Astrocolor and Cayley Thomas: A Cosmic Collaboration Shaping the Soundscape

Astrocolor and Cayley Thomas: A Cosmic Collaboration Shaping the Soundscape

In August 2020, CBC spun the Astrocolor track “Laughter” and Cayley Thomas stopped to Shazam it, thinking, “This is awesome! Who is this?!”

Less than 24 hours later, the multidisciplinary singer and songwriter opened her email to find an unsolicited request from Astrocolor management. Would she be interested in collaborating? “I just thought, ‘WHOA! This is the band from yesterday! There’s something cosmic here,’” she remembers. 

“I think it was truly that,” says Astrocolor’s Neil James Cooke-Dallin. “She’d had some CBC radio airplay, and my bandmates and peers had been interested. We just really like her voice.”

Blundstone playlist artist Astrocolor and Cayley Thomas

Astrocolor, based in Victoria, sent a few tracks to Cayley in Edmonton. “The one she chose was one that I had done some sampling, hacking and loops on,” says Neil. “I’ve become really fascinated with this style of production from the golden era of hip hop. I came up with a song that was kind of in that style, and for one reason or another that’s the one that spoke to her.”

“It really struck me,” says Cayley. “It reminded me of an old Burt Bacharach song, with a choral ensemble of female singers.”

The team worked together digitally, collaborating on the chorus after Cayley composed the lyrics and melody. By the time Neil and his wife welcomed Cayley to their houseboat two years later, they’d never even had a single video meeting. “In person we clicked quickly; it was pretty cool,” said Cayley.

Their synchronistic track “Paradise” shares its name with Astrocolor’s 2021 album, for which they were named Instrumentalist Artist of the Year at the WCMAs. Astrocolor’s newest release, AstroJazz Vol. 1, dropped just this spring. “We went in this heavier, mostly instrumental, cosmic, psychedelic jazz direction with this one,” says Neil. “We started writing during the pandemic, so it was more moody and not so much dance party tunes. Which is what we were doing previous to ‘Paradise.’”

“AstroJazz was a pretty exciting process, in terms of recording it. We had our core band, and invited other instrumentalists and vocalists. In the studio we had all of these stations set up with different instruments, and anyone could bring in a riff—you could rotate to whichever instrument called to you for that vibe. I don’t even know how many instruments I played across the album.”

“The band Astrocolor is actually sort of an amorphous, constantly reforming entity. I’m the front man, and the tracks are recorded in my studio. We have core members, but we do lots of collaborations,” says Neil. “ And we have a live show that’s kind of extensible. Lindsay Bryan sings with us live, and we have performed “Paradise” with a number of different iterations of the band, but hopefully with Cayley soon.”

Cayley’s freelance world in music, theatre and film led her to the highly acclaimed Joni Mitchell’s Songs of a Prairie Girl in Edmonton this spring, in a performance run cut short by cast illness. Her last record, 2020’s How Else Can I Tell You?, received rave reviews for her songwriting and artistry. Performing comfortably with a full band or as a solo act, she says, “You just have to keep recalibrating. For this project with Astrocolor, there was just something very beautiful about the collective nature of it.”

With the success of “Paradise,” are there more collaborations on the horizon? Maybe.

“You never know, going into a co-writing situation, if the synergy will be there, if you’re going to get one another. But I really felt like it was a good match,” says Cayley.

“Ya, it was easy—and it’s always a good thing when it’s that easy,” says Neil.