Corey Glover doesn't seem to mind that he turned 50 last year, or that a quarter-century has passed since his band's biggest hit, "Cult of Personality," made them sudden pop stars.
"Cult of Personality" lived on as the entrance music for pro wrestler CM Punk; every week, the song played to millions through highly rated cable programs and in sold-out arenas. Now, even that outlet has been silenced after Punk left the business. But Glover doesn't intend to stop making music just because he's so far removed from fame that an entire generation wasn't even alive to witness it—let alone remember the songs that powered it. He enjoys performing too much.
"The story is that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to become famous," Glover says from his home in New York, "but that wasn't everybody. There were a bunch of people who played music for sheer joy. It's how they speak. The journeyman musician who rode the rails and played for nickels and dimes didn't do it because he was trying to become famous but because that was what he had to do."
Living Colour offered an early warning of the hard rock underground's push into the mainstream. More than three decades since the band formed, neither the check nor the spotlight propel them. Instead, it's the craft of writing new material and evolving. Their forthcoming sixth album, Shade, serves as a testament to that ideal, digging beneath the band's heavy shell and into their softer stylistic underpinnings.
"The influences in every bit of music we've done, in some shape or form, has been blues," he says. "So we're going to take the roots of that and see how we can deal with it."
Living Colour burst onto the scene following the wake of other genre-bending African-American acts such as Bad Brains and Fishbone, all to be soon followed by Follow For Now and 24-7 Spyz. Nowadays, a rock band of any stripe would have difficulty getting arrested, Glover says, as they're all but invisible. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. After decades spent in New York, he says that scrapping for attention and livelihood makes you better and the music that much more muscular.
"It's very expensive to live here, and you have to constantly be working just to survive in this town. That brings about a certain attitude, a way of dealing," he says. "It's hard living out here, and the music reflects that. That's why the punk scene happened; it was hardscrabble kind of living."
While popularity can be the climax to a creative endeavor, it can't be the guiding principle for it—especially for goading it along long after your band's prime. If all you're doing is making music for others, and if they don't want it, you're shit out of luck. If you're making music you like for the joy of it, at least you have that pleasure to take away from the experience. Living Colour's survival is a prime example of the latter principle.
"Some people have a knack of, say, mathematics. That's how they express themselves," Glover says. "I could be a fishmonger. I could work in a factory. I could drive a cab. I could do any of those things, but that's not me expressing myself. That's not me living; that's me existing."
In his time away from Living Colour, Glover has even spent stints fronting another band, the New Orleans jam-rock institution Galactic. The experience has afforded him a second home. "They live and play in New Orleans, and they're a part of that whole tradition," Glover says. "It's amazing and fun to be around that feeling; it's the closest thing I've found to being with the guys from Living Colour."
For Glover, New Orleans proves his point about music being bigger than its capacity to move units. The city's cultural legacy outstrips the commercial world's understanding of it, he suggests, and likely always will.
"In New Orleans, you can hear music 24/7 from some of the most amazing musicians in the world," he says. "It's not that they've had any critical success; they know they can play, and people really appreciate it."
Combined with the swelling interest in Americana since Living Colour's last album, 2009's The Chair in the Doorway, those experiences have pushed that band back toward their origins in the blues. It's a steadfast form for Glover, no matter the shifts in the industry that surrounds it.
"I don't think music is ever going to die," he says. "How it gets to people, how it's delineated and distributed is going to constantly evolve, but what hasn't changed is the ability for people to go out and play it."
Or the compulsion for people to seek it out.
"New York City might not have Max's Kansas City or CBGB or the Mudd Club but there are other places where you can go see music," Glover says. "The want to see music is not ever going to go away. Everything else is transient, but how you get to feel the music viscerally is to see it live. I don't think people are ever going to stop loving that."