above: Image by Rebecca Storm, courtesy of Captured Tracks.
The work of Edmonton-born, Montreal-based artist Alex Calder is defined by its unique psych-pop sound which incorporates a distant, dreamy pensiveness behind simple, addicting melodies. Launching his career playing with fellow Edmontonian Mac DeMarco in Makeout Videotape, Calder set out as a unique songwriter in his own right, signing with Captured Tracks and releasing his Time EP in 2013. Calder’s sense for pop songwriting comes together with his aim for warbled guitars and experimental musicianship, as well as his dry humor and a tense, understated melancholy.
Yesterday, January 20, Calder released his debut solo LP Strange Dreams. Strange Dreams continues Calder’s effort for smart psych-pop melodies that undergo his self-produced lo-fi treatment. Underneath the songs’ hazy indie vibe is an emotional resonance that enhances their psychedelic experimentation and pop sensibility. Ahead of the release of Strange Dreams, Alex Calder talked to Alternative Nation about his new album, playing live, the progress on his next album, and more:
Alternative Nation: What was the writing and recording process like for Strange Dreams?
Alex Calder: It was a weird process. About half the songs I finished even before the Time EP, which was released in a very short period of time. So, some of them are real oldies, but about the other half I recorded real slowly over the next year or so. I recorded half of them at my old apartment and then I moved 2 doors down to my new apartment and recorded the rest. In my new apartment I can’t play drums because my neighbors have flipped, so some of the drums were sampled on the album, Even samples of older drum tracks I played on other songs.
How does Strange Dreams compare to the Time EP or Mold Boy stuff?
I’m not really sure. I feel like with the Time EP it had more of a warbly out of tune sound on the whole thing because I was playing around with shitty effect pedals. With this [album], I guess, I wanted to avoid that slightly more and just have really simple pop songs that weren’t too over thought or layered with effects too much. I kinda just wanted to make a song that sounds like Pavement for the entire record. Also, the Mold Boy stuff is kinda where I wanted to put more “experimental” stuff up without thinking about it, and I do all of that during the Alex Calder stuff.
How did the “Lola” music video come about?
My friend Cole came to stay with me for a few weeks and we always try to be pretty productive and work on comedy stuff while he’s in town, or when I’m back home where he lives in Edmonton. Anyways, we had no real ideas for a music video, but knew we wanted to make one. The only idea that came about was Cole phoning me on the drive to Montreal telling me how he just picked up some roller blades for the video. So Cole got to town and we had no big ideas for a video, but the idea of me just rolling blading down the street looking as happy and giddy as possible for the entire thing over top of this mellow, downer song was so funny to us. Behind the camera the whole time Cole was going “huge smile!” “enthusiasm!” “Take your shirt off!” Anyways, I think it turned out great and I like how unsettling or off putting it seems to be to some people. They expect to see this like hazy indie rock VHS style melancholic bullshit, but just get an honest guy rollerblading down the street shirtless.
“They expect to see this like hazy indie rock VHS style melancholic bullshit”
You recently had a string of tour dates in Vancouver and New York. What’s it like to play your material live?
Yeah! I did! Playing live is a tricky thing for me, I go very back and forth with liking it. I would avoid playing live if I could, I think. But there’s also points where I really enjoy it. I get pretty bad anxiety on stage, and if, for a moment I think that people aren’t into it, it kinda all goes downhill for me. But it’s kinda cool, if I’m in a good mood and we’re playing poorly, it’s a nice challenge to try to win over the crowd. We used to fool around a lot more on the stage too, but I feel like that can be kind of alienating to the audience when you do it too much. Especially if you’re sense of humor is pretty specific to you and your bandmates and friends. I’m not sure if people are that into paying to see you talk about Jar Jar Binks or cover the King of the Hill theme 15 times during your set.
Peter Sagar told me about Canada that “it’s really fucking cold half the time, which is a great reason to stay inside and record.” How has Canada affected your music? I sense a DIY ethic in the Montreal music scene.
Peter has such a foul mouth! But yeah, that’s the point, Canada is super cold and you can’t go outside or do anything so you sit inside and record all winter. There’s also a lack of fun going on here, so it’s not like you’re going out to a show or something every night of the week instead of recording. I feel like if I lived in New York or somewhere I would find it hard to record so much. But I also feel like I would find much more inspiration in a place like that, so they both work I guess. I would definitely love to get the hell out of Canada.
Is Mold Boy a separate project or an extension of your solo work?
At first I wanted to make like a “secret music project” with Mold Boy where I could do whatever I wanted and have instrumental tracks or whatever instead of doing the Alex Calder stuff that way. But I quickly just associated the two and so now they kind of just coexist. There’s also some exciting news for Mold Boy and some changes in the near future though!
Besides showcasing your cooking, acting, and bathing exploits on Instagram, what’s ahead for Alex Calder in 2015?
I guess a bunch of touring now. But not too much touring, I love being at home. That and finishing up my next album. I’m about half done, so hopefully I’ll have some time to finish it before we have to tour a lot. Also, hopefully more funny stuff this year, I feel like focusing on that more.
Alex Calder’s debut LP Strange Dreams is out now via Captured Tracks, order it here. Check out his bandcamp here.