Calla Seduce Crowd With Moody Rock
New York rockers test
On stage, Calla captivated the audience despite a sedated stage presence. Frontman Aurelio Valle’s passionate vocals added a seductive vibe to the solemn guitar and pensive percussion.
One fan described them as “very sludgy and low vibe, but in a good way… a dark rock band that doesn’t rely on hooks, but rather simply on deep-based guitar.”
Originally from Texas, the group formed in New York City in 1997, with Valle (guitar/vocals), Sean Donovan (keyboard, bass and programming) and Wayne B. Magruder (drums, programming and percussion). They later added Peter Gannon (rhythm guitar). With three albums released, Calla have received critical, if not commercial, recognition, including the distinction of “#1 Band You need to know in 2001” by Alternative Press.
Wednesday night, the band played about 70 percent new songs, which they plan to release in their next album. “It really helps us when we’re working on new material to play [the songs] in front of a crowd first, because when we play them live, they develop into something different,” Donovan says in an interview before the concert.
On the band’s self-titled debut album, released in 1999, Calla recorded the songs before performing them in front of an audience. When they did play them live, Calla found that they ended up changing quite a bit.
With each new album, the band moves closer to capturing on record what they do in concert. Donovan says that the first record was “more experimental, and about us trying to find our sound and what we wanted to do. It’s the kernel for everything that comes after it.”
Since their debut, Calla released Scavengers in 2001 and Televise in 2002. “The second record is more about the development of a band, and the third record is rawer and has more energy based on playing live,” says Donovan.
Currently, the band is working on a fuller sound. This change developed during a recent a tour of Europe, where the band played in a number of festivals and large crowd concerts. “When you’re playing to a big crowd and it’s something that’s really slow, it can have a really good effect,” Valle says. “But at the same time you want to engulf everybody and grab their attention. Having a big sound is very effective.”
Representative of this development, the band surprised the crowd with their surging new song “Play Dead.” With more powerful lyrics and higher energy, this new song showed a step towards a bigger sound.
Calla also have plans to experiment more with electronic equipment on their upcoming record. “I’m a big fan of technology,” Donovan says. “We would sound totally different if we didn’t use computers to record ourselves at home and manipulate sound.”
Donovan hopes Calla can strike the right balance between a live and electronically produced sound. “In the beginning, we started off as very heavily sample based, but we were limited to the structure of a song. Then we moved away from that into more live rock, which is really exciting. So, now I want to find a way of getting the best of both: have the direct impact of two guitars, this improvisation element and also have more electronic sounds backing it up.”
For beginning bands, Calla warn that technology is a delicate thing to master. It can easily be overdone and inhibit the music. “The technology is there and you should use it when you think you actually need it. It’s got to be done tastefully. We strongly believe in ‘less is more,’” Donovan says.
According to the band, the creation of what’s behind the sound needs to be the more important aspect of the music. “A good song is always a good song, and that’s what counts with us first, not that we’re using the latest and greatest sound box,” says Donovan.
Calla are concerned about how computers and the Internet have affected the music market as a whole. “The ability to buy a regular computer and make music off it is pretty amazing, and it opens up a lot of possibilities,” says Donovan. “It’s good in the sense that anyone can do it, but it’s bad in the sense that now there are millions of people vying for your attention to listen to their music. In the past, it was a lot harder to be in a band, make a CD and release it to the public. Now, it’s quite easy, so the whole market is saturated with this stuff, and it’s hard as a listener to find your way through that to the good stuff.”
As for living and playing in New York, Calla have mixed feeling about all the attention that the scene has recently been receiving with marquee groups such as the Strokes, Interpol and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. In response to the exposure, Valle comments, “There’s a lot of diversity in the music scene, and right now it’s hard to tell if it’s moving forward or if it’s a backlash.”
The band is surprised about how quickly the change took place. “Since the time we’ve been there, there has been a change from almost no New York bands to every band [you hear about] is from New York,” Donovan says.
For Calla, a negative repercussion of the NYC music boom is the over-saturation of bands fighting for attention. “A lot of bands were expected to blow up,” says Valle. “They all put out records, so now there’s a lot of pressure. At the same time, there are a number of bands that are really good, and they’re not getting as much attention as they should be.”
Although curious about how the scene will play out in the future, Calla are currently focused on impressing fans with their tour and developing their ever-evolving sound. “We try to build on everything that comes before,” Donovan says. “We want to keep something consistent but not always be the same, so we’re always interested in taking it up a notch.”