Staying Awake But Not Down

by Eddie Ciminelli


I am a huge fan of depressing music. Many of my friends and family find this odd as most would say I have a pretty sunny disposition. There as always been a sense of honesty in music about guilt, pain, and regret that has made me feel a little less alone. See, when I am feeling down I don’t reach for a copy of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds to cheer me up; instead, I grab something in the vain of Spiritualized’s Ladies & Gentleman We Are Floating in Space. I don’t need someone telling me that things will get better. I need to be reminded that things could be much worse. Granted, I have never gotten to the point where I was “taking my breakfast off of a mirror or out of a bottle” as was Spaceman J’s case but then again my old lady never dumped me for the lead signer of an inferior shoegazer British band. These things are all relative.

I was first introduced to Calla when I picked up their 2002 split with the Walkmen and “Don’t Hold Your Breath” instantly became my favorite song off the EP. As the shakers kick in, the bass line drags its feet softly underneath and the chords are picked at like a week-old scab. Lead singer’s Aurelio Valle voice comes in soaked in so much distortion he sounds as wet as he is sad. “If I could tell you I would,” he purrs and I suddenly had a new mixtape darling. I am excited when offered the opportunity to sit down with Calla just before their fourth album Collisions hits the shelves. But when I finally sit down with Valle, he hardly comes across as a tortured soul ready to leap from the 12th floor office we sit in. He is a wiry guy whose long dark hair matches his scruffy facial hair. He is handsome but probably never considers such things. His eyes rarely meet mine while we talk not because he is shy but almost like he is searching the room for the right words as if they might be hidden under the sofa or somewhere on a nearby shelf.

“I just think it is much easier to make a simple, upbeat pop song. The challenge is writing about the real things in life,” says Valle as we sit in the offices of Beggars Banquet in SoHo. “I really don’t think we’re that depressing to be begin with.”

Depressing may be the wrong word. Intense. Ethereal. Nocturnal. These descriptions may be more appropriate. Though Collisions may not be a great partner with a cup of coffee to wake you up in the morning, it has quickly become one of my favorite soundtracks to accompany me on brisk walks at night this fall. On this, the band’s fourth album, they continue to evolve, but grow within their comfortable genre. Collisons is full of those stark reminders that the most mundane things in life can clue us into the bigger picture. The feedback on the album is thrown back and forth until streams of light bust through the seams. The music is about tension and the great release that comes with answers. Calla is a band that preaches the truth: we all must truck through the mud before we find our high ground.

The band has already worked with several labels since its inception in 1997 and has now settled down with respected Beggars Banquet. The label is supportive of Valle and the group’s vision and he mentions that the whole partnership has been very agreeable. When I tell him that I love a Calla album most at 3am, his reaction makes me think this is something he hears often. Growing up, while laying in bed at night, he would be kept awake by the Jesus and Mary Chain, Joy Division, and Echo and the Bunnymen.

Valle comes across as confident, but never approaches boastful. He smiles sheepishly when someone wishes him happy birthday and invites him to some get-together in the next few days (I am not invited but am extended an invite to their record release party). The heavy distortion present in the split EP I adored has been deserted on the new album and Valle’s voice now soars to new heights on the new album. The band went back into the studio with producer Chris Zane (who worked on their last album, Televise) as well as accomplished mixer Victor Van Vught who has worked with Nick Cave and PJ Harvey. He attributes the new album’s evolution to his increased comfort with his own vocal instrument as well as tapping into the group’s past.

“This record has a lot to do with Wayne, Pete, and I playing together again how we originally formed back in the Factory Press [their original band started in hometown Denton, Texas] in the early ‘90s—straight-up live. The chemistry between us made it apparent that this record would have a lot more energy.”

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