“I associate colors with certain sets of tones and sounds,” says Jay Nemeyer, vocalist and songwriter for D.C. electro-pop outfit Color Palette.
Though Nemeyer has not officially been diagnosed with synesthesia—a tendency to visualize music as a series of colors or to “hear” it through other senses, which musicians Pharrell Williams, Lorde and Kanye West all purportedly have—he says he often gets the idea for the cover art or overall vibe of a single before he writes it. In fact, many of the songs on the band's only album, 2016's Vaporwave, were conceived after Nemeyer went hiking in Los Angeles; he tried to "match the feeling that you get" when viewing a sunset or enjoying the outdoors.
For a band still in its infancy, Color Palette has already achieved relative success, opening for The Naked and Famous, Day Wave and Charli XCX. Their music—a sort of mash-up of The 1975, St. Lucia and Longwave—has been mentioned in USA Today, the UK's NME Magazine and Substream Magazine. And on October 25, the band will bring that sound to relatively new concert venue, Pie Shop, to open for dream rock/pop band Easter Island.
Though the band sports the talents of five members—Nemeyer (vocals, guitar), Matt Hartenau (drums), Joshua Hunter (guitar), Maryjo Mattea (keys, vocals) and Rogerio Naressi (keys)—it is very much a Nemeyer-led project.
“Almost every spare minute that I have, I’ve been spending on music," he says.
On a recent Friday afternoon at a D.C. coffee shop, Nemeyer (whom, full disclosure, I first met when my one-time band opened for his in 2016) takes a break from his job at a nongovernmental organization to discuss his other life as the frontman of a band with the potential for national stardom.
The 31-year-old is tall, but far from imposing, wearing a gray hoodie over a collared shirt and revealing neither the bravado nor the brooding introspection one might expect from a lead singer. A D.C. native, Nemeyer is a mostly self-taught musician, apart from some guitar lessons as a child. In college, he dropped out of a jazz ensemble, preferring tours with local bands to playing typical big-band material. That path that led him to the now-defunct Silver Liners.
Color Palette, which Nemeyer developed after The Silver Liners disbanded, began as a solo project. Nemeyer wrote new tracks and reworked old material in 2014 and 2015 before traveling to Los Angeles for a month to record Vaporwave. But though Nemeyer played nearly every instrument on the album, he knew he'd need a band for live shows. He connected with Hunter and a couple of other local musicians in 2015 before creating the current lineup in January 2016.
The band's latest single, "Chelsea," opens with a foreboding toy-piano-like synth line over noodling guitar before arriving at a hard-hitting chorus. Unlike the more poppy "Sunburn," which came out in September, "Chelsea" hits on a note of despair.
“It sounds pretty dark, pretty hollow," Nemeyer says about the song. He wrote it about a failed relationship in New York: “Everything went to shit in Chelsea.”
Nemeyer ratchets up that approach on Color Palette's rendition of "Since U Been Gone," released earlier this year. In a version that could hardly be more different from the original—which the band initially recorded for a New York ad agency with an approach that Nemeyer says mostly mimicked the Clarkson rendition—Nemeyer and Mattea experiment with the melody over reharmonizations and some smartly used power chords that totally blow up the track on the later choruses. Nemeyer points to Nine Inch Nails and others who meld rock and electronic music as influences, clearly evident here.
“That’s the future of music: I think finding a way to make that type of music and for it to sound organic," Nemeyer says. "And that has been my goal since I started writing songs for Color Palette.”
Nemeyer won't divulge when the band's sophomore album will arrive, but promises there are 10 songs ready to go. One of them may be "Dark Days," a forthcoming single with a somewhat political message, which he notes would be a new direction for the group.
As Color Palette approaches the end of its third year with this lineup, Nemeyer says there is no talk of breaking up. “I think that I love it too much to just let it go.”
Color Palette opens for Easter Island at the Pie Shop on Thursday, October 25. Tickets $8.