Entwined in cables, knee-deep in film equipment and juggling multiple projects is just another day in the life of avant-garde filmmaker George Kalpa. Although his debut album 'Mode' has hit the shelves in a way that only a long-established heavy metal musician can he's certainly no stranger to this world. Melburnian fans of metal and experimental grunge, will know him from Nihl, a band he formed with brother Gene Kalpa and Theo Miliaresis. Now, unrestrained, he has entered the domain of being a solo artist but still remains fixed in two other bands, a family business and his company Inaway Productions. His album will be launched at Revolver, on Saturday 11th October.
He's not one to do things in half measures. In Kalpa's territory, it's all or nothing an admirable trait, "I'm doing a bit of a renovation at the studio that I am working out of, it was a music studio to begin with, then it was a film studio, then it became a half-assed music-film studio! One day I just went screw this, I have to do this properly, [I've] been doing it for over a month and I'm so over it. I've got all these projects and I've got all these things, and the studio is in a mess, there is equipment everywhere this is representative of my mind right now!"
Kalpa is indicative of a true creative; one part fuelled by a burning desire to get self-initiated projects off the ground, the other, a self-confessed precisionist. Mode was over one year in the making, and his tour de force was simple his brother Gene. He laughs when explaining the process, "[I've] got so many fucking ideas ... that is a song this is a song, man, you've got an album!" The composing spanned six months, "with the recording process over a year, from ideas stage to recording, mixing and mastering done with Gene co-producing. "I trust his ears I'm sitting there stuck on something for a day, and he comes in it might be the silliest thing, the sound of a tom, the sound of a snare drum this is doing my fucking head in! I have to walk away from it, meditate on it. Gene says, 'turn that up or turn that down', and then it's done, finished!"
While Kalpa's approach is largely unconventional, he's a fan of of mixing and matching ideas, experimenting and not sticking to the rules there's no denying the aesthetic of the work he produces is evocative. "The creative process all comes from a very similar place whatever idea comes, I just decide in my head, this will be good on this medium. It's the whole thing that turns me on about art, you don't need to follow this, follow that " An established short filmmaker, he deliberately and carefully translated his visual nous into the album, directing the clip 'Leave that Street Alone a spellbinding foray into the recesses of his subconscious. Mode, he confides, has largely been constructed as a score capturing fractured moments and weaving them into a composite that is honest, authentic and thought-provoking.
He explains, "the whole album I could sum up as a score to a period of my life. Things were happening in my head and changing in my life, I didn't even know were going to happen at the time. [I was] clouded with day to day life, you don't pay attention to these things. I approached this album more so as a filmmaker making an album." The feedback has been positive, fans are enamoured by his raw emotion, "[it's] something I appreciate in music as well, [I] can tell when the artist is writing from a genuine place that is the most important thing you have to get it out, if I don't do that, I would go insane." He muses over the notion of being open to interpretation, a sentiment he's receiving kudos about, and offers a pragmatic response, "you might watch it on a different day and feel something completely different, you can't really control that as an artist."
By and large, Kalpa's intensity is palpable, he breaks into laughter when recounting how he dismantled the songs for the upcoming live show at Revolver, "I'd broken down the songs and I couldn't stop breaking them down! When I deconstructed the songs to play them live, I thought why don't I get the boys from the band and do this live." He tells me the filmmaker in him didn't want to do a gig. Really? The long-established performance side fronted up, "... shouldn't be restricting yourself, go and play Melbourne live! Let's do this, make it like a rock show! There's going to be visuals and I'll have some freaky stuff going on "
I'm not surprised by his enthusiasm, the band legacy stems to his teen years, playing in the appropriately named thrash-metal-outfit 'Hellraiser', "was just obsessed with heavy metal" and honing the craft of rhythm guitar and vocals. The laughter resumes when asked about these formative years, "there's something about singing and playing at the same time that does it for me. I love it, I love it. I couldn't picture it, I couldn't stand there and sing without it [guitar], I would feel naked!" In bands, he was constantly one of the primary songwriters, Mode has created a new angle, "fuck that, let's see what you can do on your own!"
A major coup for this venture was landing the extraordinary musical talent of saxophonist Ben Harrison and vocalist May Johnston. He explains, (in only that rhythmically expletive way Kalpa can), Harrison is a former bandleader of Cirque du Soleil and classic 'bullshit musician' "Ben I found when I was working with my band Nihl", at a time when the band needed a sax player. "I've never met anyone as bullshit as him, any instrument he picks it up and he is a pro at it. I am like fuck man, again! Even if I practiced everyday, I will never be like that," Kalpa mockingly sighs, trailing off.
Johnston materialised in a different way, a regular on the jazz and blues circuit, he saw her play at the Nightcat (Fitzroy). "This chick on stage destroying it, singing like the backing singers in Pink Floyd!" He recalls it was at that point he thought, "I would love to work with her", and that he did. It took Johnston an impressive two takes, "maybe three, I won't overshoot it, she nailed it!" When the singer asked if Kalpa needed to do any more vocals, he responded in true maverick fashion, "fuck, why do I need anything else? Fuck we got it all!"
There's an earnest fondness when he compares this to working with band members, (imitating in his best drawl), "they would've been like 'hey man what's up .'." The band he offers, is more like being related, "you feed off each other when you are in a band in a different way, it is more like a family." The solo project has been empowering, he's found artists who made him stop and think, "wow, fuck we can do this."
For fans of Joy Division, Alice in Chains "one my favourite bands" and slow cinema, Mode will certainly inject your senses the end result is testament to his sanguine attitude "I love getting it done, if something needs to be picked apart, don't sit there and go I cant be fucked, lets do it, that is what we are here for." Which I don't doubt is largely formed from the help of the force that is his brother, "he co-founded the studio with me when I was 21\22 (Studio 11 used to be a record label, exclusively heavy metal), my second pair of eyes and ears."
He laughs when he explains their dynamic, "some things are identical between music and film, umm this might sound silly, film it's a lot straighter, it's not as loose. It's almost a real business approach the creative process is almost as beautiful as the music. Me and him have worked it out, I do this you do that, and we meet in the middle."
Check out the album launch and gig on Saturday 11 October at Revolver. The event is 18 plus, doors open at 9pm. You can purchase tickets from Dash Tickets.