I sat down with Calla in Greenpoint Wednesday afternoon at the cavernous (but blessedly cool) Coco66, after their last rehearsal before heading out for a few weeks on the road with Interpol. I was a little late due to some train delays -- but as a result, I got to watch bassist Pete Gannon handily beat soft-spoken frontman Aurelio Valle in a short rack of pool while Austin-based drummer Wayne MacGruder filled me in on all the latest news from my old hometown. (Pete and Aurelio are fellow Texas-to-Brooklyn expats, too, which always makes conversation a little easier!)
When we eventually sat down with my digital recorder, our conversation was practically drowned out in the big echo-filled room by a chatty multi-racial and multi-generational neighborhood pool league, so my plans to post an audio interview clip are kind of bunk. However, we had a lovely chat -- and discussed everything from plans for the sixth Calla record (about which the official word seems to be: if it happens, it happens), film editing, and the benefits of touring with their old friends Interpol.
"Touring can be really grueling -- so touring with friends, with people you've known a long time, makes it better, " Aurelio said with a smile. "The more, the merrier."
"It's nice, too, because the pressure's off us, even though we're playing bigger venues. We can just come and the play music, which is ideal," Pete added. "Even if only 10% of the crowd is listening."
He also pointed out that in light of Interpol's new, broader sound on Our Love To Admire, the two bands are a good match sonically on this tour, much in the same way the sharp, angular songs they both were making a few years back complimented each other well on their previous tour together, back in 2003. And it doesn't hurt that both bands manage to simultaneously exude a cool professionalism, functioning like well-timed machines, and a restrained passion -- two factors that are sometimes a turn-off for the rough and tumble indie rockers who prefer a little more 'authenticity' in a performance.
Calla's latest, Strength In Numbers (released in February of this year), is an unpretentious and carefully-crafted document of the band's evolution over the past few years. They formed out of the remains of Denton, TX-based experimental project the Factory Press, moved to Brooklyn (and successively larger labels as well, ending up at their current home, Beggar's Banquet, in 2003). Over the years, Calla has built a steadfast following with fans who like their rock on the epic side: hushed, darkly-tinged vocals winding through labyrinthine lyrics, propulsive rhythm sections and textured guitar bits. Strength In Numbers melds the band's trademark soundscapes with more traditional rock tropes, a move Aurelio said was definitely a conscious decision on their part when they recorded the album almost a year ago after a madcap summer playing the big European summer festivals. (Including one in Portugal where Calla played for a crowd of over 10,000 -- which they admitted was a little weird after playing the mid-sized rooms of the American indie rock circuit. "You get used to it, though," Pete interjected. "Once you realize how far they all are from the stage.")
Calla's late summer jaunt kicked off last night in Rochester, NY and they play Atlantic City tonight; that show is sold out, as are many Calla plays a few dates sans the 'pol along the route -- check their site for details. If you noticed that there's a distinct lack of NYC dates -- don't fret -- they will return to Brooklyn August 11 at Studio B with Castanets and Other Passengers.
Calla -- Bronson
Calla -- Sanctify
Last Thursday, we battled a soggy evening to take in what must have been one of the most fun shows of the year to date: Mark Ronson's first stateside gig with his touring band. Though the esteemed Ms. Amy Winehouse wasn't in attendance, more than a few of the other great contributors to his sophomore album, Version, were. Ronson and his "incredible fucking band" were joined by a genre-hopping array of guests, including charismatic rapper Wale, the perpetually perky Santogold (who opened with a great live dancehall set), the smooth-voiced (and very handsome) Kenna, the golden-throated (and totally adorable) Daniel Merriweather, and doofy Phantom Planet frontman Alex Greenwald, who was a dead-ringer for Damon Albarn, ca. 1992 -- down to the day-glo green whistle around his neck. The real highlight of the evening came from the latter -- a semi-impromptu version of "California" that inspired a number of audience members to gleefully hoist their lighters in the air, to the delight of Messrs. Ronson and Greenwald.
I admit, we weren't quite sure what to expect going into this gig, and to say that it totally blew our minds as we danced and danced and danced our asses off down on the floor, is a complete understatement. By the end of the night, we were exhausted and sweaty and happy -- but we couldn't help by make a few less-than-charitable comments amongst ourselves about the stodgier audience members who bolted when it became clear that Ronson's hip hop numbers were going to fill the first half of the set, or those in the balcony who were clearly confused when confronted with the vibrant and joyful reality of Ronson's perfect retro hi-fi production in the flesh.
Mark Ronson with Amy Winehouse -- Valerie
Friday night in NYC offers two great free events: Neko Case and Eric Bachmann (late of Archers of Loaf) play the Central Park SummerStage series and our neighbors down the next subway stop, The Dirty Projectors, bring their rendition of Black Flag's Damaged uptown to the Whitney Museum. Get there early if you're planning to attend either event!
The Dirty Projectors -- No More
Other highlights of the evening include the return of mashup dance party Bootie -- this time the SF crew is taking over Luke and Leroy; frisky San Franciscan the Baron Von Luxxury plays a live set Saturday at Union Hall's Siren Fest Afterparty with Scissors for Lefty and Sad Tropics.
Our final word is on the Shearwater appearance two weeks back -- rained out of Castle Clinton, the show went on at Pace University downtown, in the same theater where "Inside the Actor's Studio" is filmed. This of course led to the inevitable James Lipton jokes; lead singer/banjo player/pianist Jonathan Meiburg asked drummer and multi-percussionist Thor Harris (in somber Lipton tones): "What's your favorite curse word?" but then retracted the request when he remembered that his parents were in the audience.
It was a special treat to see one of our favorite bands in such a lovely space -- the PA was clean, the grand piano was perfectly tuned, and the crowd all attentive and appreciative. Yes, we often find ourselves crammed into tight crowds of dancing hipsters, but sometimes it's truly lovely to spend the evening seated, listening to lovely music made by dear, dear friends. Shearwater's done touring for the summer, but they are heading back into the studio to begin recording their follow-up to 2006-7's acclaimed Palo Santo. As a matter of fact, we were treated to three new songs in the set, all of which are shaping up very nicely indeed.
Shearwater -- Red Sea, Black Sea
IN HIGH DEMAND, FOR YOUR WEEKEND DOINGS, an array of remixes & covers:
Bang Gang -- It's Alright (62 French Girls Can't Be Wrong remix) [myspace] [remixer]
Roisin Murphy -- Overpowered (Kris Menace remix) [myspace] [remixer]
Sarah Nixey -- The Black Hit Of Space (The Magus Projection) [myspace] [remixer]
Turbo Crystal -- French Girl (Escort remix) [myspace] [remixers]
Yazoo (Yaz) -- Don't Go (Bailey and Rossko remix) [remixers]
Shout Out Louds -- Tonight I Have To Leave It (Kleerup Remix) [myspace] [remixer]
Rihanna -- Umbrella (Vandalism remix) [myspace] [remixer]
Jeremy Warmsley -- Girl Inform Me (Shins cover) [myspace]
Jellybean! -- Ignition (Remix) (R. Kelly cover) [myspace]