Isabella Ambrosio sits down with Tom Fuller, lyricist for THE CALLS, an indie-psychedelic group from Leeds, chatting about lyrical style, the ‘Alex Turner’ phase, and psychedelic influences.
A completely independent band that writes, records and produces their own music, THE CALLS are an indie-psychedelic group that captures the listener’s attention through plenty of tone filters, prominent basslines, and Fuller’s gentle, melodic voice. The pace of the Setting Sun EP, released in November, is relaxing, and easy-going, but with a heavy emphasis on rhythm and distorted guitars. There’s a certain feeling of bliss and contentment when listening to tracks off the EP, such as ‘Until It’s Time’, with upbeat drum fills and a catchy chorus on top of a thudding bassline, and ‘Into The Day’ with small guitar solos and licks that highlights their psychedelic influence. A personal favourite of mine was the title track, ‘Setting Sun’ which has a funky introduction, before bursting into guitars that echo and another incredible bassline. I kept this in mind when sitting with Tom Fuller, their vocalist and songwriter.
It took a while for us to cross paths, schedules always not quite lining up and wrong times sketched into diaries, but when we started talking, it seemed like we were on the same wavelength.
“Tell me about how you got into music,” I started with. It’s become my favourite way to start interviews.
“How I got into music? I think hearing the music that my parents were listening to and the radio.”
“You grew up with it?”
“Yeah, yeah. No one in my family played or anything like that, but it was very much being a fan, and hearing it. It came from hearing songs around, hearing songs that I liked. I was always kind of drawn to indie music, stuff with guitars. Don’t get me wrong, I like all kinds of music, like dance music, reggae…”
“But it started with indie.”
“Yeah, yeah, indie rock mainly,” Fuller’s expressions change frequently as his thoughts move around in his head, “And it’s my first love and it will always be what I go back to.”
“Who were the artists that really drew you in?”
“Initially, it was the music my parents listened to, so my dad’s a massive fan of The Jam and Paul Weller, so that was kind of the first thing. And my mum was into The Police and Sting. And a completely random one, but my dad was a massive fan of Rush, which is completely different to the rest of my music taste, but I grew up listening to them. So, those are where it all started for me personally. I can’t speak for the other guys in the band, we all kind of have different journeys. Those are the bands that kind of started it for me, and as I got more into it and I discovered more bands... I mean I still love those bands, but I have a different, broader taste in music now. These days, I always enjoy R.E.M., I was a massive R.E.M. fan when I was a teenager to be fair, but that hasn’t really gone away. If anything, it’s gotten stronger and stronger. Just today I was listening to Document, one of the albums. A brilliant album. Sorry, that’s a long-winded answer.”
I laugh and reassure him that long-winded answers are preferred to one-word answers.
“Did you ever pick up an instrument, or do you prefer writing songs?”
“I play the guitar. The first instrument I started learning was the piano…”
“How old were you?”
He sighs, looking at the ceiling, thinking. “I think I was 6, 7 or 8. Something like that. And I didn’t really take to it that much. I got to grade 3 or 4, I wasn’t very good. I’ve tried to get back into it. I mean, I actually, looking back, appreciate the piano, and I think it’s the best instrument to learn. It gives you the widest skill set out of all the instruments and looking back, I wish I had done it more, but at the time, it didn’t really grab me. And because all of my musical heroes play the guitar, I wanted to play the guitar. I switched to guitar when I was about 9 or ten, and never really looked back. But I always liked the idea of writing songs. I wanted to learn guitar so I could write songs.”
“What interested you so much in writing songs? Was it an escape for you, or was it your imagination, or to get things off your chest…?” I press a little further.
He seems a bit perplexed by my question before sighing again, “You know, I don’t really know. I started off, coming into it, from the lyrical side of things. I was originally drawn in by the lyrics, but as I’ve done it more, I’ve learned more about the musical side of things, and gotten better with that. But, it was always the lyrics for me. I think it’s just the way my favourite songs, lyrically, captured my imagination really. I liked the idea of joining in with that and trying to do it myself. You know how certain songs have a profound effect on you?”
“Yeah, of course,” I agree with him.
“I always liked the idea of creating something that had that effect on someone else. Passing on the magic of music, to spread the joy really,” he chuckles.
“It’s such a surreal feeling when you find that one song that gets the hairs standing up on the back of your neck, and you think to yourself, ‘Oh, this song is going to stick with me.’”
“So, how would you describe your lyrical style? Would you say poetic, concept, abstract?”
“Poetic, I’d like to think,” his chuckle turns into a giggle, “My style has definitely changed over the years, as well as the music. You’re constantly evolving and you develop new favourite things at different points in time. Your favourite bands change. And I go through different phases of wanting to write different types of songs. And in the same way, my lyrical style changed and definitely, there was a period in time when I was a teenager where virtually everyone in my generation wanted to be Alex Turner (from Arctic Monkeys), and went through a massive Alex Turner imitation phase.”
I joke that my partner is constantly referred to as Tesco’s Finest Alex Turner which cracks him up, “But everyone goes through that phase. But it’s someone to look up to, something to aspire to. He was one of the first new wave indie musicians to come out of the UK.”
“I mean Alex Turner is brilliant at what he does, he’s one of the greatest at what he does. And it’s always great for any generation, or any scene, to have people who are that talented, that inspire people to pick it up and carry the torch. It’s definitely something I look back on,” he sighs and rolls his eyes, “And think it’s really cringey. But to be fair, I learned a lot out of it, because he’s so good and you try to be Alex Turner, and then you think, ‘Why isn’t this as good as Alex Turner?’...”
“It’s imitation, but it’s pushing yourself to be better, and to strive to be something similar.” I acknowledge and he nods.
“So, you get through that phase, at the end of the day, as much as you have a phase of wanting to be someone else, or wanting to be like someone else, or wanting to capture that… ultimately, what you want is to be yourself and you want to find out who and what yourself is. And the Alex Turner influence is actually just one of many, and when I finished, and emerged from the other end of that phase, and brought in other different influences… and I’m constantly the centre of a kind of Venn diagram, where different artists and influences cross over. But I would say nowadays… well, I certainly went through a phase in the last couple of years, trying to make everything really psychedelic.”
“I could tell, I could tell in your most recent release specifically. I liked the guitars and how psychedelic they sounded with the effects. Not only the lyrics but the guitars and instruments sounded.”
“I mean, we wanted to make everything about it as psychedelic as possible really.”
“Why is that?”
“We all kind of stumbled upon it at the same time. When we went to Uni,” he chuckles, “No further comment on that.”
“You don’t need to say anything else. Just ‘We went to Uni.’ Full stop.” He laughs.
We continue to talk about the band’s exploration of the psychedelic genre after growing up with an interest in indie rock, discussing how things work in the studio and collaboration within the band. Tom Fuller was incredibly open and honest, bringing a sense of normality and humility throughout the entire interview. The Setting Sun EP was fantastic, and I wonder what’s going to come next for THE CALLS.
You can stream the EP on Soundcloud here.