“I would rather create than recreate,” says Brian Hazard, the brains — and fingers — behind the one-man electronic music act he calls Color Theory.
Don’t let the synthesizers fool you, the project is not another 1980s revival. Rather, it’s a subtle nod to synthpop legacies like Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys — the brooding sounds that carried Hazard through his teenage years in Huntington Beach, California. “Evoking a sense of nostalgia for these groups through my own music — that’s what’s really fun and exciting for me,” he says.
While the playful dance melodies may be an homage to a decade past, the unexpected piano chords that also define Hazard’s poppy ballads are distinctly his own. This unusual blend of sounds is likely a result of the four years he spent attaining a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance from California State University. It was during this time that he learned the importance of perseverance. “I was really one of the weaker pianists at first,” the now married father of two explains. “But, I’m competitive, and I worked my way up.”
Although the days of studying Bach and music theory are long gone, Hazard’s tireless climb towards musical eminence continues today. Since first conceiving of Color Theory in 1993, he has released nine studio albums, including 2016’s Adjustments. A John Lennon Songwriting Contest Grand Prize sits proudly on his resume, and his music appears in notable pop cultural texts, including MTV’s The Real World and Just Dance Kids.
Hazard’s rapidly growing fan base of over two million Twitter followers is pretty impressive, too.
“I don’t want to write music in a vacuum,” he says. “I’m always looking for ways to get more involved with my fans.” Hazard’s efforts to foster a more intimate connection with his audience extend well beyond hashtags and little blue birdies. In 2010, the veteran music technician dropped The Individual Edition CD, a full length album that was uniquely rendered for every fan who purchased it. Similarly, in 2012, he launched “The Color Theory Spotify Playlist Thing”— a contest in which the name of a winning Spotify member was surreptitiously embedded in the middle of a Color Theory song.
“My fans feel like strangers that I’ve known for years,” Hazard says. In the early years, this dedicated following was partially a result of his song “Ponytail Girl” — a composition that was mistaken for a Depeche Mode B-side during the Napster era. “The song was part of a Christmas sampler that I gave to twenty fans,” he explains. “Depeche Mode’s Exciter was about to come out and a lot of songs were mislabeled as part of it. Mine just happened to be the one that stuck.” The confusion spread so widely that the mix-up was publicly acknowledged at depechemode.com. “It’s pretty neat to be mistaken for your favorite band,” he laughs.
That incident was the driving force behind Color Theory presents Depeche Mode, a modern take on the classic electronic music act. “The mission is to make something startlingly different,” Hazard notes. Thankfully, Depeche Mode die hards embraced the difference and the album quickly became his bestseller to date.
Hazard’s had more than one brush with a musical legend. In 2002, a mutual friend introduced him to Michael Jackson and Madonna’s drummer, Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett, and the two collaborated on the fifth Color Theory album, Something Beautiful. “My very first concert was Madonna,” Hazard, the son of a Toledo Symphony Orchestra trumpet player, reflects. “The drummer from the very first concert I ever went to is on one of my albums — how cool.”
Hazard’s personal history with music may be rich in such anecdotes, but don’t expect him to sing about them. Drawing on themes such as the dangers of technology and societal obsessions with consumption on his most recent album, the one-man show would rather create new stories than recreate his own.
“People would like to assume that every word of every lyric is a true story, but that’s not important,” he says. “The important part is to create an emotionally engaging piece of music.”
Hazard’s quest to compose powerful and impressionable music will continue in 2017. With his tenth studio album — a retro-nostalgic project inspired by 1980’s film soundtracks — due out later this year, there is no doubt that he will dazzle the world with his radiant colors once again.