Calla - Biography
Aurelio Valle's lyrics are mostly about the darker side of human relationships and the fragility of the human psyche. Underneath these explorations lay disconnected grooves that feel very much the opposite of human. They are cold and alien-like at times, yet thoroughly engaging. Ranging from melancholy and disparate to aggressive and intense, Calla have always made the records they've wanted to make, no matter what. It is this kind of uncompromising mentality and desire to experiment that has catapulted bands like Radiohead and the Flaming Lips to almost legendary status. But since Calla never bothered to introduce themselves with that one accessible single (such as “Creep” or “She Don't Use Jelly”), it has so far only afforded them the luxury of continuing to make uncompromising and experimental records, a situation with which they seem to be perfectly comfortable. They have achieved all the perks of being in a signed band besides fame. Over the years, they have maintained a loyal and adamant fan base. They have received strong votes of confidence from peers such as Nick Cave, Sigur Ros and Cat Power. And, most importantly, they have the freedom to do whatever they want.
Aurelio Valle began playing the guitar with his friend Peter Gannon in high school near Corpus Christi, Texas when both of them were 14. Valle, already instilled by his parents with an appreciation for bolero and mariachi music, cut his teeth on the work of guitarists such as Johnny Marr and Will Sergeant. These influences, along with a taste for punk bands like Dead Kennedys and Black Flag, helped him develop a style entirely his own. In 1993, with high school behind them, Valle and Gannon moved to Denton where they met Wayne Magruder in the dorms of the University of North Texas. Since Magruder was wearing a New Order t-shirt, Valle and Gannon figured he'd be a fine fit to play drums for them. The three of them formed the Factory Press, with Isaac Hampton on vocals. Believing that they could find a wider audience for their experimental style and that opportunities would abound, they made the move to New York in 1995. After making one full-length album, The Smoky Ends of a Burnt Out Day, recorded by Kid Congo Powers and Matt Verta Ray, the Factory Press officially split in 1997. Their album was not released until one year later and Gannon moved back to Texas to finish school.
In the time between the Factory Press and Calla, Magruder did some side work with the bands Windsor for the Derby and Bowery Electric. Valle stood in with garage bands just for the fun of it. But he and Magruder were writing and recording together all the while, this time with Magruder's former bandmate Sean Donovan, who had just made the same move the duo made three years before. The three of them became Calla. Donovan and Magruder were used to each other's tastes from playing together in a project called the Fallen Vlods, and they built on that experience, backing Aurelio's creative guitar sounds with sampling and programming.
A four-track demo was recorded in 1998 at their home, sparking the interest of Belgium record label Sub Rosa. Calla's entire self-titled debut was recorded at their Fort Greene home in Brooklyn and was released by Sub Rosa in 1999. The comparisons to Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western scores came from all over, and indeed, the album was somewhere between that and the soundtrack to a scary movie. The critics loved it. Not many other people had the opportunity to hear it.
One of the obligations faced by a young band trying to develop a fan base is that, sooner or later, they have to play in front of a crowd. Calla had never performed together outside the sanctuary of the studio. Fortunately, they not only found playing live to be an easy transition, it actually helped shape and redirect the way they made music. Their on-stage style caught the attention of Michael Gira, who signed the band to Young God Records. Gira produced the band's second LP, Scavengers, recorded in 2000 in Brooklyn. It was released in 2001.
Where Calla was, at its core, a lovely but scattered cluster of suggested moods and tone poems, it became clear with Scavengers that Aurelio Valle was entirely capable of writing traditional songs. From the slow-burning and catchy opener “Fireflies” to the sad and eerie “Love of Ivah,” Valle, Magruder and Donovan proved that it's possible to travel down an unconventional path while still incorporating conventional song structures. It was not a commercial breakthrough for the group, but this was a release that let listeners know what it sounds like when a band finds a focus and knocks it out of the park.
In 2002, Calla released a split with another New York band, The Walkmen, on Troubleman United. They recorded two tracks for the split, one a cover of Can's “Mother Sky,” the other a brand new song called “Don't Hold Your Breath.” The latter would make its way onto the band's third album, Televise (2003 Arena Rock Recordings), which was recorded in New York City and produced by Chris Zane. This album saw the trio tighten up even more in the songwriting department while still managing to be unpredictable and arresting. “Strangler,” the album's lead-off track and the closest thing Calla have had to a hit, was the tightest and most rocking song they had yet released. Televise gained the band so much attention that Arena Rock Recordings decided to re-release the band's little known first album that same year.
Peter Gannon, the man with whom Valle first discovered the joy of playing music, was welcomed in as a second guitarist after the release of Televise. Donovan quietly departed in 2004 and Gannon picked up bass and keyboard duties. One year later, Calla were signed to Beggars Banquet. Tensions caused by previous label problems had burrowed themselves into the band's sound, and were simultaneously released with their fourth album, the edgy, angry Collisions. If there's one album that sees Calla making a play for mainstream rock radio, its Collisions, with its upbeat and driving rhythms, and its more aggressive, yet poppier sound.
Calla toured Europe in 2006, writing and rehearsing new material during the trip. For LP number five, the band recorded in five different locations: Loho studio in Manhattan, Atlantic Sound in Brooklyn, Black Box in Athens, Greece, the Bubble in Austin Texas, and at their Brooklyn home. Strength in Numbers was released on Beggars Banquet on February 20th, 2007, to favorable reviews. Combining all elements of their past work, it is the perfect introductory album for anyone who is a stranger to this undeniably unique and still underestimated band.