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George Kalpa 1Part musician, part film maker, Melbourne based artist George Kalpa combines both worlds for his debut album Mode. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips caught up with George over a pie and a pot to dissect his art.

You can’t help listening to George Kalpa’s debut album Mode without involuntarily conjuring the imagery to go with it. That’s not surprising, Kalpa is an award-winning short film maker who devotes equal parts of his soul to the sound and vision of his art. He’s already produced some intriguing videos to accompany some of these songs. The video to the first single ‘Leave That Street Alone’,  is a fine example of his work. It’s not pretty music. It’s stark, atmospheric and at times desolate but that’s not to say it’s inaccessible or unappealing. There’s much beauty and attraction to be found in Kalpa’s seedy, 5am world.

The album was released to advocate his film skills as much as his music production and songwriting talent. For Kalpa, the two are inseparable. “For me it is very much the same thing,” he explains. “The ideas are similar. The thought process is the same, it’s just the technical aspect you need to adjust for each one. Something might come out of my head as an audio thing or as film. I have always played music. I started with music but film got me a bit of a name. The trigger to release an album was just that I wanted to make music videos and get my stuff out there. I didn’t have an album or even EP worth of completed songs. These ideas had been sitting in my head for a while and slowly I put them together, ideas were forming and it slowly became an album.”

His film maker heroes such as Andrei Tarkovsky (soviet film maker known for the classics Solaris, and Stalker), Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal, Persona), and David Lynch are as thought provoking as his musical influences; Joy Division, Berlin-era Bowie and Pink Floyd. Yet it all began with shredding guitar in a metal band and idolising Pantera and Metallica. Add his Russian and Greek heritage to the mix and his album Mode begins to make perfect sense. His Soviet background emerges both in the feel of his music and also in some of the video concepts he incorporates. It’s something George has been more willing to embrace in recent years. “It was something that never used to come out in my art,” says George reflecting on the question. “When I was in a heavy metal band and just playing music, that was all there was to it. It was almost tunnel vision for me but now, I let it all out. It is part of me. It’s gotta be in there. That’s why I have the subtitles in my films. I throw in a lot of Russian dialogue because it is a part of me I can’t discard.”

kalpasynths1Perhaps the track which is most autobiographical and delves into his childhood is ‘8mm canisters’. One of Kalpa’s earliest memories is of an old projector his parents had brought with them from the former Soviet Union. “They had these Soviet cartoons which were on 8mm film, which were stored in canisters,” he says. “I remember those cartoons vividly as a kid and I have watched them since and they flip me out. I felt this hopelessness, something messed up in my head I guess … something strange.  I wondered if it came from somewhere deeper and I think it was from back then, in those days when I watched those cartoons. They’re all on You Tube now. It’s called ‘Nu. pogodi!’ and translates as ‘Just You Wait’. It’s was about a wolf chasing a rabbit, kind of a Tom & Jerry thing but in a Soviet way. It was very dark. I listen to the music now and it’s so psychedelic. They were using all of these weird synths.”

In yet another nod to his heritage, Kalpa made use of some rare and unusual hardware including a Russian vintage synth called a PolyVox. “I got it a couple of years ago … had no idea what it would sound like. I saw it on eBay and bought it from Russia. It was advertised as 100% working. It got here and of course wasn’t working. What are you going to do? I am Russian myself, I know he wouldn’t care. He’d just make up a new eBay account. I took it to my amp tech and he fixed it up as best he could. It is so touchy though. It doesn’t like being played.”

kalpaguitarsKalpa’s main instrument is guitar. On the album he used a Gibson Firebird and an Explorer. It’s a hangover from his metal days and his penchant for big bodied guitars that he could really get stuck into. However, he has renounced his love of heavy 13 to 68 gauge strings down to 10 to 46, as he now plays in standard and drop as opposed to the metal days tuning to C. His main studio amp was an old Roland JC-120. “The chorus on it is just amazing,” he says, explaining his amp choice. “It just flipped me out. The only pedal that comes close is that old school Boss CE-2,  which I have but it is still not the same because you can run it in stereo. I recorded it in stereo. You’ve got two speakers doing two sets of different chorus. I have all these tube amps around and I ended up doing the majority of the stuff with a solid state amp.  I also used the JMP which is basically the same as a JCM 800. I used that for the leads and dirt. It has the master volume on it and you can really push it. It doesn’t have to be stadium loud  and a 1974 Sunn Model T for the beefier parts. I recorded them all with a single ribbon mic into a Phoenix 1073 replica.”

kalpapedals1Pedal-wise Kalpa used a Creation Audio Labs MK 4.23. “The simplest thing, one knob … loud to soft,” he says of the pedal. “I have it set at about half way and it goes over the line. It gives it just that little something it doesn’t have without it.  I used that on every track that the JMP was on. The Boss RE-20, I used on every track but it’s just like a bee’s dick on though, a tiny bit of reverb. I actually have the real tape echo but it was too noisy. I wanted to use it. Actually I did use it … there’s a part with my dog barking and I ran it through that for a bit of atmosphere. For the guitar stuff, it just didn’t translate as well as that solid RE-20 pedal.”

kalpaamps1Another track which gets the mad professor treatment is Void, an atmospheric instrumental which is more of a mood than a song. “That was the Boss Space Echo again. Plus, I have this little synthesiser called a Grendel Drone Commander, it’s like a nine knob synth that makes David Lynchesque noises. The other thing I did on that track was recorded everything forward, then reversed it and recorded that too. So the music for the whole song is practically in reverse. There’s some sax on that as well. The other thing on that is a Sho-Bud Maverick pedal steel, a crazy bluegrass pedal steel guitar.”

kalpaampheads1As George Kalpa’s attention now turns to an album launch at Melbourne’s Revolver on October 11th, the issue he now faces is reproducing his album live. With so much obscure instrumentation and incidental recorded noises involved, it’s time to improvise. “Some songs like Void, the only way to reproduce it would be to sample it, “he says. “With the live stuff, I really want to take it back to basics, deconstruct it, strip it back to a basic rock band. Some of the more intricate parts have had to take a back seat and I’ve turned them back into plain old rock’ n’ roll. They work, sound beefier, more energetic. I see it almost as another medium. There’s the film, the recorded music and the live show, all with similarities but differences too.”

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