With their long player, The Quiet Lamb, up for pre-order this week and an extensive UK tour too, we invited Tom Morris (chief song-writer) of Her Name Is Calla to walk us through the album and describe the influences and inspirations behind this extensive, and impressive, piece of work.
This was written by Adam. I asked him to lend a few words surrounding its conception.
Adam: “Moss Giant came from the sun bleached ivories of the piano I’ve been playing since I was nine in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. Being Two tones flat, Honkey tonk, and having barely any spring left in the keys doesn’t stop it being the main port of call for most Piano music I’ve written. To get the best tone out of it you need to do a lot of tricks. Leave the thirds out of chords in the bass, never hit the top end hard, pedal over clusters and avoid that Bb at all costs. Moss giant was born out of these strictures. I didn’t want to do anything showy, and I was too hung over to write anything that might go faster than a crawl, so Moss Giant just kind of happened. Wallingford is a very beautiful ‘midsummer murders’ village rich in green and quiet, and just imagined how this huge unknown entity could wander sloth loped across it’s hills without gleaming more notice than the startling of a murder of crows. I thought I was happy with the piece until I heard how much further Sophie’s strings could take it- that midas young Miss!. This seems to be the case with most things in Calla, the whole is often greater than the sum of it’s parts. It’s the first track I’ve ever sung on, and was suggested as an opener by my little brother. Hopefully it’ll make us some money one day in the only way you can in the music business in these days – soundtracking a car advert. Works quite well if you do a David Attenborough impression over it too -sadly I can only do Jimmy Stewart. Points for guessing which game soundtrack it’s inspired by…”
A Blood Promise
This is the first song that I wrote after relocating to Yorkshire. I’d just come out of hospital after a breakdown followed by an overdose. I sat trying to write a song for the first time in ages but nothing was happening. I stared out of the window and the ground was covered in snow and I started to play that opening guitar part. The inspiration was the new surroundings and the fact that my family had moved up there for a fresh start. But I was quite confused at the time and felt that I’d let a lot of people down, especially my daughter. It’s one of my favourite recordings and performances on the album but a few folks often complain that it’s too quiet. Despite that being the point. It sounds really easy but is actually a bit of a shit to play live. If we don’t get the pace and the emotion just right, it can fall flat on its arse. We recorded it in our normal approach. Live guitar, bass and drums, and then overdubbing the rest in our various homes. Normally, after the initial live recording, we all record our vocals/violins/ trombones and such separately. Everyone then puts their parts into our Dropbox and I mix them into the songs.
Pour More Oil
Written around the same time as A Blood Promise. They both have to sit together, we were always sure about that. They support each other someway. This is one of the first songs that we all played together when Sophie joined the band. She played her violin over the top and I welled up with tears. Just like I did at the end of Toy Story 3 recently.This song is about, as macabre as it sounds, my own place in hell. Every band has to have a Dante inspired song, and this is ours. It’s about my experiences with depression, medication and an inability to communicate with my wife about what is happening and alienating her. It’s about being punished for my actions. Which only seems fair really doesn’t it. I think so. The pour more oil part is literally that- burning oil. Pour More Oil was the first song that we finished recording and mixing. I made Sophie rerecord her violin parts about twenty times. And each time there was multiple lines for her to do. She was close to tears but I didn’t really care, we knew how good she was and it’s important to get the right take. It was also the last song that Sophie Barnes played on before she left the band. I really like Thom’s trombone lines in this. It adds some lovely textures down the mid and bottom end of the range, alongside Dave Dhonau’s (part time Calla member) cello lines.
Our friends The Monroe Transfer played the string parts for this. Nick Gill wrote it as a coda for The Union but we preferred to use it at this point. Since our releases are intended for vinyl we wanted to make sure that there was a clear start and end to each side. And to give the listener some time to reflect. That was the important thing.
Condor and River
This has been knocking around for years now. We always hated the original recording because it sounded so bad. There’s so many mistakes on it. I’m sure at the time we thought it was great but it was the first big song we’d recorded. We’d also been playing it for about a week when we decided to record it, so we weren’t all exactly sure on how to actually play it. Like most of the songs on The Quiet Lamb, it was recording and scrapped about five times before we settled on what we have here. There’s a lot in here that’s the same as the original, but there are extra touches here and there. A string arrangement, better performances and a better recording and the key differences. The guitar also continues into the second half to add some extra texture. Thom does the scream in the sixth minute and I think he lost his voice after this. I remember looking around at the other guys as we were recording the take which ended up on the album and thinking, “Shit! We’re finally recording this album we’ve talked about for so long”. It was a particularly proud moment to be there with my best friends making music, knowing that it needed this exact combination of people to be made.
The story surrounding the song is fictitious. I think it’s pulled together from bits of newspaper stories and my mind working overtime to create a new tale. Unusual for us as our songs are normally biographical in some way or another, however vague they may sometime appear.
Written some time half way through the recording of the album I think. Denovali released it on an EP in early 2010. This song also documents my relationship with my wife and the support that she brings during my, let’s say, bad times. I remember that everyone was away for the weekend apart from my daughter Edie and myself. Edie was a bit ill and didn’t want to do much, she was three at the time. I’d set up to record this song in the living room in the early evening. At about 9pm Edie woke up sweating and couldn’t sleep, I brought her downstairs to lay on the couch where it was cooler and she drank some water. She didn’t want a cuddle or anything, she just wanted to lay still. I started playing the song softly on the nylon guitar and she just watched. She seemed really calm so I carried on and recorded the main guitar and vocal live, playing towards Edie. I added another two nylon tracks and a banjo track. Right at the end of the banjo track Edie decided to speak at last and say “I like that song Daddy”. Unfortunately, she’s been drowned out by the other instruments now. But she’s definitely in there somewhere adding to the texture. As it happens, she got better after that.I passed the files onto Adam and he added his piano, drums and double bass over the top before adding Sophie. He mixed it also.It’s played on one of my favourite guitars – a nylon strung that has the most gorgeous mellow sound. I stole it from a school for the blind; but that’s another story. One that I’m not proud of.
A very fragile song separating Long Grass and Thief. It was recorded live onto my iphone in one take. I’m still trying to understand this one…We tried to expand it but it just didn’t sound right. So it remained the delicate little flower that it is.
This was originally played on a Magnus organ which was slightly out of tune. It was Adams and we needed to rerecord it. Unfortunately, I broke it to a point where it couldn’t be repaired. This song has been kicking around since mid 2009 but we could never get it to work out properly. We finally settled on this version and Adam did a great mix of it. It was one of those nice recording days when we had some friends over with us hanging out whilst we did our parts. We all got to do group vocals live too which is always good fun. Adam used a theramin that he built over this which adds a nice layer.It’s another biographical song.
This is using Sophie’s original demo violin parts for Thief mixed in with some samples that we use live. She didn’t know that it appeared on the album til the day before it went to press. You can tell it’s a demo because of the rough recording and the mouse clicks in the background.
The Union: I Worship a Golden Sun
We recorded this with drums, bass, guitar and keyboards all live. I really like Mike’s bass part in this song. We’ve been playing the whole trilogy for close to two years but we never felt it was ready to release until now. The turning point came when we actually broke it down into four parts, and then eventually three. It was the first time we experimented with a bigger than normal live set up also; multiple keyboards and triggers for the drones etc. We always liked to use lots of percussion live as well. This trilogy was a really good way for us to all push ourselves musical, mainly in a live context. When we last toured Europe we played a mix of both albums. It was mainly a headline tour so we were given quite big set times. Most ran between 1hr 20 and 1hr 45. Finishing the set on this trilogy and then coming back on to play New England was thoroughly exhausting. It meant that our last 30 minutes on stage was pretty much non stop without any breaks. Just like the theme of The Heritage, this particular part is about ultimatums and generational inheritance. I feel bad for the poor sods, I really do.
The Union: Recidivist
This had a number of title changes and at a time some lyrics. It represents my fear of sliding back into old ways or losing control. Likewise, it’s also about being scared of giving control away. Without a doubt this had to be the most dark as fuck part in the album. Thom and Mike played some huge timpani’s and bits of drum kit over the guitar feedback and chords. We played it together live. Gav from worriedaboutsatan came into the recording session and just said, “what the fuck is this?” then just walked out shaking his head. Sophie’s job was to torture her violin to death. Some time before whilst on tour in Europe, we’d pulled into a music shop to buy some replacement cables and drum parts (we’d broken a lot of stuff during a particularly destructive show the night before). Adam managed to buy a little red recorder for €1. Good job too because he plays it extensively during the first part of this track.
The Union: Into the West
We’d always wanted to do a song that was an epic western. It details a crossing over into death and beyond. And just hoping that there is something, anything. Adam gets to drum like a beast in this. In fact, everyone gets to play like a beast in this. Corah is wailing on his trombone like it’s his last time. Mike’s bass riff is unbelievably hard to play. And I get to play some slide guitar. Hell. Yes.Our friends The Monroe Transfer played on this also for some extra, screwdriver guitar, viola and cello. It was important for the whole song to sound like it was all around you and incredibly dense. I didn’t want any space left in the mix, everything had to be filled. The album always had to end like this, with these three tracks. We’d decided very early on that it would be this way. We recognised somewhere during the mixing process that the album was very long and quite hard going. I think we knew, because of the content and the journey involved to get to this point that it was always going to be that way. We’ve never put more effort into the recording of a record than we did for this, it was really quite draining at some points during the mixing, but it’s okay; we were prepared for it in some way. Like we all always knew how it would sound, before it’d been written.