Brooke Calder is the frontwoman of Minneapolis-based alternative chamber rock band glean. Her previous works include Burning Shakespeare, Brown Rainbow, Lolly Pop & The Couture Club and POP INC, while she’s also collaborated with Prince, Phil Solem, Ricardo Autobahn, Maggie DeMonde, Monte Moir (The Time), Emilio China (Peter Murphy) and Rick McCollum (The Afghan Whigs). When she isn’t meditating on what to do next musically, she’s a fan of cinema, reading and art, identifying most with the works of Charlie Chaplin, Jean Cocteau, Agatha Christie as well as science fiction magnate William Gibson. She’s equally influenced by Vivaldi, Tears for Fears, Johnny Lydon, Sinead O’Connor, Lana Del Rey and British post-punk producer Flood.
glean have recently released two new EPs – Shadows & Sand and Live @ The Hideaway – as well as a specially created art collage video for their song ‘Mother.’ I talked to Brooke about the latest glean releases, working with Rick McCollum and Emilio China and the HMS Titanic.
Congrats on the release of not one but two new EPs! Why release two EPs and not just one full album?
Hi Eve, thanks very much! On one hand, we love the slick production— EQs, filters, loops, samples, etc. on Shadows & Sand— but on the other, we wanted a stripped approach with big, raw drums and crunchy, distorted bass. In Live @The Hideaway, we also included a couple of songs from Echoes & Waves.
EPs are a pretty popular format for bands releasing music right now. Do you think that’s because of the rather shaky state of albums right now? Apart from some die-hard vinyl fans most people seem to have moved to cherry picking tracks and singles from download platforms.
For us, it boils down to budget. We’ve learned through crowdsourcing that we can raise roughly $1,000 to make a record, another $2,000 from playing shows and/or private investment. If we only use a “real” studio for drums, amped guitars and mixing, we can create an EP for roughly $3,000, which is manageable.
Am I jumping the gun? Is a glean album in the pipeline?
We’ve gotten into making really random sounds – we’ll see if we can bottle them!
Echoes & Waves tackled some brilliantly dark subjects (alcoholism, neglect, death) but Shadows & Sand appears to be a bit lighter in tone. What motivated this move towards thematic lightness?
Eve, what a kind compliment! The EPs were envisioned as a full length which opens in tragedy: the death of a loved one, alcoholism, and coming to terms with abuse (Echoes); swims against the emotional after-currents of the aforementioned (Waves); confronts the figurative phantoms riding those waves (Shadows), and finally, arrives on the terra firma of hope (Sand).
Shadows & Sand features the talents of Rick McCollum of the Afghan Whigs and Zef Noise. How did they get involved with the EP?
Zef (aka Emilio) and I were introduced on MySpace in 2005 by Mike of MADHAPPY. We were young, ambitious touring acts from different parts of the U.S., who networked and played dates in different cities. E had this wonderfully violin-ridden record he’d made called The Nyqwill Sessions and was riveting live – Sting possessed by Vivaldi, by way of Valentino – and had great work ethic. Despite going to work with Peter Murphy, balancing a hectic schedule as a producer, touring musician and solo artist, Emilio always makes time to create with his friends.
Regarding Rick, I knew we needed a guitar player capable of complex voice. I wanted someone who could evoke anxiety, while creating a paradoxical sense of safety. Rick undisputedly achieved this with The Afghan Whigs, again in Moon Maan and happened to have moved to Minneapolis. My former-band mate Louie McCoy introduced us; I sent Rick a demo, and that was that. He’s amazing.
What was it like working with them?
The thing Rick and Emilio have in common is that they create in 3D. On each of the songs they recorded, they wrote 2-3 overlapping tracks (lead melody, counter melody and/or ambiance) that work as one. If you listen to their performances isolated, they are astonishingly complex, emotive and complete on their own.
I realise I’m focusing a bit on two individuals, but glean is more about the collective as a whole and the sounds you produce as a unit. Is democracy particularly key to your identity as a band?
It’s a very giving environment RE: the creative process. Everyone — Jaanus, Jordan, Matthew, Felipe, myself, and Rick as well as our other collaborators — given the correct space, will create intriguing work. Regarding gigs, the guys trust me to steer our visual output. We also have an executive producer (David Hunt) as well as a merchandise manager and cover art designer (digital artist Darin Roy). And there’s Joseph Allen Black, who handles our logos. Collective is truly the best term to describe glean.
You recorded sounds for Shadows & Sand in various locations, including Belfast, Eastbourne and New York. What was the thinking behind deciding to record in such disparate locations?
The RMS Titanic.
On your Vimeo site in particular you make a lot of references to the Titanic – what’s the relationship between Shadows & Sand and the ship?
No one likes a spoiler… One thing I can reveal, however, is that since the age of 7 – when I first learned about Titanic – I’d always wanted to find a way, no matter how miniscule, to try to help the ship complete its course. And now, we must take a moment to ask an important question. What if – in an alternate reality – the ship had crossed safely? What would all those bright lights and lives have gone on to do, how might history have been altered? It’s heartbreaking… In addition to the passengers and White Star Line staff who perished, not a single one of the musicians made it out alive. Please take a moment to read about and remember them today.
You’ve created a video collage to accompany the song ‘Mother.’ How did the collage come together and what were the inspirations behind it?
Broken vintage dolls, some of them under water. Various Madonnas. The works of two visual artists I admire immensely: Micah S. Ailie (who makes evocative found object sculptures) and Karen Hatzigeorgiou (who creates haunting book art, also with found objects). There’s also a bald mannequin, whose name is Dominique; she was adopted for one of our shows at the suggestion of Ana Voog.
What did you specifically want to evoke with the video collage?
Abandonment. Despair. Confusion. Fear. Contrast: Mother Mary’s reassuring gaze. And to show Karen and Micah’s haunting and provocative works.
Do you think the majesty of glean comes out more in the live performance?
Majesty? You’re making me blush, Eve. I just want it to have heart and a level of connection… Rick taught me that. If I get to hold one random person’s hand, or if someone feels open enough to confide in me afterwards, then we’ve done our job.
Is, for want of a better term, “proper goth” due a real comeback? We’ve had some successful pop goth recently in the shape of Lorde and Lana Del Rey, but I wonder if the harsher, guitar and synth driven sounds of early-80s Siouxsie and The Cure might be on the rise, especially with bands such as Savages becoming popular and gaining critical acclaim?
I’ll never forget the first time I heard Blue Jeans. It’s that line about James Dean, and those melancholy, soaring strings. And there was Lana: this clean cut, very un-Goth looking girl, purring the black-and-blues, the bruise-tone hues of mortality. As far as additional acts in the vein, I also love Lorde, Charlie XCX in her darker moments, an indie UK act called Jan Doyle, plus two local bands called The Rope and Orchyd. New York’s Kristeen Young, who’s so criminally underrated that it makes me want to jump off a bridge so she doesn’t have to. Ficshe is always up to interesting things as well – now there’s a polymath who’s single-handedly turned record packaging into an event! Regarding a bigger comeback… I wish I could predict what’s gonna happen next. I’d be a very rich woman if so.
What’s next for glean?
I’m working on two more Shadows & Sand video collages – one for ‘Tears’ (arrives August) and the other for ‘Angels Are Everywhere’ (arrives September). We’re playing our last show of the year in Minneapolis on Friday, August 7th, then I’m heading to the East Coast with my brilliant husband and occasional musical cohort, Simon Calder. I’m also nearly finished writing a book; when it’s done, Queen’s Mob will be the first to know!
Thank you Eve, Queen’s and you – Dear Heart – for tuning in.