In late March, the three members of the Knoxville synth-pop band Hazel—Elijah and Hannah Cruise and Cale Bramer—announced that they were changing the group’s name to Night Colors. The switch came just in time, since the trio was scheduled to play the biggest shows of its young career, at the Rhythm N’ Blooms music festival, just a couple of weeks later.
“We’d felt for a while that we would outgrow our name as our music evolved,” Elijah Cruise says. “We spent a little while camped out at a beach in South Carolina called Cape Fear, doing some soul-searching, trying to figure out who we are. Night Colors is what felt right.”
They had a couple of specific reasons for the switch. One was practical: There are a lot of musical acts out in the world with Hazel in their names, from the almost-famous Sub Pop band from the 1990s to the Paris-based EDM producer Häzel, with Sister Hazel and the late Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel in between. So copyright is an issue, as is SEO.
In a broader sense, the band was set for a new beginning. Cruise and Bramer have been playing together since they met in 2013, but Hazel only became a serious project when Hannah joined as lead singer in the summer of 2015. Neither she nor Bramer had any real experience before the band formed; the first two years were spent learning how to perform and write music with each other. Now, with a solid year of public shows, an appearance at a big local festival, and a forthcoming EP, things are quickly changing. They wanted a new name to go along with their new sense of purpose.
“We opted for the name Hazel in a rush,” Cruise says. “The name holds a lot of nostalgic value to us now, but we thoroughly enjoy our new name. … Basically, Night Colors is a representation of emotion—your first kiss, late nights with friends, when you’re driving with your windows down as fast as you can, everything we feel is wrapped up in the name is what we hope to share.”
Exactly what Night Colors will be is still something of a mystery. As Hazel, the band released two singles. “I Met a Boy,” from early 2016, is a promising piece of electronic stadium pop-rock, highlighted by Hannah Cruise’s clear, powerful vocal performance. “Shadow,” released earlier this year, is a moodier track, an atmospheric, seductive song, part Sylvan Esso, part ’80s New Wave synth-pop throwback. (There’s also a rap at the end by local hip-hop/R&B artist Thelo-Que.)
“Shadow” offers a hint of what Night Colors will be like, Elijah says, but only a hint. The current instrumental lineup—synth, vocals, laptop—will be fleshed out with live drums and guitar, and Elijah will be taking turns on lead vocals.
The trio is currently in the studio, finishing up its first EP. When that’s released—it’s scheduled for Sept. 1—the full Night Colors experience will be unveiled, Elijah says.
“We were changing even before the name change,” he says. “It’ll be the same sound, but more thought-through and permanent. … The biggest change will be our visuals. They are just as important to us as the EP itself, as you will see in the months to come. Another big change will be our live show. Let’s just say it will be a lot bigger and more colorful than anything we’ve done before.”
Synth-pop isn’t an easy sell in a town dominated by Americana, bar bands, and singer-songwriters. Cruise says Hazel benefitted from having a relatively simple stage set-up, but Night Colors won’t have that same advantage.
“It’s been easy enough to get shows because we have played a lot of performances stripped down,” he says. “Soon enough, we will be playing with a full band and a lot of synths—we’ll see how venues take it.”
But Cruise is confident that the full Night Colors phenomenon, when it’s finally unleashed, will have been worth the wait.
“It’s been a long process,” he says. “The hardest part has been waiting to share this music with everyone. We can’t wait.”
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