By the Side of the Road with Calobo
Man, talk about roots running deep. To find the true origins of Portland, Ore.’s acoustic/electric septet Calobo your have to journey back past college, high school and junior high school to co-founders Caleb Klauder and Dave Andrews’ childhood days on a small, densely-green island Northwest of Seattle in the Puget Sound. The duo began playing together as kids and formalized the connection years later in college, Dave studying in Portland and Caleb in Eugene, playing coffee houses under a name they found combining Caleb’s name with Dave’s nickname, Hobo. Calobo.
To Left Coasters the name is now synonymous with exquisite multi-part male and female harmonies, easy going groves, packed shows and a guaranteed night of fun tunes. Building on their vocal harmonies and guitar work, Dave and Caleb, who also plays mandolin, added several players cultivating a diversely talented crew and a big wide open groove that feels at times like the sky stretching out blue in every direction, a lazy road unwinding below it. Despite its size and the electric instruments, Calobo’s songs retain an earthy acoustic feel. Filling in Calobo’s full sound are Brian Bucolo on drums; Jenny Conlee on piano; Kenneth Erlick, electric guitar; Nate Query, bass; and Michele Van Kleef, vocals. Classically trained, Conlee adds a rippling, trickling, cascading keyboard to the mix.
This May Calobo makes a second trip east of the Mississippi for its first East Coast tour, hitting spots like the Philadelphia’s Trocadero and the New York’s Wetlands Preserve. The 12-day whirlwind begins May 17 at St. Lawrence College, Canton, NY and ends May 29 at Hookahville, slated this year for Buckeye Lake Music Center, Hebron, OH.
Calobo has recorded five CDs to date Calobo 1992, Runnin’ in the River 1993, Ya Dum Di Dum 1995, Stomp 1997 and Live From the Crystal Ballroom 1998. All have been frequently listed in Northwest Top 20 charts published by regional music magazine The Rocket. Neighbors on the list often include Pearl Jam, Everclear, The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Sound Garden and others well known acts from these parts.
I’m sitting with just under half of the Calobo crew as they prepare for a two-night hometown run at the historic theater where their most recent CD was recorded in May 1998. We sit talking, Jenny, Brian, Kenny and I, on the big couches and chairs around the tastefully decorated mint green dressing room. Upstairs the hall is beginning to fill and the remaining Calobo’s are upstairs watching Percy Hills set. We can hear the first notes echoing down through the legendary bouncing ballroom floor. Throughout the conversation various other players and friends move in and out of the room, stopping to eat dinner and sometimes creating a loud din above our conversation. But, come on in. Listen to Calobo’s tales of life by the side of the road and other funny adventures in its 15 passenger Ford Club Wagon.
Jambands:Since this is the first time that Calobo’s going to go all the way to the East Coast and a lot of readers probably haven’t seen you yet, could you tell me a little bit about where the band has come from and its evolution.
Jenny: Two of the guys who aren’t here, Dave and Caleb, started the band. They grew up together. They were acoustic guitar players and songwriters that played in café’s and stuff. Then they went to separate colleges. I met Caleb in college at Oregon State. Caleb and me and Brain and Michele, who’s our singer, all met there. And Dave went to Lewis & Clark and met Kenny. Kenny met Nate.
Kenny: Nate, our bass player, and I were in another band together.
Brian: So that’s all the people in the band right there.
Jenny: So we kind of gradually added members in. At first they were like, we want to have a women singer. So they got a women to sing
Brian: Then a new person would show up at every concert.
Jenny: I was with the band, kind of as a trio quartet thing for only like two shows. We we’re going to put out a tape recorded at this coffee shop. Dave invited Kenny down, this other drummer, out of the blue and he sat in without knowing any of the tunes and played and made this tape.
Brian: First show. First Recording.
Kenny: First time playing with everyone.
Jenny: That was interesting. It turned out to be pretty good for everyone’s first time.
And that ended up becoming you’re first recording. Which one is that?
Jenny: Live at The Espresso Roma Café.
Kenny: It’s out of print now.
Jenny: We just made a tape, on a chrome tape and we made 100 copies of it. We made a little color pencil cover and Xeroxed it.
Kenny: And cut it out so it was all kind of crocked in the case.
Jenny: And that was out first tape. My friend Primo has one that’s still in the wrap. And he’s holding onto it. Actually it was just seven or eight months later that we made out first record – which is Calobo, our self titled one.
Jambands: Looking at your schedule going east it looks like you guys are going to be in some pretty cool places, The All Good Festival ….
Kenny: See, we don’t even know a thing.
Jambands: Well, that blows my question which was what are the venues you’re looking forward to playing.
Jenny: I’ve actually got a couple friends from the East Coast and Kenny’s from the east coast. So, I’ve heard of the venue’s like the one in Vermont, Higher Ground, in Burlington. I’ve heard that’s a killer place.
Kenny: I’ve heard the Wetlands is really cool.
Jenny: For being in New York for out first time we’re lucky we are there and not at some hole in the wall in, I don’t know what the bad part of town is, but in the bad part of town. We just lucky that we’re able to go and start and kind of the middle level.
Kenny: I’m excited to play Philadelphia, just because my family is there and stuff. And the Trocadaro’s there. I just always remember growing up – I left Philly when I was 18. So, I was to young to go to the bars and see stuff you know – but I always remember hearing about bands I’d want to go see there, so its kind of exciting to be going back there and Playing there.
Jenny: I just can’t wait to see where Kenny grew up . I have all these visions and I’ve had dreams about Kenny’s house. It’s like this world away.
Jambands: You guys spend a ton of time in the van and put a lot of miles on it –
Jenny: – OH! I got a hula dancer for the van so you guys know.
Brian: Jenny just got back from Hawaii
Kenny: Oh, do we have like a dash board hula dancer?
Jenny: Yeah, uh-huh. Her skirt moves like this. (Waves her arms up and down)
Brian: Anything that’s different in the van is always nice. We welcome different things. I figured it out a couple years ago that over the period of our first year touring or something we spent the equivalent of, it was really an awful awful statistic, like a hundred days and nights of a 24 periods in the van or something.
Jenny: I remember we’d take the seatbelts and string them up like a, a hammock and hang in there.
Brian: Boooooooooaaaaaaaaaard. Real Board.