Anthony’s Airwaves – Transmissions from Charlie Wolf of The Small Calamities

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Today, I’ve got Charlie Wolf with us from The Small Calamities. If you like 90s pop and folk music fused with a little bit of The Front Bottoms, then these guys are for you. Here we talk about Charlie’s musical upbringing and how the band came to be what it is today. We talk about their new album Moments of Impact and some of their past work as well. If you would like to learn more about The Small Calamities, you can head over to their website here.

Anthony:
Charlie, thanks a lot for doing this interview with us today! It sure has been a crazy couple of years. How’ve you been holding up? It looks like you’ve been busy with your new album Moments of Impact!

Charlie:
Thanks so much for having me! It’s been a tough year with a lot of ups and downs. There’s a great song called “Sidetracked” by John Elliott that has the refrain “I am just alright,” and that’s definitely how I feel right now. I’ve been better, I’ve been worse, but I am alright now. I’m grateful that I have a roof over my head, the ability to create art, and this album release to keep busy!

Anthony:
Before we get into this, can you tell our readers a bit about who you are and where you’re from? Who makes up Small Calamities?

Charlie:
I grew up in Los Angeles and have lived all over the US and Latin America at various points. I started using the Small Calamities name for a solo project back in 2015, and it morphed into a real band back in 2017 or so when I met our drummer (Hayden Parker). Currently, the core band consists of me, Hayden, and our friend Christian Kalafut on the bass. We don’t have a permanent keyboardist at the moment, but we have a rotation of folks who usually help us out with that live.

Anthony:
What were your musical beginnings? What got you into singing?

Charlie:
There were several guitarists in my family, so I always grew up around guitars and music. I used to do the acoustic folk singer/songwriter thing when I was in high school and college, and there’s still definitely a lot of that vibe in the songs that I write. As for singing, I’m hoping to get into that one day. I was thinking the other day about the difference between a “comedian” and a “humorist”–one makes you laugh, the other kind of makes you smile. Some blog posts referred to me as a “vocalist,” and I think I decided I’m going to start calling myself that from now on. Maybe I’ll work my way up to “singer” eventually.

Anthony:
You have a new album coming out as mentioned above, can you tell us about it? What it’s about, what story does it tell? It seems to have heavy Folk inspiration like Mumford and Sons!

Charlie:
Haha, oh god. Sometimes I’ll hear a drum beat, and I’ll say, “Nah, that sounds too much like a Mumford song, and I don’t want to invite that comparison.” There’s definitely a Mumford stigma we try to steer clear of.

As far as the new album, Moments of Impact touches on a lot of different themes–loneliness, isolation, heartbreak, and angst are some big ones. We started it before COVID, and most of the songs were written long before the pandemic, but it certainly became a pandemic album as time went on, and we continued to rework it. I’m always hesitant to comment on what story an album tells because, over the years, I’ve learned that listeners often develop very different ideas of what story a song is telling than what was in my head when I was writing it. That’s a really cool thing about music–that people can connect with a song in such different ways and take the meaning that they want to take from it, even if it wasn’t what the writer intended. In my view, when an artist is prescriptive regarding what a song is about or what story they are telling, it takes away that beautiful room for interpretation.

Anthony:
You’ve worked with Vince Ratti and Kyle Black; what was it like working with the same people who have worked with The Front Bottoms, The Wonder Years, State Champs, Paramore?

Charlie:
I really can’t say enough great things about Vince Ratti. He mixed the song “House Lights” from our previous LP, and we were delighted with it. But I have to admit, we were a little nervous about putting such a large chunk of this album in his hands. Some of my favorite songs on this album–” Violin Concerto” and “Funeral Hymn,” for example–are very different than what I think of when I think about The Wonder Years/Circa Survive/bands; like that…but he absolutely knocked it out of the park, and we ended up having him redo some songs we initially had other people work on. We’re starting to think about the next album, and we’re definitely hoping to work with him again when the time comes.

Anthony:
How much does this upcoming album differ from your previous LP?

Charlie:
It’s a lot faster, it’s more Punk-influenced, and there’s much less synthesizer. To me, it feels less dated. We like to do something different with each album. Our last LP was turn-of-the-century Power Pop, we put out a Garage Rock EP last summer, and this new album is some kind of Emo-Folk hybrid. I think there are certain things in common melodically, thematically, and lyrically, but the songs’ vibe is pretty different from our last album.

Anthony:
Speaking of inspirations and influences, who are some of yours as singers and musicians and as a band? As mentioned above, I can hear some Mumford and Sons, maybe some Front Bottoms, and Modern Baseball for a great mix of emo and folk with a tinge of 80s synth.

Charlie:
This surprises many people, but my most-listened-to artist on Spotify is Taylor Swift. I listen to a lot of pop music. I also listen to many Emo-adjacent stuff–things like The Front Bottoms, Modern Baseball, The Weakerthans, and Pinegrove. Meanwhile, the rest of the band are way more into prog rock and more experimental things. That creates a push-pull dynamic that works really well, where I think we bring out the best in each other and meet in the middle.

Anthony:
Here’s one of my favorite questions to ask, what equipment do you use to record with? Is it the same that you play live with, or do you have a different set of instruments for that?

Charlie:
We generally use the same instruments, but we tend to use different amps in the studio vs. live. I mainly play Martin all-mahogany acoustic guitars and Fender electric guitars. Christian played a P-bass on almost every song. But then there are many textural instruments we don’t really use live. For example, I played a fair amount of mandolin on this album, but I don’t think I’ve ever taken one with me to a gig. Our project studio is fairly simple right now, but we’re in the process of rebuilding it before we start recording the next album–ask me this again in a year, and I’ll have much cooler answers!

Anthony:
What’s your process for writing music? Is there a certain order in which parts of a song are done first?

Charlie:
Usually, I’ll have some inspiration, sit down and write a whole song, and then bring it to the band more or less completed. Sometimes we co-write (like “Tabs” and “Roaring Lions” on this album) as a band, but it’s the exception rather than the rule for us.

Anthony:
What are some of your passions outside of music? Does any of it influence your music, or do you try to separate music from other activities?

Charlie:
I try to keep music pretty separate in my life. Most of my other hobbies also aren’t really at all related–things like cooking or bicycling.

Anthony:
Have you gotten to tour pre-COVID? If so, where have been some of your favorite places you have gone? If not, do you have any plans to have any places in mind that you’d like to play?

Charlie:
We’ve mainly done local tours–LA, San Diego, San Francisco, northern Mexico, that sort of thing. We had a midwest tour we were planning on doing in 2020, but that obviously got derailed due to COVID. Many of our listeners are in the midwest and east coast, so we’d really like to play more out that way once shows are happening again.

Anthony:
How do you feel about the music industry’s current state as COVID has shut down all live shows and tours? Sure it’s given rise to the digital outlets, but how do you navigate through an endless supply of streaming services and other artists trying to get their stuff out there?

Charlie:
Honestly, I’m a hypocrite! I hate how to be a musician. In 2021 you need to learn how to work all the various algorithms to get your music in front of people. But then I think of how I’ve discovered most of the new artists I’ve listened to in the last year, and it’s probably all algorithmic playlists.

Anthony:
How do you see the future of the music industry post-COVID and also the future of Small Calamities?

Charlie:
There will always be a demand for music, so I do think venues will rebound, but at the end of the day, the days of rock music being a huge money-making industry were already over. I think that the internet will continue to lead to creating more and more niche subgenres and communities around those. Bands will survive by touring and selling merch. Basically, we’re just a t-shirt company with a really inefficient marketing strategy that involves creating music as a byproduct.

Anthony:
Who are some of your favorite artists and albums personally? Not necessarily influences on your music, but if they happen to be, that’s alright!

Charlie:
I listen to a pretty wide variety of music, so it’s hard to pick favorites. I’ll go with what I’ve liked recently. My favorite 2020 releases were In Sickness & In Flames, Punisher, Marigold, and Folklore. And in terms of older stuff, in the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to many acoustic Rolling Stones recordings from the 60s and 70s.

Anthony:
Here’s one we ask everyone, do you collect any physical forms of music? Vinyl, cassettes, tapes, CDs, or are you all digital?

Charlie:
A while back, I bought an upgraded version of the 2006 U2 iPod on eBay, the black and red one with Bono’s signature on the back, and I’ve been collecting music on that. That’s very uncool, please don’t tell anybody.

Anthony:
Lastly, where can we find your music?

Charlie:
We’re on all the major platforms, but we mainly focus on Spotify! We also have physical media and merch on our Bandcamp.

Anthony:
Charlie, thanks again for doing this with us today, is there anything else you’d like to add that we may have missed or didn’t get to touch on here today?

Charlie:
I think we covered everything! Thanks so much for putting this together.

Interested in learning more about the music of The Small Calamities? Check out the link below:

Dig this? Check out the full archives of A.M. Radio, by Anthony Montalbano, here: https://vinylwritermusic.com/a-m-radio-archives/

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