Omnii Feature #12 : Under the lid with… CALLUNA

We catch up with Heather of Calluna ahead of their single launch with Friends Serene at The Shackelwell Arms, to talk boldness, blue girls and basic set-ups…

Can you talk us through your choices for the tracks?

You have to watch the video with Fever Ray’s ‘To the Moon and Back’! I love most things Karin Dreijer Andersson does. This is from her latest ‘coming out’ album released last year. It’s playful and cartoonish and documents her quest into queerness with such beautiful lyrical bluntness (“I want to run my fingers up your pussy”). The production is outstanding on the whole album, and features Nídia, this incredible 20 year old Portuguese producer. I’m not yet, but I strive to be as bold and honest to myself as Fever Ray is. I also think it’s so important to have these visible role models that aren’t just pop-puppets. I teach guitar and I have a lot of female students who struggle to connect with women in mainstream music — artists who don’t write their own stuff, conform to gender stereotypes and whose music or lyrics aren’t challenging or interesting. Seeing other women doing their own thing makes that thirteen-year-old girl think “fuck yeah, I wanna self-produce, I wanna do it my way, I can do whatever I like” without any preconceptions about how they ‘should be’.

I am first and foremost a drummer, so the intro fill in ‘Honeycomb’ by Kadjha Bonet makes me very happy! This song also satisfies the singer in me — her voice is like silk falling through fingers. She’s an incredible arranger — composing like a true craftswoman — as well as self-producing. Listen to the lyrics… “beckoning, with fickle majesty”. I also love that it’s not just ‘pretty’, there’s something unnerving about her music too. Similarly, I certainly enjoy applying a sense of discomfort in my music at times. I’m a big fan of her manipulation of the female voice at the end of this track, she plays with themes of robo-women and challenging female stereotypes.

I saw Still Corners by accident about 8 years ago, but I don’t think they’re together anymore which is a shame. I love their dark, dreamy aesthetic, it’s definitely a big influence on the Calluna sound. The pitch-bend synths and the monotonous palm-muted guitar and accompanying beat make the whole thing feel hypnotic and tense — like you’re in a scene from a David Lynch film.

This is just a super sexy song that I can’t get enough of right now. Nick Hakim’s band are so tight and it’s the sort of track where, if you dedicate time to listening on headphones carefully, all these secret sounds appear like animals out of the dark. The harmonies are weird and gorgeous and the whole thing is just a beautiful haze of sexy soul-psychedelica. He also plays a Univox Hi-Flier with a whammy which is HOT.

Can you describe your working method/ process?

I’ve always thought of the way I write as really infantile, but after experimenting with my approach I realised that it doesn’t matter how you do it, it’s about what you produce. I’ll usually sit with my Tele and my pedals, get a nice tone I’m happy with that suits the mood I’m in and I’ll work it out organically there and then — both music and lyrics. I approach songwriting with ‘availablism’ in mind. I don’t have instant access to a studio (or even a home studio at the moment) so I use what’s about — usually my Voice Memos to initially document the idea development (I’m very forgetful so this is essential if I want to remember melody lines or riffs). Once I feel like the song is there in it’s basic form, I’ll use Logic to record it and build up riffs and harmonies. For me, that’s the funnest part — getting it down and layering it up, using instruments, percussion and plugins to achieve the sound that only exists in my head at that point. So often, I’ll go to a studio to record a track I’ve written, do it ‘properly’, and end up preferring the magic of the demo I did a bad job of in Logic back when I was writing it. There’s something in those first recordings of tracks, the writing session recordings I make when I’m alone, that have something I can’t always recreate.

How did you get into production? What have been your influences?

Throughout my music degree I was shamefully afraid of production. It felt like this huge thing that was bigger than me, and I thought I wasn’t capable of doing it because I was just using Garageband and my laptop microphone. It turned out, that fear of production became part of my early sound and ended up being what helped me develop as an artist. I’m now studying an MMus in Creative Practice and the last few years have seen me drastically change my outlook. I trained myself up on Logic by forcing myself to use it to write and record and it’s been one of the most empowering learning experiences I’ve ever had. I’m a bit of a control freak, so to be able to own every aspect of creating music has felt incredible. I recently produced a piece of music called ‘Cephalea’ centred around sonically documenting the life-cycle of a migraine, using predominantly found and body sounds. I went to a metalworks foundry with a field recording kit and sampled the industrial sounds, placing them against the body sounds in my pieces to create a sound art exploration. The project is far removed from what I write for Calluna, but it was a journey that took me to explore so many different methods of songwriting, production and recording that I’d never tried before. The most important part of production to me is exploration, and to keep doing it in as many different ways as possible to find out what works for you.

Your debut video and single, Calm Inside, is out very soon! Can you talk us through the recording process?

Thinking back to the recording feels like a lifetime ago after doing all the other stuff that goes along with self-releasing. We recorded ‘Calm Inside’ with our friend and engineer Andy Hughes. They have awesome equipment there like a Theremin (which I’ve now learnt how to replicate on a synth instead!), Wurlitzer, Moog, Juno 106 and all that kinda gear to get excited about, but sadly on this occasion we didn’t have a lot of ‘creative’ time to explore. John, our super talented synth-player produced and mixed the single, so spent much of the time in the control room as Sammi, Ed and Jamie and I jammed it out in the live room. It’s always the ones you think that will be the easiest that take the longest time to get down, but we managed it in one day — probably due to time constraints.

For the vocals, we tried a few different things but settled on a Miktec CV4 which is a large-diaphragm condenser. It’s lovely and warm sounding and made the vocals work sonically without having to do a whole heap of post-production. There are some other cool bits in the track, like a sample of this crash sound on the Juno 106 which is warped and pitched. It’s used in the outro as an alternative to having loads of cymbals creating a similar explosive effect. The lead riff is Jamie’s signature sound — he uses lots of beautiful pedals but I think it’s the combination of his gorgeous Gretsch and the Electro-Harmonix Pog run through a Fender Twin-Reverb that make it cut through and stand out. I used to have a washy reverse-delay sound, but now use a lot more distortion to differentiate from Jamie’s sound and add bite.

When I introduce the song live, I used to ask the audience to imagine that they were a fish floating in seaweed — it’s the analogy I used to get Sammi to sing her dreamy, lazy BVs when we first tried it out at practice, and I think the song has this weird drifting push-and-pull energy that was so important to capture in the recording. Initially the song was nearly 5 minutes, but as it’s our debut single we thought we should make a radio edit, and after trimming (a lot) of fat, got it to 3 minutes 40. I actually love this version now and the process of recording and editing has taught me a lot about my songwriting and what’s needed or not needed in a song.

We’ve been lucky enough to see a preview of the video, which you worked on with Abi Sinclair. What was that process like and how were the creative decisions made?

Abi is a creative genius and I strongly recommend anyone wanting to make a video to do it with her. As I’ve said, I can be quite the control freak, so she was an absolute dream when it came to working together collaboratively because she was so chilled and accepting of my manic nature. I’d had all these really vivid visual ideas in my head since the creation of the song. I knew I wanted there to be a blue girl, I knew I wanted visuals of seaweed and hands, and I knew the colour scheme and locations already so I thought the best way to communicate this would be to create a video treatment — which thankfully she was totally on board with. She took control of the hands-on filming and editing, using all those signature techniques of hers that make all her videos stand out, and I self-directed, with the help of my friend Eve Kann (an incredible costume designer) who assisted with art direction, lighting and set design.

We shot it over two shoot days in my bathroom, and one day at Abi’s house, and edited it together over two sessions. Making a music video has been one of the most empowering and fun projects I’ve ever been apart of, and it feels amazing seeing the initial ideas develop through collaboration with such talented people.

What is your favourite bit of gear and why?

We recorded recently with Harri Chambers of Bat and Ball, and he’s modded this Electro Harmonix pedal called Clone Theory which we used on my guitar to get this amazing haunting chorus kinda sound, and I fell in love. I also love this ZVEX pedal called Lo-Fi Junky, which is hand-painted (swoon) and creates a lo-fidelity chorus warble that sounds like warped tape.

What is your personal ‘top tip’ for producing/ mixing?

Make sure you’re having fun. I’ve heard too many stories of people not enjoying their recording experiences, and have certainly experienced this myself, and it sucks. If you haven’t found the right person to collaborate with, then do it yourself.

What are you future projects?

The recording we did with Harri at NXNE will be drifting about as a single perhaps in the next few months, which I’m really keen to make another music video for. For now, I’m focussing all my efforts into self-releasing and getting ready for our single launch event for Friends Serene at The Shacklewell Arms on Thursday 3rd May.