Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Brad Kopplin
He does this unwittingly and only because he can, but with every song he writes, Aloha's Tony Cavallario makes -- for others -- a usable skeleton key. It's not a decoder ring or X-ray glasses, fakeries sold in the backs of Boy's Life magazines or old comic books. It's an authentic and universal key that allows the bearer access to all of the different unknown chambers that are built into the square and circular footage of their bodies. It also gains them a window seat to miscellaneous varieties of other people being people - living lives, loving lives, cursing lives, loving war, hating it and then repeating the cycle for love, which is hell or just as bad.
The key, if you make it work for you, gets turned slightly left until you hear the pins click inside and before you can come up for air, you're right in the middle of some of the most delicate moments that could be found anywhere. There are also the moments when someone's looking into a mirror, never with the thought crossing his or her minds that someone was there to watch from the other side of the one-way glass. All those asides and private comments spoken to the silence and off the record are public knowledge, but discreet still.
Cavallario wars with room temperatures everywhere he goes with the songs on the band's most recent albums Some Echoes and Here Comes Everyone. The various incantations he draws from his quiver are spectral. They're capable of stopping life dead in its tracks, just for the rubber-necking factor. The greater majority of his songs are of a crystalline quality, as if they were born to reflect light in certain ways that make you drool. They can also melt you, turn you into a pool of syrup and expired clothing.
The way it works has to do with the combination of powders and tinder that finally make these tiny little fires, although all of the credit goes to the people components - Cavallario, drummer Cale Parks, bassist Matthew Gengler and mellotron player T.J. Lipple. Various dashes of hearty compassion and a something other are tossed into the bowl every time Cavallario goes to sing. He gives lines that belong in books, not on records and he builds a cathedral out of his emotive vocals, giving them steeples and pews and treating them as if they were holy.
The band - whose members live in four different cities when they're off the road - creates an atmosphere that sometimes feels like the crispness in the air stepping from an outdoor hot tub in October, sometimes feels like the aftermath of a battlefield, sometimes feels like an embrace and sometimes feels like all three, which makes a finished mood that is without precedent. Cavallario sings, "From the day you were called/You were walkin' through walls/Shot through a canon and landed in a flowerbed," on "All the Wars" and in that one line there exist all of the elements that make this band so endearing. There are thoughts of a higher being, struggle, violence and daring and to finish the line off, an ending that suggests that even with all of the struggles, something's going to be there to break the fall. Not enough attention is paid to this band, whose sound is a quiet battle between light and dark, and that can surely change.
The Daytrotter interview:
*So you're going to Singapore...What are you looking forward to? What's the festival called? What do you see yourselves bringing back as souvenirs?*
Tony Cavallario: It's a really long way to travel to play one show. Our heads will be spinning. I hear the food is top-notch. We've got to bring back something because we really blew it in Japan, though somehow T.J. brought some Sake on the plane that came with a built-in sterno can - totally a bomb in a can.
Cale Parks: The festival is called, Baybeats. I'm looking forward to bringing back some sort of tiny native instrument. I'm also looking forward to being in an Asian country where most people speak English.
*How do you manage living in four separate places? Is practice unnecessary?*
CP: Practice is definitely necessary, we just demo via mp3's in e-mails, then get together for a few days prior to each tour or recording session. It's worked this way for the last two records.
TC: Practice is way necessary. We have to cram before every tour. There's never enough time. It adds an element of danger and it's never a dull moment.
*Your sound is so your sound. I know an Aloha song from a million miles away. How did you fine-tune it or how did it come to be?*
CP: We all have very similar interests in what music we listen to, and I think it has effected our overall sound outcome over the years. Also, we just do what comes naturally, but then work and rework it.
TC: It's been a long evolution. I'm not sure what makes it what it is.
*What are you writing about these days? Give us a glimpse into the new material if you can.*
TC: I'm trying to write music that starts with the words and vocal melodies. Then I want the music to get behind the themes and words and just rip everyone's face off.
CP: I'm not sure what Tony is writing lyrically, but I'm working on some Steve Reich'ish Casio music. It will probably be replaced with real instruments come studio time.
*Are there any record releases that you're anticipating or are you passed all that?*
CP: I just listen to what I hear from friends, old and new. Right now, I'm way into a Bollywood mix a friend gave me.
TC: I'm listening to the new Clientele and Panda Bear. We definitely have our hands in all the latest cookie jars. We're not the type that ignores the music world, but we do listen to tons of old stuff.
*What do your summer plans hold?*
TC: Much vegetable gardening and songwriting.
CP: I'm going to do some solo shows around New York, my home, work, write, teach drum lessons, and spend time in the park, then go to Singapore.
*I love the line in "All The Wars" that says "You're alive thanks to a strange chain of events." How did your parents meet?*
TC: Well, I think it's because of football and the railroads. My maternal grandfather chose Cleveland over Altoona when the railroads had some new jobs. My dad chose Cleveland in part because of the Browns' Jim Brown, who went there from Syracuse (which was close to my dad's upstate NY family home.) So that set the stage for my parents to meet at work. Coincidentally,
T.J. grew up in Altoona. He was born like three days before me, but I met him like 24 years later.
CP: My parents were set up on a blind date.
*Are you more hello or goodbye guys? Have you played in Hawaii? It must get confusing over there for the locals.*
CP: Hawaiians hate us. For real, we have a couple of pieces of hate mail in our MySpace inbox. One specifically from this Hawaiian soldier. I couldn't make this up: "I would like to say that the name of your group is OK, but ALOHA isn't a name. It belongs to something more greater then you. Please change your name to something else. YOU ARE NOT HAWAIIAN AND ALOHA IS. So before we start a boycott on you guys we're gonna ask nicely for you haoles to change um. If this comes off a little harsh it should. My people have been living aloha for thousands of years, and for an outsider (haole) to just decide aloha is a good name is bullshit. Like I said before, you cannot understand fully what aloha is and means. So mahalo nui loa and please heed my advice. --1 tru HAWAIIAN." We know what it means. It is a beautiful word, and wouldn't have chosen it otherwise.
TC: We get the occasional hate mail from Hawaii. We're always saying hello and goodbye, it's part of being a travelling band in an ephemeral subculture. Fans come and go, venues open and close, scenes live and die, friends you know from one place move to some other place. It's all temporary and delicate.
*What's shaped you most musically?*
CP: Listening to music.
TC: Probably my parents' record collection. Simon and Garfunkel, The Stones, and Neil Young -- can't shake it.
*Do you have any reoccurring nightmares?*
CP: I have one nightmare whenever I'm sick with a fever. I've had it since I was five. In it, I am a giant log, and I'm rolling on top of other logs, like in a lumber yard. I can feel the grooves in the bark all around my skin. It's so real.
TC: Yes, I'm in medical school but I've never gone to class until this day, and I have to fake it.
*Tony, have you always been a soft singer? I could see you as a bashful youngster. Am I right?*
TC: I always thought of myself as quiet and nice, but there were a lot of jerks in my neighborhood, so it was all relative. Nowadays, being nice is not so important. A lot of nice people do harm, and a lot of pricks are full of good deeds, but mean kids always suck and
they aren't funny.
*What's your favorite commercial? Would you see a movie or television show (supposedly happening) starring the Geico caveman?*
CP: I love the Geico commercials. I would absolutely see a Caveman movie, as long as the gecko has a love interest.
TC: We love the guy who plays Chubbsy from the Capital One commercials -- especially there's this car rental commercial where he gets a nice ride to take to his high school reunion and the girls are hot for him. We can't tell if that commercial is supposed to be funny or ironic or not; it's really an enigma.