Her Name is Calla are not an easy band to listening to. They won’t soothe you when you have a broken heart, lift your spirits when you’ve got the blues or accompany you on your Sunday afternoon stroll. They occupy another realm of our lives, the part most like to hide behind wide-eyed smiles.
Since their formation in 2004, Her Name is Calla have created eerie, experimental, and enthralling music. Their mini-album ‘The Heritage’ was released in 2008 to critical acclaim (in certain circles) and features slow-building instrumentals, lamenting vocals and ominous imagery designed to captivate you throughout its entirety.
In the midst of a new album and right after an European tour, front man Tom Morris found time to speak to Pennyblackmusic about the concept of their new album ‘The Quiet Lamb’, the dark times around him that influenced the mini-album ‘The Heritage’, Her Name is Calla and his desire to score films in the future.
PB: Her Name is Calla has grown over the last couple of years. How did that come about and how were the new members added on or integrated?
TM: Basically our old drummer played trumpet when he wasn’t playing drums. When we parted ways with him we still wanted the trumpet element so we got in touch with our friend. Sophie Barnes, who we’d met through gigging. During the recording of ‘The Heritage’ we started to expand our sound a little more with strings and wanted this to be represented live so we had Sophie Green join us on violin. It seems that the rest of us guys in the band started to play more instruments as well. We pretty much write a song, and then decide what instrumentation would sound good on it.
PB: The music of ‘The Heritage’, coupled with the artwork, makes for a certainly brooding album. Is that something you wanted to achieve or did that evolve during the recording process?
TM: It didn’t really start as an album. It was supposed to be a single. But it was during its recording that we parted ways with our old drummer. We didn’t really know what we were doing anymore. I started to go into some kind of downward spiral and generally broke down. All the time we just carried on with recording as new songs like ‘Motherfucker…’ and ‘Wren’ started to materialise. It wasn’t the happiest time in my life at all.
PB: I read that the song, ‘New England’ from that album,was once a 30 minute song. Do you find it restrictive or exciting to edit your work so it fits into the conventions of how long a song should or can be?
TM: I don’t think there are any restrictions that we face really other than ability to pull off what we want to achieve. We try to progress as musicians as much as we can and our main goal is to continually push each other and ourselves. We only think in terms of what is best for the songs. If cutting them down or building them up helps that then so be it. I guess we’re quite selfish musicians in that way. I find it strange that people should think that a song should be a specific length. I’d quite happily release a song that was a minute or even 90 minutes if it felt that it was right. Songs for us never stop evolving. Some of our songs that have been released are played much differently live.
PB: I'm really curious how your composition process works, with seven people in the group. Is there a lead songwriter who hashes up an idea and then everyone else adds to it or is it process for the whole group?
TM: It’s normally me that writes a song or a kind of half song. We then all build on the ideas until we reach something that we’re happy with. Some songs take a lot longer than others. I think songs like ‘Nylon’ and ‘New England’ had been banded about for years and years until we finally settled on something that we were happy with. It’s not always a long process though. It is made much harder by us all living far away from each other though.
PB: ‘The Quiet Lamb’ is the name of your forthcoming first full-length album. Is there a concept for this album? Will it see Her Name is Calla treading new ground?
In retrospect, I consider ‘The Heritage’ our first album. Even though we call it mini. 'The Quiet Lamb' is quite a bit different in the state we have it at the moment. It’s hard to describe but there’s instantly a lot more melody and harmony involved and it’s quite sparse in some places. Saying that, some parts of it become very dense and claustrophobic. I’m trying to make the concept behind the album more apparent this time, as with our first record it was maybe a little vague. It is intended to be a direct follow on from ‘The Heritage’ though and has some interlinking moments. I hope at least some of that makes sense.
PB: How are you getting on with the recording process and when will you be releasing ‘The Quiet Lamb’?
TM: We hope to have it finished by Christmas and then out by March or April alongside a single and a European tour. It’s tough going as everyone has such busy lives, but I’m confident that we are on track.
PB: 'The Heritage’ was well received. Was it a conscious decision to release a mini-album to reduce the pressures of a debut album, sort of like testing the water?
TM: I think that may have been the idea at the time, but in retrospect we sort of just consider it our first record. We change our minds a lot. It did get some pretty good reviews and that did however give us the confidence to continue as a band.
PB: In a 'Drowned in Sound' interview, you described yourselves as a "thinking band". What does that mean and how does it separate you from other post-rock outfits?
TM: I have no idea what we meant by that. Maybe we were drunk. It’s a high possibility. I don’t think we really consider ourselves post rock so I don’t know how to separate us from them. Maybe it’s because we spend so much time putting together our music and what we want to achieve with it. The biggest challenge I feel that we face is time. There’s never enough time to spend on music.
PB: I found that the imagery of ‘The Heritage’ were similar to a Guillermo del Toro film; dark, ominous, haunting with no cheap thrills. Would Her Name is Calla consider scoring films in the future? 'New England' was the centrepiece for a DVD by Broken Pixel and was certainly is a nod in that direction.
TM: Oh God, definitely. We’ve always wanted to do something like that. Ashley who is Broken Pixel is making a new film that is adaption of a Hans Christian Andersen story called ‘The Tinderbox’. I’m doing the score for that. It’s a full-length adaption and the first time I’ve done something specifically for film. I’m glad you picked up on the imagery of the album though. A of time was spent trying to create a feeling and a setting in the music.
PB: How did the partnership with Broken Pixel come about? Aas well as the ‘New England’ video, you have already done the ‘A Blood Promise’ DVD with him?
TM: Broken Pixel is Ashley Dean who used to play in iLiKETRAiNS. We’d toured with them and Ash came up for the concept in about 2007 when we were on tour. 'A Blood Promise' was meant to demo some new songs from the album as well as host Ash’s video and lots of footage that we had gathered up until the point. Though now we have about a further ten live shows videoed, recording from our recent tour and about 30GB of photos!
PB: Thank you.