Calla: The Interview
The inherent limitation of rock or pop music is that it’s virtually impossible to evoke a mood in a four minute song. Generally musicians try to appear deep by telling us, “you’re hot then you’re cold” or the sage advice, “do you know your enemy” (repeat 10 times, then go to the bridge). For a band to write music that can create a mood or create an epic soundscape, seems to be a lost art. With one tremendous exception: Calla.
Calla has been creating the soundtrack of our lives since their eponymous first album in 1999. When you listen to the passion of U2’s Joshua Tree and realize that Calla has made five albums with twice the emotion and half the glam, you wonder why Calla isn’t the band filling immense stadiums nightly.
Fun Facebook application: name five bands that have made five or more great albums since 1970. Good luck. You can start with Calla and fill in the blanks from there. Consistency is a rare trait, particularly when you eschew traditional rock/pop writing theory.
If you haven’t already guessed, Calla is one of my favorite bands of all-time. I have a short list of bands that I’d like to interview for this site. Lead singer/guitarist Aurelio Valle allowed me to check one name off the list.
TDOA: What effect has living in New York City had on your involvement in art and cinema? The “Set In Concrete” show seemed like a great collaboration between some great musicians and artists.
Aurelio- We moved to new york as a result of being fans of Jim Jarmusch, Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Sonic Youth, etc.. We were aware of the influence that this city has had on directors, musicians, artists, writers, composers. There were four of us including Wayne and Pete in a one bedroom apartment on 13th street by the Variety Theater where they filmed Taxi Driver. That area was much different then. We’d wake up to junkies and hookers outside our window underneath the stoop. We couldn’t have asked for a more accurate New York experience. It was clear, if you want to be taken seriously, you live in New York.
TDOA: The band lived in Texas for a few years. I’m interested to hear what you think of the “scene” in NYC versus a place like Denton. The impact of moving from a laid-back town to the intensity of NYC interests me. Not to mention that you’re surrounded by other great, well-known artists in NYC, while in Texas you had a very different group of people surrounding you.
Aurelio- We all grew up in Texas except for Pete who lived in New York for a few years before moving south. The scene in Texas at that time was… I guess, safe(?) for lack of a better description. There were some great bands like Bedhead and Comet, don’t get me wrong, most of the interesting bands were coming out of Denton. We’d usually play Fort Worth cause the clubs there were more supportive of anyone doing anything different. We were in a band called The Factory Press playing some pretty dark Joy Division Nick Cave, Bauhaus influenced stuff but we couldn’t find our place. We moved to New York in hopes of being accepted, we arrived to a good scene but still had no place. The first band we saw that took us in was Jonathan Fire Eater, later becoming The Walkmen around the same time we became Calla. This was an interesting time cause everyone you knew had a great band and it actually felt like something was about to happen.
TDOA: Let’s talk about a pretty amazing resume of film soundtracks. Please tell us about the experience of working with Wenders his film.
Aurelio- As far as our experience with Wenders, it was through Oliver Schwabe and Christian Becker who made the film Egoshooter for Wim Wenders production company. Calla’s music was used along with a score I had done for them. When we formed Calla, we were heavily influenced by everyone from say Tom Waits to John Cage and Angelo Badalamenti. We would start every record with a description like, our first record we wanted to sound like Blade Runner meets Ennio Morricone or we wanted Scavengers to sound like Bjork meets Dr. John in a swamp. This process, I guess just lent itself to film. We immediately started getting approached by directors to use our music so it was only natural to eventually start scoring.
TDOA: I think of the directors you reference as using epic, yet atmospheric music in their films. That’s also the phrase I would use to describe the music of Calla. Do you find working on these projects influences how you approach future Calla music?
Aurelio- I’d agree that they are definitely a huge influence. We always liked how you could associate a musician with a director or vice versa. Our approach was always trying to create a visual aesthetic or cause the listener to conjure up images in their heads. It was exciting to us growing up to hear a record like say Waits’ Swordfish Trombones or Franks Wild Years and there is this world that you’re pulled into. Your left with a vivid dream or memory of the record so that when you revisit it a few years later, it’s like revisiting this world. It’s a shame the album experience seems to be dying out and you get one song at a time.
TDOA: You’ve toured with Interpol a few times. Any good road stories to share? Can you talk about their approach to playing live and how it’s influenced you (if at all!)?
Aurelio- These guy’s have always been supportive of what we do. We met early on and used to hang out at the same bars. We’d play shows together back in the early days, I joke with Daniel about how we have each others early demos and threaten to sell them on Ebay, on cassette no less. I’ll make more off of theirs! It’s funny when I dig through some of my old cassettes and cd’s and come across these early demos we all used to pass off to each other: Nick and Karen’s first band Unitard, Albert Hammonds first Strokes demo, stuff’s great, priceless.
TDOA: The bands discography is filled with some great remixes. What draws Calla to the concept of remixes? What is your favorite remix that’s been done of your music?
Aurelio- It’s basically just an afterthought of a song, in the same way we write a song in stripped down demo form then rewrite it. It’s fun to see where you can take it from there, alot of remixes end up better than the original song. sometimes not so much. My favorite remix of ours is the remix Wayne did for Bronson (Gangwar version). We talk about what we want to do to it then he runs it thru the filter a few times and that’s it.
TDOA: You’ve listed Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen and Jim Jarmusch as influences. First of all, bravo! Few bands seem to reference the great music of the 80’s. Down By Law and Stranger Than Paradise are films that feel like they should have been scored by Calla. It’s frustrating to listen to The Killers or Nine Inch Nails butcher Joy Division songs and then hear music critics not recognize the influence of these bands. Enough editorializing by me! Do you feel like the music of today has the same honesty and grit exhibited by those bands?
Aurelio-It’s hard to say. I mean there is some great new music out there today obviously, I mean you have to dig for it, but it’s out there. We love the music we grew up on cause at that age you’re discovering everything and it’s all new. Eventually you start feeling like you’ve heard it all, but we are constantly finding new music to keep inspiring us, you have to, otherwise you will get jaded and stale. The most exciting shit is something that takes you by surprise, something you didn’t imagine already existed. If I hear a cover of a song I don’t get offended like I did when I was say 16 when I literally took shit personally. Now it’s easy to just write it off and say, “Egh, the original is better, whatever.”
TDOA: Do you tend to write while your touring?
Aurelio- I do write a lot but mostly lyrics and journal writing, rarely music. You never have time. “Strength In Numbers”, we made time to write on the road cause we wanted to release it promptly and have the experience of recording in different countries and studios. If you ever do get a moment to yourself on tour, which is rare, I definitely bust out the guitar or go for a walk, alone.
TDOA: What can you tell me about a new record? New songs written? Tone or themes of the new music?
Aurelio- There is no new record as of yet. I’ve spent the last year writing for film. The latest project I’ve done is for a German film called “Zarte Parasiten” or “Tender Parasites”. There’s a score, a cover of a Yello song “Lost Again” and a song called “Electraglide” I wrote for the wonderfully talented Nina Persson of The Cardigans. It’s not released, yet probably will be remixed for my record. The film will do festivals first and we’ll see where from there. I’m working on a solo project under the name “Trinidad” there is no time frame as to when it’ll be released but I’ll have a website (aureliovalle.com) up soon and I’ll keep everyone posted on all my projects from film, art, photography, music, etc.. Wayne will have a record out of sound and field recordings of marching bands on Arena Rock and Peter has been recording music with his band Mercova. We will have updates on each of us on our Calla site soon.
TDOA: With everyone so involved in solo projects, should we read anything into this? Do you forsee a scenario where Calla will record and tour in the next few years?
Aurelio- We’ve been loosely helping each other out here and there, but we had been playing music together for so long, since we were kids, that we felt our worlds evolved around this group. That had to change for us to figure out who we were as individual artists, in order to grow as artists and people for that matter. We stay closely in touch and still collaborate if we want each other on something and so forth. As far as a Calla record goes, it’s hard to say it’ll come, maybe a year, maybe three. Who know’s. We’re enjoying the freedom of doing things at our own pace and not having anyone tell us you need a record and you need to tour for six months.