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Her Name Is Calla: Navigating Dreams And Preparing For The Zombie Apocalypse

Tuesday, 06 May 2014 Written by Ben Bland

All the best interviews happen in pubs. If the pub in question is a Sam Smith’s then it’s all the better. The venue for my chat with Tom Morris, frontman of Her Name is Calla, about their superb new record ‘Navigator’, is The King’s Arms, on the banks of the River Ouse in York.

Our conversation immediately turns to the dreaded “post-rock” tag that the band have earned in recent years. “It’s because of that one long song,” he starts as he takes a sip of thirst-quenching £1.80 bitter. “Why did we have to do a 17-minute-long song?”

I guess part of it might be because, aside from that song [Condor and River], you get across some quite epic ideas in a very concise and uncluttered way. In fact I think that’s more true on ‘Navigator’ than ever before.

Yeah, I get what you mean. I definitely think we’ve refined our ability to be concise. We all came from, not exactly classical backgrounds, but Nicole [Robson, cello], Adam [Weikert, drums/anything else] and Sophie [Green, violin] all come from that sort of background.

Adam is one of those really annoying people who can play anything they want, he’s naturally musically gifted. When I came out of hospital after an illness a few years ago my dad bought me a banjo to give me something to do. Adam came up to visit around the same time and started playing and obviously he was really good. I told him that I didn’t know he played banjo and, of course, his response was: “Oh I don’t, I’ve never played one before.”

He didn’t need to mention that, did he?

Yeah, exactly. He was rubbing it in a bit, but it’s great really because he’s in Her Name is Calla and not another band! Going back to your original question, I suppose that maybe my solo work has had an impact. I like really bare songs. A lot of the music I listen to is very basic female singer-songwriter stuff, music where there isn’t a lot going on. Marissa Nadler or someone like that.

I’m not over interested in arrangement. I think all of us in Calla wanted to move away from anything that had a delay pedal aspect to it. I don’t even have a delay pedal. My pedal set-up is so simple. You know the guys in I Like Trains, right? Well we were on tour with them last month and the amount of pedals they have is insane. Dave has two massive pedalboards. Two.

All I have is an amp that I built myself, an overdrive pedal, a RAT and a reverb pedal… and a tuner of course. I’m not a mega guitarist by any stretch of the imagination, so that reflects the simplicity of the arrangements I suppose. Everything that goes into a recording or is played live is really important. Dynamics are the key. I think a lot of people don’t really understand that means more than just switching between being loud and being quiet.

The song that really struck me on ‘Navigator’ is Dreamlands, which isn’t a loud/quiet song, but there are some really abrasive “noise” sections, which I loved. That’s quite a unique song in the Calla catalogue. How did it come about?

Well, it was on the ‘Maw’ EP a couple of years ago first of all. Dreamland was too good to be left on a 200 copy 10” we felt. That song obviously came from a fairly dark period. One of our friends used it for an animation she did and someone on Reddit ripped it apart. It was the noise section she used but there were tons of people saying how it wasn’t music! It was a typical internet reaction. A couple of minutes of one of our songs let loads of people know how fucking awful we are apparently. There were comments about blown speakers and all that.

Yet it isn’t actually “loud” per se. It doesn’t build up into this enormous, brutally loud thing at all.

No. It’s more granular than that. I hope it’s effective though. How did it come about? It came about largely, if I recall rightly, and I hope this doesn’t sound corny, but I woke up and wrote down a structure for a song and a little story almost about how it sounded. We did everything exactly to that, took a bit of flack from friends, who said it sounded horrible. Writing the song wasn’t simple but the dream that inspired it really translated to how the song came together. I knew how it should sound. That’s not a normal thing at all. Not all my songs come from dreams.

It stands out on the record and as a song in the way it was created then?

Yeah, exactly. I think it’s a bit of an obsessive love song really. That might sound strange. It just happens to be really dark sounding, but that’s how it is. It’s meant to reflect that dreamlike state when everything flickers and you don’t see things in a linear way. That’s like the album. ‘The Heritage’, in fact, is also a bit like that, although it’s not something anyone but me would pick up on necessarily. That was written as a story in a sense, one that moves backwards and forwards in time, but it’s not made obvious or anything. That just happens to be the case in my own head.

Are you a prog band instead then?

There’s definitely plenty of bloody prog in the mix somewhere. I like it when themes and stories run through an album, even if it’s not especially apparent. Some of the songs on this album are more standalone, but they are definitely linked. I hope they feel relatively similar even if they are different sounding. I can’t imagine any of them not being on ‘Navigator’.

I guess it’s been a difficult time the last few years, with you all living in separate cities, and I suppose that’s true financially as well as creatively?

Definitely. We went to a festival in Germany once and a lovely guy came up to us wearing a wonderful hand-drawn t-shirt, copying Dominick Schmidt’s design for the real one. I mean it was amazing that he’d done that but we’ve been so broke the last few years…I think we’re just out of debt now, or getting close to it providing nothing goes wrong on the upcoming tour, but it’s been a real struggle. Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing we can do to make money. The music’s all out there on the internet. What can we do if not sell 10 quid t-shirts every now and then?

How important is it for you to try and avoid a big gap between records this time around?

Hugely important. There was a huge gap as there was just so much “life stuff” going on unfortunately. Everyone’s in a good place now though. We’re really happy with this record, or as much as you ever can be once a record has been pressed. We know how hard it can be once you let things fall apart. ‘The Quiet Lamb’ got a good reception, sold as well as we could expect off the bat, etcetera but then it all went a bit wrong for a while and we don’t want that to happen again.

We’re quite up for the idea of playing a lot more and writing and recording a lot more. I think it makes sense to try and start the next album process as soon as possible really, rather than spend two years playing Skyrim and having all our band meetings on Steam.

I have to admit, somewhat tentatively, that I haven’t got a clue what Steam is…

It’s good that you don’t know because it means that you have a life! Steam is like a games community thing for PC and Mac. You can play across the internet. Games like Civilisation 5, where you rewrite the entire world’s history and stuff, are great. The amount of times that Adam and I have nuked Russia for not trading cotton with us…

A proportionate response! Good to know the band is into just war theory…

“Will you give us cotton?” “No” “Then it is death for you!” Totally proportionate yeah…You have an open mic the entire time though so we can chat to each other whilst playing. Sophie’s into it too so we play for a few hours and shoot zombies whilst making decisions about the arrangements of songs and stuff. As we don’t live in the same place we can’t always meet and chat. Shooting zombies is cool, anyway.

I’ll take your word for it.

Yeah, well we’re all just so nerdy! Not sure if our ability to kill zombies with a mouse on a screen will be much help when the zombie apocalypse happens though.

‘Navigator’ is out now on Function Records.

Her Name Is Calla Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue May 06 2014 - MANCHESTER Soup Kitchen
Thu May 08 2014 - BLACKPOOL Blue Room
Sat May 10 2014 - CAMBRIDGE All Saints Church

Click here to compare & buy Her Name Is Calla Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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