Callum Easter’s bleak and soulful debut album Here or Nowhere is out on Lost Map Records on 5 April 2019. You can catch him in session with Vic Galloway on BBC Radio Scotland via the magic of the internet, and he’ll be in session again on BBC6 with Marc Riley on 8 April. GIITTV caught him a little while ago, on the back of a hypnotic live appearance at Celtic Connections. We talked about going on tour with Young Fathers, the fucked up state of the world, kids, accordions, cool old musical equipment and why you should never, ever, leave your kit in his studio …
GIITTV: We met very briefly in Glasgow at Underachievers Club and Lost Map’s all-dayer at Celtic Connections. I wanted to ask how does the music scene in Edinburgh compare and how do you find working and recording there?
CE: Edinburgh’s a funny one. Glasgow’s got a lot more smaller venues with better set-ups PA-wise. That sounds like a techie thing, but I am a bit techie like that. You get 50 capacity venues with subs and you get sound a lot better, you know what I mean? So we’re lacking a bit with that, but there’s lots of different people and there’s more going on in Edinburgh than they let on. I work out of a studio just down the road from my house. I’m in the Leith area, and I’m actually at the studio right now. It’s Baltic! I’m upstairs so I get a signal to speak to your fine self and my hands are a bit blue. I’ve got a shared room with my mate, huddled around the heater in the basement. But it’s a good studio to work out of. The Young Fathers have the lease so it’s a wee sublet from them. We borrow and share gear, so it works all right.
How did you come about working with Johnny Lynch at Lost Map?
It was through a friend of a friend. I got chatting on the e-mail and I sent him the album, and then he agreed to put the album out before he’d even seen me live actually, which was a bit surprising. I was like, release it? Yeah, ok?
He is a very nice man.
It kind of switched me up. I wasn’t really sure how it was going to go. That was an interesting gig.
I know they put your single out on a postcard.
They started doing that with all the artists on the label, all the single releases. It seems to go all right. Folk like them, you can post them to people. It’s a good way to just remind someone, you know what I mean? Like business cards really.
You said elsewhere that the songs on your album, Here or Nowhere, deal with the fucked up state of the world…
…and the title seems timely and could be read as referring to any number of things. I was wondering what particular things about the fucked up state of the world keep you up at night worrying? What’s on your mind?
I’ve kind of tried to stop worrying as much. I dunno, there’s only so much worrying you can do. Yeah. I’m trying to sleep more. The Here or Nowhere kind of idea is kind of like … I think that probably part of the problem is folk are too self-conscious to talk about the world being a beautiful place, and what’s beautiful about it. And it’s like when you’ve met people kinda depressed or down about the world, the economics of it, the wealth gap, all that. And then they don’t really … I’m trying to make sense of it. Basically, you’ve got here or, I dunno, if we fuck this place up, where we gonna go? That’s where I’m at in the title. And a lot of the sentiment in the album is just, I don’t know, is there any hope? Is there still hope? I’m not sure. I hope so.
The album feels very bleak and dark, but there is this undercurrent of hope through it. Would you say you’re secretly an optimist, or is the glass half empty?
I’m definitely an optimist. I don’t have a problem. I think it’s like light and dark. In my artwork, everything I’m doing is black and white at the minute and I don’t have a problem with like the dark side of things. I think you can still be dark and optimistic. As far as having a balanced conversation, or not having a sugar-coated view.
Johnny tells me you’re a bit of a family man. Do you find that affects the kind of music you make?
A family man, eh? I guess I am. I’ve one child and she’s amazing and as soon as a mic’s on she’s all over it. I record between the house and the studio, and she’s in a few of the tracks and I’ve kind of drenched her in reverb, and she’s kind of in the background. But we’re working on some tunes for her as well. It’s funny, the latest single ‘Fall in Love’, I actually came up with the tune in the house. I had a Bontempi keyboard and I was at the piano, she was on a karaoke mic. It’s only two chords, a little hook, and then I took that to the studio and started working on it, and then she’s like, ‘I like what you’ve done with my song daddy,’ like a month later. She doesn’t forget a thing.
She’ll be after you for royalties.
I’m sound with that. I actually owe her a bit of money. I was a bit short one month. I’d better put that on the record while I remember.
It’s good to hear that being a rock star is getting respect from the youth. How was it touring with Young Fathers? How does the accordion go across with their audience?
It went well. Got a good response. I done the whole accordion/drum machine thing. I was doing the support slot and then putting a hoodie on and de-rigging my equipment then coming onstage with Young Fathers. A double shift. It was great. It was funny, I’ve played some smaller shows since and that’s actually a lot more intimidating. Once you get used to doing fifteen hundred people or more, it’s just a blanket really. You try and stare some people out, down the front, but you can’t see them as well. You play to fifty people in the room, and they’re right there. I did Bristol Academy and then I played up the road with some friends. I had this backline in a cafe, and I was like fucking hell, this is scarier.
It’s more exposed, isn’t it?
I’m always a wee bit nervy when I’m performing. I’ve always had a bit of that. It’s like it’s just part of the performance. If I’m not feeling a bit edgy about it then I just don’t imagine it would work.
You’re pretty intense onstage. What do you like most about playing live? What’s been your favourite gig so far?
Favourite gig? I don’t really got one to be honest. I enjoyed my last one. I take them as they come really. There’s always a sense of relief when they’re over, but I always like to go back. I like being in that moment, I think that’s what the hook is. When you’re in that moment and you can’t … I don’t know, it’s like what I’d imagine if you’re into meditation or something. Your mind clears in a way, although there’s so much going on that it’s just … it’s very, I don’t know … the old definition of chaos was like a vacuum, I remember reading that somewhere, yeah. Opposites, you know what I mean? They’re actually close, interchangeable.
How did you stumble upon the accordion? Because what you do is really different to however I’ve seen it presented in the past.
It’s not on any of the recordings. You’ve maybe noticed. Going back to the family man chat, I was actually at a kids party, really hungover and went out for a pie and came back with an accordion! It was in a shop window, and they’d obviously given it a polish or something because it caught the light, and I was like, oh I quite fancy that. They gave me it for forty pound.
Oh, that’s reasonable.
It’s very good, yeah. And then I done a couple of gigs on it. It is a bit … It’s been about five or six months I been playing the thing. I can only really do half a beer before a gig. And my daughter also says I’ve improved a lot. She was not very impressed when I first started learning how to play it. They’re quite loud things. I’ve learned a lot from the accordion because it’s kind of like patting your head and rubbing your tummy. And once you get your head around that and figure out how to sing over the top you’ve got a lot more talent in general (laughs). Multi-tasking is going through the roof. And the other beautiful thing as well, you can’t really have a conversation and play it. You can’t really be interrupted. You don’t need to plug it in. So, no it’s good. I was fighting it for a bit but I do love the accordion.
So are you one for impulse purchases of cool, old equipment?
It’s more out of the economics really. You can pick things up, you know what I mean, I’ve always been a bit like that. I don’t know if I believe in fate or whatever but a lot of the equipment I’m using I’ve either picked it up cheap, or it’s someone else’s and they’re not using it. So I’m using it. And then a year’s gone by (laughs) and they’re like, are you still using my bit of kit? It kind of becomes yours. So I’m a bit bad for that. Don’t … leave … any … of the equipment … in my studio. For too long. Because I’ll start using it. And you’ll find it hard to take back.
I think that’s fair enough. So apart from the accordion what’s your favourite bit of old equipment you use?
It was an Ace Tone Rhythm Ace, this old drum machine. Basically, a lot of the tunes have got these old organs with the drum machines on them, the rhumba and the cha-cha. Slow rock. I do quite a bit of slow rock actually. And ballad at the right speed’s good. But all these old organs, they’re not very portable, so I thought I need to get a drum machine that does that. So I got one of those and that’s what I’m gigging with. It’s got a stop-start switch as well. That’s the thing about modern stuff, there’s nothing as simple as a stop-start switch. You can’t do that with your digital midi stuff, it’s like a pain in the arse. But a stop-start switch is good. I’m trying not to be too synched up as well. A lot of stuff’s all synched up these days, all in time. I like drifting a bit.
Yeah, have things going in and out of phase a little bit. The album has a real timeless ‘AM-radio-in-the-middle-of-the-night’ sort of feel to it. I wondered what sort of music do you like listening to?
Hmmmmm. I listen to quite a lot of soul music. I like early blues stuff, I like the sound of a microphone in a room. One of my favourite albums is the Golden Gate Quartet album. My mother listened to a lot of Motown when I was growing up and I’m into like the old Trojan Records, that’s in there, The Upsetters and … have you ever listened to the original version of ‘Oh Carolina‘? I can’t remember who it’s by. I’d have to look it up and send it to you.
Yeah, please do, I’d love to hear it.
That’s a mic in a room and the drummer is far too close to the mic, it’s beautiful! (laughs)
Photo credit John Mackie