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The Caligaris

The Caligaris

Musicians, Producers, Film Makers
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Russ Caligari

Russ and Lou Caligari are musicians and film makers who, under the name of The Caligaris, unleash their multifaceted creativity through their production company, GInger and Pickles. The couple work out of their hi-spec ‘wired for sound’ wide beam boat as they travel the UK waterways.

Tha Caligaris
The band played on

Russ: "I grew up without a TV and the odd times I saw one I really grabbed onto it. One of the first things I remember seeing was the old film about The Titanic. It was sinking but the band played on. I just thought ‘how f*****g honourable’ and so music also became a fascination with me, whereas Lou has been all about TV and film from young. Her titanic experience is more like the Poseidon adventure - the original.

I started off on a classical guitar then threw that away once I discovered the electric guitar. As young skinheads in the 1980’s we got synthesisers and made music akin to Gary Numan, punctuating guitars and vocals over the top.

Slowly I’ve come back to the classical stuff. I started an Orchestra for classical musicians who were fed up of playing Wagner. We recorded loads of indie band stuff. I got my first recording studio together, then rave and acid house hit and we got heavily into that, and learning sampling technology, and then we were out DJ’ing.

A mate of mine introduced me to some work where I could go into London and teach DJ’ing to youths in council estates – they say we were the first to run DJ’ing workshops in London.  I set up a charity Readipop, a music festival, and spent 15 years in the charitable sector. We got to the point where we were training other organisations to do the same work, we were brought in to solve failing projects, we had a commercial arm as well as a charity arm and weren’t stuck with bureaucratic decision bottle necks.

The story goes full circle because a friend of mine bought the blueprints to The Titanic and found a multi-million pound investor to build an exact replica of the ship and do the journey it never made from Southampton to New York. Basically he asked me to do the documentary of it and I was booked to go on the maiden voyage and that’s what switched me into film in 2012."

Sketching songs on the boat

“Since we’ve been together we have shared a work/life blend which isn’t financially focussed.  We don’t aim for retirement we’re aiming to live now and that is why we make music and films.  We’re basically creatives and we use different mediums for our expression. 

We’ve both been involved in the music industry for many years, with signed acts, been around the world, sold records and been on CDs that have been on the front of newspapers and the like. Our main thing is that we’re filmmakers, for left of centre, very British-centric Art House movie stuff. It’s in our DNA and we can’t stop.

Our first feature film is out for funding at the moment, we’ve composed the music for it. There’s a double album mastered and ready to release and the first single, ‘Clickbait’ is being released in May 2019.

We tend to sketch the songs either at a computer or at the piano on the boat.  I play the guitar and Louise plays the violin.  We both play keys as well. We make the song in full then we get in artists to come and replicate the parts and add their flavour to it.  We work with around 20 collaborators and an orchestrator as well. It ranges from quite simple esoteric indie rock though to fully orchestrated. Emotionally it’s not happy pop music, some of it is quite challenging.

We’re no longer making music for anyone else apart from ourselves and that has the changed the style of what we make.  We’re both classically trained but we’ve always really preferred simplicity and tended towards discordancy and maybe a bit of noise and amplification to harness our emotional intent.”

16 Shades of Green

Lou: “We live on a wide beam boat which contains a high-end recording studio and every room is wired for sound.  We live this slightly alternative existence where we are in control of our own environment and surrounded by nature.  That informs the music we make here and you can hear the soundscape on the recordings; on some of the vocal takes you can distinctly hear birds, boats and trains which directly transports you to the moment in time we are creating it.

We're still learning I suppose. We used to be in bands and used to be arrogant enough to think that anything we wrote was great, you think it pours out and there’s a point to it. Then I discovered that actually if you rewrite a chorus it can sometimes be better than the original one you wrote.

 So we’ve gone from knocking out some songs in 15 minutes to working for a year on this first single to be released. It’s been more considered in the writing.  I was never very enamoured with the idea of writing to remit, it used to be an outpouring. 

Lyrically it goes quite poetical with some deliberate ambiguity to it.  We’re really into distilling an emotional bubble and having a visual to it. Every song that we produce will have a video that goes alongside it, that’s the purpose. It’s a symbiotic relationship between the music and the film and we feel that one gives the other pedigree.

Now it starts from visuals. One song is called 16 Shades of Green and it’s just because of looking at all the trees across the river and suddenly realising there’s loads of bloody green.”

Tying the boat together

“For the recording path, we are using the Aston Origin, and we have a Spirit too. We go from that into four API 312 mic pre-amps with Jensen transformers on the output stage.  We run Focusrite ISO Producers Packs, they’ve got incredible compression and EQ and it’s nice to have a Swiss army knife there for de-essing and limiting and any tweaks we want going in.

We also run two SSL alpha channels which add a bit of harmonic distortion but they also have a nice EQ and limiter at the end. We’ve got some Warm Audio clones of compressors. We’re excited at the moment by living in this age where all of that kit is suddenly affordable because they’re making clones as close to the original stuff as they possibly can. We’ve got the Urei 1176 clone called the WA76 and we’ve got the WA2A which is a clone of the Teletronics LA2A and compressor. It gives us a tube stage within the signal path which we don’t have anywhere else.

We have just purchased the Prism Sound Lyra 2 convertor which is like someone has just cleaned my windows. Lastly we have another 8 channels of Apogee analogue to digital so everything that we capture is the best A/D D/A convertors.

The whole boat is tied together via a Bantam B jack patchbay. It’s the most reliable, solid, beautiful bit of stuff. So we have patched through to the bathroom which is where we put guitar and bass cabs, through to the bedroom which is where we might put the singer or the violinist.

It’s like a graph of diminishing returns, the first £100 makes you sound nice and then you have to spend thousands and thousands more to get small increments of improvement.”

A touch of room

“If you take making music dead seriously, it becomes quite a personal thing and small stuff matters. Where it starts for me is that the Aston Origin is my favourite microphone to look at. When I approach it I’m in a better mood instantly and I look forward to stepping up and singing into it. I know it was designed by an architect and that really comes across in its design. It looks wicked and I love the way it sounds. Everything we’ve been recording with it has just been fantastic. They’re as good if not better than any other mic I’ve used.

The natural shape of the boat is quite good for acoustics but we’ve just got an Aston Halo. The early reflection filters were stupidly expensive and they simply do not work. The Halo totally works; you can hear it instantly, the reflection’s gone from around the room. I get to choose how isolated I want it. I’ve been backing away from it.  Somethings I want that clarity other times I want a touch of room in it. It’s amazing, I’m blown away by it. 

We have the Aston Shield as well which is just wonderful. I’m a bit anal when it comes to plosives and I try to do that thing like Sinatra where you turn away from the mic on the p’s.  I used to have 3 pop shields at once on flexible arms at different angles and they were a nightmare because those arms never stay where you put them. The Aston is amazing because it’s just ‘on and off’ and it looks wicked. It gives me freedom as I no longer have to turn my head away which is distracting.

The key to happiness for us is to create and for that to inform our life and then life informs the creative stuff and it’s a big stupid circle.”

Out-takes

Q. Who are your favourite artists?

A. Madonna, The Hollies, David Sylvian, Aphex Twin.

Q. If you weren’t working in music what would you be doing?

A. Lou - a Zoo keeper, Russ - chef. Maybe we would combine our jobs.

Q. What would your fantasy mic be?

A. A microphone that, whoever you were, made you sound like Frank Sinatra

Q. What are the 4 words you’d chose to describe Aston, or your experience with the brand?
A. Innovative, Quality, Pleasing, Affordable

Q. What is the first song that made you cry?

A. Russ: A Smiths track called Please, Please let me Get What I Want. Lou: Bright eyes  Art Garfunkel

 

 

Credits

The Caligaris

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