jacket, is the godfather of death-defiance himself, Mr Evel Knievel.

IT’S BEEN quite a day. We left the boys — singer/bassist Pete Vuckovic and the aforementioned Chris, Keith and Ben — late last night following an aftershow tipple in a backstreet bar in San Francisco. The plan was simple: while their tour bus made its way through the notorious Death Valley en route for Las Vegas and the penultimate gig on this, their debut American tour, we’d catch an early flight to the entertainment capital of the world, meeting up with them again at the soundcheck.

They’d play the gig and then we’d all take to the roulette table ’til dawn. Simple-dimple.

If Evel Knievei can fire himself over Snake River Canyon in a baked bean tin (functional parachute optional, apparently), jump 13 double-decker buses on a Harley in Wembley Stadium and the fountain outside this very hotel (only to crash spectacularly and spend a month in a coma) and still be around to tell the tale, then surely we can manage a rendezvous with the UK’s hottest rock property. Jeez.

“Basically,” begins Chris slugging a JD and Coke through a straw, “we left San Francisco at two and when we woke up at 11 the next morning, we were still an hour outside of San Francisco!”

“The driver was heading for the wrong town,” says Keith in weary tones, “which we can’t quite understand seeing as that’s what he does for a living. Every day, I’ll get up and ask him, ‘How far is it to wherever, San Francisco?’, and he’ll go, ‘We’re going to San Francisco? We’re going to Sacramento, man’.”

Chur! The upshot is, 3 Colours Red missed their show tonight at The Hard Rock Hotel.

Only by three or four hours, mind.

And if you think that’s a tough break, try the story that brought us here in the first place… Cue mad wobbly harp noises and your vision going all waving in a Seventies flashback kind of way.

WE KNOW all about 3 Colours Red. There’s endless tales detailing their rock’n’roll antics since they landed in 1996 with the red-hot blast of ‘This Is Hollywood’. Four lads who were born in black with guitars grafted to their chests, they’re a proper white-knuckle ride fuelled by drink and drugs and mixed with some rock’n’roll hell-raising of the highest order. There’s Pete. He’s the one with the devastating good looks. The sultry, silent type who turns demon, once onstage. There’s Chris. Jet-black punk rock hair, a low-stung Gibson and a glint in his eye. There’s Keith. Deadpan Morecambe drawl. Just a drummer though. And there’s Ben. He was in Senseless Things and looks like he went to posh university. Or is a member of the Californian Highway Patrol. Drinks Martinis. Straight up. They’re pretty amazing when it comes to music and it’s matched, blow by blow, with antics galore. Smart. Right, that’s me done then. Anyone else coming down the pub?

What? We don’t get to meet Evel Knievel if there’s no sensitive stuff? Righto.

WE’VE LISTENED to the music. It’s premiership material. Their second album, the head-spinningly brilliant Revolt, is chock-a-block with the crunching guitars that dripped from Pure, but this time the pop melodies have floated to the top.

‘Beautiful Day’? Remember that? It ripped the radio to shreds for months and landed them with their biggest hit to date. And now there’s the new single, ‘This Is The Time’, with its delicate tippy-toeing one minute and soaring multi-layered guitar gales the next. A huge hit in waiting no, less.

The day before the morning after which turned into quite a day, we found ourselves at San Francisco’s Phoenix Hotel. The kind of thing you only see in the movies, it’s a swish motel affair skirting an outdoor pool which itself is skirted by palms and sun loungers. Time to spill some beans boys. Evel Knievel, remember?

“3 Colours Red is like any relationship,” begins Chris, perched on the edge of a lounger. “It’s about two completely different people making something happen.”

Spot the difference: there’s Chris, the go-getting life and soul of any party. And Pete, the quiet-spoken, self-confessed arch worrier. Not a songwriting partnership you’d expect to work.

“The idea I had when this band started was for all four of us to be as tight as a fist,” says Pete adjusting his (fake) crocodile tooth hat, “to kind of be unbreakable, one for all and all for one kind of shit.”

And it isn’t?

“I’m not totally sure that it’s as cut and dried as that,” he shrugs. “But there’s this life-long tradition of good bands where the singer hates the guitarist and the guitarist hates the singer…”

You hate Chris? Cool.

“I don’t hate him… and I don’t think he hates me, but there’s always conflict. If there wasn’t, there wouldn’t be that spark. If the truth be known, you’re probably sitting here with the four most raging egos of all time.”

“This band isn’t just about me and Pete,” chips in Chris. “There’s four people in the band. Everyone’s a big part of it.”

And who gets their way?

“Everybody fights for what they want and generally they get it,” believes Chris. “There are certain occasions when me and Pete might have a final say on something because it’s about a song or whatever, but in general everyone has a say. You have to have it that or way or bands split up.”

Have 3 Colours ever come close to splitting?

“The band was skating on thin ice at one point,” confesses Chris. “It was after the first album when we were having a break. Pete was keeping everything inside and wouldn’t f***ing speak about it and then go on a f***ing freak out and start getting really upset. He had his problems with me and I had mine with him. It took us a long time to sort it out. The one thing I’ve made him promise me, if he has a problem, same with me, we talk about it. If we keep it like that, we’ve got no worries. You’ve got to be all fighting for the same thing. At that time, we were fighting each other.”

During that time, did you ever wake up and think. “F*** this”?

“Yeah and so did Pete. Now it’s a million miles away from our thoughts. I always think the strongest thing about 3 Colours Red is you have two total opposites intertwining. From the songs to the interviews to the personality of the band, it’s like you have me coming from here, Pete coming from there.”

And most people would think your “here” is the nearest pub. Fair?

“I’m not ashamed of what I am,” retorts Chris. “I do like a drink, but it’s not everything. Drinking is not my greatest asset. There’s sides to me that people haven’t discovered yet. Same with Pete. It’s just starting to come out now that we’re not just a full-on rock band that drinks and goes, ‘Ugh’.”

Are you and Pete mates, as well as musical partners?

“I f***ing love the bloke,” smiles Chris. “Outside of my family, I’m probably as close to him as anyone.”

Caught in the middle, as well as being very much a part of this creative heave-ho, are Keith and Ben. Who better, then, to explain how the whole shebang works?

“Pete is the heart and soul of this band,” believes Ben.

“Collectively, we’re the passion,” adds Keith, “but Pete is definitely the emotion. Chris is the energy and the vibe. He’s like our rep, the public face of the band.”

A good public face?

“Yeah. Definitely,” laughs Ben. “But if I was doing what Chris did every single night of the week, I’d be in so much f***ing trouble.”

And what about Pete?

“Pete’s a real homebody. He’s a real worrier. But I’m glad there’s at least one of them in a band. If one of us wasn’t worried about something, I’d be f***ing worried.”

THAT NIGHT, at a 400-capacity club just off San Fran’s main drag, we get to see the 3 Colours Red machine in motion. Nothing much to worry about here. You get the feeling they are truly one of the last of the proper bands. Each one a character on their own. Each one able to hold their own wherever, whatever is required of them.

“I think we’re like the rock Beatles,” is how Pete sums it up, before laughing like a drain. “Yeah, we’re the metal Beatles!”

Playing support to young Aussie rockers, Silverchair, 3 Colours — despite some difficult conditions — muster a full-blooded performance to shame any fab four you care to mention.

“It was a weird set up,” offers Chris, after the show. “It does get to you. but you can’t let it.”

“If you’re singing you can let it get to you,” spits Pete. “I was stuck to the same f***ing spot all night. By the end of the gig I felt like smashing up my f***ing bass and f***ing off.”

So that’s the mild-mannered quiet singer, then. We really know all about 3 Colours Red, don’t we?

EARLIER THIS year, 3CR had their biggest hit to date with ‘Beautiful Day’. Top 10 it was. For a month or so, their lives were turned upside-down. TV shows, press, press and more press, radio, everybody went 3 Colours doolally. It was a month which will probably change their lives forever. Do they feel any different after a good lashing with the brush of fame?

“I think we still feel a little bit uninvited,” shrugs Pete.

“If it’d happened with our first single, people would have questioned it,” suggests Chris. “People can say what they want, they can knock us down or they can build us up, but we’re always going to be what we are. We can stand on our own two feet now… eight feet.”

“We’re always going to be out of place in posh hotels, on Top Of The Pops, on CD:UKTFI,” adds Pete. “It’s cool if we can get in by doing it on our own terms. We have a kind of knack of fitting wherever we want, but it’s never a case of ‘Do come in’, it’s always a case of ‘Excuse us, we’re just doing our own thing.”‘

Which is what exactly?

“I think we give out a kind of attitude of ‘Actually, we’re no better than anybody here’,” offers Pete. “We ain’t better than the lightman, the soundman, the audience… we’re just lucky to be doing it.”

The voyage of 3 Colours discovery is a pretty simple one really: open your ears.

“‘Mental Blocks’ off the first album is a complete drug anthem and things like that don’t seem to get picked up, because people tend to see the booze first,” sighs Pete. “Thing is, I’m not really a drinker.”

Which must be a bit odd, considering that’s exactly how you’re seen.

“I get tired of that whole shit,” he shrugs. “I see how we’re portrayed and it just pisses me off. The idea of a band who can get their rocks off all the time and shag groupies with fish is very old fashioned. I’d like to afford an audience a little more intelligence these days.”

AFTER THREE weeks on the road, 3 Colours have played some 14 shows, letting a goodly number of our American friends hear what they’re doing. There’s been Atlanta. Philadelphia, Asbury Park…

“Bruce Springsteen was playing the same night as us,” groans Ben. “The first time in eight years that he plays his hometown and we play on the same night. We went to Philadelphia and the Rolling Stones were playing. Atlanta, Lauryn Hill’s playing, plus it was the Lennox Lewis fight…”

“We were sitting in a bar, nine of us, watching the fight shouting, ‘Come on Lennox, come on’, when one of our crew points out that Evander Holyfield is from Atlanta.”

Gulp.

Providence, Baltimore, New York, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Portland, San Francisco…

“We’ve been to at least six cities that are supposed to be the murder capital of America.” says Pete.

“The night we played in Providence, four people were shot,” shrugs Keith.

“And my bags got nicked in Seattle. I got them back though.”

“The police couldn’t believe it.” says Chris. “Apparently, it’s unheard of to actually get your stuff back!”

“I even got some free gifts,” laughs Keith proudly. “I got a tourniquet and some sunglasses.”

“In the meantime, though, he’d gone out and bought about eight million pairs of Calvin Kleins,” chuckles Ben.

“Does anyone want to buy some underpants?”

What’ll be the first thing you’ll do when you get home?

“Sleep,” says Chris. “Then go for a drink.”

“Rack ’em and start f***ing like rabbits,” laughs Pete. “Then watch 32 episodes of EastEnders.”

“I feed my rabbits too!” agrees Keith.

“Take my shoes and socks off,” nods Ben before he’s rudely interrupted. “What’s that?”

Pete suddenly shoots off in a flurry which almost sends the table flying.

“I think he just scored some hash,” says Ben calmly, before Pete reappears, eyes like saucers.

“Quick, quick, gimme a pen,” he splutters, before his words turn to gibberish.

This is the Evel Knievel bit, then.

“Pete is absolutely infatuated by him,” offers Chris. “He’s got stuff on his wall at home. He goes on about him all the time. When we were in the studio doing the album, he had a big picture of Evel above the mixing desk.”

Pete reappears beaming from ear to ear clutching an autographed business card.

“I’m f***ing done,” he guffaws. “I’ve met AC/DC and now I’ve met Evel Knievel, I’m leaving the band, see you all later. I’m going to workin’ Tescos.”

Maybe the rapture from the Evening Session dates will change his mind. Maybe they’ll change yours.

© Neil MasonMelody Maker, 8 May 1999

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