Calpur­nia gives props to lo­cal leg­ends

The Georgia Straight - - Music -

by Mike Usinger

There’s an ar­gu­ment that rock ’n’ roll could not be deader as this decade comes to a close, with any­one un­der the age of 30 sin­gu­larly ob­sessed with ev­ery­thing fall­ing un­der the um­brella of ur­ban mu­sic.

That makes Calpur­nia some­thing of an odd­ity. To talk to the Van­cou­ver band’s four mem­bers (who are still years away from be­ing able to or­der a drink legally in these parts) is to lis­ten as they reel off a laun­dry list of acts that are stub­bornly stick­ing to the gui­tar as their main mu­si­cal weapon of choice: Tame Im­pala, Pup, Mac De­marco, Twin Peaks, Ariel Pink, and Griz­zly Bear. Ask them to dig into the vaults for older in­spi­ra­tions, and they’ll cite the Bea­tles, the Vel­vet Un­der­ground, and some Seat­tle band called Nir­vana as es­sen­tial in­flu­ences. Lo­cal fix­a­tions in­clude the Eva­po­ra­tors, fronted by no less than Nard­wuar the Hu­man Servi­ette, who might at this point know more about Van­cou­ver’s fa­bled first-wave punk scene than those who were there.

That the kids of Calpur­nia—singer-gui­tarist Finn Wolfhard, gui­tarist Ayla Tesler-mabe, bassist Jack An­der­son, and drum­mer Mal­colm Craig—come off as older than their years on their de­but EP, Scout, isn’t by ac­ci­dent. The band’s ex­po­sure to a time it never knew comes partly from en­coun­ters with lo­cal leg­ends.


“This is kind of crazy, but I just re­al­ized this right now and it kind of blew my mind,” says Tesler-mabe, on a con­fer­ence call with her band­mates from Lon­don, Eng­land, where they’ve just wrapped a BBC ses­sion. “Bill Napier-hemy, who played in the Pointed Sticks, was ac­tu­ally one of my first teach­ers at rock camp.”

Not only that, but the gui­tarist also jammed with the kids of Napier-hemy and his wife, Jade Blade—the lat­ter’s mu­si­cal past in­cluded fronting sem­i­nal all-fe­male first­wave punkers the Dishrags.

This causes Wolfhard to chime in with “I love all these kind of lit­tle ins that we’ve learned about and made in the Van­cou­ver mu­sic scene.”

A con­sid­er­able amount of the ex­po­sure and hype that’s sur­rounded Calpur­nia has been tied in to the fact that Wolfhard is one of the stars of the smash Net­flix se­ries Stranger Things. But a cou­ple of ini­tial sin­gles, fol­lowed by the won­der­fully ac­com­plished Scout, im­me­di­ately made it clear the band is any­thing but the third com­ing of Keanu Reeves’s Dogstar.

The EP’S alt-coun­tri­fied kick­off track, “Louie”, finds the sweet spot be­tween Green­wich Vil­lage– years Bob Dy­lan and the Ex­ile on Main Street– era Glim­mer Twins. “Grey­hound” plants one foot in the pais­ley un­der­ground and the other in the fa­bled col­lege-rock mecca of Athens, Ge­or­gia, and “City Boy” sounds like it was made for a mix­tape slot right be­tween the Flam­ing Lips and the Brian Jon­estown Mas­sacre.

Calpur­nia started with Wolfhard jam­ming with Craig af­ter the two met on the set of a video for Toronto ag­i­ta­tors Pup—where they played younger ver­sions of the band’s mem­bers. Tesler­mabe even­tu­ally en­tered their cir­cle at a pro­gram called Be­fore They Were Fa­mous Rock Camp.

“I went there not know­ing any­one at all,” the gui­tarist says. “I’d done the pro­gram many times so was just happy to show up and meet peo­ple who loved mu­sic. Luck­ily for me, both Finn and Mal­colm were there and I met them. I re­mem­ber think­ing they were both re­ally, re­ally funny, and gen­uine down-to-earth guys who loved mu­sic.”

Craig adds: “We bonded over a lot of Nir­vana, clas­sic rock, and grungy stuff.”

Tesler-mabe, who got hooked on gui­tar play­ing Rock Band on Plays­ta­tion 3, even­tu­ally brought her friend An­der­son into the fold when a bassist proved the miss­ing piece of the puz­zle.

“We thought, ‘Okay, if this first show goes okay we should be­come a band, be­cause we all re­ally like each other and this is all work­ing re­ally well,’ ” Wolfhard says. “And it did, so we were like, ‘Let’s keep this go­ing.’ It was kind of ter­ri­fy­ing go­ing on-stage for that first time, but it was also the best feel­ing in the world.”

Much of what has been writ­ten about Calpur­nia since then has fol­lowed the nar­ra­tive that the band’s mem­bers are sin­gu­larly fas­ci­nated with the decade when John Hughes was king, and shoes were pointy and black. That’s any­thing but ac­cu­rate.


IF YOU WERE a fan of Rory Gal­lagher back in his hey­day, you most likely lis­tened to him on vinyl. Im­pressed by the rau­cous blues-rock of his pre­vi­ous power trio, Taste, you may have picked up his self-ti­tled solo de­but in 1971. Per­haps won over by the catchy vibe of his big­gest hit, “Tat­too’d Lady”, you bought the Tat­too 12-incher in ’73. And maybe the next year you wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence Gal­lagher in his el­e­ment—cap­tured live on-stage, bril­liantly tear­ing up the frets on his well­worn 1961 Strat—so you ponied up what was needed to score his dou­bledisc Ir­ish Tour ’74 al­bum.

Be­fore Gal­lagher passed away from com­pli­ca­tions of a liver trans­plant in 1995, at the age of 47, he re­leased 14 al­bums, all of which fea­tured bassist Gerry Mcavoy. And when Mcavoy from pre­vi­ous page

“I think it’s cool that we’re not try­ing to sound like a ’70s rock band, or an ’80s rock band,” Craig of­fers. “We’re more into touch­ing on all the dif­fer­ent in­flu­ences that we col­lec­tively have, and then bring those in­flu­ences to our own mu­sic.”

It’s more ac­cu­rate to say that he and his band­mates are in love with rock in gen­eral, a big part of the ap­peal be­ing the quick learn­ing curve. For­get spend­ing weeks on Youtube learn­ing how to make beats that sound like some­thing from the Mi­gos crew; it only takes a cou­ple of days to be able to stum­ble through “Louie Louie”. Calpur­nia has al­ready taken things far be­yond the garage, the group prov­ing there’s plenty of life left in rock ’n’ roll.

“What makes rock so cool is that it’s so ac­ces­si­ble,” An­der­son says. “You can take three chords and any crappy acous­tic gui­tar and be ready to rip. All of us can say that we wanted to play gui­tar or drums right from when we were lit­tle. It was the case where it was ‘Oh, there’s a gui­tar ly­ing around the house—i think I’ll pick it up and try it.’ There was a spark in all of us right from the be­gin­ning where this is what we wanted to do.”

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