England in 1819 has the kind of bio that could second as a screen play. The group is a family band — bothers Andrew and Dan Callaway collaborate with their father Liam — and their musical history dates back to Andrew and Dan’s troubadour grandfather, William, who played his way through Georgia. And Liam has history with the Athens, Ga. music scene (more about that, below).
The Callaway brothers grew up in the English countryside before studying music at conservatories in Ohio. They now split their time between Baton Rouge and New Orleans (more on that in a moment, too). As England in 1819, the Callaways craft gorgeous dream-pop that seems to unfold in a space beyond time. They call their sound chamber rock — equal parts haunting, atmospheric, nuanced and evocative.
They perform at The Emerald Lounge on Wednesday, April 24. 9 p.m. $8 in advance/$10 at the door. Sonmi headlines and Peripheral opens.
In advance of that show, England in 1819 talks to Xpress about collaborating with family, the importance of place in their music, and new single and music video “Our Own God.”
Photo courtesy of the band
Mountain Xpress: Is the band name taken from the poem by Percy Shelley? If so, what about that poem spoke to you? [Read the poem here.]
Andrew Callaway: It is indeed taken from the poem. It wasn’t so much the content of the poem, but rather the title. We liked the inherent qualities of space and time built into the name – a far away place and a long time ago.
The band is made up of you, your brother and father. What’s it like both to compose music and to tour not just with family but with two generations? What are some of the best parts of that, and some of the drawbacks?
It’s great! A lot of people we meet say they’d love to have the chance to do something like that with their parents. Or they say there’s no way they could ever do that. I think for us, it works. We’re close, so we can be really honest with each other throughout the writing process. I think it can take some people years to get to a place of openness and really be able to write as a team. We’ve been playing together since we were young, so when it came to write, it felt very natural and easy. Touring is great too. There’s nothing better than getting to play your music every night. Life on the road can be stressful, and we definitely have our arguments, but for the most part we get along really well socially, too.
Being an independent band, it’s incredibly time consuming to book, manage and promote ourselves. The best part about being so close is that we are just a really well-oiled machine, running smoothly with lots of communication. The drawback is that, blurring the lines between family, friends, band and work means almost too much time together, and a tendency to get closed off and live in our own bubble. We try to keep a happy balance and get out in the world as much as we can.
Liam started his music career in Athens, Ga. during the 1970s. For some reason that area is very rich in musical and artistic inspiration and output. Yet when you decided to settle down in the south, you chose New Orleans. Do you all live in New Orleans now? Have you considered spending time in Athens, and what about New Orleans speaks to you?
Liam was in Athens at the beginnings of the New Wave movement. It was definitely a time rich with artistic inspiration and expression. While Dan and I were in school, the family moved to Baton Rouge. Dan decided to move here for grad school and I came along. We bounce back and forth between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It’s a little like the Athens/Atlanta relationship, maybe. I have considered spending time in Athens. I was born there. The opportunity hasn’t really presented itself. I like Baton Rouge because it’s small enough that you can just about keep an eye on everything going on in town. New Orleans is bigger definitely and has a ton of creative people there. It’s really amazing how many talented musicians and artists of all kinds are around the area. Both towns have great art communities that are steadily growing, and it’s an exciting time to be around.
I sense a longing or nostalgia, or maybe a beautiful sadness in your music. Is this, perhaps, due in part to being without a country? Or being of more than one country? Does a sense place play a role your composition and/or writing?
There is a sense of longing. A sense of nostalgia. I wouldn’t say that it comes directly from not having a place. Although we are pretty nomadic. It’s more about life, as a whole. Regret, sadness, but also hope, inspiration and happiness. I write the way I feel. Alma was a really emotional album. It is just full of feelings. Writing the album was a way for me to get through a lot of the more negative ones. I actually set out to write a happy album, mainly because our first one was so dark. But I really wasn’t ready to do that. So there’s this real conflict within the album. It’s major, triumphant, but at the same time, crushing. It’s calm but haunting. The happy moments have an underlying sense of sadness. Those feelings faded as the album wrapped up. It was as if by digging into that well for inspiration, I was able to empty it. Our new sound is very reflective of that. It is more about looking outward. About moving forward. It’s being on the road, out in the world.
You’re currently on tour to promote new single and music video “Our Own God.” Tell us about that video project and any back story to the song.
The video was a blast to shoot. We worked with a videographer from New Orleans named Stephen Kinigopoulos. He did our first two music videos as well. He is incredibly talented and has a really unique style that fits our music perfectly. It’s always a thrill to work with him because we never know quite what we’re going to get. He’s the type of person to work in small pieces that no one else can put together. I remember for the second video, I was thinking, how does this make any sense? This is going to look so weird. There’s nothing here. I couldn’t believe how he wove all the parts together to create something touching, emotional and strong. He is currently putting the finishing touches on the new video and I can’t wait to see how it comes out.
The song is the first song to be released that I would say is in our new style. We have electronic drums now (and honestly, it’s just a lot easier with the 3 of us). And like I said, things are moving forward. We are taking everything we’ve been experiencing and learning over the past year of touring, and putting it into our music. We played Alma so much, we didn’t write for a long time. I think we got bottled up musically and emotionally, so I lot of that is now coming out. It has energy and excitement. It’s been really positive and rewarding and I think the sound is great. It’s been a great experience so far, and we’re looking forward to more.