Alternative rock and roots cellist, singer and multi-instrumentalist Calum Ingram has just released his debut 7″ single, so now seemed the perfect time to speak to Calum about his musical background, opening for Jack Bruce, jamming with Stewart Copeland, as well as the all-important question of who would win in a fight: Paolo Nutini, or Gerard Butler…
DGM: How old were you when you first picked up a cello? What was it about the cello that attracted you to it, and was it hard to master?
CI: I was nine years old when I was first drawn to the cello. It had this deep, hypnotic resonance that hit me to the core. I remember when my family took me to the shop to try my first cello and it was like seeing a long-lost family member… Having that feeling at such an early age was pretty intense and just felt right – like it was fate. I think I was just very fascinated with music and always felt it as a force of nature from an early age.
The cello is a difficult instrument to master and you need to spend time practising just like any other instrument. It takes time and patience but I love it!
DGM: There is a great connection between the cello and modern mainstream music. In the Rock field there is obviously Apocalyptica, and Tina Guo has appeared at Wacken with Beyond The Black. Why do you think that the cello slots in so well next to a stack of Marshalls?
CI: Apocalyptica!! Yeah, they rock man! They were actually the first cello band I saw that were doing something different; that gave me hope!
I personally feel that instruments are made for all music, not genres. You can play any genre on any instrument of your choice. The feeling of choosing an instrument based on genre always felt extremely wrong to me… It was more about choosing the instrument that you were naturally drawn to, and then creating the music you want.
I love to plug my cellos into amplifiers and experiment with various effect loops – so cellos totally deserve to be on the Marshall throne.
DGM: Unlike Apocalyptica, you also sing, so are you a cellist that sings, or a singer that happens to play the cello?
CI: Well, the cello was my first instrument and it still is to this day. However, I feel I have a strong voice that works well with the cello.
DGM: Current double A-side single ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ and ‘Demon Eyes’ is your debut 7″ vinyl. How excited were you when you first got your hands on the finished product?
CI: Oh man! It was so awesome!! That feeling of seeing the delivery truck pulling up outside and seeing the boxes – I just couldn’t help letting my inner banshee out and ripping the first box open to see what they looked like in my hands! I couldn’t wait to throw one on and check it out!
A feeling I will definitely never ever forget…
DGM: The single is a fantastic example of two different sides to your music. On one side there is the happy-go-lucky Summer anthem ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’, then flip it over to the darker, bluesier ‘Demon Eyes’. Was this contrast something you were keen to push?
CI: First off, thank you so much for your kind words!
I have an affinity with so many genres – this has given me an opportunity to show the different sides of my personality and my music.
I wanted to make a big splash with my new sound and thought what better way than to release two contrasting singles, get people excited and let them know what to expect when the album hits next year!!
DGM: What are the lyrical themes on the original composition ‘Demon Eyes’?
CI: So, while writing ‘Demon Eyes’ I went through a very therapeutic, yet difficult, emotional battle within myself. I was freshly out of a really horrible, emotionally manipulative relationship, which is what the lyrical themes of the song are all about. These feelings were still affecting me at the time of recording.
However, I remember a very special thing happening during vocal tracking when we stopped and took a break. I ran back to my hotel room and wrote new lyrics, which came to me about hope, getting out of it, and moving on in my mind/life. I ran back in the studio, sang it, and captured it! On the take, you hear on the recording I made a big leap to self-healing, so it was a very special experience. Here is the passage:
“Now you’re out of my life,
And it’s finally raised me high
I’ve beaten your games
Yes I’m ready to fly on
I’ve got places to go
Mountains to climb
And I’m on my way”
‘Demon Eyes’ – Calum Ingram
DGM: How did you feel performing your first gig? And how was it?
CI: In all honesty, I can’t remember exactly when my very first gig was. I guess it would have been a school recital or something! However, I do remember the first time I sang and played cello at the same time professionally… I remember that being a pretty spiritual experience. It was when I was in New York City studying at The New School and I was being trained in instrumental jazz and experimental avant-garde music.
I remember being a little frustrated in my dorm room wanting to write more lyrical stuff, and was starting to have a big interest in the American folk scene. I started writing/singing songs and came up with enough to go play at an open mic night in the West Village. They then asked me to be a featured artist at their next event. It was a full set, so I came back and performed with more material!
I remember it being special and so, so freeing with moments of silence and people just listening to my set – feeling the love and energy and doing something that felt so damn right. What an awesome experience!!
DGM: A few years back you performed at the special concert celebrating the life of the legendary Cream bassist, Jack Bruce, alongside artists such as Mick Taylor, Steve Hackett, Bernie Marsden, Lulu, and Eddi Reader. How did that come about? And how were the nerves that night?
CI: Wow yeah, that was such a fun night!! Well, I was asked to support Jack Bruce and his band at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival on my 21st birthday, which was pretty amazing! He really loved what I was doing with the cello as that was his first instrument, and he could not have been more gracious.
I kept in touch with Jack and his son Malcolm. Later Malcolm organised a show “An Evening For Jack” and asked me to be a special guest! It was such a cool night, and being able to hang out with Mick Taylor, Bernie Marsden, Steve Hackett and so many others was so awesome!
I’ve got a fun story from that night actually! And there were definitely some nerves involved haha!
Eddi Reader was opening the show with Nico Bruce. They were getting ready to go on and I was getting dressed on one of the top floors! I got word that she decided on the spot that she wanted me to play cello with them! I raced down the elevator, quickly learned the chord, and jumped on stage (with NO MONITOR I might add, haha!) The sound crew thought I was nuts but the lights went up and we played together and it was awesome fun!
DGM: Cool! Now, you also featured in Sky Arts TV series, Tony Visconti’s ‘Unsigned Heroes’, which led to you performing a duet with the incredible Stewart Copeland as part of Visconti’s ’50 Years in Music’ celebratory concert. Copeland is probably one of the most respected drummers around today (his TV show ‘Stewart Copeland’s Adventures In Music’ should be mandatory viewing for anyone remotely interested in music). It must have been special jamming with him?!
CI: It was a really wild experience that totally came out of the blue! I mean finding out that the one and only Tony Visconti finds you, likes your music then pairs you with arguably the world’s best drummer for his 50 year celebration concert in London, as well as a big feature in his documentary-style Sky Arts show just – wow!!
I remember when Tony came up to Glasgow to see me play and we were hanging out. Then later that evening when I was at home, I got an email from him saying “I’m thinking about asking Stewart Copeland from The Police to play drums for you”. I was like – wahhhhh!!! I totally fell back in my seat!
Flash forward to the rehearsals and night of the televised concert at the Union Chapel – Stewart couldn’t have been more awesome!! I remember when we first played, Tony was so excited about what we were doing! I remember him being like “I just want you guys to totally rip it up and have a wild jam” and that’s exactly what we did!!
Haha, so much in fact that when I walked off stage and got to the Green Room I heard Stewart’s voice shouting in excitement! I then turned around and saw him flapping in the doorway saying to me “Calum, kid!! You made my hand bleed!!” A pretty cool thing to tell folks – I jammed so hard I made Stewart Copeland’s hand bleed!! Haha!
DGM: The new music scene is bursting at the seams with fresh talent. In what ways do you feel an artist or band has to stand out from the others trying to build a name?
CI: Good question! First things that come to mind are individuality, having the strength to stay true to yourself, and to always do what feels right. It may be a long road but I like to think it’s always worth it.
Also, keeping a good daily balance on social media channels and keeping your fans engaged, as you should always be available for them. I believe if you keep yourself as original as you can it’s the best.
DGM: Which artist out there at the moment do you feel that you would be best suited to open for?
CI: Ahh! I’ve always wanted to open up for Peter Gabriel, Lenny Kravitz, Pearl Jam or The John Butler Trio!! But I tell you what, The Foo Fighters and Incubus would be tight contenders too!!
DGM: What are your first musical memories? And what was the light bulb moment that made you go “I want to do that!”
CI: My first musical memory was seeing Nigel Kennedy in concert. I was very young and he made a big impression. I remember him being so wild with a rock n roll mentality even though he was playing classical music.
My light bulb moment was watching the film footage of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock – I was so blown away by his energy, originality and free spirit.
DGM: What was the last gig that you attended as a fan?
CI: I think it must have been when I saw the John Butler Trio from Australia! That band is definitely a favourite of mine to listen to!! I really admire John’s finger-picking style, as well as his interest in exploring amplifiers’ distortion and effects on acoustic instruments, ie, his 12 string acoustic guitars!
DGM: What current issue are you particularly passionate about?
CI: I am very passionate about helping refugees and asylum seekers. I help run a project in Glasgow called ‘Musicians In Exile’ which finds musicians that are either refugees or asylum seekers, sources instruments for them and puts them in groups so they can play music again. It’s designed so they can get on their feet in their new country, then develop the confidence to soar and fly and build their own music groups and communities here in Scotland.
DGM: What is the album that you have in your collection or Spotify playlist that would surprise most people?
CI: Haha. It would probably have to be 1986’s ‘Inside Story’ by Grace Jones. I’ve got real love for synth music from the ’80s and Grace Jones is an absolute favourite! My favourite song from that album would probably be ‘I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect For You)’. Come to think of it she would be awesome to support!
DGM: Lastly, you are from Paisley, as are Gerard Butler and Paolo Nutini. Who would win in a fight between these two? Sure, big Gerard has the brawn, but Paolo has the speed and I reckon without the Spartans to back him up, the big man would tumble…
CI: Me, haha! Only joking! Mmm… I would probably have to go with Paulo as I would love to see him win but yeah, come on, I think it would for sure be good old Gerard.
Connect with Calum here.
Interview – Dave