Kali Horse: The WL Interview

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Purveyors of: Dreamy grungy acid folk with a hint of jazz, some trance and a little Gregorian chant for good measure.

File next to: Pink Floyd, Nick Cave, Nirvana, Lou Reed’s drone-y phase.

Playing: Friday, February 26 as part of the Wavelength Winter Festival, starting at 8 p.m. More details and the full lineup can be found here.

Kaleidoscope Horse released its first album, as a five-piece, in 2018. Kali Horse, the duo, won’t release its first full-length album for some time, maybe next spring, maybe sooner. But the lagoon of theatrical, psych-y, grunge-y, emotional and emotive sonic daydream/fever dream that is the song “Anima” will serve as a gobsmacking bridge between the two worlds. Wavelength’s Amber Healy had a chance to chat on the phone with Kali Horse.

“That album, it took quite a long time to make,” singer Desiree Das Gupta says. She and musical partner and best friend Sam Maloney wanted to take a totally different direction, both with a new album and with an unrelated single, “Anima,” released last year during the pandemic.

“The album really took shape because the two of us had the freedom to sit there and write together,” Das Gupta says. “We knew we wanted to make an album and record it ourselves. Sam took the reins of our home studio so we could do it ourselves. ‘Anima’ was an experiment within that phase where we were talking about what we wanted to sound like.”

There was a joyous relief in the lightbulb moment, realizing they could do, and be, and sound like, whatever they wanted. They duo has always been the driving force behind their music, but now they could make the sounds they wanted on their own (mostly) as well.

The result is a deepy and lush song that is neither a full departure from Slow Slow (their 2018 debut as Kaleidoscope Horse), nor is it what can be expected from the new and still in-progress album, the title of which Maloney and Das Gupta aren’t quite ready to announce.

“Our first album, Slow Slow is all about being in a dream state, and this next album is, you’re very much awake and very conscious of the choices you make and the guilt you carry,” Maloney says. “‘Anima’ is the wake-up call to go into that.”

The first few seconds of the track are an almost yacht-rocky drum circle-sounding beat, almost reminiscent of Santana’s “Evil Ways,” but don’t start to think, for one second, that this is pure ‘70s psych rock. There’s an almost imperceptible break, a gasp of air before distorted guitars come in, creating a dizzying sound.

Then the vocals. Ominous and chanting, foreboding but entrancing.

That’s what you get,” Das Gupta starts.

Oh, wait, what?! What just happened?

“I made the track as a kind of demo with program drums in the beginning,” Maloney says. “I showed Des and it was kind of these two pieces together. She’s like ‘I just wrote some lyrics on the bus on the way here.’ … When we’re together, we’re already thinking the same thing. It seemed like we had nothing to lose.”

“Anima” — as a song, as a process, as a thought, as a concept (from a very concept-oriented duo) — “was an experimentation,” Das Gupta says.

It is also a dreamy, grunge-y, and psychedelic bridge, between what was and what might be.

“We did it for fun,” Maloney says. “We were talking about wanting to go harder and more distortion, grungier. It just feels good.”

“That’s why it’s funny we’re here now, because of this track,” Das Gupta adds. “Sometimes when you over-conceptualize something — we have a tendency to do that. We’ll spend four years making an album and be over it by the time it’s done.”

“‘Anima’ gave us the confidence to go,” Maloney says. “We can be harder, we can be grungier, it doesn’t need to be airy and sweet and psych-y. That energy is in the same world.”

 

The song, and the unrelated album — still in the recording, producing and maybe writing process, though songs from it will be performed during the livestream — demonstrate how Maloney and Das Gupta, musical partners for the better part of a decade, continue to evolve and trust in each other and their creative process.

“Every time we do something, we up the stakes for ourselves and the level of how far we can go, which is one of the most exciting things about working with Sam,” Das Gupta says. “She makes me feel like I can do it, but also, if I don’t, I’m screwing myself over. She makes me rise to my own potential over and over again.”

Kali Horse’s involvement in Wavelength, between the dream world of Slow Slow and the waking world of their album-to-be, is the realization of a goal Maloney and Das Gupta have had for a number of years.

“I needed a legal reason to jam out with my best friend,” Das Gupta laughs.

“That’s the thing — it’s as if we just put all the energy into it and it went,” Maloney says. “We’ve always wanted to do Wavelength.”

Their performance was recorded in their studio at Safe Sounds, a former bank-turned-studio, but it will have the characteristic elements of a Kali Horse live show.

Photo by Adam Stewart

“Oh, it’s very theatrical,” Maloney says with a big grin. “There’s fog. There’s a demonic voice. There’s some dance tracks, some guitar solos where it’s like, ‘how much longer is she going to keep playing that?!’”

“You didn’t do it before!” Das Gupta laughs, excited and encouraging Maloney to live it up.

“I was let out of my cage! It was super fun,” Maloney says.

A year ago, this invitation might’ve been met with a little more anxiety, but for Kali Horse, ready to dive into the unusual and experimental and see what comes out, eager to push the boundaries and themselves just a little further and say yes to any musical thought that occurs to them, the timing was perfect.

 

Kali Horse will be making its Wavelength debut on Friday, February 26, at 8pm. Watch live on our YouTube channel.

Amber Healy is a Canadian music lover trapped on the wrong side of the lake, based in Buffalo, NY. She is homesick for Toronto, despite never living there, in ways most people don’t understand. You can find her on Twitter @ambermhealy or on Instagram @phfyrebyrd. She thinks Spotify is the devil.

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