By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Looking back, May 27, 1995, was the beginning of the end. Shortly after Denton's Factory Press performed in North Texas for the last time that evening, at the Engine Room in Fort Worth, the band packed up and moved to New York to take on the world. The Factory Press--vocalist Isaac Hampton, guitarist Aurelio Valle, bassist Peter Gannon, and drummer Wayne B. Magruder, all then in their early 20s--cranked out an angular, lethargic clamor that was unique in the North Texas music scene at the time, mixing the down-tempo sounds and themes of their shared influences: the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Velvet Underground, Joy Division. In the process, they'd inevitably become close friends. Gannon and Valle had formed their first band together, April House, in South Texas, where the seeds of their camaraderie were sown: A 14-year-old Gannon took a 30-45 minute bus ride from his home in Corpus Christi to a 15-year-old Valle's house in Kingsville to practice. Valle moved to Denton in 1992; Gannon followed the next year and enrolled at the University of North Texas, where he lived in the same dormitory as Magruder.
What made the band interesting was that it seemed out of step with the guitar/twang ruckus that was popular in this area at the time, though not everybody found it appealing. (Naysayers dubbed it the "Fashion Press.") It had established a healthy indie cred on the strength of its "Foundation" seven-inch and Interstate EP, and had a record in the works for Daniel Plunkett, publisher of the Austin-based art 'zine ND, which also released records of the hippest variety in the mid 1990s: "experimental." For a while, FP's departure left a hole in that department locally, especially since another avant-leaning young mind, Sean Donovan--who, along with Magruder, operated an experimental music label, ernst Recordings, and performed as the sound-collage noise outfit the Fallen Vlods--followed about a year later.
The entire band crammed into a one-bedroom apartment on East 13th Street between Second and Third Avenue in the East Village. "It was quite an experience," Gannon recalls. "It was basically like boot camp. It was the four of us in a bunker in New York. But it was great because we were there for a common purpose."
But as many young artists encounter in New York, life ain't easy. Two years after the four had moved to New York, the full-length album still had yet to come out (Smoky Ends of a Burnt Out Day finally saw the light of day in 1998), and as expectation plunged into disappointment, the Factory Press was laid to rest. "We were really young, we were on our own for the first time, and we were playing music," Gannon says. "During it all, I was 21 and playing and trying to live out a rock dream, and it was a lot of fun--don't get me wrong. It was a lot of fun, but you pay a heavy price."
Instead of imploding in bitterness and resentment, however, Factory Press' members emerged from the band's ashes and have landed on their feet in two new outfits, the New York-based Calla and Denton's Mercova. They've taken what they learned from the Factory Press--both musically and professionally--and now are more concerned with their craft than chasing the spotlight.
Critical success, however, has already started to arrive for Calla. The band--Donovan (bass, keyboards, programming), Magruder (programming, percussion, drums) and Valle (guitars, vocals)--is proving it has the potential to be a formidable force, using the tools and ideas of modern composition to make more traditional songs. Calla was the first band listed in Alternative Press' "100 Bands You Need to Know in 2001" in its March issue, and this past December, it opened for the internationally feted Godspeed You Black Emperor! in that band's home town of Montreal. And its sophomore release, the Michael Gira-produced Scavengers (Young God Records) has been earning the band fans overseas in France, Italy, and--of all places--Israel.
"The response to Scavengers has been great," Donovan says. "It's really easy to get isolated in New York, and it's nice to hear what other parts of the country and the world have to say about your album. The weird thing about New York is people really don't go out to see shows that often, because there's so many to choose from. So you have to pick what show you want to see. We've been lucky because recently we've landed on some really good bills, so the people that might be into Calla were going to be going to those shows anyway."
It's a pretty good start for a band that began out of a simple desire to try new ideas. "After the Factory Press split, we weren't going to stop playing," Valle says. "Pete moved to Austin in '97. We were waiting for the ND record to come out. We put everything we had into it and we really had high hopes for it. We were all living in a one-bedroom apartment so it was really, really hard. It got to the point where we just said, forget it. So we decided to come up with something really different. Sean had worked with the Factory Press in the studio when we were recording, so it only made sense that the three of us do something together. Wayne and Sean started exploring more with samples and electronics, creating different textures, and it forced us to come up with new ways to write songs than we'd been used to doing."