Calvin Love Is Fighting Intention on Highway Dancer

Calvin Love plays the hi-dive Sunday, October 21.EXPAND
Calvin Love plays the hi-dive Sunday, October 21.
Jenna Putman
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Calvin Love sports a nostalgic aesthetic.

The self-made musician, originally from Canada and currently based in Toronto and Los Angeles, has been honing his electro-pop sound since his 2012 debut New Radar.

“For me, [the nostalgic elements that accompany my work] are just a natural process. I think it just comes through subconscious influences from when I was younger and the music I grew up listening to. I grew up liking a lot of ’80s music and trying to find the best stuff from each decade. I don’t really think about it much; it’s just my style and what I like to do. I try to be as honest as possible and try to portray a realistic and balanced vibe in real life and also on social media. If it was intentional, it’d just take way too much energy,” Love says.

Love is touring the country in anticipation of his new album, Highway Dancer, out on October 26 on Modern Sky Records. He called me during a long drive in Texas en route to New Mexico to open for the Sheepdogs. Denver’s the last stop of the tour, which hits the hi-dive on October 21.

Highway Dancer, produced at Palace Sound in Toronto, was recorded live and straight to tape, and it’s among Love’s most eclectic material. While his previous LPs focused on synth-driven, low-fi pop stylings, on Highway Dancer Love heads in a darker, folk- and rock-driven direction, in many cases trading out synthesizers for guitars, but without abandoning pop altogether.

Calvin LoveEXPAND
Calvin Love
Nyda Kwasowky

“On Highway Dancer, I wanted to make really well-written songs where I didn’t need a lot of bells and whistles. Considering the times, a lot of themes on it are really dark, but it’s just naturally where it went. There’s also not a singular sound. For me, albums like that are exciting,” he says.

Love is critical of the idea that an album needs an overarching sound or concept and instead finds that starting in one genre and ending in another creates a much more memorable experience for both the musician and the listener.

“I embraced some of the darker themes on this record. I’ve struggled with addiction — I quit drinking eight years ago, so there’s songs about that. There’s also songs about the crazy times we’re living in,” he says.

Love notes that “The Coin, The Stick, The Take” addresses climate change, and on the flipside, “A Thousand Years” is about love, saying goodbye, and the wounds that distance can open up.

Diversity in themes and sound aren’t the only qualities that distinguish Highway Dancer from Love’s past work. Beginning with his Ecdysis EP, released in 2017, he began opening his creative process up to collaboration and input from friends, which has influenced his transition toward anthemic rock without abandoning his low-fi, ’80s-influenced sensibilities.

“On the Ecdysis EP, I collaborated more and shared control, which I had never done before," Love says. "Before, I would isolate myself and commit to doing everything on my own. The people I worked with were able to help me pinpoint where I wanted to go with the songs, so seeing that happen made me realize that a little bit of collaboration can go a long way. It allowed me to go even deeper into lyrics and music, taking it as far as I can."

These collaborative sensibilities influenced Highway Dancer. Although the songs came to him and were formed in times of solitude, he let them blossom in the studio, giving close friends and collaborators an opportunity to add something of their own.

“For the band songs on this album, everything was pretty hashed out. I brought friends in because I really like how they play, and then I leave a little space in the studio for some magic to happen. It’s more exciting for me to have other people involved. They think about things that I don’t consider,” he says.

Love doesn’t see these songs as definitive or one-size-fits-all when it comes to interpretation: “These songs mean a certain thing to me, but music is abstract, and they may mean something completely different to someone who’s listening. They aren’t necessarily stories about this or that. They’re all little snippets or observations I’ve had, and they’re open enough that they could mean something different to whoever’s listening,” he says.

At its core, the album rooted in transition — transition between sounds, themes and processes, and the importance of these things happening naturally rather than intentionally. Love leans in the direction that feels right, trying to strike a balance between what’s worked in the past and where he sees himself headed next.

“I try not to do the same thing twice. Each album is a different timepiece for me in my life,” he says.

Calvin Love, with the Sheepdogs, 9 p.m. October 21, hi-dive, 7 South Broadway, $15-$18.

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