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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Calliope Finds a More Focused Groove on ‘Orbis’

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While it’s only been a year since they released their debut album, Milwaukee’s Calliope are not sitting idly on that momentum. Instead, they’re releasing a new EP called Orbis, a collection of rock songs that seemingly tosses off the training wheels. With its circus of sounds and influences, the EP is undoubtedly Calliope, but this time there’s a decidedly more focused and mature approach.

A big reason why the songs fit together better, according to guitarist Victor Buell, is that they were written in a single period. The songs on their debut, by comparison, were written over a span of a few years and as a result featured a widely varied sound (Buell calls it a greatest-hits collection).

“They’re all unique in their own right but I think they’re more connected,” Buell says of the EP’s songs. “They have some more cohesive elements that tie things together. There’s definitely more of an album feeling to it.”

The band initially envisioned releasing a 7-inch record, since they’ve always wanted to release vinyl, but a six-song EP made more sense. While Orbis is far from a concept album, the EP examines American society with lyrics about money, guns and girls. “Casino,” for instance, is an allegory for Wall Street and capitalism. Buell is quick to note, however, that the song is just a simple critique and that, “There’s no big artistic message.”

At the end of the day, it’s the instrumentation that really ties the songs together. Tight arrangements showcase the band’s gelling chemistry acquired from an aggressive schedule of shows over the past year.

To record the EP, they returned to singer Al Kraemer’s cabin in the northern woods of Wisconsin, hoping the space would provide more inspiration. This time out, however, they opted to record by themselves, without an engineer. “Essentially, the money that we would spend on a recording engineer we could invest and use for recording equipment that we could use time and time again,” Buell says.

“At the same time it gave us a little more artistic freedom because we weren’t necessarily paying a guy by the hour,” he adds. “We didn’t feel pressured or rushed to get anything done. We were relaxed and were able to experiment with different parts.”

They recorded mostly live at the cabin and later finished at Buell’s Milwaukee studio, with Buell handling engineering duties. “It was a little challenging as it was definitely the biggest project for me as an engineer,” Buell says.

The band’s organ, a defining sound of their debut album, is still present, but like almost everything on the new EP, it’s more subdued.

“I think we did a good job with how each individual person’s part came together and that they were able to complement each other instead of everyone playing technically impressive,” Buell says. “I thought we did a better job at gelling, with each individual person’s parts contributing towards a better sound.”

What’s that better sound?

“We’re not rehashing older stuff we’ve done in the past,” says Buell. “Instead of being influenced by artists of yesteryear I think we let it come out more naturally, resulting in something that was a little more modern sounding—less referential and straight from the source. It’s an evolved and matured sound.”

Calliope releases Orbis on limited vinyl Friday, June 6, at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn with Shoot Down the Moon, Mortgage Freeman and Liquid Video Synthesis by Breadmothers. The show is $7 and begins at 9 p.m.