The Monroe Transfer & Her Name Is Calla collaborative recording

Aug 18, 2010 by

If you follow the meandering fortunes of The Monroe Transfer, you’ll probably be aware of our relationship with York/Leeds/Leicester/I’ve-lost-track rockmeisters Her Name Is Calla: we’ve supported them at gigs, they’ve supported us, we’ve played on a couple of their recordings and, for the last couple of years, we’ve been talking about recording a collaborative album with them. Last week, finally, some of us managed to get some time off work and braved the train to York to work on that very project.

Firstly: I am not a camper. My experience that week in a blown-over, rain-filled tent in a field round the back of a pub by a main road have not made me enjoy camping more. I refuse to believe that people would do this for ‘fun’. Incidentally, I believe it’s thanks to telling friends about this camping experience that’s led to my phone putting sarcastic inverted commas around the word ‘fun’ by default now.

Home, sweet-bastard-soaking-wet-overturned home.

Nevertheless, we’re talking about 3 musicians who, almost by definition, have no money at all to spend on luxuries like B&Bs, and £4 a night was too cheap to turn down. For all my whinging, its really Rhiannon and Nicole who suffered the most, as they had not only the same conditions, but also had to put up with me. Ah well. Who knows, maybe the lack of sleep, soaked clothes & bedding, and nights spent shivering, fed into the music somehow? That’s how I’m rationalising it, anyway.

With the benefit of of hindsight, and knowing that it all went very well, it now seems alright now to talk about how bloody awful it could have been. Although we shared some common musical influences and tastes, we’d not tried to work with the Calla posse before, and had no idea what their creative process was like, or if it was something that we’d be compatible with. On top of that, we’d also set ourselves a fairly mammoth task- to write and record an entire album of new material from scratch, in four days. A stupid, stupid idea.

A bit of our recording setup, in the lovely Pocklington Arts Centre

Present for these four days were Tom (vox, guitar, piano in Her Name Is Calla), Adam (drums, electronics, vox, other things in Her Name Is Calla), Nicole (‘cello in The Monroe Transfer), Rhiannon (violin) and yours truly (guitar and a bit of saw). We did, at least, have rhythmic, chordal and melodic instruments available, so at least we had the personnel to come up with something from which to work relatively quickly.

Adam gets excited by the whole project.

Now, when you’re talking about Her Name Is Calla and The Monroe Transfer, the genre-elephant-in-the-room is, of course, POST-ROCK. I don’t think either of us are that keen on being labelled as such, largely because of its negative connotations: the stereotype of post-rock music involves a couple of guitarists with delay pedals playing a slow quiet riff, which then gets louder and louder over the course of about five or six minutes, turning on more and more distortion pedals while the drummer play increasingly loudly, and it all ends with a big cacophony. Both bands, I hope and think, make more interesting, complex, and strange music than that little genre pastiche implies. However, in any creative artform, when you’re short of time and need to come up with material, people tend to fall back on cliché, genre-based stuff and things-that-are-a-bit-like-something-they’ve-heard-before; that was certainly something we were conscious of, and something we wanted to try to avoid.

Some notation from #1

And, as it happens, we did pretty well; we’ve ended up with seven new pieces of music, which are pretty varied in style and sound. No snippets at the moment, I’m afraid, as we’re nowhere near the mixing stage, but here’s a little description of them to whet your appetite…

#1
We cheated very slightly here, as I’d come up with a melody beforehand; only very slightly, though, as the melody was all of 16 bars long, and the song currently weighs in at 11 minutes. Given that we had little idea how we were going to approach the while project, it seemed to make sense to have a tiny concrete starting point.
Amongst other things, it features my newly-invented monotuned guitar (all 6 strings tuned to the same D), giving a strange chorusing effect and some slightly odd resonances. And, before the internet collectively announces that I’m ripping someone off: yes, I’m sure many many people have done this before, but it turned up in my mind after spending some time playing with a mountain dulcimer in northern Arizona state.
There’s also loads of group singing- Tom, despite having a hell of a voice, was keen for the album not to just be ‘the singer from Her Name Is Calla, with some different musicians’, which means there’s plenty of chorus-stuff all over the recordings. This also means that you’ll have to put up with my singing, too. Like the man said: I’ve suffered for my art, now it’s your turn.

#2
A woody, woolly-sounding thing, with some heft drop C guitar from Tom, and my guitar being tuned CCCEEE. The as-yet-unfinished string parts are very fun, too- all starting on the same note, and then unfurling into full chords before coming back to a single note again. You’ll like it. It’ll have some words soon, but we didn’t have time for any in Pocklington.

#3
A slightly odd way of working, this one: Adam wrote some words, Nick wrote some chords for them, Rhiannon & Nicole arranged some parts for them, and Tom wrote a vocal melody and harmonies for them, while Adam made some glitchy glockenspiel loops. There’s a saw part in there too, and we’ve some more string parts to come, as well. It’s a bit jazzy-sounding, thanks to some of the chords. A bit different, this one.

#4
This one features everyone smacking various objects around the room and bellowing, while Tom hollers his vocal line.  This is probably not one that anyone would expect to hear coming out of either band.

#5
A simple, group-sung restatement of the melody from #1, with some Wicker Man/sea-shanty lyrics inspired by lack of sleep in a soaking tent-and-sleeping-bag combo. Did I mention that?

Hands tied, into the sea,
Rocks for your pillow,
Dream for eternity
On your bed down below

#6
The most straight-forwardly post-rock one we managed: some late-night noodling meant we came up with a nice 9/8 chord progression, and Tom, Adam and I laid down a rhythm track for our absent colleagues to stretch out over.

#7
A heftily time-stretched section of group harmony singing, accompanied by some improvised guitar chords, at the moment.  We think there’ll be some trombone all over this, and maybe some flute. We’re not sure, though.

Packed and ready to go...

So, there we are.  A few days of intense work, and now we’re most of the way to having a new album done.  With any luck, we should have the whole thing finished by the end of September, ready for a release in January 2011.  We’ll keep you posted…

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  1. Would be fun to catch up if you find yourself in York again – I was moving house and found my limited edition (burned) copy of 67 Moons 🙂

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