Houstonians last heard local rock band Pale on Mandatory Ambulance, the band’s 2007 EP that showcased its bombastic, Britrock-influenced music. Last year, the band briefly left Houston for the bright lights of Los Angeles, where it played showcases and worked on making connections in the music industry. Pale has been back in Houston for a while and plans to shoot the video for its new song, “Catastrophic Skies,” [listen here] this weekend.
Pale vocalist/guitarist Calvin Stanley and guitarist/keyboardist Robb Moore recently answered some questions for Houston Calling.
HC: You guys are recording a video for the new song “Catastrophic Skies” — what can you tell me about that? This is the first once since “Glowing Black,” right? The video for “The Light” was live footage as I recall.
Calvin Stanley: Well, essentially we had decided to go ahead and record “Catastrophic Skies” before we started making the record because the producers of the Twilight film series asked us for it. Our track “The Mandatory Ambulance” off of our last EP almost made New Moon but we were beat out by Thom Yorke. So we did the song here in Houston with Steve Christensen, a local producer who just won a Grammy actually, and it turned out amazing. So after sending the song off, we realized we needed more content altogether, and what started as a photo shoot for the theme of the new album turned into a video.
All that I can tell you is that we are putting our best foot forward and all of Houston’s greatest film talent community has jumped on board to make this video happen. It’s ambitious, almost to absurdity, but then again, so are we. We are humbled by everyone’s interest and hard work. I’m told it will be one of the biggest productions this city has ever seen. So stand by on that — we have high hopes. Yes, this is the first video since “Glowing Black”…
HC: The band went to Los Angeles for a while last year — what did you do while out there? What prompted the move? Was it hard to gig? Did you guys learn anything useful?
Robb Moore: Drank a lot of booze, played a lot of shows, had a good time, made a lot of new friends and fans, showcased for some labels and booking agencies. Basically we had a really great time. We really like L.A. We decided to come back for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and are currently waiting for some of the connections we made out there to flesh themselves out.
What took us out there was signing a management deal with Caresse Henry. It wasn’t nearly as hard to gig as what I’d heard before we went out there. Shows were relatively easy to come by… People in L.A., being such a huge entertainment mecca, those people really know how to network. We really had to step up our game in that area. The most important thing we learned, though, was that once again we proved to ourselves what we are made of. Many bands, including ourselves, talk for years about dropping everything and moving. It takes balls; we did it, and are a far better band for it.
HC: Sometimes in Houston, bands that show ambition like you guys do can get criticized. Why do you think this it? Is it something you think about — or do you even care?
Calvin Stanley: I care about Houston bands, whether they care about us or not, and I care about Houston painters and filmmakers just as much. I care about our hometown enough to put this band through any test so that in some way, hopefully, we can champion this city. I hope that other artists here would feel the same, as it would open doors for the future and come a day that those of us who commit our lives to creating art might be able to make a living at it. It breaks my heart to see people give up here because they’re convinced that what they do can’t go anywhere else. We’re on a mission and we’re loving it.
HC: Pale hasn’t been playing much in Houston lately, but you play solo gigs at Etro weekly. How did that come about? How has the response been?
Calvin Stanley: Tuesday nights at Etro is just an excuse for me to learn to play guitar well enough that Robb won’t glare at me or laugh when we’re in the studio from across the room. The response has been good and consistent and I really enjoy playing with Hank [Schyma] of the Southern Backtones — we share the gig. He is hilarious and a very good songwriter and by the end of the night you’ll typically find us creating songs on the spot. I always look forward to it.
HC: Are there plans for new album or EP? Any upcoming shows? You’re planning a video release show for once the video for “Catastrophic Skies” is complete, right?
Calvin Stanley: As far as the video, we are scheduling a premiere…it will be before June. Yes, we are currently in preproduction for a new full-length album. We are very excited about this record and are confident that it will get us where we need to be internationally. As far as shows go, we will play on occasion here in Houston. At the moment I would advise to keep checking our website [www.palerocks.com or www.myspace.com/palerocks].
HC: Are you planning anything different this time as opposed to Mandatory Ambulance in regards to promotion?
Calvin Stanley: Well, I can tell you that we do have a record deal but we are of a mind that these days you have to do for yourself, no matter what. If they do their part, and we do our part, then we can expect great things. Cross your fingers for us.
HC: Your music reminds me sometimes of OK Computer-era Radiohead and also Muse. Do you agree? What do you consider your primary musical influences and how do you think those play into your music?
Calvin Stanley: Those are both great bands, but make no mistake, we are Pale. All four members have diverse influences and at times I chuckle that those flag comparisons pop up because I have a falsetto or we play minor chords. We’re just doing our own thing.
HC: A lot of your lyrics deal with personal “love and loss” issues, and you tend to weave some religious elements in there as well. Are these things you consciously think about when writing songs, or does it just happen naturally?
Calvin Stanley: Throughout my life, I’ve connected with songwriters who tell it like it is. If it makes you uncomfortable, that will probably be my favorite song. If you have a voice artistically, it should challenge the listener to some degree, otherwise, it would seem you have nothing to say; you would merely be repeating what someone else is saying.
I’ve had a lot of tragedy in my life, and beauty as well, so the songs that we write are often personal in hopes that if someone relates, they might not feel so alone. I will say, however, that with this new record, the lyrical perspective has changed significantly. I think that I’m finally getting past a troubled time in my life and beginning to focus on others, and what they are going through. As far as the religious themes go, I don’t, nor have I ever believed in religion, but I do have faith and that is a spiritually active agent every bit as much as an artistic heart. I just call it by name. I not as screwed up as Johnny Cash or Elvis Presley, but I hit my knees to the same God when this life can be too much…I have yet to meet anyone who has it all figured out.
HC: How has the band approached the recording process for the new material as opposed to the past?
Robb Moore: First of all, we have changed producers and he has a different approach, so you’re gonna hear that; you’re gonna hear his approach as opposed to our previous producer’s. As far as recording instruments is concerned, we’re sort of going out on a thinner branch, if you can believe that [laughing], using different instruments, i.e., mandolins, ukuleles, church organs, etc.
Calvin Stanley: It’s not as though we think we’re treading new ground; it’s just new ground for us.
Robb Moore: I think the different approach is in songwriting, not so much the recording process.
Calvin Stanley: We might have been guilty in the past of catering to our ideals of success with songwriting. By now, we’ve adjusted to the idea that we are the truest form of a band, with or without success, we want to make great music and it’s starting to sound like that. I hate name-dropping, but former Houston native Win Butler (Arcade Fire), a good friend of mine, told me recently to just write the best damn song you can every single time, no matter the length or fear of perception. That kicked on a light in me. We are finally past chasing parameters to make a name for ourselves and strangely, since that decision, it seems to be working out just fine.
HC: How do you think the Houston music scene has changed for the better over the past five or so years?
Calvin Stanley: Well, the nicest thing I see happening is the level of professionalism and camaraderie is improving. I feel a much more receptive interpersonal working climate establishing itself. A lot less shit-talking — and that’s a wonderful thing. It’s hard enough to do what we do as musicians without being torn down by your neighbors or peers. I’m excited about what’s happening in the music scene that’s developing right now. If I have any advice, and I’m sure no one cares, until we all get there, don’t forget to take a deep breath and enjoy the ride. It’s only rock and roll people.
Thanks to Calvin and Robb of Pale for taking the time to answer these questions. Visit the band online at www.palerocks.com.
Calvin Stanley plays a solo show at Etro in Montrose each Tuesday night with Hank Schyma (Southern Backtones). Pale shoots its video for “Catastrophic Skies” this weekend at an undisclosed location in Houston. Stay tuned for more information on the band’s new album and the video premiere.