Call Me Ishmael experiences life after near death
These boys almost died, twisted in a multi-car freeway pileup, their future extinguished. Cruising through North Carolina in their Dodge Ram pickup truck along in the middle lane of Interstate 40, the members of Call Me Ishmael saw a beat-up, 1980s-era Honda stopped in their lane. Right in the middle of the freeway. They slammed the brakes, smoke billowing from their tires. The driver checked each side mirror for an opening as cars sped past. His eyes locked on the rearview mirror; a Mack truck was barreling down on them from behind. He took a chance, yanked the wheel to the right and avoided smashing into the Honda by inches. Then they heard the cymbal crash of broken glass, the rip of tires digging into the road behind them.
This is what makes a band great: something akin to avoiding a traffic accident by shifting and surprising, swerving to avoid the clichés sitting stupidly in its path that can create such a twisted mess. And then the aftermath—the bonding as a group. This is Call Me Ishmael: drummer Robby Dean, bassist Nate Webb and vocalist/guitarist Bryan Valen, fresh from an independent U.S. tour.
Luckily, the near miss on the highway was the tour’s low point. Outside Midtown Sacramento’s new hotspot, the Kasbah Lounge, the boys sipped tea and beer (not simultaneously, although that would be so rock ’n’ roll) and recalled their recent days on the road. Dean and Webb both were well-groomed and sharply dressed. Valen looked the most like a rock star, with his shoulder-length hair and Euro-hip clothing.
As Valen explained, the road was where the band learned about being a band. After playing so many shitty places, they could play anywhere. “We came back more tight than we’ve ever been,” said Valen.
The band’s camaraderie shows even on its third CD, Lyra & the new moon, released just before the group left to go on tour. The CD liner notes state, “Headphone listening recommended,” and with Pink Floyd-inspired treats deep in the mix, the music begs for close attention. The band knows its way around a recording studio and wants to take the audience for a ride. There is intention in this music.
Although Call Me Ishmael, like many bands, shows its appreciation for the Beatles, the music more clearly evokes the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness in both style and concept. The albums share the same soft, instrumental layers and sonic guitar tones. “Seeing Stars” is the kind of half-rocker, half-space trek that Billy Corgan made famous, although when Valen’s slide guitar gently lifts into the ether, he shows more touch and grace than Corgan. The band seamlessly shifts from open high-hat rocking to consciousness-expanding textured breakdowns. However, the band subverts typical rock stereotypes by stretching songs and creating unpredictable structures, such as on “Alex,” an emotionally wrenching tune whose driving rhythm is punctuated by an angry, dissonant, half-step guitar riff.
“Citizen of Hope” has some distinct Beatles trademarks. In addition to an arrangement of strings and creative key changes, “Citizen” lopes into a march reminiscent of songs from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album, whose arrangements constantly surprise the listener. “Citizen” finishes with a very Paul McCartney-esque bass line, thumping and driving as the tune fades out.
The cover art also recalls Mellon Collie. Characters hold placards that read “Buried in a Beautiful Silence” and “Disrupt the Status Quo.” The front features Greek and religious images, including a figure holding an open book containing the band’s name and the CD title. Valen is a visual artist, and he developed the cover art for Lyra, which has an interesting Peter Blake quality. (Watch for his show at Senses Salon in September.)
The Kasbah patrons calmly puffed on hookahs on the J Street sidewalk, while Call Me Ishmael considered the future—ideas still, but ambitious. “We figure we’ll do what Elliott Smith did and go live in different places, London, L.A., maybe San Francisco,” said Dean.
No matter what, the three are together on this—the success of Call Me Ishmael—and they’ve avoided major accidents so far.