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Callum Gentleman - INSIDE THE MUZIC: Callum Gentleman

28 Feb 2018 // An interview by butch181
After the first show on his Farewell Tour before heading to the US, Callum stopped by to have a chat with the Inside the Muzic crew: 

Watch the full video below:


Alex (interviewer): Today we have Callum Gentleman

Callum (musician): Thank you for having me

Alex: Tell us about yourself. You have an interesting style of music.

Callum: It’s dark folk, or maybe gothic folk. Aldous Harding has been using the term gothic folk which works well with what we are doing. It’s storytelling songs; I play mostly acoustic, but Joel Vincent (who does electric guitar) doesn’t really do harmonies, he mostly does textures, same as Sam who plays the violin. We come up with these eerie and sometimes dark and creepy storytelling songs about these people who have lives that go awry.

Alex: Dark and creepy?

Callum: I’m no Taylor Swift, and I don’t know if I will go #1 in the US with that description, but dark and creepy, sometimes fun. Atmospheric is a good term as well.

Alex: That’s just interesting because I read somewhere that you were inspired musically by the Muppets. Who are not exactly dark and creepy.

Callum: I was, and some would say still am. While not dark and creepy, the songs that I remember seeing and hearing on the Muppets as I was growing up, was like when Kermit’s cousin Robin (the littlest frog) was singing this song Halfway Down the Stairs, where he was sitting halfway down the stairs, singing this sad song about not going anywhere. It’s the sad songs that I really remember, the sad melodies that hit a chord with me.

Alex: How long did it take you to get into music after these inspiring songs?

Callum: Ages. As a child, I always believed you either have the talent or you don’t. You’d be in school picking up a guitar and trying to figure out some chords, and then you’d see someone else and they had already figured it out, and I thought that meant I wasn’t talented. I didn’t realise that one of those guys, his dad was a musician, so he had been around music and guitars since he was born. So, it wasn’t that he was more talented (he is a very talented musician), but he’d just been around it more. I never figured out, that if I actually just practised, I’d be okay. I decided I wasn’t a good guitarist or singer, so I went and did something else. In the end, my desire to play was so strong that I just tried.

Alex: Was the guitar your first choice?

Callum: As a child, my dad got me onto the piano, but I had a brutal piano teacher, and that was me done. I’d like to go back and do a bit of piano, but playing guitar and singing are my first choices. Lyrics were a big part of it all. When I got started with song writing, I knew I was okay at guitar, but I was really good at working with words, and I love the poetry of it. Words were the first focus when I started writing music.

Alex: How do you come up with your lyrics? Are they personal anecdotes?

Callum: Weirdly it’s from walking around. Conversations pop into my head as I walk around. If I’m having trouble writing, I’ll just go out for a walk. Sometimes works sometimes doesn’t, but it tends to work when I’m on the move. Touring is great; it may not be walking, but I’m driving and still moving, so things pop up in my head. Other than that, I sometimes snoop on people conversations.

Alex: You mentioned touring. You’ve gone to a lot of small venues in small towns. What drove that decision?

Callum: A few reasons. I’m a big fan of a band called The Eastern, who are based out at Lyttelton. They were touring monsters; every night of the week, almost every week of the year, and they would play anything. I realised that I want to play. I don’t want to save myself, like some artists do; strategizing, and only playing key events and venues, with the goal of playing Spark Arena one day. I’d rather just get out there, play and see places. Playing small venues in Auckland is a quick road to having people not turn up anymore because all your friends have already seen you. Touring, getting out on the road, seeing places, meeting people. People in smaller towns do often come out because there is a gig on.

Alex: Any favourite spots?

Callum: Barrytown, near Greymouth in the South Island. It was a dream. One of those weird iconic places; why it’s on the map, nobody knows. But it’s amazing, Fugazi (American punk rock band) and Townes van Zant (American singer-songwriter) had played there, and nearly every New Zealand artist I listened to had been there. It was a huge thrill when we got to play there last year. In Auckland, I love The Wine Cellar; I love the sound and the people, and what Rohan Evans does with the sound there.

Alex: You did a show there a couple of weeks ago? Did it go well?

Callum: Yeah. It was great. Played with Being.. If you get a chance, catch her shows, she is a great musician. The crowd was great. A lot of people came in who were new and just saw a gig was happening and decided to give it a go. One American guy saw that I was going to America this year and wanted to check me out, and he loved it.

Alex: You’re heading over to the States.

Callum: Uncle Donald still has to stamp the visa properly. One of the forms I had to sign did state that “if the administration changes its immigration policy at any time before or after arrival…”, which fair enough, it’s interesting times in America. Apart from getting that one little bit of protocol done at the consulate, it’s all set up and ready to go.

Alex: What made you pick the States?

Callum: Partly because I could. The visa came up, and I get a one-year working green card, which is ace. I don’t have to sneak in, I can go legitimately and work, tour around for a full year. Apart from that, childhood dreams? I’ve always wanted to visit and be an artist in New York. To see the places; go to Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans, Seattle. Even going to places with no music scene, but to see friends.

Alex: You have a farewell tour?

Callum: Just a small tour. The Wine Cellar show was the first We have an afternoon show at Leigh Sawmill on March 11th with Mice on Stilts, the day before on the 10th we are at Eggsentric in Whitianga because the guys wanted to go to the Coromandel. The weekend after on the 16th we are at The Refinery in the Paeroa area. That will be the last gigs I’ll be playing with the current band for a while unless I can get 10,000,000 listens on Spotify in the next couple of months and I can afford to fly them over to the States.

Alex: Tell me about your writing process.

Callum: There are two ways I go about it. One is that I’m just screwing around, and find a couple of chords that sound good, so I work something around it. The other way is when I’m learning someone else’s song, learning a cover, and I screw it up, and again it sounds good, so I work something around it. I was trying to learn a fingerpicking style, and it wasn’t the exact way that he plays it, but it was a variation on Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, it was interesting and different, so a song came out of that. It’s fun. I love to trip over songs.

Alex: How long does the songwriting process take?

Callum: Two parts to that question, how many songs do I write, and how many do I finish. It depends on a lot of factors but over a month I may write 5-10 different song ideas, whether it’s a lyric or melody. How many do I finish to the point that it’s completed and I’m happy with it? Maybe one a month. It takes a while because I like the process. I like to look at the structure and make changes and work on them. Only once have a sat down written a song and recorded it and it was done. It was okay, and I still play it live, but it was the only time that has happened that fast.

Alex: A bit of a perfectionist?

Callum: I’m not saying it’s a good thing. I remember Neil Young talking about writing After the Gold Rush, and how it took almost half an hour to come up with, and that was a long time. I don’t know how he does it. I guess he is just playing over and over, all the time, every day.

Alex: You’ve mentioned a few artists that have obviously inspired you. When you pick your band members, do their tastes in music come into consideration?

Callum: I generally just go with whoever wants to play with me. I’ve got lots of buddies who play music professionally, and I’ve got them to sit in and lay down some tracks. On one hand, they are really busy, and on the other, I approach things really differently; it’s not a conventional structure. Some musicians find it a bit weird, so I went with Sam and Joel because they didn’t look at me weird. I don’t dictate things, I just give them the vibe, and I let them contribute how they want. You don’t tell them what to do, you find out what they have to offer, to give to the song. Same goes with anything else, I’m working with a lady called Hayley on some videos, and I give her a couple of ideas, but I want to know what she hears when she listens to the song. Generally, what she comes up with is way more interesting than what I came up with because she knows what she’s doing with videos. Those guys know what they are doing with their instruments, so let them put their input in.

Alex: What are they like to tour with?

Callum: Good, actually. Last year we did a big tour, from September until November, and then did a solo tour in Australia. We were stuck in the car with all the gear for quite a while. We nailed the South Island and did a jaunt around the North, and I figured it would be great, as we could share the driving, and picking the music, doing the phone calls. In the end, I realised I liked the driving; from Dunedin to Greymouth in one trip, and I drove the whole way. I’m far happier and relaxed doing an eight-and-a-half-hour drive, than if I’m in the back seat. It was good for the other guys who preferred to chill and relax. We did all take turns picking the music to play and discovered some amazing new artists along the way. Sometimes not. If you ever get the chance to check out Puce Mary (Danish experimental artist), some really interesting and inspiring stuff, but I will listen to something else now because it’s full on.

Alex: How was the Australian tour?

Callum: I did my first Australian tour in May of last year and was over for a whole month. A New Zealand solo touring artist, I figured nobody was going to turn up, but it turned out really well; people turned up, some gigs paid really well, everyone was respectful. It went so well that I immediately booked the next tour. Only ended up being there for five shows for that November tour. I was knackered. I literally played a solo set the night before getting on the plane, I was drunk and thought I was screwed and going to die in Australia. It was weird, I got to Australia and went straight to the venue, and they greeted me, offered me a beer and a feed; it was great that all these people were happy to see me because I’d come all the way from New Zealand to play. I played a great show at Castlemaine, and another at Saints and Sailors in Portarlington; I’ve played there a couple times now doing three-hour sets. Fully recommend it. If you want a beer and feed they are great, but if you are a musician you should get hold of them.

Alex: Three-hour set?

Callum: Yeah when I first played there with another artist there were three of us each doing an hour each. I went back another time, and I really needed the cash, so I did the whole thing myself. I worked hard, with three hours of originals with some covers thrown in here and there. I was hoarse by the end of it. I know people who have done 4-hour covers gigs, and I can imagine what that final hour would have been like.

Alex: Your album was only available as a physical copy?

Callum: Yeah it was either through Bandcamp or as a physical EP at the shows. Partly I was overwhelmed. I had done the album, booking a tour. I knew I could get the digital rights, but I just wanted to get out on the road, and I’m happy with that. I figured it was time to get everything on Spotify. I had a single up there and it was pretty lonely, so I figured I would put it up on all the platforms to clear the library before I start putting up the things I have been working on in 2018.

Alex: Was the success of Australia what pushed you to look further abroad?

Callum: Partly yeah. The idea has been in my head for years but going to Australia was me venturing out. I was in Paris when I first started playing music, and went to London, but was too nervous to really play. I’d played around New Zealand a few times, and I was ready to do this. Having it done, the visa was available, and if I didn’t do it, the opportunity wouldn’t come about again. So, I took the jump.

Alex: That’s all the questions I have for you today. Are you going to play a song or two for us today?

Callum: Since you asked about the EP, I’m going to play the lead song off the EP. And for the second one, I’ll toss a coin.

 

About Callum Gentleman

Callum Gentleman plays blues/folk noir with the odd dash of country. It’s Nick Cave meets The Smiths in a dark alley where they conspire to kidnap Bob Dylan and move to New Zealand. It’s Tom Waits sharing a bottle of moonshine with Leonard Cohen at 4am while binge watching Twin Peaks (original season).

He's a raconteur, trouper, chancer, and murder ballad lover. But above all, Callum Gentleman is a storyteller.

These stories come out as songs, poems, campfire yarns, whiskey-soaked bar banter. Stories about good people doing bad things, and bad people who try hard to be good...but often fail. Stories of fallen angels staring to heaven, contrite demons yearning for redemption, down-and-out junkies scrounging for a dollar, the devil gets it on with the wrong hooker. Stories told in a child's whisper, a father's tears, and a drunk man's roar.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Callum Gentleman

Releases

Callum Gentleman
Year: 2018
Type: EP

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