Houston Texas has a secret – it is the home base of an authentic, dynamic, creative, and very much committed rock group… meet Pale. Their journey hasn’t been an easy one, from their debut album in 2004, to a nation wide recognition as a well rooted and exciting ‘honest to rock and roll’ band, about to release their highly anticipated new CD “In the Time of Dangerous Men”. Here is the uncut interview with four remarkable musicians.
“Pale’s music inspires the dreamer in all of us,” says Calvin Stanley. “I’ve had my head in the clouds since I was a kid, and I believe that everything is possible with this band. That kind of dreaming heart has really helped pull us through some difficult times.”
Thanks for agreeing to an interview. How about a quick introduction to the band?
Calvin Stanley – Vocals/Guitar
Robb Moore – Guitar/Keys
Travis Middour – Drums
Stephen Wesson – Bass
I was mesmerized by your music. There is something familiar in it, but unique. I had a greater sense of discovery – fantastic musicianship, wonderful guitar work, haunting vocals, and accessible lucid songwriting. Theatrically grand, with rich sweeping movements that draw in the listener rather than have them be a spectator. Good that! I don’t like comparing artist to other artists because it diminishes by putting both artists in a box. Instead I’ll ask what influences do you acknowledge – how much is your own process toward your sound?
Robb: First of all, thank you very much. Everyone in the band has very different influences, at least in the influences that brought them into music. Calvin: The Cure, Depeche Mode, NIN, etc. Stephen: U2, Verve, Zeppelin (which we all love) etc. Travis: is the indie rock kid…he likes bands that I’d never heard of before he introduced me to them, like Smile and Shiner. Me: Bowie, Stones, Bowie, quite a few “classical” composers, lots of classic/glam stuff (T Rex, etc)…did I mention Bowie?
Calvin: I’ve always loved U2’s ambition and process for writing timeless melody, and personal accessible lyrics I started playing guitar when getting into DC in San Diego Post Punk, Jawbox, Drivelike Jehu, then grew through the shoe gazer movement – Swerve Driver, Katherine Wheel, was technically raised on early electronic craft work, Tangerine Dream, Jean Michelle Jarred, etc….and countless others so if you start to combine that many great sounds without technically knowing how to play in instrument, although I can play five, I’m still always inspired by an amalgam of sounds and textures that put me in some kind of dream state. There are bands doing that even now, thus for me it was important never to have any lessons or training so I develop a knack for chasing down a feeling as opposed to tablature.
‘In The Time Of Dangerous Men’ was written as a conceptual piece. Calvin Stanley you were quoted as saying that each song was a chapter in a book. How does that work for promoting your work when the Internet sells songs one at a time, or worse artist’s work is downloaded for free?
Calvin: Quite simply if one song is the best song that you can write for what it is, so should the rest be. I never thought all songs should do the same thing on one project, but they should do what they do as well as the rest. Back in the day, people would buy the album for one song and be disappointed, and say “this album sucks”, and often they were right. These days people will buy one song but they will definitely check out the rest so I say our chances are good.
I do agree that the Industry is coming back around to the Artist. How do you think that will that look as a business model?
Calvin: I think it will be great. I think the artist is still going to need significant start up money and an agency, but the returns will be more immediate and much fairer. The more the artist puts in the less they will be told what to do, but sometimes I wish someone would tell me what to do (laughing) except of course a girlfriend telling me to get a real job.
Robb: Well, I think the days of every-other-artist-selling-a-million-units are long gone, and that’s bad for labels. But, at least monetarily, that old model has little effect on artists because artists have never made much money from record sales anyway. I think today’s artists have more creative and business control simply because labels aren’t spending the obscene amounts of money they used to on bands, and in turn, can’t demand to control as many aspects as they did before. These days, labels are forced to see their acts as more of a partner than a client.
You all have performed across the country and have a big arena sound – do you perform differently for smaller venues? Which do you enjoy the most big venues or smaller more intimate venues?
Calvin: I’m speaking for myself here; first of all, we don’t change anything. We will play the same show for the bartender and bus boy as for countless thousands, but I much prefer to play large venues. Once you can connect to an audience on a large level, it’s hard to go back, but in the end I’ll be happy either way. Once you’re a fan it’s better than ten passersby any day.
Robb: For me, it doesn’t really matter. The intimate venues are cooler for the fans, to be sure. But as for myself, even at bigger venues, I can see people right up front…so they are both intimate settings from where I stand. I really just love playing live, whether it’s for 50 people or 5000. It’s why I play music…to perform and entertain.
I have come across so much talent that defies genre, you guys could be defined by a handful of genres. This question actually sucks, but I’m compelled to ask it. How do you guys identify your music? Here is the kicker – if an artist doesn’t want to be defined into a genre – how do you get folks to find you? If you are willing to be defined in a genre how do you make yourself heard as unique in that genre?
Calvin: That’s hard to say, but I like the term post modern pop, true art that you can sing along to on occasion. I don’t mind being put in any genre because I know we’re unique mainly because we never tried to be. In other words, if we were trying to mimic Led Zeppelin we’d come out sounding like Blur or something. (laughter) I can honestly say we’re not trying to be anyone but Pale, and it feels good to say.
Robb: Genres are for critics. A tool for them to describe music to their readers with words instead of with the music itself. I learned a long time ago that you can’t run from the “labels” critics put you into. But you don’t have to embrace them either. It’s probably best to sort of ignore all of that and just create the music that is in your heart. Hopefully, that will be enough to connect you to the fans. How’s that for avoiding your very well crafted question? (haha!!!)
Tell us about making this great video.
Robb: Wow. That’s the one word I would use to describe the making of. It was completely surreal for all of us. We’d never been involved with a video shoot as big as that. Definitely a wonderful experience that we’d like to repeat. The crew was amazing! So many people brought their unique talents into the fold.
Calvin: This video best describes it. If you have time to watch:
I have been asked as to how important a Producer is in the recording process. You guys have worked with some fantastic producers. Tell us who and why it’s important.
Robb: Our first two efforts were recorded by Lars Goransson in Austin, TX. We had met him through some mutual friends and he was the first really good producer any of us had worked with. The new record was produced by Steve Christensen. Working with a producer is VERY important…even more so, is finding the right producer. Personally, I think the key to finding the right one all depends on how open-minded the artist is to having someone else’s hands/mind all over your art. If that thought is painful to even think about, you should probably just find a really good engineer and not worry about a “producer.” We were very lucky with Steve. We’ve all known him for at least 10 years, and I think Calvin has known him since they were teenagers. Both Paleand Steve have been wanting to make this record together for a long time. Thankfully, everyone’s schedules worked out perfectly. We were really lucky the timing worked out the way it did.
Calvin: Lars was great on our first two records. He brought our recording to another level, bolstered our confidence and recording as a live band. Working with Steve Christiansen on this new record, helped us grow exponentially as a studio band. There were times he would take something and rip the guts out of it and I had to trust him. No one has ever challenged us as much to take chances. What I remember most is when he would give each band member a day or two for a song and kick the other three out. He took time to understand us as individuals within a group and expound on our weaknesses or fears. He’s a great buffer for ego and tension as well, and that says a whole lot for those who know.
You guys came north from Texas and relocated to L.A. and now you are back in Texas. Tell the readers a little of that journey.
Robb: It was crazy. We had an offer from a prominent artist’s manager to work with us after finishing a tour in 2009. So, we relocated to LA in April of that year to promote, record, work, showcase, live, etc. Right before we got there, she was a victim of a domestic “incident.” It took its toll on her, and she was “unable to give Pale the attention” we needed (her words). We ended up coming home in October. She ended up committing suicide in April of 2010…a very sad close to that chapter of Pale. LA sort of drove me crazy…the industry is so impersonal. Which was very strange to me because art, whether it’s music, acting, writing, etc. are all VERY personal acts. A very strange dichotomy. I really like a lot of the fans and “everyday people” we met. Not so much a fan of the industry there.
I have been at this music thing for a long time, and I noted something kinda magical about you all. Putting a band together is an odd thing in that often the individual talent, though more than competent, just doesn’t quite meld together. There is no ‘Clunk’ here – give us an idea how you guys came together personally and musically. What makes it work?
Travis: We were all in other bands prior to this band. Calvin and I met through the local small music scene in the Woodlands (near Houston). For some reason all the musicians hung out the Starbucks and half of them worked there, including me. After Calvin and I started playing together, we were introduced to Stephen and Robb through a mutual friend. We melded together instantly. We seem to all have the same idea when writing songs, so it makes the process fun and painless. In fact we played our first show in Dallas after only being together for two weeks.
Robb: Stephen and I had played in two bands together and had known Calvin for a few years. Our bands had played shows together a few times… Anyway, both Calvin’s band and ours sort of self destructed at the same time. Calvin had already recruited Travis when he called Stephen to come out, and Stephen suggested to Calvin that they bring me out shortly thereafter.
Things started to gel the first night. It was like friends getting together to play some songs and have some laughs. That’s not to say we took it lightly, we were all dedicated from the start, that’s just what seemed to be ‘in the air’.
Calvin: For me whenever I form a band, I adhere to the philosophy “Who you are, as opposed to how well you play.” Any strong musician can get better, hone his craft, but if you can’t get along with others and don’t have the commitment and ambition that they do then what’s the point? I come from a large family; I’m one of five kids. Maybe that’s it, I don’t know, but I suppose I’ve always been blessed with finding the right people. My band played shows with Travis, Robb and Stephen’s bands before this one had formed, and even then I had noticed that these guys have the rare ability to play to the song. I suppose, to me, it feels like Stephen and Robb in particular were some cosmic gift to me. They actually approached me, not the other way around. Now after almost a decade I can’t say I’d know who I am without these three people in my life. We use the word family a lot.
Calvin, I understand that you write most of the songs. Do you write specifically for the band, or do you write as the Muse moves you?
Calvin: I’d say by now I definitely write for the band. There are times when I’m recording a demo, and I’ll put a certain instrument with someone specifically in mind. For instance I was writing “That Sinking Feeling” thinking man Robb’s going to get off on this as I tried to emulate his Keith Richard’s like swagger. My ex-girlfriend said, “you look like an idiot”, I pulled my headphones aside and said, “but Robb won’t bitch” (kidding). Or I’ll be building a song from the drums up, thinking this is going to piss Travis off at first, but wait until we see where he takes it. In the past, every album we tend to write one or two songs together, and through that and playing together for so long I seem to have absorbed their styles in some form of my subconscious and vice versa I would presume. Every project Robb brings me at least one song, compositionally complete. He’s very patient, but when he brings me something, I usually immediately love it. When I demo a song for Pale, it’s always music first and lyrics and vocals last. I believe that a song should be just as interesting with the vocals turned off. Robb: Calvin is the most prolific songwriter I’ve ever known. He’s truly amazing at what he does. He’s also a very compassionate guy…I love him like a brother. Wait…I take all that back…he’s an asshole! (hahaha!!!)
For the rest of the band – how is it working with Calvin as the songwriter and a band member?
Travis: For me this band is a ‘band of brothers’. So the difference from Calvin as the songwriter and as the band member is one in the same.
Give us an idea about the evolution of a Pale song – from Calvin writing it to its final mix.
Robb: Calvin will record a song on a little 8 track and he’ll give all of us a copy. Once we start rehearsing it, a lot of times, it starts to take on its own shape…it really becomes a Pale song after we’ve had a chance to play around with it together in rehearsals.
Travis: Calvin has a great sense for songwriting. He brings a lot of great demos to the band. We just help round out the songs in the end. We all add our personal ideas of what we think the song needs per our instrument. We call it “pale-izing” the songs.
Calvin: I’ll keep my side short, I spit out a focused somewhat complete idea, and by the time it’s Pale-ized, I often think I’m never listening to that demo again, wow. Or damn I should have thought of that, I’m stupid. Stupid, stupid, Calvin. (kidding)
I want to talk about the vocals – (Calvin lead sings –right?) Wonderful songwriting and that moody and the hauntingly high-pitched voice rocks me. Is that a marvelous happy accident with this band, or is that the way you have always sung your work?
Calvin: I suppose my singing has changed over the years. As with the music, I’m always looking for “the moment.” There is a moment in a song where the music, vocal or lyric can just cut you off at the knees, you just hit the floor gasping, goose bumps, hairs on the back of your neck, the whole thing. Like the climax in a film, often the song is the set up to say and sing very powerful things. I think I’ve gotten a lot better at finding when that should happen. I’m actually singing a lot lower on parts of this record. When you have range, it’s important to express all of it. I wish more singers were passionate about singing because it’s a very honest and unbridled way to communicate. Often you can hear a singers note, and think yeah, I know what they mean, I get it.
Pale has endured some setbacks and hit ‘the ceiling’ at times. How do you as a band cope with that?
Robb: We’ve always just kept the faith. After the amount of setbacks and let-downs we’ve had, you really only have 2 choices: to quit, or to keep believing in yourselves. Typically, after an intense heartbreak, and we’d had many, we tend to drift off and heal our wounds for a month or two, but whether to go on or not has never been a question. I’ve never met more resilient and committed people in any walk of life. We believe in ourselves and each other, primarily because of the music we make. We never put a time line on this; we just want to be able to continue to do it. Now that things are paying off wait, until you see what we’ll do next. You should see the grin on my face.
What do you as a band want your current fans, and those who will surely become your fans, to know about Pale?
Calvin: You will never waste your time or money on us. We will never change the essential things that our fans expect from us, excellence, passion, intelligence and inspiration. Don’t miss a show if you can help it.
Robb: We’ll be in your town soon!
What’s next on the horizon for Pale?
Calvin: We’re set for our next video for “That Sinking Feeling,” then hopefully hit the road globally for two years. We are working on that as we speak.
Thanks for a wonderful interview – Dave and I will be keeping up with you guys during your inevitable rise!
Calvin: Much gratitude Ken and Dave, we’ll be around.
Pale’s new CD
“In the Time of Dangerous Men “
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