"Green hue and shades of Neptune / Found in any eye or in the vastest sky / Do you see those flowers looking at me? / Am I finally, could I be, did I go crazy? / Everything seems so amazing lately."
When Paul Creighton wrote "10,000 Days"—which contains the lyric from which his band, Portland, Ore.-based Intervision, took the title for their sophomore release, Shades of Neptune—he was trying to put into song an idea that colors and shapes found in the human eye can also be found in the orbs that circle the sun.
Not exactly the kind of inspiration you might expect from a band that calls its sound "groove-pop." But that's exactly the kind of person Creighton is. He's an academic; he talks like a dharma punk; he watches (and loves) Cops; he truly believes in world peace. An enigmatic character. Creighton makes it clear, though, that just because he is the band's lead singer, the rest of the band—Josh Cliburn on sax (not pictured), guitarist/vocalist Tony Stovin, Kit Taylor on vocals and keys, bassist Mike Glidden and drummer Jon Barber—does not orbit around him.
All but one of the songs on Shades are written by Creighton and his writing partner Stovin, and two of the tunes—including the heartachingly plaintive ballad "Mended Seams"—were penned by Stovin alone. The only song not written by the songwriting team is the last track, "Wrapped in Grey," (written by XTC's Andy Partridge), which Creighton said they chose for its lyrics, but might have had something to do with the fact that Creighton's vocal abilities are on par with Partridge's.
However, Creighton is quick to credit his mates for the band's success, describing himself as "so codependent." But it's not an emotional issue on Creighton's part. Instead, it's a recognition of the band members' reliance on one another. Intervision works in synchronicity; Creighton describes the group as a "collective," a philosophy reflected in the band's name. The name Intervision was inspired by the Stevie Wonder album Innervisions that was—and still is—a favorite among all the band's members. Creighton said they changed it to "inter" to imply the band's inclusive nature. Originally Intervision 5, they dropped the "5" for two reasons: Maroon 5 was shooting to the top of the pop charts and with Intervision's jazzy-pop sound, similarities and comparisons were inevitable. Intervision didn't want to be seen as a copycat band. Plus, they recently added a sixth member.
Creighton said the band didn't want Shades to sound sophomoric so they raised the bar. Shades does sound sophomoric in that it has more grown-up sound than their debut, and though Creighton said they wanted Shades to sound "less over-produced," some of the songs are clearly rooted in where some of the members of the band first met: a college jazz ensemble. In some cases, the band's crescendoeing harmonies sound straight out of a swing choir; at other times, they give a song its goosebump-inducing power, as in "Mended Seams." The harmonica in the intro to "All I'm Thinking About," is distracting but lets the listener know right away what kind of song it's going to be: poppy, jazzy, happy, bright, though the backing "na-na-na-na-nas" followed by Creighton's scatting and feel-good harmonica are a bit obvious. If a guy could get an MFA in Pop music, this might be his master's thesis. It's otherwise a perfect pop tune sung in a seemingly pitch-perfect voice. Creighton can sing in a low, bass tone one minute and an almost dog-whistle-high falsetto the next with seldom a crack and never a miss. He's the poster boy for vocal control, with a prowess that's a combination of innate talent and practiced skill that's both lauded and envied.
Creighton said the next step for the band is to expand their fan base beyond the loyal Portlanders who come out to see them week after week. They want to make Boise a regular monthly stop, have plans to tour California and are in very preliminary talks about doing some things overseas. In preparation for the changes in the band's future, Creighton says he'll start with his songwriting. "I'm excited to write about awareness and just happy things. Things you feel good about," he said. He plans to write songs that aren't about lost love.
"Even 'Violet' [on Shades] is bittersweet, but it's kind of hopeful," he said. "I'm not a real pessimistic dude. I don't want to keep reverberating that victim thing a lot of songwriters do even though it's a real natural human feeling, and people can identify with it. I'm no exception. It's gotten me through some real gnarly nights. At the same time, I want to move forward a bit and talk about the power that each person has to enjoy their own life. So, I'm writing tunes that feel good."
But heartache seems like such a natural inspiration for a song. How does Creighton come up with songs that are happy without sounding trite? Or even religious?
When asked if there are religious overtones in his writing, he said, "I don't think so. People might see it that way; but I think it's something any religion talks about so it's more of a human thing. I just hope the tunes are getting down to the point. I've heard these new-age guys do new-agey music with new-age lyrics. They talk about metal obelisks and sing, 'Be in the now.' Literally. You can't sell this to anybody. I want to sing more practically; use words people actually use." In reference to plugging into happy emotions and getting a meaningful song out of those feelings, he said, "It's harder to write, not out of lack of inspiration, but to write songs that aren't cheesy and to present them in an intelligent way that is still understandable by listeners.
"In high school, I loved rhetoric and I loved the classic writers and how they used words. At the same time, you have to meet in the middle with listeners. So how do I get my point across without sounding like a term paper, but still be proud of the composition? The muse is there because there are so many things on this planet to be thankful for. Happiness comes from that place of gratitude. That's the easy part. The biggest challenge will be putting it in terms that I feel good about and people still understand."
Intervision performs at Tom Grainey's Nov. 16 and 17. Show starts at 9 p.m., cover is FREE. Tom Grainey's, 109 S. 6th St., 208-345-2505. Check out "Mended Seams," "Violet" and the rest of the tracks off Shades of Neptune at IntervisionMusic.com.