The four well-mannered friends in Call Me Constant still have a bad habit of pounding out razor-sharp rock hooks. Ten years ago, the Cleveland quartet considered themselves punk revivalists (even though they’d met in church), ripping out power chords and reverb with their first band, Non-Toxic. Today, the foursome (rechristened Call Me Constant) has polished and smoothed out its rough edges, using prog-influenced pop inflections and emo-styled lyrical salvos to charm listeners around the Midwest. Their debut EP, In Here Is the Center, In Here It Is Clear, has a radio-ready sound you might associate with Pretty Girls Make Graves, Abandoned Pools, or Weezer — although behind all those accessible pop melodies are some serious six-string riffs. As the four-piece gears up for their next show tomorrow night at Bela Dubby in Lakewood, we sat down with singer and guitarist Stephen Mlinarcik to talk about the band’s busy summer. —Keith Gribbins
You guys have been together for 10 years, but In Here Is the Center, In Here It Is Clear is your debut EP under a new persona?
Yes, the first under the name Call Me Constant. We released two EPs under the moniker Non-Toxic, but we’ve had some substantial changes since then. Ten years ago we were playing four-chord punk rock, and although we’ve moved out of that, it’s an integral part of our growth: The same four guys getting together and playing music for the past ten years made us who we are today. Recording this EP took a long time in its own right — the whole process was close to two years. We had tracked everything in the course of a month, and then thanks to a series of technical difficulties — defunct discs, files gone bad, etc., we spent the next year and a half trying to pull it all together. But in retrospect, it was a good thing. We had recorded 10 songs originally, but cut it down to four in that time to better represent the band and the sound we were crafting.
And you have a full-length record in the works?
Yes! We’ve been writing and practicing new material and testing it out at shows. We’ll be recording two new songs for a compilation this summer, and then hopefully getting into the studio shortly after to lay down the rest of the tracks. We’re shooting for a release in 2011.
How is the sound evolving from this first EP? Are you adding new dynamics to the Call Me Constant catalog?
Well, we bought a glockenspiel that we’re using in a couple of songs and are slowly incorporating some brass into the fold. We’ve been expanding on the structure of songs and their dynamics, playing around with songs that move from part to part and rarely repeat sections — instead of the standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus layout. The technicality of the parts we’re playing has also been developing. We’ve been attempting to write music that sounds full when listened to, but you can still pick it apart to hear each instruments individual parts. So while much of what we’re playing is more complex, it’s not alienating to the ear.
What are your plans for the summer? You guys just finished a tour; where did it take you? How were the crowds? Will you be hitting the road more this summer?
Being on tour was a great experience. We played five shows in six days in New York, New Jersey and West Virginia. The crowds, while varying, were all really receptive to what we were doing. It was exciting to face a crowd we didn’t know personally and win them over throughout our set. People would get really into it and start clapping and whistling during the songs, often coming up afterwards and saying something to the effect of: “That was not at all what I was expecting, but I loved it.” As for our immediate plans, we’ll probably be doing shows around Cleveland for the summer, possibly some other states, but won’t be going out on tour again ‘til the fall.
Give us a little history about you and your mates? How did you guys get together and what’s kept your chemistry up and writing music for 10 years?
We’ve all known each other from about the 6th grade and had all met at church. We used to get together on Sunday afternoons and play other bands songs, eventually writing our own. It became a habit, and for a long while we took the fact that we were a band for granted. Not until recently did we make the decision to really pursue it, get organized and make things happen. We were always friends before we were band mates, and I think that’s what helped us stay together for so long. The band is not the defining factor in our individual relationships with each other.
Tell us about your stage presence. For fans who haven’t attended, what is a Call Me Constant live set like? Are their flamethrowers, jetpacks, laser shows?
Music is a very personal thing. Different people write songs for different reasons, and different people respond to it in different ways. So when we play show, it’s not so much about putting on a performance for others, but coming together to take part in something we all love. If we play with passion and energy, people take notice of that expression and are engaged by it. It becomes an invitation to share in that moment, allowing it to become unique to the individual. It creates an exciting atmosphere of give and take. And that’s ultimately what it’s about, sharing and receiving on both ends. That’s what we try to achieve live. No flamethrowers, though, we can’t really afford that.
What are some up-and-coming Northern Ohio bands that you guys enjoy? Who’s out there right now locally breaking hearts and melting faces?
Heartbreakers? Look no further than Madison East. The most talented and inventive local group we’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with, and they called it quits last year. We’re still getting over that one. However, one of our favorite bands to play with is Jim from Portland. They’ve got a Minus the Bear meets The Mars Volta thing going on, and they’re incredibly proficient musicians.
Call Me Constant, with Jim from Portland and Red Light Departure, 9 p.m., Friday, July 9. Bela Dubby (13321 Madison Ave., Lakewood, OH 44107). The show is free, but donations of $5 are appreciated. Call 216-221-4479 or visit myspace.com/beladubby.