Left to Right: Jeff Gingrich, Julian Kingsley, Blake Scheller, and former member Chad Owen
Photo by Michelle Nemeth Puckett
Article by Jeremy Evans
"Our goal is simple: To make stadium rock and roll."
So said Jeff Gingrich of the Flint-based rock band Calcaska, a new group that has been steadily building a local following since its inception last year. As Calcaska prepares for its performance Saturday, Nov. 6 at the Creative 360 Battle of the Bands in Midland, Gingrich spoke about the band’s new EP, Past, Present, Future—as well as the past, present and future of Calcaska itself.
The members of Calcaska, though still just college-age men, have decades of musical experience between them. Blake Scheller, guitarist, played for five years in the Flushing band Frandy with close friend Gingrich. Gingrich, a classically trained cellist, studied two summers at Interlochen Center for the Arts, while brothers Julian and Ian Kingsley (drums and bass, respectively) grew up on jazz and progressive rock. "You can really hear the difference in our playing styles," Gingrich said of the band members’ diverse influences. “But our band is not about any one particular style. What brings it together is the emotion.”
Calcaska first began to take shape in 2008, when Gingrich scheduled a solo recording session in Tennessee. "While I was in Frandy, I was always writing extra music that just didn’t fit," Gingrich explained. "So I just decided to go record some songs." Taking Julian Kingsley along on the trip to provide drum tracks, the resulting EP—known, simply, as The EP—featured six original songs, characterized by acoustic guitar, banjo, cello, harmonica, and drums. Gingrich plays nearly every instrument on this record (one he repeatedly refers to as only “the demo”), a stripped-down and emotionally raw group of songs touching on love, heartbreak, and youthful desperation.
"When I wrote the first EP, a lot of things were happening in my life," Gingrich said. "I was having trouble in school, I had a friend who passed away, and I was in a relationship that I was really into but it wasn’t working out." These experiences inform such backward-looking songs as "Summer Bones," featuring a singer assessing a failed romance and trying to pinpoint where it all went wrong. The longing for a better past is palpable throughout these recordings.
That same sentiment lies behind the group’s name as well. Calcaska is, of course, a homage to Kalkaska, Michigan, a hamlet halfway between Grayling and Traverse City. "I wanted to capture that northern Michigan charm," Gingrich said. "I had taken a trip up north, and everything just felt better up there. So I guess the name was symbolic—remembering the past, put also putting the past in the past." When asked about the spelling change, Gingrich laughed. "I thought it looked cooler that way."
Things developed slowly over the next year, as Gingrich left Michigan for a recording internship. Upon return, "I knew I wanted to start a band that was willing to try harder and set some higher goals than we ever had before," he said. "So I found the best people I know, whether they were in a band or not, and said, 'Will you be a part of this with me?'" One of the major inspirations for the new group is the Killers, whose influence can be heard on a number of tracks from Past, Present, Future. "I saw the Killers in January or February of 2009, and I was floored by the musicality—how in tune the voice was, how everything was put together—the band was just so tight,
Gingrich said. "It took my breath away to see how they achieved that level of playing."
The first song written by the band, "Believe Me Natalee," signaled a new outlook for Calcaska. "Everything about makes me want to fall in love / to fall in love again," Gingrich sings, showing that Calcaska is as much about looking to the future as the past. (Similarly, songs like "Enough"—with its pleas of "Hold on, don't jump"—shows an attention to the immediate present that completes the tripartite vision of Past, Present, Future.) "After we wrote that song we scheduled recording time for one week later without any other songs," Gingrich chuckled. "It was pretty crazy. We just finished the vocals the night before recording." Finally, a decision was made to retain the Calcaska name, though Gingrich sees little connection between the two incarnations of the name. "The worst part about keeping the name is that people keep asking for those songs [from the first EP]," Gingrich lamented. "We are a different band now.”
With the new EP under their belt, Calcaska has been turning its attention to live shows throughout 2010, though it hasn’t always been easy to find venues. "Flint has been terrible for shows since the Flint Local closed [in 2007]," Gingrich said. "We are playing a show on November 12 in Flint, and that is only the second show we’ve played in Flint. It’s hard for us to find places to play shows—we're not a part of any scene. We're not in the indie scene, we're not pop-rock, we're not hardcore. So our shows are scattered all over the place." Recent concerts have been in Owosso, Frankenmuth, Mount Morris, and Bay City. "But my favorite part about music is playing live," Gingrich continued. "It's really difficult for me to write. it seems like songs just have to happen for me. But I love performing, to hear people singing with me. All of the guys would definitely agree with me as well."
Looking to the future, Gingrich reveals great ambitions for Calcaska. He discussed winning a contest on Sonicbids.com (a Web site matching unsigned bands to promoters), signing to a Florida-based independent label, hiring a booking agent, and possibly recording a full-length album and shooting music videos. Calcaska is currently in the early stages of booking a three-part, 67-date tour from January to March next year. "No dates have been confirmed yet, but we could be going to 30 states," Gingrich said. The group even has its eyes on next spring’s South by Southwest music and film festival in Austin, Texas.
A big sound and big dreams are fundamental to Calcaska, as Gingrich stated again. "The purpose of this band is to make stadium rock and roll," he said. "Rock and roll with a timeless feel. The Killers have a timeless feel. U2 has a timeless feel. I admire their level of success, and I look at us as a career-driven band. I am severely discouraged," Gingrich continued, "when I see NOW 36 [a pop music compilation] or whatever and the only band on it is Nickelback. Someone needs to bring rock and roll back to a mass audience." That band just might be Calcaska.
© Jeremy Evans, 2010