Catch up with Cale and the Gravity Well and listen to "Lions and Tigers" off his new album, The Age of Envy, out now.
What got you interested in music?
Cale: It's not necessarily that there was any one thing but rather that I had a musical upbringing. My mother played guitar for a long time and my dad is extremely musically illiterate but he loves music, especially classic rock, which is what he grew up on. So I grew up listening to it for a very long time and I was in music class in high school and did all the musicals and stuff like that. I eventually started songwriting just because, in college, I had a group of friends who did it and I thought it would be fun to try out. It's been a couple years since then - and that's a good thing because I was pretty terrible starting out.
Do you remember the first song you wrote that you were proud of?
Oh, yeah, what was it called? I don't play it anymore... It was a song called "Dirty Snow" which was this sort of lovely ballad that I wrote because, that same group of friends, we were in a band together for a little while and we were trying to do this challenge where somebody would propose a topic and we'd have to write a song about it every week. That was the first one I ever really felt solid on, I'm unsure of whether anybody will ever get to hear it, but that was the one.
What made you decide to start Cale and the Gravity Well?
The reason this got started is because my sister - for years she was a professional roadie and she used to work Warped Tour and, in fact, sometimes, she claims she will still do that sometime in the future - got it in her head that she wanted to start a record label and she knew that I wrote music and could sing and play a little bit, so she asked if I would be interested in starting this up and how could you pass that opportunity by? So, I said yes, fully committing to the idea that she would never make this happen, but she really turned it out, so here we are. The name, unfortunately, doesn't really have an interesting backstory. Honestly, it's a little bit of a bummer because I really feel that everybody's got that story: Lynyrd Skynyrd was the name of their terrible old gym teacher who harassed them for years and Shakey Graves was given to him that one night he first decided that people really liked his music and they were sitting at a campfire or whatever it is. But, no, there wasn't really a pivotal moment. What happened was, I started making this album and we're halfway through and we're starting to do promotional stuff and we needed something to call it. I had proposed this name earlier because I thought it sounded kind of cool - and I also thought that we could come up with something better, and we never did. I was almost going to call it Free Range Cale, but decided that was too Brooklyn hipster.
Which musicians would you say that you've been influenced by?
Generally growing up, it was a little more real, classic rock and especially British invasion; really liked The Clash, really loved Led Zeppelin. Now it's a little wider spread. I like some electronica stuff. I have no experience with it, but I'd love to break into that someday a little bit, but the half and half - not the really heavy house or anything - but like Sylvan Esso, which is Amelia Meath singing and Nicholas Sanborn mixing her live and adding beats and things and it's super cool. I've listened to a lot of blues recently and a lot of folksy stuff. I just downloaded this Freddie King album and have been listening to it all day and all yesterday. I don't necessarily avow that that's who I'm trying to replicate right now, but I think all this stuff sinks in.
What would you say is the best album of 2016 that everyone should hear?
The best album of 2016, oh man. I think if I had to pick any one, I'd point to Andrew Bird's album in April, Are You Serious. That guy is just an unprecedented talent. He writes some of the most memorable, interesting songs that are both comforting and disquieting at once and this album was really quite good. I'd recommend everybody check it out.
Which words would you use to describe your own sound?
For some reason this question is so difficult for me. The first word that comes to mind is chunky, like it's a lot of heavy rhythm and it is kind of like rock and roll. Most of it's rock and roll, even the stuff that doesn't necessarily start out like that - like "Charming Devils" has this reggae beat - it gets there. A lot of it's pretty upbeat, too. I don't know if it's dancing music, but I like to think that it's sunny day driving music.
Could you tell us more about your album The Age Of Envy?
You can expect to hear a little bit of everything. The songs are all pretty different, which some people have told me is a blessing and some people have told me is a curse because there's this tendency to look at an album as a collective piece of art and I think that that's mostly true. And then there's this expectation that it's really supposed to hold well together and because all this stuff is really different, some people don't think that it does. I've had a lot of people tell me that. But, on the other hand, I also see that as a virtue. It means there's a lot of diversity, there's something for every mood, and there's a lot of interesting themes to be explored. I don't think that you would get the same thing listening to this one time as you would listening two times or three times and so on and so forth.
Is there a track off the album you were most excited to share?
A couple times I've been asked this question and every time I have to come back and point to "Lions and Tigers". Which, for some reason, is really just one I love. I really like to play it, I really like to sing it, and I think that the mix came out really nicely and it doesn't really sound like a lot of other music. I'm not claiming that this is going to be everybody's bag, but I think that it's got some kind of distinction to it that really elevates it.
What were your inspirations behind "Lions and Tigers"?
Both "Lions and Tigers" and "The First Storm" are kind of about the same stuff and they used to be one song in two time keys, which was more of an accident of my inexperienced songwriting than an intention, so I had to break them up. I wrote one and then I rewrote the other one and they ended up being two halves of this thing. The inspiration came from, I just had this line, it was "green skin runs thin with age", and I was like, well, what does that mean? It took me a little while but I puzzled it out and I had recently finished, after years, the Wicked Series by Gregory Maguire and I thought that the whole concept of having this re-imagination of this iconic tale was interesting to me, so I wrote this song a little bit about this proverbial Dorothy stuck in the middle of nowhere and bored out of her mind - going a little bit crazy, actually.
In one sentence, how would you sum up The Age of Envy?
If you're looking for happiness, you're not going to find it here.
What do you hope listeners are able to take away from your music?
I don't like to answer this question because I think that what people get out of it is up to them, that's the whole point. It's like that old English class question, what was the author intending with this thing? Music doesn't exist in a vacuum, somebody has to be listening to it or it's the whole 'tree falls in a forest does anybody hear' sort of deal. I don't think there's anything that I want to impart to these listeners because either they'll get what I intended or they won't, but I'm hoping that they get something out of it, something that sticks with them, because it'll be more meaningful if they come to it, rather than reading this interview and trying to fit their expectations into it. It's more about personal preference, all art is subjective. I think there's a line in Daredevil, that series on Netflix that came out last year, and they're looking at this painting that is perfectly white and it's called "Rabbit In A Snow Storm" and the gallery head comes over to Wilson Fisk and says, "it's not really about what's painted there, but rather how the painting makes you feel," and I think that's exactly right.
Is there anything you want to add?
I just want to say be on the lookout for new stuff, we've got things in the works, early next year should be a good time for us so pay attention.