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The hidden depths of Calva Louise

Photo credit: Russell Poad

It's easy to judge a book by its cover or band by its appearance. On the face of it, Calva Louise are just another 3 piece grunge-punk pop band which in itself is nothing remarkable. But what you see is not what you get; they're an intelligent, female fronted band with quite a bit to say with a deep underlying understanding of the state of the world we're living in. This is, perhaps, unsurprising given their international credentials.

Jess, the lead vocalist and guitarist hails from Venezuela; the drummer, Ben, is from New Zealand and the bass player, Alizon is part French. I'm not sure there are many other bands who can claim the same. But this diversity only works in their favour, and adds more depth to their music. They have just released their debut album 'Rhinoceros' on Modern Sky, produced by Margo Broom (Catholic Action, The Blinders) and have embarked on a nationwide tour to promote it. It's perfectly packaged record of short, powerful, catchy tracks that after years of hard work they have honed to perfection.

When we hear a song and listen to the lyrics, we tend to relate to them in terms of what's going on in our own lives even if the original words were meant to convey or relate to something completely different. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder, to mangle a maxim. But when you consider their different backgrounds, the context of the tracks of this album take on a whole new level.

Consider the album title; Rhinoceros. Unusual, yes but not an extraordinary name for album. But this album is not named after the endangered animal most of us have only seen in zoos; it's named after a play by the French playwright, Eugene Ionesco. In the play, the protagonist watches his friends turn into rhinoceroses one by one whilst he remains as he is. It's a story about refusing to conform and standing firm in your own beliefs; this is essentially the bedrock of Calva Louise and their music.

It becomes even more poignant when you consider the current political situation in Venezuela, which has been in a downward economic spiral for years fuelled by skyrocketing hyperinflation, power cuts and shortages of food and medicine.

Considered in this context, the opening track, 'I Hear A Cry' is really a call to arms.

Accusers accused of redeeming

Repeating the old sins

Pointing fingers covered in young blood

It announces itself without apology, straight in with with a rallying cry of a guitar riff, soon joined by a galloping bass line and drums as though they're riding into battle. Weirdly, it reminds me of 'Swords Of A Thousand Men' by Tenpole Tudor, but it's 2 minutes 15 seconds of rabble rousing.

The pace doesn't let up and the sense of urgency continues into the next track, 'I'm Gonna Do Well', but this altogether punkier and made more serious by Jess' vocals - the angry riot girl sound she does so well.

The opening 4 tracks are all under 3 minutes and each is a little ball of energetic pop punk.

But 'No Hay', sung mostly in Jess' native language Spanish, shows the bands more poppier side, and slows down the frenetic pace for a while.

The whole album lasts no more than 30 minutes but somehow it seems longer; no sooner are you coming down from the scuzzy charged pop punk of the first track, are you launched into more. It feels relentless, in a good way and the odd slower paced pop nuggets offer something different but do not seem out of place.

The production levels, as you'd expect from Margo Broom, are excellent but this always prompts me to question how well the songs come across when they're done live. On the face of it, as evidenced by their website and merchandise, they're a slick professional outfit and sometimes this can backfire spectacularly when you see a band perform.

But thankfully it didn't. I got to see them for myself at ThinkTank Underground as they embarked on their tour to promote the album. I like the venue, it's intimate, the stage is only slightly raised and it feels as though you're up close and personal. This doesn't suit everyone and I did wonder whether or not, for a well established band like they are, it would affect their performance. But there was absolutely no sign of hubris or arrogance.

I had arrived early - I always do so as not to miss the support bands. It would be like missing a goal during the first quarter of an hour of a football match. Local band, Mayfare, were well supported by families and friends, proud Mums and Dads stood at the back filming on their mobiles. I actually love seeing this, being at the beginning of a musical journey of a young competent band. Let's hope it works out for them.

Next up were Calva Louise's touring partners, Kid Kapichi, hailing from Hastings. A guitar slinging 4 piece, they had some swagger about them and could certainly knock out a tune especially if you're a fan of The Black Keys, Green Day or Alien Ant Farm. A mosh pit developed (albeit comprising 5 people), always a good sign in my book.

Then, almost inexplicably, the venue seemed to half empty now it was the turn of the headliners. I was caught in two minds about this; embarrassment for the band but a better experience for those who were there. But it didn't seem to bother them one bit, launching into their opener 'I'm Gonna Do Well' as though they were sticking two fingers up to the situation.

I am a creature in the night

I got your picture in my mind

And lately I've been waiting to fool you

Their stirring music worked. As they blasted into 'Outrageous', one of the singles and stand out tracks from the album, a mosh pit formed out of nowhere. "It's OUTRAGEOUS!" Jess hollered as she strutted around the stage brandishing her guitar.

Photo credit: Russell Poad

And now we were gripped. If your songs are this good, and belted out with engaging enthusiasm, I guess it doesn't take much more.

'Tug Of War' was up next, another track so full energy that if it was a little kid, you'd have to let it out to play. Most of their songs are like this and they covered them with the same fizzing zest throughout - Jess even jumped off stage at one point and joined in with the those jumping around.

Although the tour is to promote the album, the band also treated us to a couple of new songs too as if to say "We're not stopping here, there's more to come." One of them called 'Belicoso' - translating as warlike - sums up their mentality and attitude.

I liked the album and now having seen them live appreciate them even more. For a three piece, they make a hell of a sound. They're instantly likeable but not in an cheesy, saccharine way. They're thoughtful with their music, lyrics and image and this to me makes the whole process of consuming (if that's the right word) their music, much more pleasurable.

They signed off the gig with 'Getting Closer'. It's one of the slower paced pop nuggets I mentioned earlier and is the perfect song to end with. It's a funky, looping track (with some riot girl screams thrown in for good measure) and sums up how far the band have come to get to this point.

I think I'm getting closer

To what I've tried to become

I feel good on my own

Calva Louise are not just another 3 piece grunge-punk pop band. I could have easily passed over them because of my flawed assumptions but I'm glad I didn't. It was their mixed backgrounds that piqued my interest initially but I think we all need to delve deeper sometimes. Every band or musician has a story to tell and, as music fans, we are very lucky to be able to witness it and be part of it.