There's a lot going on with the new Calder's Revolvers EP, but at the same time, it's incredibly simple. Recorded in vocalist Andy Schneieder's basement in the Highlands over the span of seven months, the four tracks on Black Bloc invoke heavy soul sympathies and prove their subtle pop potential while kicking dust in the face of the band's own garage-rock beginnings. You can call it soul revival, or you can just shelve it next to The Black Keys and call it good. The EP was supposed to be a full-length. In the end, though, the four brazen, brokedown jams that made it here are all that survived the attempt.
The quartet's drive to record their newest effort with a distinctly DIY aesthetic called for multiple basements, a seven-month stretch and several abandoned attempts at tracking before they finished Black Bloc. Each of the four remaining songs has been tracked and recorded more than once, Schneider says, and it took time for the guys to lay down the exact sound they hoped for. Between Black Bloc and their last EP, released one year ago, the guys took cues from Sharon Jones and Eli "Paperboy" Reed, but rehashing their own sound came with growing pains.
"We wanted to have a lot more control over what sound we were getting," Schneider notes. "We all came from bands that were heavier, rock 'n 'roll kind of bands, and we've started writing songs that are more pop-y and more soul throwback stuff. It's kind of hard to gel the two in a way that's not alarming for listeners."
The result was a trial-by-error process, with the errors being most of the material planned for what was initially supposed to be a full-length album. But while Calder's Revolvers tracked the songs for Black Bloc, they spent their downtime writing fifteen songs for its follow-up, which they promise will be a full album for real this time. The goal is to start tracking again later this month in order to release their third effort this summer.
"It's cool to play around with different arrangements, add things you wouldn't necessarily be able to play live, but the worst part is when you do that and realize it sucks," Schnedier says. "Coming up, we've got a lot of deep and rowdy summer jams. And we know a lot more about what we're doing now.
"I mean, we should."
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The more interesting aspects of the band's musical transition come from their backgrounds: Schneider and guitarist Brad Johnson hail from The Archive, while drummer Sam Gault came from instrumental group We Are! We Are! (Schneider and bassist Cole Strain played in a ska band together back in school.) When the group first came together in 2009, what originally came out of their instruments sounded like a struggle to leave prog-rock behind, and their early sound lent itself easily to a sort of Queens of the Stone Age ambition settled firmly in the garage genre.
"We kind of flew by the seat of our pants," Schneider confesses. "And it was mostly us coming to terms with the fact that we had been in prog-rock outfits for so many years. As we've gone on, we've moved away from classic rock and closer to the soul side of things, but that makes it tough to find a niche in Denver."
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Even the band's name is a mix of influences. In very garage-band style, it came from a T-shirt, one Schneider collected in college that sports an image of a mobile made from revolvers. They added that common noun to the proper noun of Alexander Calder, the man who created mobiles, and ended with a nom de sound Schneider happily calls "volatile."
But two EPs in, with a band name and a collective sound cemented, the guys still have trouble establishing their territory. The problem, Schneider says, is that it's a small one, a firmly retro rock niche carved between larger and more notable peers in the Colorado soundscape. The White Stripes and The Black Keys made the genre mainstream, but few bands are making it Denver.
"You don't see bands like that at the hi-dive," Schneider says. "When you're building a show, we don't fit in that well with the indie bands on line-ups, and we're not metal enough for the metal bands. There's definitely a lot of retro-sounding bands in Denver, but there should be more of us in the rock side of things. Or maybe fewer, now that I think about it."