Her Name Is Calla • Animal Choir [Interview]
For the dunk!festival 2019 magazine, distributed at the festival, David Zeidler had a chat with Her Name Is Calla about their last album and their last show ever. This is what his introduction to their set described:
This will be a huge, emotionally-charged set for so many reasons. Treasured veterans of the dunk!stage, Her Name Is Calla will be making one more trip this year, to both commemorate the release of their final album, Animal Choir, and to bless us with the last live performance of their decade-plus career. It will be bittersweet, but the sheer gravity of the moment is sure to make it one of the most memorable in dunk!festival’s history. There are also few better ways to close out a career than with the release of a double-album as stunning as Animal Choir.
You can read he was absolutely right in his review on Heavy Blog is Heavy.
Or read on for the rest of the interview with Her Name Is Calla as it appeared in The Stargazer Magazine Issue #4:
Stargazer: How’s it going? These past two years must have been an emotional process for ya’ll. How are you feeling now that it’s getting close to completion?
Tiernan Welch: It has been emotional. the band aside we've all had a lot on as individuals too, meaning that at times the band has had to come second. It’s been a curse, but also a blessing; as the album reflects this and has given us time to feel confident about all of the songs, to re-write and restructure as well as consider their place on the album. That being said, it's a relief that it’s coming out!
Tom Morris: Relieved. Excited. Still nervous. We’ve done all we can now.
Adam Weikert: Exhausted, ha! It’s been incredibly difficult to complete - between distance, Anja getting tuberculosis, bless her, and having to pretend to be grown-ups and live lives, etc., it’s been a bit of a ride getting it done, but we felt we really owed it to the fans to put our all into it - hopefully that comes across. Listening back to it I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve managed to achieve, however long it took to come in focus. I Think people are going to love the 8-minute banjo solo of “Star Spangled Banner.”
Stargazer: I suppose now is as good a time as any for you to reflect on your career. So, the floor is yours: looking back on more than a decade, what are some of the thoughts that come to mind?
TW: Jesus, where to begin. This band has meant so much to me. I'm not the original bassist, but have been friends with the band for, what 18 years? God. Being a part of something I have always respected is such a wonderful feeling - as is playing songs that I have always held so close to me. Nothing, however, compares to being able to write with these guys - that has been one of the most incredible but frustrating experiences ever. The problem is, we all get on so well that we just seem to spend ages catching up and making each other laugh...when we really should be writing, rehearsing, recording and so on.
TM: I’ll always be thankful to have been given the opportunity to travel to so many parts of the world, to places that I might never have normally gone, and to have met such incredible people along the way. There are a lot of treasured memories and it would be impossible for me to summarise I’m afraid. Being with my friends and keeping things going as long as we have, it’s meant a lot to us.
AW: God, that’s a huge one...I guess Calla really changed who I am as a person. I was quite reclusive before I joined, largely due to a bunch of traumatic events that happened when I was 19, but also due to my aversion to risk and change, and staunch belief that I’m not allowed to, like...do or have things. Like a guilt. However - touring, being in a band, having to go out there and really not wanting to let down the others in the band really forced me into situations I’d been avoiding, and made me grow a huge deal. It’s weird calling it a decade. It doesn’t feel like that, it just feels like something at always was, and that I never knew could be. It’s been incredible.
Stargazer: You made it clear a while ago that Animal Choir would be the band’s final record. Was there is some specific artistic statement in this music that you felt needed to be the final word for the band, or has the timeline simply reached its end with this record?
TM: With every record we have always tried to push ourselves as hard as possible. I think naturally we have an instinct to try and evolve our sound, and the truth is, as you get older your tastes, abilities, pressures and opportunities change with you. Or at least they have for us. It took years for us to make this record and for the last couple of tours we’ve all wanted to head home after a day or two to our families. There’s also a lot of guilt attached of being away from home when you have little kids. Because we only see each other a few times a year, we would meet up just before a tour, remember that we’d blown our amps/snapped a guitar neck, etc. on the last outing. We could have maybe just stopped touring and carried on recording, but I know that opportunities would come along that we would probably jump at and it would all just perpetuate. A straight cut is all that work for us. Having poured so much heart and energy into this record, I personally felt pretty creatively drained, and with those other stresses it just seemed like a good time to call it a day.
AW: I think for the ideas we wanted to achieve we really had to push farther and harder than we ever had before, whilst at the same time seeing less of each other than we ever had. We all work full time, some of us have families or live in different cities - trying to line up calendars and make all that work is incredibly difficult and becomes a bit of a time/money vampire, at a time when those things are becoming increasingly scant. We tried to fill in the gaps with recording some parts at home, or scoring the strings beforehand to maximise the time when people are free, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an exhausting process. There’s like six different recording spaces- my flat, Tom’s flat, a recording studio, my work etc, etc. It’s awkward collating it all ha! At times I resented having to work on parts - when you’re in such a long process it’s a privilege but it takes so long and you don’t have any feedback, so motivating yourself to push on becomes an active effort. Bowing banjo, cymbal taps, shakers, piano parts etc.- it takes a long time. Scoring strings in particular, as it takes so long to do and so long to hear the result, you just find yourself being stabbed in the face with midi thinking ‘what the fuck am I even doing?’ When I heard Anja and Nicole finally play them though...just amazing. Feels like an honour. Artistically I feel we could easily have carried on, but it’s just not something we can fit into our lives anymore, so we wanted to go out with bang.
TW: We didn't start the album thinking that it would be our last. But as it came to a climax it became apparent that this would be it. There's no animosity or bad blood - we've just ran our course. I’d say that makes the album ever more special for us as performers, we just hope that everyone else enjoys it too.
Stargazer: Any other recollections from the recording process?
TM: When we started recording it, we didn’t think it would be our last record. That came towards the end. This was the first time we recorded in a studio. We’d normally recorded and mixed everything ourselves at home. We recorded all the backline live at Seamus Wong in Leicester with Jamie Ward behind the desk. He mixed the album too. We’d been friends with Jamie for a long time, from when he played in maybeshewill. He’s an incredible engineer with a lot of passion and knowledge. He also knew how to really push us. We didn’t do take after take or anything like that, but we spent a long time getting the right sound before committing to some takes. Hearing Jamie say “good luck” in my headphones honestly became one of my favourite things about recording. His voice always had the right sound of optimism to give you some confidence. That said, boiling to death in the live room during one of the hottest summers in ages and recording “The Dead Rift” in our underwear whilst sweating like fuck is my one hated memory of the whole process.
AW: Like Tom says, we didn't know it’d be our last record - but when it became apparent, I think we all stepped up a bit more - perhaps the most engaged we’ve ever been with the process. Which meant calling each other out on things, sometimes awkwardly - I’m incredibly useless with criticism as I can get a bit tunnel-vision-y - and in this respect having Jamie was brilliant. Not just for his skills as an artist, but also as an ear and kind of creative mediator. Having him mix a bunch of the tracks was a godsend to as it meant we could all focus a lot more on parts. I went to Uni with Jamie and remember being blown away about how good he was on drums, so I knew he’d get a good performance out of me - so drum-wise it’s the happiest I’ve ever been with a record. Bits where I filled in on cello, etc... not so much haha (Nicole's cello parts though... jeez, that gal can play). It being our last album also made me really push through ideas a lot more too – “Vanguard,” for example, I had a lot of faith in but knew it wouldn’t make sense until it was done, it must have felt like a really weak track when I sent the first demos to the guys, but once all the parts started coming in and Tom’s stunning vocals were on it I feel it kind of holds its own, hopefully! Everything leading into this record has kind of upped my creative confidence - bolstered by support from the guys.
Stargazer: Your performance at the festival this year will be your last. You are also releasing the Animal Choir vinyl on dunk!records. What was it that made you choose this collaboration for your final artistic statements?
TM: We’ve always loved Dunk! and Luc and Wout have always be very kind to us. We were fascinated when we heard that they were opening their own pressing plant and we just floated the idea of pressing the record out to them a while back. We hadn’t given them any tracks at that point, I think maybe just a demo, and we were so pleased that they were keen on working together. Dunk! Festival is a sort of mecca for our weird genres of music, right? What a perfect place to wrap things up.
AW: It just seemed really fitting! Like Tom says - that’s where whatever genre we are congregates, and when you can release to that audience through people who’ve been so amazing to you in the past? No brainer! Also Dunk! have promised us all a helicopter.
Stargazer: You’ll be closing out the Forest Stage on the festival’s final night Was this a specific choice on your behalf, and what is it about the outdoor venue that you believe suits your final performance?
TM: It was Wout’s suggestion. It sounds like it’s going to be so lovely. I think that there is a vulnerability to those kinds of stages; at night with people sat around very close to the band and not separated by smoke machines, barriers and high stages. I think that kind of atmosphere really lends itself to our music.
AW: Just wanted to smash some shit at some trees. Been listening to those fuckers for long enough - it’s my turn now.
Stargazer: Knowing that your run of shows recently is going to be your last as a band, what’s it been like choosing setlists? You have a wealth of material to draw from and only so much time per night. Have you been varying song selections, or have you nailed down a single sequence that you feel best represents your overall output? What can we expect from this final show?
TW: For a lot of sets, a significant consideration is who is playing and how much room we have. Long term listeners will know we have had various musicians and players in the band, and this will impact on the set. If there's room for a piano, we'll probably play “Condor and River,” if not, we won't. See what I mean? Also, sometimes we will revisit older songs and revitalise them. I joined in 2014 and with that had my own favorites which the band agreed to play again, including some real gems like “A Moment of Clarity.” It is a huge catalogue though, and it is nice to vary it up. At Dunk! we'll try and keep it diverse, but I expect we'll be playing some crowd favorites. In fact, should we do a poll?
TM: We just played our last UK show and did an extra-long set. It was about 120 mins I think, or thereabouts. Even with that it was really tough. Fuck knows. We’ve never really made set lists. I think the London show was one of a handful of times.
AW: Last show setlists are great, as you throw in the main one the fans want, then personally, I choose the ones that are the most fun haha. I’m not sure what that’s gonna be, but I think we’ll probably end on “New England.” It’s quite a... (God, am I actually going to say it?) ‘spiritual’ song to play. There’s so much space and ebb and flow in it, by the end everyone drifts into their own tangent and we just run out the clock until the whole song has broken down. It ends when I can’t keep up the beat anymore essentially, so in theory if I work on my cardio Calla may actually never break up.
Stargazer: Few bands have the opportunity to definitively plan out their exit like you have. Clearly, you’ve had your reasons and you understand where you’re at artistically and professionally. Do you have an idea of what might be next, be it musical or otherwise?
TW: I'm going to try and write a book. My wife and I have gone very zero waste - so we’ll see where that takes me. I'll probably just end up practising with Tom and playing Ride the Lightning in full.
TM: We all have pretty full-on jobs and some of us have families. I’m looking forward to finally having holiday time to be used with family for once. Other than that, getting together once in a while, booking a rehearsal room for six hours, drinking and chatting for five of them, and then like Tiernan says: playing Ride the Lighting. Adam will hate it, but we’ll break him down eventually. Anja hasn’t seen Some Kind of Monster hundreds of times like we have but we’ll break her down eventually as well. Metallica songs really lend themselves to violin.
AW: Tom’s right, I will hate it, but it’ll be inevitable. Other projects-wise, I’m spinning a lot of plates. Two different pseudonyms, then the ‘Weikie’ and Adam Weikert stuff - some ‘commercial’ projects too. I want to be able to quit my job and move around doing music, even if it’s living on the bare minimum - I’ve three/four album concepts I’m pretty deep into that I am stupidly excited about, but getting funding, hiring strings sections, etc. means it’ll take a long time for me to realise them. Also, some of it is scored which takes me an age as I’m an idiot. Wouldn’t mind doing weird electronic stuff in a band either - drums are too much pack down. Or maybe jazz. Who knows? Thinking about getting a kitten. Then again, the new Skyrim will come out at some point and that’s basically the end to me and Tom’s creative output.
Stargazer: While we understand that what you do is extremely multi-faceted, you tend to fall under the post-rock heading when being discussed. With that in mind, do you have any thoughts on the post-rock landscape in 2019 as opposed to what it looked like when the band was starting out?
TW: It so much richer and well defined. While we don’t put ourselves in that pigeon hole, it's always nice to be considered alongside so many great bands.
TM: I don’t think it is something I can objectively comment on to be honest. It’s not a genre that we knew about when we were starting out, we kind of just got absorbed into it. Which is fine and we have met many great bands and friends through this. But I don’t have a great knowledge of the landscape by any means. I always feel bad for Anja as she is often the only woman on a line up, so it would be great to see a better balance. I think it’s great that on bills such as this year’s Dunk, the line-up is really from very far and wide rather than the same few UK, USA or EU bands being recycled. There are bands from China, a Chilean band and one from Singapore this year. They piqued my interest right away and has made the festival more about discovery for me rather than just my bands last gig. My musical interests usually lie elsewhere, and that’s when I’m allowed access to my record player. Our household is mainly nursery rhymes, boy bands or Katy Perry. Honestly, I’m fine with that. Whatever keeps the peace ;) But it will be great to take a few new slabs of wax away with me after dunk! for sure.
AW: I’ve always found it weird that we get labeled post rock - I blame “Condor” entirely ha. We should count ourselves lucky though, as it’s such a wonderful and dedicated fan base. I don’t really know anything about the 2019 landscape though - but through fans I’ve met I’ve found some incredible music, not sure it’s post rock though! Currently obsessed with Tropical Fuck Storm. Looking forward to seeing WREKMEISTER HARMONIES at DUNK! too, “Night of your Ascension” is fucking incredible.
Stargazer: Okay, feel free to tell me if this question is annoying and we can leave it off. I was wondering if you would be able to pick 3-5 songs from your catalog that you would say are your favorites and tell us why.
TW: “A Moment of Clarity” It's the first song that really got me hooked. And that refrain of 'the human spirit breaking' still gets me in the guts.
“Frontier” This was a song Tom used to play on his own and I always loved it. There was also something so confident about the simple chords and arrangement that belies its sentiment. We played it once as a band and I think we all just looked at each other and knew - this is gonna be sick live.
“Dreamlands.” I rarely play this because of its complexity but when we do, I feel like a fucking warrior. The audio dynamics in the song really take you on a journey that’s well worth it.
“Pour More Oil.” Just gives me goosebumps. Sometimes I forget myself on stage as I'm just completed invested.
TM: I would probably second Tiernan with “Dreamlands” and “Pour More Oil.” I’m pulling a mind blank right now and have forgotten our catalogue. For personal reasons, “Long Grass” will always be close to my heart. And I love “Swan” because it’s the polar opposite and is a suggestion of where we might have gone if we’d be carrying on.
AW: Oh man that’s tricky, especially as some are more fun to play live, and some are just ones I’m proud of ha. Here goes though
“Pour More Oil” Playing this live and hearing Tom belt out the notes, just really gets me every time. Tiernan’s right, you just get lost in it. More importantly though, Thom Corah thought the line ‘a wave of endorphins’ was ‘I’m waving at dolphins’. And he didn’t even question it. Not the first time it’s happened though - I thought Tom was singing ‘help, he’s our son’ in the song “The Long Distance Runner” - turns out he wasn’t, so I nabbed the line and bunged it in a solo song. Take that, idiot.
“White and the Skin” It’s the song that made me want to join Calla - Tom’s falsetto is just mind blowing on it. Also, I get to drum like I’m Tyson Vogel live on it, which is a plus.
“Dreamlands” I sing a note on it that I can’t hit anymore, and it felt like we struck such a great balance between me/Tom/Sophie at the time, without all three contributions the song didn’t make sense. Also, we used a waveshaper to make the audio distort so much that we had to repress the vinyl as it kept making the needle skip - it also annoyed a lot of people on Reddit.
“Moss Giant” It’s the first song I wrote for Calla – it was written on my dad’s guitar when I was 19 and going through a really bad patch. I’d always had it floating around, then one of my brothers suggested it’d be a great start to a record, then boom, “The Quiet Lamb.” Without realising almost 90% of the piano stuff I wrote for Calla is in A Major/Minor. Thank god we spaced them out.
“Vanguard” I’m really proud of the strings on this, and to hear them come to life and be so enriched by the performances of Tiernan, Tom, and Anja, just...I don’t know, I felt so humbled. Lyrically pretty happy with it too - it’s a mish mash of a book of poems I wrote called ‘USIDOH’ and various other terrible life events.
Stargazer: Any final thoughts for us before we let you go?
TM: Just thanks for your time, hope everyone enjoys the festival and thanks again to everyone behind the scenes at dunk!.
TW: Just thanks. Thanks to those who had faith and belief in us. To those reading, the festival is incredible so if you've not been before it’s worth it. As for the album, we hope you enjoy.
AW: The beeping noise on Ryanair flights is the first four notes of the music from ‘Home Alone’, which in France is called ‘Mum, I Missed the Plane’.
Her Name is Calla • Animal Choir [2xLP]
Comes on 180g colored vinyl (transparent pink with black marble). Limited to 300 copies.
Interview by David Zeidler, header picture by Lenscapes.