The Calls on creating a sound, not worrying about cows and dreaming of writing a 3 minute pop song

The Calls have a new EP set to hit the world next month and a much more psych direction for the band is the next stage of their development.

The Calls are about to release their Fall Inside Again EP on 20 November on Atomic Records, a record that combines their three most recent singles, A Change Is Gonna Come Around Here, Fall Inside and I Just Thought I’d Say, with two previously unreleased songs, Tell Me Why and I Should’ve Known.

The new EP is a definite development in the sound of The Calls. Previous work was full of catchy hooks and jangly guitars. This release sees the band playing around with a range of influences, dub, reggae, psych and creates a much more distinctive sound.

As is typical of the Leeds scene, The Calls are a proudly defiant DIY band. They write, record and rehearse their music in a converted barn and travel in an old window cleaner’s van.

The trio are driven by the unconventional songwriting of Tom Fuller, who puts an introspective slant on social observations through cryptic wordplay and metaphor; lead guitarist Will Johnson, a film maker and visual artist whose unrestrained and often highly unusual sound is due to the fact that, remarkably, he had never picked up a guitar before joining; and bassist Marcell Haslewood, a lifeguard finding his way through life via a combination of ambience and dub and a unique approach to playing that invariably subverts expectations.

So, off to Zoom we head to find out more about the band and a chat with Tom on a wet Saturday afternoon.

P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?

Tom: Fuck all really, to be honest. I’m at home at Otley, just outside Leeds. You know how it it is during lockdown. There aren’t a huge amount of options.

P3dro: Tell us a bit about the band. How did you meet, how did you get together?

Tom: That’s a longer story than it should be. I’ve known Will, the guitarist since we were both 4 or 5 years old and went to school together. I’ve known Marcell, the bassist since we were both about 13 – 14. But those two didn’t know each other, so I was the central link that knew both of them. Eventually we all ended up going to Uni together in Lancaster and it all came together there, we brought it back to Leeds in various forms until we formed in the way [we are now].

It’s been a lot more complicated to form a band than it should have been.

P3dro: Is it better with just the three of you?

Tom: We did have a drummer, but he left. We’re now settled on this format without a regular drummer. It really works for us.

P3dro: Yeah, your first EP very much has a drummer, but it’s not so obvious in the new material.

Tom: Yeah. We spent a while looking for a drummer, but never really settled on something that worked. So, in the meantime and temporarily we’ve used a few different session guys. And then we just came to the conclusion that working without a regular drummer just suited us. That lets us have different options – different drum sounds for different purposes. Having that flexibility worked for us. It wasn’t intentional, but it just kind of happened that way.

P3dro: How do you think your sound has developed? Listening to [the first EP] The Night Stood Still it sounds like a pretty classic rock piece of work, whereas the new material has a diverse range of influences and a much more psych feel to it.

Tom: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. When we first formed we were a classic kind of indie / rock band. We were a straight ahead meat and potatoes kind of thing. We were very influenced by The Libertines and Arctic Monkeys style.

But then there was a point when started to realise we were all more into psychedelic music, but without ever looking at our music that way. So we’ve allowed ourselves to feed more of that influence into our music.

We did some recording and Will had bought some new pedals and he started making these sounds. We all thought ‘Wow’, we need to do more of that. As we let that take hold we kind of went deeper down the rabbit hole.

I think ‘The Night Stood Still’ was catching us fairly early on in that process. By the point of this second EP, there’s a combination of we’ve got more gear and learning how to use it, as well as influences – we’ve got more into shoegaze, trip-hop and dub.

Fall Inside Again

P3dro: That was to be the next question – where do you get your influences from?

Tom: We all like the same kind of stuff, but different influences affect us all in different ways. I’m really into that Manchester indie scene from the late 80s, early 90s, stuff like Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Primal Scream. I really like the idea of combining funky grooves with jangly guitars.

And then we’re all into Radiohead and the way they bring in loads of experimental ideas, yet make it all relatively listenable. Their approach to experimentation has a really big impact on all of us.

Then, also Tame Impala is a big one. When we first discovered them, not long after Lonerism came out, the sound of that record was mind blowing – we’d never thought it was possible to make sounds like that. I’ve been chasing that kind of soundscape. It really inspired us to buy a synthesizer.

P3dro: What’s you recording process? How does that work in terms of song writing and putting tracks down?

Tom: Generally, I’m the main song writer. I’ll have an idea for the chords and the melody and the vocals. Then I’ll bring it to the guys and we just kind of jam around the idea for ages. We can spend a whole day playing a chord sequence round and round. Over time it morphs and forms into something a bit more concrete, with specific guitar and bass parts.

And then, because we don’t have a regular drummer, the drums are the last thing that we figure out. I think that’s a part of what gives us our sound. It’s very effects driven now, comparing the new stuff with the old stuff. That’s because we spend so much time with the guitars before the drums come anywhere near it. Then once we have the ideas together we take it into a studio to record it, but also trying to get it sound kind of live and together.

P3dro: Your PR talks about you rehearsing in a barn.

Tom: Yeah. At my parents’ house there’s this barn we turned into a ‘Calls HQ‘. It’s pretty rickety and pretty cold, but it has a vibe. There’s a sound in the room that affects how we end up sounding. For whatever reason, it helps our creativity.

P3dro: And we’d guess that means you can make as much noise as you want?

Tom: Yeah, exactly. The only people we bother is a bunch of cows and I don’t think they mind.

The Calls

P3dro: Talk to us about the Leeds music scene. There seems to be a massive diversity in the city and range of sounds from punk to rock to hip-hop. Where do you think you fit in?

Tom: Yeah, it is diverse, you find all sorts. But that has pros and cons. For us there isn’t any one kind of crowd that builds up. We feel like the crowds for all the different genres are smaller and fragmented. If there were a really big indie scene, or a really big psych scene, or whatever, it would be easier for us to tap into that. But being so diverse it’s more of a challenge.

But I think we fit in. We have our own corner of that diverse spectrum that is the Leeds scene. There was a bit of a wave of psych bands a few years ago, with bands like The Hookworms, but that’s [pretty much gone].

P3dro: What do think the situation is like now in terms of venues, music and the like?

Tom: I don’t even know where to begin. It’s not easy. Let’s not kid ourselves, the live music scene was not exactly in a great state prior to lockdown anyway. Compared to years gone by, because of the internet, its harder and harder to get people to gigs. The last thing the music scene needed was this lockdown, keeping everyone away from gigs for the foreseeable future.

We did play one socially distanced gig in Sheffield about a month ago. That was a really weird experience, but with everyone seated and spread out, it doesn’t feel like the way forward. Although, if that’s the only option there is, then that’s all there is.

There needs to be some significant change in the way the whole music industry works anyway. Even putting Covid and lockdown to one side, live music for unsigned acts is just so challenging and so little of the money filters down. It can’t continue the way it is, regardless of Covid. I don’t know what the solution is, but its not easy at the moment. It’s hard to see where we go.

Maybe the upside is that, because people are sitting at home on the internet, that could drive up streams and video reviews, stuff like that. You don’t get any money out of it, but at least it can help spread awareness of [new] bands. It may help you get seen a bit more. But that’s really the only upside I can think of.

P3dro: What has lockdown been like for the band? Have you been creative?

Tom: I’m always writing. We did a few covers, like everyone’s been doing. We did a cover of Cemetery Gates by The Smiths and Breathe by Pink Floyd which went down really well and got a really good reaction on social media. That was early on in lockdown and was a good way of getting us to vent our creativity when we were otherwise limited.

When the restrictions were lifted we got to meet up in person and started writing again. We’re prolific creatively and we write a lot, pretty much every time we meet we’ll come out with a new song.

If anything, I probably wrote a bit more over lockdown than I would have done otherwise, so it didn’t hamper the creativity.

P3dro: When were the songs on the new EP written?

Tom: They’re actually quite old. When we recorded that EP, must be coming up to two years ago. We held off releasing them – we had a few things to sort with the band so we [waited] to release it in a way we were happy with. We wanted to have a bit of a conveyor of material. We’d found in the past we could spend ages, putting all our resources into releasing an EP and then have nothing to follow it up with for ages. You end up losing a lot of momentum.

We deliberately held off releasing this stuff at the time. It was a bit of procrastination on our part, but we’re now at a point where we’re glad we did that because we now have the next set of material ready and done.

P3dro: So what are the plans for new music after this EP?

We’re just finishing off the mixes for the follow up. We may end up doing what we did with this one, which is combining a few singles into an EP. That seems to be something that works. We have a few songs we’re really happy with and they’re another step up towards the sound we have in our heads.

P3dro: What is the sound you have in your heads?

Tom: Ha! It’s hard to describe. It’s essentially something catchy that you can sing along to, but at the same time you can listen and get immersed in the soundscape. Also, that it has some kind of rhythm to it with the bass and the drums grooving together. Something that combines all of those [elements] in a way that sounds like us. We’re getting closer and closer to that every time.

The Calls

P3dro: Some of your songs are not exactly 3 minute pop songs. Some run to 5 or 6 minutes.

Tom: Yeah. My dream is to write the ultimate 3 minute pop song, but I just can’t resist adding more bits on. We end up doing a 3.5 minute song with a one minute intro and then a one minute outro. At the core, there’s a 3 minute song, but we add these bits on each end.

I think we have got better at writing songs that are more pop leaning, but we still don’t want to compromise on our musical exploration. We’ve found a way between Will’s guitar effects and Marcell’s bass playing and my way of songwriting that is us. It’s always evolving and refining, but is always unmistakably us.

I’m really happy with where that’s headed. The more we refine and write and come up with new songs and get better, that core sound is taking us towards that thing I have in my head.

P3dro: Recommend a band or an album you think we should be listening to right now.

Tom: Well, I’m going to go with Lonerism by Tame Impala. It’s so mind blowing. There isn’t a weak track on it, its amazing. I think everyone should hear that.

I also think the Second Coming by The Stone Roses is a a really under rated record.

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