While bassist-lead singers are a subject of fascination for some, bassist-French horn players may overtake that particular school of musician on the novelty scale if the band England in 1819 has any influence on the matter.
Brothers Andrew and Dan Callaway form the duo of England in 1819, combining elements of synth-pop, indie rock and classical music to create their self-described ‘grandwave’ sound. Their music, commonly labeled as ethereal and atmospheric, has also been likened to an indie-film soundtrack, and the comparison is pretty well spot on.
The band is playing its second show at The Handlebar in promotion of “Fireball Electric Tomorrow,” their third full-length album, which they self-released in September 2013. Andrew took time to speak with the IN while on the road, about halfway through England in 1819’s current 56-date tour.
“About a year and a half ago we quit our jobs and pretty much started touring full time,” said Andrew, who sings lead and plays a variety of keyboards; his brother Dan plays French horn and bass.
Having a father who was a musician — Liam, who formerly played guitar in England in 1819 — Andrew and Dan grew up playing music as a family. After both studying music at conservatories in Ohio, the brothers spent time apart but reconvened in Baton Rouge in 2009, where Dan was studying French horn at LSU.
“We decided to start playing together and that’s what turned into this project,” Andrew said. The brothers recruited a range of musicians to form their original 9-piece configuration. “When we first started we were very kind of experimental, orchestral type with a few different percussionists and an opera singer. Once we started touring a lot, not everybody could tour, so we kind of started stripping down from there, and now we’re down to two.”
Transcendence of time and place are concepts that appeal to the band, which took their name from the title of a Percy Bysshe Shelley sonnet. While the poem’s title rather its content was what drew their attention, Andrew admits that it being about England, where their father is from and where they lived for a time as children, likely caught their attention. “We like the sound of it mainly, but the fact that it had England in the title might’ve meant a little something extra to us.”
New settings seem to inspire the brothers, who also spent part of their childhood in Athens, Ga. Andrew and Dan wrote and recorded “Fireball Electric Tomorrow” in a cabin in North Carolina in the summer of 2013, and the seclusion affected the process in positive ways, according to Andrew. “It was very intense focus-wise. We were just totally concentrating on that,” said Andrew. “It was cool to be up there and to really be able to focus on the music.”
The band’s sound continues to evolve, but Andrew’s plaintive vocals and Dan’s French horn infusions remain the touchstones for whatever sonic direction their songs may take, be it danceable synth-rock to more experimental ambient tracks that seem like they could be appropriate accompaniment to a variety of journeys, from space travel to hiking through snowy woods.
“We used to do a fewer amount of long, epic, kind of drawn out songs,” said Andrew of the correlation between the decreasing number of band members and increasing number of songs per album. “I think the tracks on the new album, they’re shorter tracks but there are more of them. I think that’s part of our sound changing.”
Recently adding dates in the Northeast and Canada and expanding from tours entirely in the Southern U.S., the band hopes to one day play outside of North America and tour England as England in 1819. “One of our main goals is to, at some point, do a European tour, but we haven’t put it together yet,” said Andrew.
But for England in 1819’s ongoing schedule of stateside tours, Pensacola’s Handlebar will likely stay on the itinerary. “We try to stick with the same venue as long as it goes well, which it does at The Handlebar,” Andrew said. “I think that’s what we’re trying to do — stay in the city and build followings in the towns we go to.”
After the tour current tour ends in New Orleans in March, the brothers are planning to take some time off dedicated to writing, whether it’s in their current home base of Baton Rouge or elsewhere. “It’s hard to have that focus and dedicate the time to write stuff while touring,” Andrew said, noting that playing shows is an important part of their development. “It doesn’t take long not touring before we start feeling like we should be getting back out there.” And hopefully Pensacola will remain part of their journey.
ENGLAND IN 1819 AT THE HANDLEBAR
WHAT: England in 1819 with Glass Mattress and Cowardhound
WHEN: 9 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12
WHERE: The Handlebar, 319 N. Tarragona St.
COST: $5, ages 18 and over
DETAILS: 434-9060 or pensacolahandlebar.com