Getting ahold of Alex Calder was the tricky part. Chalk it up to a busy week – and sharing a mobile with his girlfriend. The man in Montreal, reached by phone, was something like his music – a bit of a daydreamer, not as strange or alienating as Calder hinted he can be, whether through smart-ass tricks while performing live or receiving bathtub selfies kids send of themselves (a thing that is happening that is weird for him too). On the contrary, he was appropriately normal.
Strange Dreams, out on Captured Tracks last week, marked Calder’s debut LP for the label. A debut that first saw light last summer out of personal frustration, Calder talked about this and similar experiences with levelness. Calder seemed to have learned more about himself and the business as a result of releasing Strange Dreams.
Vancouver Weekly: [Your Time EP], as one reviewer put it, sounded “bad on purpose.” I can name a couple of musicians who’ve been criticized for appearing like they don’t care about what they’re putting out. What’s the appeal of a song that sounds like a demo versus a track that’s had kinks worked out?
Alex Calder: I like when someone puts out a demo. I like the little nuances in the first take. I always try and do that. Sometimes I get neurotic, and I have to re-record it like ten times before I’m happy. It just loses its edge. For me, personally, I make quickly, not thinking about it. That’s usually what I’m happiest with.
VW: Strange Dreams was available on your Bandcamp last summer. Was the plan always to make that your debut LP with Captured Tracks?
AC: It’s a weird, confusing situation because I made the Time EP, and then I finished Strange Dreams right after that. I finished half the songs before Time came out, so they’re really old. And then a bunch of scheduling conflicts on the label – I was fed up, and it was like, “I’m just going to self-release,” and eventually they’re like, “We can put out your record, so get rid of that.” It’s way better to be on a label and compromise and do things on their schedule. It was me getting used to like, “Okay, I’m done a record,” and having to wait a year before it even comes out. I’m glad it has a real physical release now.
VW: I read that how you come up with tunes is you begin with a guitar riff that sounds interesting, and then you think about the lyrics later. Is this still true for you?
Calder: Yeah, totally. Lyrics are the last thing I think about ’cause it’s probably the hardest. I think anyone would agree that’s the trickiest part of making music. I always start with guitar, but it gets boring after a while. Maybe I should start on a different instrument, or try to play a keyboard instead. I’ve been trying to do that a bit more.
VW: Some of your songs – “Strange Dreams”, “Light Leaves Your Eyes”, “Life Purpose” – have vocals that stand out. Have you thought about doing more songs like this? Are what you have with your vocals an effect you’re satisfied with?
AC: I’ve been trying to sing louder and clearer, not try to drown things out… When the vocals are indistinct, that’s a nice thing to me. That Panda Bear album, Person Pitch – you can’t hear a single word he’s saying, but it’s a beautiful album, and the vocals are so nice you think you know what he’s saying.
VW: Your “Lola” video is hilarious. Why aren’t more music videos like “Lola”?
AC: With this kind of music, there’s this aesthetic people think should go behind it. VHS, hazy, look super cool, ambiguous. I thought I should make a video for “Lola”, but then my friend Cole was like, “Let’s just make the stupidest video for this melancholy song.” I think it’s really funny, and it throws people off when they watch it. They’re like, “What the hell? The same guy that made this song, and he looks like such an idiot.”
VW: You made fun of yourself well.
AC: You have to have a sense of humour about this stuff.
VW: Your music has great mood – mellow and zen. How does this translate into your live shows?
AC: We’re pretty different live. I’ve heard that. I can’t tell. My band is all good musicians, good dudes, and when we play, it’s a little louder.
VW: You don’t get rowdy or goofy or lewd on-stage?
AC: No, I personally don’t. When we started playing live we would do that, not take anything seriously and joke around the whole time. I think that was alienating to people because we’d play the theme of King of the Hill ten times in a row. People shaking their heads like, “I paid to see this? It’s so stupid.” We’d be making jokes but they wouldn’t be engaging – just stuff us or our friends find funny. So let’s try and play the music instead. It’s definitely changed in the last few months.
VW: Alex Calder is your solo project. What’s one rewarding aspect about it, and what’s not so fun?
Calder: It’s a lot more work. I always think I should get my band to play on my recording or collaborate songwriter stuff, but I’ve been in bands, and it never works for me. I like being in full creative control.
VW: Let’s talk Instagram. Do you get a lot of bathtub selfie submissions? If someone wanted to submit, what are you looking for?
AC: I don’t know with the bath stuff. It’s just another stupid idea. I get a lot of kids sending me photos of them in the bath, and I don’t think I should be looking at this. I don’t know what’s going on with that. It’s just a weird idea.
VW: What do you hope to accomplish in 2015?
Calder: We’re probably going to start touring a whole bunch now. I’m not super big on touring. It’s fun, but I like being at home a lot. Hopefully I will finish my next album before we start touring. It’s halfway done. That’s about it. No crazy plans.