Tris McCall is one of the many music stalwarts who’d always been a vocal proponent of the music scene regarding Jersey City. He’s never made it vague that he’s a ‘Jersey Boy’ through and through. And whenever one sits down with Tris, his passion and fervor for music, and of the local scene is evident. His colorful explanations with a near perfect memory for bands and details of past events, puts him in the league of local music ‘historians’ that is well deserved.
He moved to Jersey City more than a decade ago (but with multiple decades consumed in the NJ music scene), and has been living and working in the area for couple more decades. His thoughtful insights on what music means to him, his craft and the hype of where music is and will go – is a page turner. Once getting started, his reels of knowledge comes to the fore and his zeal is unmistakable.
On June 1 he is, in a sense, returning to the stage with a full band behind him, to play for the audience his music from his long term project ‘McCall’s Almanac’ – a music infused first hand collection of stories from multiple cities from around the Continental United States.
Before his upcoming show, we’d sat down for a short interview and took down his thoughts for you, the reader.
SHOW DETAILS [FB LINK HERE]
REINVIGORATION & RETURN
In his return, Tris McCall wants to make a mark. And he’s recruited his most trusted of musicians to help him do so.
“Jay Braun on guitar, Justin Braun on Bass, and they play with the band called The Negatones in Brooklyn…they’re one of my favorite bands. I’d worked with Jay and Justin a lot. Matt Houser is the drummer in a band called Overlord..”
Tris calls his return to the stage with his band, playing with people who knows how ‘Tris’ plays. However, the biggest reason, is that his trust in his bandmates’ talents and trust runs deep.
“I wanted to this with these guys because this is my First rock show in a long time.”
It’s been since 2017, with a similar line up, while Tris was trying to ‘get his feet back’ under him, technically and emotionally. And by in large ‘we did songs from the album called ‘Shootout At The Sugar Factory’..because we’d played them a million times’ it’d be recognizable by his fans. Also, he’d played songs from the 2009 album ‘Let The Night Fall’.
“We did them in part because it’s fun to play [those songs]…live, but also because it was easier, the path of less resistance…and it was easier to play the ones that we [already] knew.”
For this June 1 show, Tris and gang will “play a lot of the stuff from the Almanac, and doing it in rock arrangements. Some of the songs [currently] are Not in rock arrangements, and some of them either have processed drums or synthesizers…we’re going to try to do them as raw rock and these are the songs most rock to me…and I’m going to try to represent those songs, in a nice live show.”
“There are lots of exciting things happening in Jersey City now and whenever I see that, I always feel like ‘hey, I want to be a part of that…of what’s happening, and of what I might have something to say and contribute.”
“When a town starts talking through music, all kinds of interesting things get said, and I believe that my music can be part of that conversation.”
But as they say, that can only happen when audiences get to listen and appreciate his musical outputs. So, the preparation and nervousness, has somewhat grown as the process went forward.
“Part of the Almanac I did with Mike (Flannery) is ready to go. That part of the album has been in existence. And then there are the other tracks which I’d done with Jay Braun, which are coming together as well.”
“My hope is that, I CAN be part of that conversation…I’ve always had a lot to say in my life but didn’t get to say them publicly in prior years…and hoping to get to say them more [now].”
“We’re kind of doing the show intentionally…and I am interested in how these songs work with a rock band. I am interested in how the songs are received. My expectation is that the songs will work well live. We’ll have to see whether my expectations are met.”
“Some of the Mike Flannery [produced] half (about 15-16 tracks, in all) of the album might not make it into the [final] album…but his mixes for the songs are done. So, it’s going to be a matter of, after the show is over, we’re going to sit down and listen to them and see how we make an album out of what we’ve done. And what I’ve heard, there’s definitely is an album in there. It has lot of the flavor of the Almanac.”
In fact, Tris describes his songs, produced by Mike Flannery, the more ‘pop-ish’ songs he’s done for the album. He calls them the songs that he ‘tried to react to all the pop songs that have gone through my system over the last 10 years, especially the songs that I was covering [for newspaper publications].”
“I don’t make music like that [Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, etc.] but you can hear the finger prints..on [my Almanac] songs. And at the same time, they are my more ‘apocalyptic’ material..it’s the stuff that is most anxious, and where the narrators, whether they do or not, seems to be approaching a cliff..blindly skipping along toward a cliff.”
“You definitely get that feel from the songs, especially when played in sequence.. well at least for me. And when I felt that [from the songs], I felt we had an album.”
His other mixer/producer partner in crime is Jay Braun (The Negatones, Naturally, Sean Bones, Norah Jones) and as Tris puts it “when you look at the song ‘Conspiracy Theroy’ it’s more traditional and ‘raw’…he loves bands like The Beatles and Rush so it his mixing comes out that way.”
As one would expect, there is a particular reason for why Tris started this project. And from all accounts, seems that he absorbs much of what’s going on in the world – locally and globally – extracting the nuance of each declaration in social norms and trying to incorporate his feelings and thoughts on paper, then into music.
“I started to feel that something was going on with the country..an anxiety from people. And starting from the year 2013, I was feeling somewhat crested, of national anxiety. And at that time, doing a little more traveling than I had in the past…and I had felt more anxiety more than when I was in New Jersey. I thought that New Jersey was where ‘anxiety'” was a deeply entrenched part of life. “But apparently it wasn’t…it was worse elsewhere.”
“So I started traveling a lot and paying attention and put my antennas out…just paying attention to what I saw.”
“When I started going to different cities, I would make up a character (or I would meet a real character)…and the song would be from the perspective of the character. It wasn’t that the song was biographical…but the character came first. I’d write a song, set in a [particular] city, and I would describe the character, to an artist named Laura LeRosa, then she would draw me a picture of the character. Then based on the drawing, I would write the short story, that was inspired by the character.”
“The song, the story, and the cartoon, and I’d add a couple of notes on what I discovered in that city…about the things that I look into when I go to a city (house of worship, vegetarian restaurant, bike parks, etc). And each one could be accessed from a map [of the United States].”
“The stories I feel, when I re-read them, I’m very happy with them…I really feel like…you get this sense of what I was looking for, or discovering…” on the way.
“When it verged on venting, that’s when I didn’t like what I was doing.”
“No one has said this to me, but all of the characters are male, and this was done on purpose. I am completely open, and understand that there are way too many male voices out there. I prefer to listen to women’s voices. But I was feeling during my travels, was of tremendous ‘male identity anxiety’, where men didn’t connect, and wasn’t being expressed in many ways.It was important to me that these male characters existed” just to be judged. “Their anxieties were the same as what I was feeling [at the time]”
“Everyone has different ways of expressing their anxieties, right? Some people go on to the Internet they post angry stuff on Facebook, about politicians, or whatever. Some people go to the bar, yell with their friends and drink.”
“For me, it has always been [the one] who makes up stories and characters. This [project] was for me a way of dealing with that.”
“Towards the end of the project, I felt I got a little too ‘angry’..about things. And I didn’t want it to be like that. Didn’t want this to feel like it was an angry project. Even though many of the story outcomes don’t turn out well, I wanted it to be like ‘skipping towards that cliff’. It was a beautiful day, but there is a dark cloud up ahead.”
“I was very pleased [with] getting the feeling that I wanted to get. The song ‘Take Me To The Waterfall’ (which won’t be performed at the show)… it’s an apocalyptic song, which sounds kind of happy, but it’s about a character who is going to have ‘unsafe sex’ and he doesn’t know why. Apocalyptic, but not at all the end of days. But there is this SENSE that everything’s coming to ahead (and end)..being irrational at that moment, without not know quite why.”
“As long as this tone comes across, I, almost, just don’t care what the final mix ended up.”
“Pop songs can be freighted with a lot of nuance, and I felt good about” how it turned out. “Mike has worked very, very hard on this (maybe too hard). He definitely tried to make this good.”
“I spent 5 years (as the Music Critic @ Newark Star-Ledger) in arenas…and every pop star imaginable..interviewed them, talked to them.. saw their shows and engaged with what they were doing on an intellectual level, as well as on a visceral level. And I love pop. I love it all, and it’s easy to get into that.”
“Obviously it has an effect on my music.”
“Some of the chord changes to the music, the melodies, some of the way I built the songs, comes not only from my usual influences like Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, and Belle & Sebastian…and anyone who listens to my music can tell that, that stuff is in there.”
“But I don’t want to give the wrong impression…this is not an easy ride. [My songs] are Not even close to being Z100 radio material.”
“In the architecture of the songs, and sometimes even in the way we sing and put it together, and the way we processed it, [the songs mixed by] Mike [Flannery] is my most ‘pop’ record…it recognizes the existence of pop [within the songs].”
“I always have loved pop [within any genre of music]. I grew up listening to prog-rock and the more ‘pop’ songs appealed to me [like Genesis]. Hip-hop has been my first love and remains my first love, but pop stuff like Drake or Kanye” that draws me the most.
Tris McCall is an interesting musical character and a fabulous person to know and befriend. His knowledge of the music scene is encyclopedic, and his music is done with purpose and empathetic enthusiasm. His care for his craft, and the humbleness he shows in every aspect of his work output and life.
No matter what happens at his return to the local Jersey City stage, it seems to be a beginning to larger plans. For his work, and his emphatic determination in contributing to music, is deep and intrinsic to his philosophy on life.
We dig that to the next millennium.
His ‘Almanac’ album is slated to drop near the end of this year or early 2019.
JUNE 1, 2018 (FB PAGE)
The stage at FM in Jersey City will have the following band:
At 8 pm Glenn Morrow’s Cry For Help will be starting up the joint. This is the band headed by Glenn Morrow, who is another stalwart of the local music scene, with his career spanning decades when Hoboken & Jersey City were just a glint in rock attributions. He is also the founder and owner of Bar/None Records in Hoboken.
At 9 pm Fascinations Grand Chorus – a fabulous band from Jersey City & Brooklyn – and the duo will be returning to Jersey City again, to delight us with some tasty music, which they do so well. Listen to Stephanie, and you’ll fall in love (with her music). The mix of indie rock and 60’s doo-wop stylistics, the duo aims to please.
At 10 pm Tris McCall and the Cell Phone Thieves will take their steps up to the stage then.
Then at 11 pm The Normal Living is another Jersey City grown 8 member band, with nu-country-pop-rock sensibilities. They’re really good at getting the crowd engaged and ‘rockin’ to the beats.