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"It's unsettled, but actually really settled": The Calls, in interview

Words by Jessica Fynn

It is some time in the afternoon, and Tom Fuller, lead vocalist and song-writer of The Calls, is looking at me from his side of the computer camera. I’ve caught him the day before the release of band’s latest EP, Fall Inside Again. Tom is outwardly relaxed, but I sense that behind his easy grin, is a restless, creative energy. If it were a colour, it would take on a rich amber hue.

The Calls have been described as having a “chameleon-like” sound. They create music that has the wonderful ability to adapt to the mood of its listener. Their latest EP, Fall Inside Again,is experimental and unpredictable. It is a wild and cleverly crafted soundscape: a blend of jangly guitar riff, delay and reverb, cut delicately with a hazy, psychedelic undertone.

Travelling around in an old window-cleaners van, ”the bandwagon” as Tom calls it, their image feels authentic, homegrown. I feel at ease in his company, almost immediately. I think, perhaps it’s the friendly northern accent, or that when Tom speaks, his answers are unapologetically long. He doesn’t see this so much as an interview, but an opportunity to talk at length about his passion, why he does what he does. “Sorry for talking your ear off,” he says towards the end of our conversation, chuckling.

Settling in, I ask Tom about something that has been on my mind lately: first impressions. I ask him what impression he thinks The Calls give to their audience. “I would like to think that we give the impression of being unpredictable…in a good way” he tells me. “There’s nothing that I can say that doesn’t end up contradicting itself, but I feel like we…we try and…we’re quite intense in terms of level and focus that we put into the music. We think a lot about the finer details, and I’d like to think that comes across.”

When Tom speaks, he spends quite some time searching for the right words. His conversational style is one that could be easily mistaken for indecision or uncertainty. Tom flickers between abstract ideas and fleeting moments, he backtracks, veers sideways and changes course, before he finally settles upon what he really wants to say. It’s almost like trying to pin down a butterfly in flight. Tom strikes me as someone who is concerned more with the impact of his words, his lyrics, than his presence, onstage or otherwise.

“I don’t really think of myself as a frontman” he tells me. Tom lacks the electrifying gaudiness that is so often a part of the lead-vocalist persona. It’s also not surprising when he says that the band hate photoshoots. “It’s just that cringe-worthy moment when you’re just obviously a band doing a photoshoot.” Tom shakes his head. “You go places and you’re just stood there with your hands in your pockets. You’ve got people walking past, watching you. It’s just horrible! It’s so contrived. So we blur it all out.”

Taking a look through their press images is a strange experience: each shot looks as if the person behind the camera has tripped and fallen, at just the moment the image was captured. I enjoy the way that the band so casually plays this off as part of the hazy, psychedelic aesthetic that influences their sound.

Tom’s discomfort with the concept of photoshoots isn’t something that follows him up onto the stage. He chooses humility over stage-presence, every time. “I’m no Freddy Mercury! I sing the songs because they’re my songs…and because someone’s got to sing the songs.” I was pleased to find out that Tom has a background in writing poetry and is a lover of William Blake. “I wouldn’t say I’m much of a poet really, but I’ve dabbled,” he smiles. When he was younger, he would submit what he calls his “dressed-up song-lyrics” in to poetry competitions. He chuckles when he recalls that he won first-place a number of times.

I wanted to talk about his creative process and if there was a lyric that stood out to him on the new EP. “I’ve always found that in certain songs, there would be a certain line or a phrase, sung with a certain melody, that for whatever reason, just hits me. That’s what I’m always chasing.” For the lyric, he picks out ‘You’re all calling them names / when you just disagree’, from I Just Thought I’d Say. “That seems to embody the whole…that’s just how the world is at the moment. Everyone…they argue in the most pathetic way possible. It’s so childish. The world is so immature! If someone disagrees with someone, they call them every name under the sun! It’s madness.”

We spend some time talking song lyrics, his own, and the lyrics that he wished were his own. He was thrown when I asked him to pin down his favourite lyric that he hadn’t written himself. “There’s just too many!” he says, laughing. Flustered, but determined not to finish the interview without giving an answer he feels is adequate, Tom wanted a chance to regroup.

Often the focal point of their previous interviews, it is not a secret that The Calls are a band without a drummer. Always the lover of contradiction and ambiguity, Tom has described this dynamic as “unsettled, but actually really settled”. What exactly did this mean for the creation of music? “That element of ‘settled-ness’ that we have as a unit, that really works in our favour. When we used to have a drummer, in the end we parted ways because it wasn’t working for various reasons. When every time we were rehearsing there was an element of conflict…sometimes that would generate something really interesting…but a lot of the time I just made things harder.”

“You don’t ever want to get too comfortable,” he reflects, “because then you start doing the same thing over and over again. You need to push yourself. There’s an element of being a little bit out of your depth that adds excitement…that’s creativity.”

“There’s a quote I really like from David Bowie,” confesses Tom. I can’t quite remember exactly how it goes, but it was something like…he uses the metaphor of being in water…when your feet are not quite touching the bottom, when you’re just slightly out of your depth, that’s where the magic happens.

I think that’s a really good way of looking at it. You shouldn’t go that far out into the water that you have no idea of what you’re doing. There’s an element of craft that you have to master, begin to understand, and become good at. But if all you’re ever doing is something that you completely understand, then you’re never going to do something that is really exciting.”

Nearing the end of our conversation, I remind Tom that he still hasn’t decided on a song lyric. He takes a deep breath, and says: “It’s in She Bangs the Drums, by The Stone Roses: ‘the past was yours / But the future’s mine’. That’s a great line. I really wish I wrote that.”

Tom subtly reminds me that song lyrics have a strange way of drawing you back to the exact moment when you first heard the song. Fall Inside Again manages to be unpredictable, while capturing an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia and an appreciation of the poetics of song-writing. The Calls might be understated, but they seem to like it that way. The future is very much in their hands.

Fall Inside Again by The Calls, is out now.