Calle Debauche is a fun, intriguing band that is carving out its own niche in Phoenix. Right off the bat, they are certainly not a metal band. The first song on the album starts fast, with the full band. The sound is celebratory and original for an American band.
Since I began studying them, I’ve really taken a liking to their music. They’re probably never going to reach the top of any radio station’s charts, and that’s part of why I like them. However, I was having trouble pinning down their sound.
I first thought of Calle Debauche’s style as mostly jazz, blending metal, rock and, like, well, I was kind of coming up blank. I wanted to say, “Circus music” or “Jewish music.” But those terms don’t describe much, so I asked my jazz educated, trumpet blaring friend Ross Huff of The Macpodz from Ann Arbor about what influences he heard in the band’s music.
Huff said they don’t sound much like anything he’s heard before. “Polka, klezmer, prog rock, ska, gypsy jazz,” he said over an email. “Something I’d really like to see live.”
Clearly we are dealing with a hodgepodge of influences.
A review of Calle Debauche’s new self-titled album by one Tom Butcher of The Silent Ballet calls to mind a common misconception people have with Calle Debauche; they think it’s video game music. This dude Butcher spends half the review talking about video game music, most of the other half garbling nonsense, and uses a little word space to review the album. He didn’t get it.
I mean, neither did I, but I wasn’t about to go writing them off. That’s not the avantgarde-metal.com way of doing things.
I agree that the music is thematic and similar to VGM cover bands. But even VGM’s roots come from some other style. River City Ransom for the Nintendo Entertainment System, for example, uses swing music, but people now call it “Video Game Music.” It’s funny how music can be labeled something way different from what its creator intended it to be.
But enough about the VGM because Calle Debauche, and let me be very clear here, is NOT a video game cover band. Front man and guitarist Mohadev writes the majority of the songs. It takes talent to write this kind of stuff. It turns out that he composes the songs with midi software, prints out the sheet music for his band mates, and away they go.
I called Mohadev June 9 and heard from the horse’s mouth what the band’s influences are.
Mohadev’s father is a classical musician from India who specializes in playing ragas, which are traditional improvisational pieces commonly named after seasons, periods of the day, or moods. This is where his north Indian classical music influence comes from.
Bulgarian wedding music is also an influence audible in the album. Mohadev sent me a link to a YouTube video of Ivo Papasov’s Wedding Band. Oh my god. The musicianship is way too technical and crazy for me to wrap my brain around, and it’s wedding music. Freaking crazy. Other influences include Rock In Opposition’s Samla Mammas Manna from Sweden and Henry Cow from England, L’Ensemble Raye, Cardiacs from England, Uz Jsme Doma of Prague, Voivod, Megadeth, and Sigh from Japan.
Duh. We are talking worldly influences here. You could almost call it all “world music.”
In addition, the rest of Calle Debauche has different musical influences. Frederic is their German jazz drummer who likes Latin jazz, math and prog rock. Guillem is their classically trained Andorran saxophonist who loves funk. Dave on tuba is into Opeth and Amon Amarth, and classical composers Wagner and Prokofiev. And Chris is the New Yorker on marimba who likes folk music and communist rock.
It stands to reason this band is going to have a unique sound.
Metal makes a few appearances on this album, in the form of rocking guitars and even some pretty wicked solos. Mohadev said the first metal he ever got into was Megadeth. As a boy, he was involved in a Megadeth-Metallica feud among his friends and always rooted for Megadeth. Yes! They are cooler, you know.
The name Calle Debauche can be translated into either Street Debauchery or Debauchery Street. Calle is a Spanish word, and Debauche is French.
I asked Mohadev what musical styles he would use to describe his band.
“I don’t fucking know. I deal with that all the time,” he said. “I don’t know what to tell people. I say it’s sorta like circus music with, uh, a circusy rock music. I really don’t have a good answer.”
You know a band has a complicated sound when the band leader doesn’t even know what to call it. I asked him what he tells people at parties, for example, when he has to think up something quick to call his band.
“I always just tell them it’s quirky, instrumental pop music,” he said.
The band started in 2006 as a guitar, bass and drum trio, and recorded an EP. After adding lots of overdubbing and additional instruments, “The songs ended up being stuff we couldn’t pull off with the trio,” Mohadev said. The type of music they were playing? “For a while there we were math metal, real technical stuff.”
“Really? It was pretty heavy,” Mohadev said. “Everyone told us it was really jazzy. It was heavy riffs, nonstop changes. I was playing more technical guitar parts.”
As the original bassist was replaced by Dave, and Frederic, Guillem and Chris were added, the band’s sound began to change. Mohadev felt less inclined to make the songs extremely complicated because there were more instruments filling out the sound.
Calle Debauche may stay instrumental forever, but Mohadev is considering his options.
“It’s so hard to find a decent vocalist,” he said. When I asked him what’s wrong with his voice and why doesn’t he sing, he just said, “Oh no,” and laughed really hard. He used to be totally against having vocals in any music, he said, when he was more into death metal where the vocals are less showy and more like a noise instrument. But with the direction Calle Debauche has been taking, the prospect of a good vocalist is becoming more and more attractive.
“I like dirt brown and red and black.”
What’s the air-speed velocity of a coconut-laden African Swallow?
“Swallows are swift flyers, up to 55 mph, but cannot lift coconuts. This is of course common knowledge.”
The opening track on the album is called “…” and features sounds of waves and a soft piano. It has more of a meaning than is easily guessable.
“I haven’t even told my band mates about this yet,” he said, laughing nervously. “I was imagining this guy who’s like fleeing something in this flower hot air balloon and he lands on this island, and then shit gets crazy. The album’s supposed to be a series of adventures he encounters on this wacky island. The guy I’m talking about is the mustachioed little man on the cover of the album in a hot air balloon made of flowers.”
Give this band a listen for something different and refreshing. It’s even girlfriend- and baby-friendly.
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