Let's dive in...
Cale & the Gravity Well is a much-buzzed-about Singer-Songwriter who calls New York home. His eclectic and refreshing brand of indie-meets-folk enlightens and delights with his latest single "The Age of Envy." Garnering the critical acclaim from fans and critics alike, Cale is putting himself on the musical map. We had the chance to catch up with Cale & the Gravity Well for a charming insight into his music.
Can you remember that moment when you heard music, and were captivated? What was it?
Nnnnnnnnnnnnnnope! But man I wish I could. That would be undoubtedly one of my most cherished memories. I wouldn't say that my family is especially musical, but we are all big music fans, so it was a constant presence in my house. I really credit my parents for that. My dad used to make mix CD's of all his favorite songs (affectionately entitled "Bondo's Greatest Hits") and I would play those on my Walkman all day every day. Mom played blues guitar off and on for years, and I have the fuzziest recollection that she used to sing me showtunes ("Where is Love" comes to mind). Plus, there was the additive fact that I could keep pitch, so I loved to sing from a young age, even before, I'm sure, I necessarily liked singing, but did it for the attention. I wish I could point to any specific instance for you, but I think it's really the culmination of a childhood spent listening to the stuff that finally brought me to a career as a musician.
How would you describe being a musician in the current New York scene? Is there a ‘family’ feel around a good portion of the music community?
Well it certainly feels that way to me. Honestly I'm not exactly sure how to define "scene," because there are so many different kinds of music and different ways of putting it out into the world that it that it doesn't really make sense to say "I do music in New York, I am a part of that scene." I started out doing open mics a lot when I first moved here, and that's something I actually miss a lot because you got all types showing up to throw down. There was a bar called Prohibition near my apartment that had an amazing showcase every Monday, and there were always regulars, leading to that familial feel, but also new people every week, and every one of them was completely different. I had a couple different places I'd bop around to, and met tons of people, most of which lead to nothing. Outside of the actual players, it's also important to develop relationships with different venues. Once you play around town a little bit, you get to be known by various bookers and promoters, and they'll ask you back for more shows if you're good, or to fill a slot last minute if they need a pinch hitter (Bowery Electric has asked us a couple times, and we have a show there on May 16th if anyone's around!) This way you meet the people behind the scenes, as well as the other young, frankly amazing acts this city has to offer. At times I can feel a little insular, but I recognize how lame it is to be in a city with this much talent per square foot and not utilize it, so I'm trying to expand my horizons by being in a couple different projects. Nothing serious yet, but soon enough I'll be telling you about those I hope!
"The Age of Envy" has been a track that has been on my radar for the past several weeks. How long did it take you to write and record the piece?
Well thanks first of all! I'm always pleased to hear it's getting some love. I wrote the song in early winter 2015 if I remember correctly, and the writing part was actually pretty easy. I did it in about a day and a half. I sent a version with no chorus to my sister, she said I needed a chorus, I wrote it, and that was that. It was really very organic overall. Recording of course was much more time intensive. I was working with the entirety of the DC based rock band Lionize, with the keyboardist Chris working as audio engineer. We started recording in November and finished in April. I'd truck down to DC once or twice a month to do vocals or to work with the band on a new song (the album started as an EP, and I wrote five more songs during the process). It was amazingly fun. I don't really know if six months is fast for a recording process, though my gut feeling is that the answer is "it depends," but it felt like an instant for me.
What song (or songs) on your latest release, are the most personal to you as a songwriter, and why?
I'm going to keep this answer pretty close to my chest I think, and not really answer. In my opinion, the most personal songs don't need to be subjected to outside examination. A good song will have different interpretations to every listener. That's the true beauty of this medium. A song becomes relatable, becomes an anthem for regret, or rage, or shouting love from every rooftop, because of its interaction with people. And far be it from me to inject my own hangups and musings on the interpretation of a thing like that.
What artists influenced the sound of your music? Does that play a role in your songwriting?
I always point to my childhood classics like The Rolling Stones and Modest Mouse, as well as the more modern artists I jam with. People like Portugal. The Man, Fleet Foxes, Cold War Kids, Gorillaz, the Arctic Monkeys. I have a comfortable indie/pop/folk gamut that I run back and forth in, but really up until recently I had never approached songwriting as an exercise in trying to "sound like" somebody else. I recently started working with a producer who, in the middle of a writing session, went "Ok we need a bassline...what would Paul McCartney do?" And that kinda blew my mind actually. It's perhaps an obvious epiphany, but I'd never conceptualized approaching a part with that mentality before. I'd like to say it's because I wanted to work towards some nebulous goal of finding my own sound, but I suspect it's probably because up until about a year and a half ago I only really played acoustic guitar by myself. I only wrote by myself, on acoustic guitar. You only get so much in terms of sound shaping out of an acoustic guitar. These days I'm way more into like shaping my sound and looking for interesting elements to add to my music, and of course the best place to find inspiration is in the music you love. Very recently I've been on an electronic pop kick (Made in Heights, Sylvan Esso) and I'm trying to add some of the elements of that type of music to my sound. I think non-mainstream pop has some of the most interesting artists around these days, and there's a lot to be learned from them.
What can you tell us about the initial concept of the record? Was there a specific theme you were trying to portray and had in mind writing?
Well because this wasn't conceived of as an album originally, I didn't go into it with the idea of making it a cohesive whole. I'm not sure I can distance myself from the end result as much as would be needed to really make that call, but I think a lot of the songs, at the very least, deal with similar themes of loneliness, of adulthood, identity. I was writing this at a time in my life of significant upheaval. I'd just graduated, moved permanently away from home into the biggest city I'd ever lived in (and still do), just started a new job in an industry I wasn't sure I wanted anything to do with (I didn't) and a lot of those uncertainties and frustrations leaked, in some form or another, into the songs. Unintentionally too. I had been kind of thinking about this thing as a collection of many self contained songs, like vignettes, until a friend of mine who was doing backup vocals for me basically psychoanalyzed me on the spot based on songs I'd sent her. After that I couldn't stop seeing this as one weird, lurching Frankensteinesque project, in which every song was musically unique but thematically similar. I think the central metaphorical figure is some bizarro version of myself, but he does a pretty good job at hitting all my insecurities about living as a songwriter, with all the possibilities and none of the answers. He's a character I've come to know pretty well.
How was the songwriting in general for the record? Was it an easy process, or does it take you a good amount of time to achieve the sounds you wanted?
Working with Lionize was great, but it had its drawbacks. Now that I'm older and more experienced, I can look back at the songwriting and regret I didn't have a more hands-on approach. Again, at the time I had only recently learned how to use recording software with any proficiency, and most of the songs I was writing I did on acoustic guitar, or sometimes in my DAW with some drum tracks, but that's it. As a result, there was a lot of room for interpretation, and since I lived in New York, I wasn't there for a lot of the recording of the backing tracks. Generally speaking, writing the songs actually came fairly easy, but the arranging was way more out of my hands. That meant that, at the end of the day, this album sounds a little bit too much like Lionize, and not enough like me (whatever "I" sound like). The new stuff I'm working on is much more indie rock, and every addition to a track I have a say on. In the studio, we do spend quite a lot of time making sure the drums sound just right, or that the guitar tone works in concert with the rest of the song. I'm very excited to bring that decisiveness out into the world, which leads me to the last question...
What can we expect from Cale & the Gravity Well in 2017? Any plans for a stateside tour?
Most likely an EP! My band and I have been working diligently for the past several months on five new songs which we are so, so excited to share with the world...And that's all I can really say about that until we get some cover art and some mixing done and at least one more vocal session and all that jazz, but we'll be making announcements soon! As for a tour, we don't have anything planned yet, but I suspect we could be out on the road by fall. Sorry for the non-committal responses, but hey, I'm a musician. If I wanted hard deadlines, I'd get a real job. Thanks so much for giving me the chance to talk with you!