The Shape of Calling
After eagerly opening the first box of CDs, we allowed ourselves only a couple of minutes to be angry about the cover before clinking together the celebratory forties we had bought for the occasion and then loading the boxes from a cramped Allston apartment kitchen into a borrowed Ford Taurus. The plan was to drink and drive all around New England for as long as it took to deliver every single copy of our first official release to everyone who had signed up for one at either of the two record release shows we had had where we didn’t have any actual records to release. It had been like showing up to a ceremony with an empty cage and no doves...twice. After those two minutes or so of disappointment, the layout of the EP became a joke between all of us. We joked about the color orange; we joked about all of the photos of us; we joked about the computer generated phone cord. Is there, now, anything more beautifully dated than a phone cord? If I had the means and the ability today I’d make a music video where my forty year old self hears some tinny music coming from somewhere and follows the sound to a landline receiver lying on the ground. I pick it up, put it to my ear and hear one of the tracks off the EP. I then notice the extra long phone cord seemingly having traveled a great distance to end up on my floor. I grab it and start following it through the doorway of my house, pulling it like a rope, as I make my way down the street and through various other houses and apartments, past divorces and weddings, through the births of children, past careers and part-time jobs, through friendships lost to drugs or miles or differing opinions about erring on the side of humanity, past bars, through wars and mercy luncheons, past funerals and burials, in the windows of vans and out the windows of buses, through national tragedies, into party garages and basements, through learning to unlearn, and moving beyond self-indulgence, until finally reaching the other end where nineteen year old me stands holding the other receiver. He probably has a beer waiting for me. “You’re welcome” is all he says and the camera stays on us for a bit, ripping off the iconic last shot of The Graduate. What the fuck do we do now?
So yeah maybe the phone cord makes sense NOW as this infinite tether between the me now (whoever that may be at any given point over the last twenty years) and the me then (forever a constant, a northstar guiding me back to a world that was too insular to fit in any larger societal context). But we didn’t title it the Shape of Calling because we were aware of the potential this allegory held. No, the title simply stems from the fact that The Foo Fighters Colour and Shape and Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come were two of our favorite records at the time. And also because the idea I concocted for the layout (because I was a control freak at the time who needed to dip his paws in every aspect of the creative process) was basically just marrying two pop culture images that I had been drawn to: Sgt Peppers insert (which I first encountered through a parody that the Simpsons had done) and the foldout picture of 10CC’s album How Dare You. That was basically all we did back then: borrowed various disparate aspects of media we encountered and cobbled them together in different iterations in order to hopefully convey the illusion of new.
Orange Island was a selfish band. We wrote songs that we ourselves would want blaring through car speakers, words that we ourselves would want to shout into the night. Practices were group therapy and playing out felt like the most fun way to spend our free time. We wrote love letters to moments that we intuitively knew were fleeting (in that profound way that only children standing on the bridge to adulthood can feel) and we did it for the benefit of an ever-changing future version of ourselves. I feel like we start creating in our teenage years because we hear a voice in our head that whispers "you look infinite right now why don't you try to write something down" almost as if we instinctively know that the pleasure center of our brain is filled with infinity but that it also has an expiration date (the nucleus accumbens stretching out during adolescence & then immediately beginning to shrink so that it acts almost like a little pouch filled with our own personalized forever that every now & again we get to reach inside of to grab some of the little bits of this infinity and sprinkle them out, making a trail of confetti that will hopefully allows us to always find our way back, back to how life felt when this pouch was at its biggest?). I don't know, sometimes I think we create just in order to get better at remembering and nowhere is this more evident than on The Shape of Calling. Any time I’ve listened to any of these songs I’ve felt an immediate and visceral connection to the kid I was when we wrote and recorded them. I think I even knew back then that I was trying my hardest to score what would eventually become simply a montage of images that’s edges would only blur more and more over time. I needed that score; I knew this time of my life deserved more emotion than photobooks could elicit. So when I hear these noises I can remember clearly, for example, the holiness that one might feel when tiptoeing around the passed out bodies of friends and strangers alike in the early morning hours of parents away or newly living on one’s own in city apartments. I can see clearly again the faces of friends and acquaintances and feel what it was like to not be able to tell the difference between the two yet. I can taste the subtle ecstacy inherent in summer emanating from the bodies of crushes and revisits. And I lose my breath in that way that you do when the window is down and you’re on the highway trying to make one of the other members of the caravan laugh because you have to take separate cars filled with equipment to the show.
What this record did well was capture the fun and sloppy energy that existed in my life at that time We were mostly just trying to make the exact type of music that, when we had first experienced it intimately, felt like a call home (though if I’m being honest I wish I could do it all again and record every song with the Tommy James and the Shondells setup/vibe because that would’ve made for a more interesting listening experience 20 years later). Music, to me, when I first started interacting with it seriously was a conversation that pre-dated me and that would live on after me. I needed to feel like a part of that conversation and I needed that badly or I felt like I would get crushed by the weight of a meaningless existence. These songs are not mature in any way but then again I’m not sure we wanted them to be. I’m also not sure they could’ve been. I was a fresh 19 and Bren was 17 when we put the finishing touches on them before demo-ing them with Poorman (our maybe fourth set of demos in two years). My fondest memories of their creation involve Dave and I working on expanding the lyrics during the 6pm to 2am shift at my job at the Clinton State Pool. The songs are earnest and sentimental that’s how you get “drinking with your boys and singing songs out loud all night”/“dreaming with your boys and keeping hope alive all night” and “I’ll drown in you if you breathe this life with me” & of course they were written before death changed my world and this release came out right before the country would change forever, so context also exacerbates this sort of naivete in the songwriting. This truly is a “before” record. A kind of innocent and urgent record that concerns itself primarily with the NOW. It’s a record written in the shadow of Y2K by kids that didn’t quite take the doomsday stuff all that serious.
Signing to Iodine as their first official band brought with it an air of legitimacy which was very important to an insecure band such as ourselves (that stayed insecure in many ways throughout its career) because you have to remember that this was a time where gatekeeping informed value in a lot of ways. Since we’re talking the year of our emo lord 2000 this was when the music business hadn’t changed over to the Internet yet. Instead of searching on your computer for music that people had made potentially in their bedrooms or whatever people went to record stores and leafed through bins, so it was important to have an entity believe in you enough to invest their time and resources in getting you into that bin. Casey was that entity for us. He was taking a chance on us and we were taking a chance on him. We sort of learned together as we went. We were always suffering from imposter syndrome (since we had basically grown up around amazing bands made up of people that became our friends) but we also had that special reserve of arrogance that blue-collared suburban kids have. I remember always telling Bren that the next year would be our year. “2000 is going to be our year.” “2001 is going to be our year.” “2002 is going to be our year.” Mostly because that’s how it felt. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to hop into the studio whenever we had four or five songs that we were excited about. The latest batch of songs had made their way into Casey’s hands and after a serious business meeting at a Pizzeria Uno on Comm Ave I was able to bring the offer to the other band members and we decided to give it a whirl. Casey immediately went to work creating promotional materials involving photoshoots and booking shows for us outside of Massachusetts and getting us back into the studio. It was easy to see immediately that he wasn’t fucking around and he wasn’t going to sleep until he made us the darlings of Iodine and to a larger extent the independent music scene of the time. And because of this hard work I was able to realize that though I was making music for selfish reasons as a way to always find the way back to myself (& perhaps my friends could do the same), people outside of my circle were actually able to take these songs as their own and add their own context.
I remember playing a show in upstate New York early on and hanging out with some of the kids that had come (probably the few that had actually shown up) just to have something to do and keeping in touch with them over AOL or signmyguestbook dot com after. One day they told us that one of the songs on the EP was helping them all deal with a profound loss: one of their friends had just passed away tragically and somehow the song lifted their grief even in the tiniest of ways. That wasn’t the intention of this particular song, I had actually written it as what I thought was an anthem to justify not overthinking hookups with ex-girlfriends, but there it was: someone had taken it and given it a more important meaning and that’s when I realized oh shit this is bigger than us and oh shit I made my way into the conversation and thank god and let’s keep going. Let’s see how many people we can get to bring themselves to these songs so they become no longer ours.
~ Chuck Young
Clinton, MA 2021
Photos by: Kristina Harbor and Neighbor Hansen