To paraphrase Max Landis, sometimes it feels like nobody gives a fuck about Calling All Cars, even if they think they do. Hell, I’ve interviewed CAC twice and I’m not entirely sure I give a shit about them. Still, they impressed a lot of rock pigs back in the day with some really tight live shows. Nobody bought their second album, but they should have because it was way better than the first one. The third album was… ehh. It was okay. I interviewed Haydn around the time it dropped and he was very despondent – barely got enough for a 900-word feature from him. James is pretty nice and is an okay interview; and as such, this one turned out passable. Who’d have thought an article by my 21-year-old self would trump one by my 23-year-old self?
– DJY, October 2014
A drunk guy at the Annandale leaps onto the stage, dancing like a maniac as the band plays on. A lead singer leaps off the stage in Warrnambool with a wireless guitar, heading to the top of the bar as some of the wilder punters figuratively dangle from the rafters. A young band simply grins in the face of an angry young bogan, who’s rocked up early to get a good spot near the front of a soulless stadium to see his dad’s favourite band. These stories might all be somewhat typical rock scenarios, but they are tied together by one band: Melbourne’s Calling All Cars.
Unquestionably one of the hardest-working rock bands this country has to offer, the three-piece spent the first half of the year prepping the release of their second album, Dancing with a Dead Man, hardly a year after the release of their debut Hold, Hold, Fire. The remainder was spent on an exhausting and extensive tour in support of the album.
“We had a lot of fun with those shows,” recalls James Ing, the gentle giant that brings drums and backing vocals to the trio. “It was a really good mix with playing a tonne of the old stuff and mixing it in with the new record. We were a bit worried about doing it half-and-half – we weren’t really sure how the audience would react. It all turned out really well, though. The reception we got was really good!”
Anyone who actively followed the tour’s progression, as documented through their social networking pages, certainly would have made note of the many small towns the band went through on the tour. “I guess we’ve come to expect more of a rowdiness from the more regional places that we play,” Ing says of the remote-and-regional audiences. “It’s kind of like seeing how far away a place is from a capital city or whatever to judge just how crazy the crowd is gonna get! It’s almost always worth getting out there and showing them something special, though,” reasons Ing. “You go through some towns and you can just tell that they don’t get very much when it comes to gigs and music at all.”
James knows all too well what it’s like to live somewhere with no following of live music – before relocating to Melbourne with the rest of the band, Ing lived in Narooma, on the far south coast of New South Wales. “Good beaches, surfing, nice for a holiday… not much else I could say or tell you about it,” says James with a laugh. “When me and Haydn [Ing, the band’s lead singer/guitarist and James’ brother] were growing up, it was music that was only our real form of entertainment, apart from surfing. We didn’t really have any neighbours, either, so we could pretty much play as loud as we wanted to.”
It’s certainly the loudness that first draws your attention to Calling All Cars, until it’s broken down into the sum of its parts: Hayden’s gravelly melodies and churning guitar, the thunder-rumble bass of Adam Montgomery and, of course, James’ relentless pounding that drives the songs. The craftsmanship of the songs is especially of note, too – they’re big songs, sure, but they’re certainly not dumb. The exploration of what they can do with their songwriting is what makes Dancing such a formidable release, and one that has had a great impact on the band and their fan base.
“It’s been very – I dunno, what’s the word?” Ing is attempting to describe the response to Dancing, something he is especially proud of but cannot quite articulate. “Warm? Supportive? Something like that. Everyone has really been backing the record. I think it was really important, as a band, that we turned over something like that really quickly. We’re stoked with how it’s turned out.”
“This album grooves a lot more,” he continues, as discussion turns to the direction the band took from a musical perspective. “The first one was a lot more straightforward, I guess – a lot of it was just building up towards the choruses, with really high tempos. With this one, we wanted to just play it cool and slow it down a little bit. We just wanted a little bit more space – when you’re playing in bigger venues and stuff, you definitely tend to notice that a lot of stuff gets lost in translation; the space between you and the P.A., the space between you and the crowd and stuff like that. We figured that the less notes we were playing, the more time it has to travel those spaces, so I think that’s something we really wanted to work on.”
In the lead-up to the release of the record, the band once again found themselves constantly on the touring circuit. Having opened for everyone from AC/DC to Grinspoon, the band were lucky enough to open for Queens of the Stone Age in February of this year. “All the support slots that we did were definitely an influence on this record,” says James. “Observing different crowds was really interesting. Watching the bands we were supporting every night made a huge impact, too. There’s a reason they’re playing to sell-out crowds and headlining festivals and whatever else. It was really good to sit back and watch how they do things.”
With 2011 nearly over, Ing is asked as to how he hand the rest of the band will be spending their time off after such a full year. “We’ll probably just go back to more writing, I guess,” he responds – almost incredulously, as if he cannot believe the trio will go right back to work. “It’s not like we won’t be enjoying the summer, though – my girlfriend just got me a new bicycle, so I’ll definitely be going to do some riding. I’ll hopefully get into some more graphic design stuff when I get some spare time, too. I’ve done all the graphic design stuff for the band, with the artwork and the logos and stuff like that. I’d love to do some more drawing, sketching… I dunno.”
You can audibly hear James shrug and laugh, in a typical laid-back Aussie fashion. “We’ll just take it all as it comes.”