Our love-to-hate-him contributer Jesse recently talked to Anthony Cavallario, the voice and guitar of indie-rockers Aloha over the course of several months via email. The two communicated between tours, floods and volcano eruptions to give us this interview. The duo discuss their new album, Some Echoes and how the band has changed with the addition of new members.
Some would say we do things the hard way in the studio but for us playing together yields the best results.
On the upcoming album, there seems to be a sort of old fashioned hymn-like influence, especially in the mellotron parts. It comes up in a lot of songs, especially in "Mountain." Can you elaborate on this?
I haven't thought of "Mountain" as a hymn, but I can understand that. It's drenched in distant organ and the lyrics sound like a group professing in the third person. I guess it's kind of a relentless, electric hymn. Somehow, I think this song and some others on "Some Echoes" are influenced as much by the old kinda psychadelic folk music that's resurfacing these days as it is from the prog rock and Krautrock we've been into for years. The music reflects the progish side and the songwriting representing the folkier side. But there's not an acoustic guitar to be found so your readers are going to wonder what I'm talking about.
I guess the sort of hymn influence that I keep hearing is the organ parts, and I'm not sure if it's just because it's an organ, but the organ parts seem to me to be reminiscent of those old hymns that start a church service. Let's discuss prog. It's a word that's been tossed around a lot lately in the past three years, with bands like The Mars Volta and Coheed and Cambria coming up synonymously with the word, but Aloha's work has sort of been steeped in prog since the start, though it's not directly apparent. Do you feel a kinship with other bands that are waving the prog flag, or is prog-rock simply an influence that works its way into your work slightly?
I guess you could say it influences our music but we're not trying to wave any banner. We rely on musicianship to some degree but we don't strive to be technical or macho. We're more into trying to make music that's dense and ornate, and our tools are mostly the same ones prog bands in the 60s and 70s used. This is your second album with multi-instrumentalist TJ Lipple. Is your songwriting process different now that he's a seasoned member? Was it different with the recording of Here Comes Everyone than with Sugar?
When we were writing HCE, T.J. was the new member and yet he had huge responsibilities, first of all deciding from all the intruments in the world what would become Aloha's new sound pallete (like the mellotron sounds and the marimba), as well as essentially being our new producer. That's the major difference with HCE, everything was new and we had nothing to lose, because until that record came out, Aloha had basically disappeared. So we were creating something out of nothing. Or rather, ressurecting something.
I don't remember too much about recording "Sugar." You can probably tell a lot by listening to it. It doesn't have the same sweetness and hope of "That's Your Fire" or the generosity and empathy of "Here Comes Everyone" but I think we were conflicted in the studio then and we got a conflicted sound, a lot of nice stuff and a lot of dissonance, but that has it's own merits.
Sugar does seem to have a slightly darker, more serious tone to it. What about Some Echoes? The album tends to be a bit keyed down from Here Comes Everyone until "Mountain," which seems to be a sort of rejoicing climax/conclusion to a darker album. Was the album constructed this way, or were these tendencies just a pattern that naturally occurred in the songwriting? Was "Mountain" written as the last track on purpose? Sort of a lot of questions thrown at you that are all focused around the same topic….
At first "Mountain" sounded like welcome music but later it became clear that is was the exit theme. I like how it's sounds like action, rather than ending on reflection. It's sort of an anthem for outsiders of all stripes.
What's your song writing process?
Hmmm. There are a few ways songs get written. Mostly we just write when we're together playing music -- jamming, if you want to call it that. We all make demos at home, some songs grow from there. Whenever I'm stuck, Cale just plays crazy beats and I play along until something clicks, and then Matth and TJ take it from there. Everyone contributes.
When I saw Aloha play last year at the Abbey Pub in Chicago, there was a lot of instrument switching. Do you multi-track instruments on the album or record it with the idea of being able to play the song live with four people in mind?
We record live for the most part. Vocals and some things are layered on, but we try to do as much live as we can. Some would say we do things the hard way in the studio but for us playing together yields the best results. Some songs do get built track by track in the studio, but not the majority.
Every genre has it's crossover artists, and generally those who break through have a great opportunity to influence the larger culture instead of just hanging out in the scene that their comfortable in.
Van Halen used to record all their albums live in the studio. That's why there's not usually a rhythm guitar backing a solo on the first few albums. What's your take on the mainstream media giving indie rock and punk more attention now?
Every few years there is this perception that punk and underground music is becoming mainstream. The truth I think is that every genre has it's crossover artists, and generally those who break through have a great opportunity to influence the larger culture instead of just hanging out in the scene that their comfortable in. But that doesn't always happen. I can say that the this winter I was watching VH1 and Death Cab came on, and no matter what you think of that, it blew all the other stuff before it -- U2, Rob Thomas, etc.. -- out of the water. I mean it's a step in the right direction. Sometimes I'm elated that the underground music scene is so well-established these days; other times I'm sad that it's so far away from pop media, that today's best artists are only reaching tens of thousands of people instead of the whole of America, which really needs some inspiration right now.
Do you feel like Aloha has that sort of potential to ever cross over or get picked up by the mainstream? Have you ever set goals like that for the band?
Who knows. Maybe any band can write a song that could cross over. I think if you tried, you'd fail, but I at least am still hanging on to the hope that music is more powerful that the machines that promote it and filter it.