For being such spaced-out psych rockers, Calliope is quite prompt at delivering new records. After releasing last year’s Doors and Animals influenced self-titled full-length, the meaty, esoteric four-piece returns with the shorter, fuzzier six-song Orbis. I talked to the band about the recording process, Austin Psych Fest, and a deadly Aaron Rodgers’ gauntlet idea that inspired the title track.
You recorded your debut album at a cabin in Minocqua. Is that where you recorded this one?
Al Kraemer (vocals, keyboards): Yup.
Was it the same process?
AK: Our first album we took a guy named Mike Hoffman up there. He brought all of his equipment. That one was a 12-track album. We did all the live takes in three or four days. This time, instead of paying someone else to do it we just bought our own equipment and went up there by ourselves. Vic pretty much did all production and mixing in-house.
Victor Buell IV (guitar): Essentially, the money it would have cost to hire a recording engineer, literally the same amount of money was applied to buy the gear that we used to do it ourselves. I do that sort of thing; it wasn’t my first crack at this. I thought it turned out really well.
I feel like the bands that do that—record and mix themselves—spend a lot of time in that process. But it seems like you blew through that, right?
VB: Pretty much. Going into it we had established deadlines and goals we wanted to meet, like, “Okay, we want to put out a record by this day. It’s going to take this amount of time to make everything.” We knew all that going into it. We had goals and deadlines to meet and essentially limited ourselves to about a month of mixing, which is good because I had time to hone it in but not second guess how I’m doing something and totally make a mess of it. I tried to keep mixing elements simple and straight to the point just because we had to stay on track.
Was the self-imposed deadline the reason the album has only six songs?
VB: The first record was less of an album and much more of a showcase. Some of those songs were written over a two-year time period. By the time we finally released it, they were two and a half, almost three years old. This group of songs is much younger. They were written around each other and they coalesce better. We had four or five songs that we shot out right away, essentially right after releasing our first one. We decided we would put these out as an EP because we thought they gelled well together. We set out to record an EP; I wouldn’t say the deadline limited the amount of songs that we were going to choose necessarily. We were going to do an EP of four or five, but then we ended up coming up with this other song right at the last minute that came together really well. And we were super stoked about it.
VB: “Iron Hand.” It still tied in and brought closure to that little chapter of songs. So it made sense to include it, even though it pushed the boundary of EP into something else.
What first drew you to psychedelic blues music?
AK: I would honestly say a trip to Austin Psych Fest a year ago. It opened my mind up from this classic psych rock stuff to more new stuff that was a lot fuzzier, louder and darker.
VB: I would second that. We’ve got the obvious influences. If you read the other press pieces, they’re dropping the Doors, Booker T and basically all the classic rock giants of yesteryear. Then we started getting into some newer psych bands like Black Mountain, Black Angels…
AK: Black Sabbath, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
VB: It was a congregation of all the black bands—the line-up last year at Austin Psych Fest.
AK: That’s definitely where the name of the album came from.
VB: I wouldn’t say there’s one specific source, but the trip to Psych Fest played a role in this group of songs.
AK: Got me more juiced about modern music than I have in a while.
You said the title Orbis comes from Austin Psych Fest. Can you explain why?
VB: It’s sort of this mantra we kept talking about—this reoccurring concept. Even though it was inside joke-y in a way, it just made sense. How do you name any album?
It’s a good psych rock album name.
VB: It’s definitely got celestial overtones, which we’re all about. It encompasses the lyrical themes that are brought up in the songs.
AK: It’s also the world’s only flying eye hospital. Who would’ve known?
VB: It’s an optometry office on a plane.
What’s one of your musical influences that might surprise people?
VB: Metal. We’re kind of metal heads. Al likes Korn.
AK: I listen to Korn. I listen to a lot of dad rock when I’m alone, like Moody Blues and Chicago. For the track “Orbis” on the album, I actually drew lyrical inspiration from “Surfin’ Bird.” Without the lyrics it almost sounds like a surf song. And I was like, “I don’t know what we’re going to put on this because I don’t know how to do this.” So, I just thought about the surfin’ bird—just ridiculous, fast-paced, almost scat gibberish.
I feel like “Orbis” is an outlier on the record. Most songs off the album are straight-forward, but this one has a few different movements.
AK: There are three movements in that song.
VB: Every once in a while we’ll make getaways to the cabin to jam, brainstorm and song write. That was one where every member of the group was throwing ideas in the pot. A lot of ideas for songs are mainly composed by the two of us. This one wasn’t the case. Everyone was on the same page. Everyone’s ideas were clicking. We just decided to get a little crazy with it.
AK: That’s the craziest song on the album. That’s the song I thought about “Surfin’ Bird.” The first part of those lyrics were rapid fire.
VB: That’s the prog influences coming through—time signature changes and tempo shifts, stuff you’d hear on Opeth or, dare I say, Dream Theater.
AK: It’s definitely the magnum opus of the album.
For the longest time, we called that song “Pine Toss” because when we were up north writing the song, we were outside partying and came up with this promotional Green Bay Packers idea where there’s a gauntlet that people run through and Aaron Rodgers throws pieces of wood at you and if you survive you get a free football.
VB: The sound at the beginning inspired that thought of him chucking pieces of wood as you’re running out across a field—just shots of timber firing at you. It’s like Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, essentially.
AK: We were calling it “Aaron Rodgers’ Pine Toss Challenge.”
Calliope plays a vinyl release show for Orbis at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn with Shoot Down the Moon and DJ Mr. Onederful on Friday, June 6 at 9 p.m. You can stream the record over at Milwaukee Record.