Interview: Everest Cale

On “I Awoke,” Brooklyn-based rock outfit Everest Cale announce their transition from acoustic to electric. The track, which opens the band’s 2013 EP Constellation Choir, announces its arrival suddenly, with lingering static and feedback. The message is clear: this record isn’t meant for a brief listen. It pulls you in, tune by tune, until you’re left reeling with the ambiguous lyrics and hard-hitting riffs. Thankfully, Everest Cale brings these studio vibes and more to the stage. Alongside live renditions of “Before I Knew What Love Was” off of Constellation Choir and John Lennon’s “Mother,” the band also goes back to their southern roots, evoking guitarists Duane Allman and Rogers Stevens in venues across Manhattan and Brooklyn. Pancakes and Whiskey spoke with Brett Treacy, guitarist and lead vocalist of Everest Cale, about the band’s live shows, recording sessions, and what’s to come.

Pancakes and Whiskey: You guys released your most recent EP, Constellation Choir, last year. Tell me about what inspired the writing and recording process.

Brett Treacy: We really liked the electric delay sound we found when we wrote our song “Beast” from the Beast EP [which came out in] 2012.  So, while writing new material for the Constellation Choir EP, we decided to go full on electric. I put down the acoustic guitar for a while and I bought a vintage Gibson Les Paul Jr. double cutaway. I think Constellation Choir picks up where Beast left off and goes further with the electric idea. Lyrically, with Constellation Choir, I focused on imagination. I felt like all the songs on [the] Beast EP were very personal and close to me, so I wanted to distance myself a little from the lyrics and be more of a narrator. The whole Constellation Choir EP could be viewed as one character and I’m narrating his story. The first song I wrote for the EP was “Fossils” and it’s about the last man left on earth after a nuclear fallout [and] describing how he feels and what he sees as he walks around the carnage.  He’s the lone survivor.  That story set the tone lyrically for the EP and I built the rest of the other songs lyrically off of that.  “I Awoke” could describe that same man.  He’s alone, he wants companionship, his only friends are the figures he dreams up in the constellations [hence the line],”I am nothing without your love.”  The song “Hole” focuses on a man whose world has “caved in.”  It could be viewed as building upon the theme of the man’s loneliness and his surrounding destruction. [That’s why the song begins with the line,] “Is there space to have nothing in?”

P&W: A lot of your sound is a mix of different rock genres, including hard rock and southern rock. “Before I Knew What Love Was” is a straight up blues/hard rocker. “Goodbye,” off the Beast (2012 EP), is an aching country tune.  How did you guys develop this sound? Any inspirations—including the local or legendary?

BT: The core of our band is rock n roll.  If I listed each band members’ favorite all time band, it would probably go something like this: the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty, and Pearl Jam.  But we are also big music fans/geeks. We swap and critique new records [and] new bands on a weekly basis.  Each of us subscribes to Rdio, the music streaming service.  That way we can text each other songs to check out.  For instance, If I hear a guitar solo I really like, I’ll text the guys the Rdio song link.  As much as we are constantly consuming new music and testing out genres, there is still that middle circle in a Venn diagram where we overlap interests.  It’s guitar-based rock.  Don’t get me wrong, we venture out of that circle and experiment [with] different paths. But we’ve found our best music comes out naturally. So that’s what Everest Cale ends up being. That’s the sound most indicative of all of our music personalities. To answer your question directly, we like to go to one another’s apartments, drink Budweiser, and watch The Last Waltz [Martin Scorsese’s 1978 concert of the Canadian-American band, the Band] on repeat.  You’ll find some heavy rock, southern rock and country in that documentary.

P&W: What are the challenges for you guys when you write songs?

BT: The name Everest Cale actually comes from my internal struggle while writing music.  There’s a Sigur Rós [an Icelandic post-rock that mixes classical, minimalist, experimental styles in their music] song called “Ára Bátur.” When I listen to it, I tell myself this is the greatest song of all time.  When the song ends I can’t help but be inspired to write. It puts me in a zone.  The way the song moves me, it just flows and it goes to a huge climax at the end and there is so much orchestration. And then the song is over and it’s quiet and I’m sitting on my bed and I’m staring at a blank piece of paper and it feels like I’m standing at the bottom of Mount Everest looking up. How does someone create what I just listened to? Where does that come from? I find myself grabbing at air.  The “Everest” in Everest Cale comes from that feeling of awe. The Cale comes from J.J. Cale, a low-fi, stripped-down blues musician. He’s as raw as music gets.  He’s nature, ” Ára Bátur ” is the orchestra, and Everest Cale is somewhere in between.  A fight between [the] simple and grandiose.

P&W: You guys are based in Brooklyn. Has the urban landscape and the thriving art scene inspired your sound?

BT: Interview Magazine labeled us “Brooklyn’s least Brooklyn Band.” Our sound isn’t New York but how could NYC not inspire you? I left South Carolina for Brooklyn because, in my experience while playing shows in the south, I felt like most people’s idea of a great live show was for me to play them Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” over and over.  I felt like I was trapped inside the Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Lodi,” where John Fogerty sings, “If I had a dollar for every song I sung, every time I had to play while people sat there drunk.” I didn’t feel like I was being pushed or challenged artistically.  I felt more like a performer and less like a musician or artist.  Then I visit NYC and I open for the band Lycaon Pictus at a Williamsburg garage party and everyone in the crowd is into my original music. They’re more fashionable than me and talking about bands I’ve never heard of. So, I never went back to SC.

Brooklyn has without a doubt pushed me to be a better musician and has surrounded me with more like-minded individuals.  As for our sound, I don’t think NYC or urban landscapes inspire the part of me that writes. I still think about the south every time I sit down to write lyrics.  It’s still home.  When I look out my Brooklyn apartment window, I like to envision cornfields, cotton fields, wide open spaces—not the buildings piled on top of each other and car horns.  Music can transport you to a time and place and for me it often takes me back home.  The character(s) in my songs rarely have a NYC backdrop. That being said, I imagine if I ever moved back south I’d long for NYC the same way.

P&W: Let’s move to your live show. Describe an Everest Cale show in five words or less.

BT: Foot stompin’ good timing funeral

P&W: You guys play with dynamics really well, switching between full-on loudness and hushed, acoustic tones. What do you guys find the most challenging about your live performances?

BT: I find live shows to be the most natural part about our music.  For me, it comes the easiest. I love the energy and rawness of music and live shows capture that better than recordings.  I’m able to lose myself.  I go somewhere else.  I go to the song.  I go inside myself.  What I find difficult about our live performance is the transition from song to song.  Coming out of the emotion of one song and diving head first into the next.  I get so wrapped up in each song, taken back to what I was thinking when I wrote it, getting lost in the combination of all our musical parts.  Then when the song’s over I want to take a second to get in the mind set of the next song, but you’re only allowed so much time per set and people didn’t pay money to watch me meditate. So, I feel rushed into the next emotion and as the lead singer I’m expected to talk between songs too.  Most of what I say on stage comes from the emotion I just felt in the last song I sang.  I end up saying “fuck” a lot.  I find it beneficial for my stage banter to sing a lot of sad songs in a row but that can be hard on the crowd.

P&W:  Your cover of John Lennon’s “Mother” received a lot of attention and critical acclaim. Why Lennon and why “Mother” (Aside from the fact that, you know, it’s John Lennon)?

BT: Me and Jeremy [Komlin, Everest Cale guitarist] took a trip to Gettysburg to get out of the city, see some trees, and learn about the Civil War. On the way down, we were playing each other some music the other had never heard. One of his choices for me was John Lennon’s “Mother.”  He new I’d love the earth shattering scream outro.  And he was right.  It became one of my favorite songs.  Then one day we tried it at rehearsal to see if I could hit the screams on the outro.  We thought it went pretty well so we played it live at this past year’s CMJ Music Marathon. After the show, Parks Vallely [producer who has worked for Joe Budden, Robin Thicke, Passion Pit] came up to me and said he’s a big fan of John Lennon’s original and would like to record our version for us.  So we met him at his studio in midtown Manhattan where he engineered the recording and mixed the track.

P&W: What’s up next for Everest Cale, aside from the Pancakes and Whiskey show this March? 

BT: We’ve got some big things happening this spring. We’re premiering the video for our cover of John Lennon’s “Mother.” We’re opening for Dax Riggs (Former Acid Bath and Deadboy & the Elephant Man frontman) at Mercury Lounge on Saturday, April 12.  We’re opening for Curtin and New Madrid (Who’ve been on tour with Drive By Truckers) at Pianos on Friday, April 18! Our official website is getting a full make over this month. We’ve got a new logo coming out and some new merch to be sold at shows.

Interview by Pam Segura

RSVP to their Cameo show this Saturday

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