“Southeast of Saturn,” a new compilation LP, pressed up by Jack White’s Third Man Records, embarks on a reverb-soaked journey through Michigan’s spacey past. One of the 19 bands featured on this already acclaimed collection of ’90s-era shoegaze and dream pop tracks is Lansing’s own Calliope.
With Andy Dryer on vocals, the band’s cosmic sound was filled out by bassist Eric Merkling, drummer Matt Ellison and guitarist Jason Lantrip. While Calliope has long had a cult following in Michigan and beyond, this new LP will justly shine an even brighter light on the group. Here’s what Lantrip had to say about the new record, which is available both on wax and all streaming services.
How would you describe “Southeast of Saturn”?
Jason Lantrip: It’s a ’90s Michigan shoegaze compilation curated by Rich Hansen for Third Man Records. You might call it dream pop or space rock, but basically there were a bunch of bands enamored with the ambient druggy import records wrote about in NME and Melody Maker in the early-to-mid ’90s. Not unlike punk in ’79, we all discovered that with a bit of delay, tremolo and reverb we could turn inadequacies into strengths and started bands with our friends.
Rich Hansen contacted me last year when he was putting it together. Calliope and Rich were friendly back when he lived in East Lansing, this was in the mid ’90s. Our bands played co-op parties together and we’d see him about town.
As for the other bands on Southeast of Saturn, back in the day, did you play with many of those bands?
Our previous band, Sixth With Violet, played with Majesty Crush and Thirsty Forrest Animals at the MSU Union Ballroom. We also played with Spectacle at the Small Planet, but almost none of the other bands unfortunately. Maybe Miss Bliss? Certainly, Auburn Lull far later in life. All of these bands had their little Michigan space rock orbits and we get to represent East Lansing.
Having a release on Third Man is pretty cool, I’d imagine. Where can people hear it?
It’s a very cool thing. It feels like an affirmation that what we did mattered and that it’s a part of history now. It’s live on the streaming platforms and vinyl is out to the shops now. I’m hearing that it is going into a second printing due to demand so don’t despair if you can’t get it right away. It looks like they are entertaining a volume two, at the very least, which is good news. This record is the sort of mixtape that got me into Spaceman 3, Ride, Slowdive, Lush, 4AD, Creation and My Bloody Valentine. I’ve only ever hoped to be the sort of band that you might find on a “Nuggets” compilation somewhere. I feel like I’ve succeeded in that goal here.
The Calliope song included on the comp is “Laughing at Roadsigns,” when was that recorded?
It was recorded at Chicago Trax in a weekend in December of ’94. It was one of the first few songs written by Andy and Eric when Calliope was just getting off the ground. The plan was to record it, and a few others, for a demo for Thick Records. We ended up succeeding in recording and mixing an entire record that weekend. We were regaled with tales of infamous Ministry sessions and got to meet Wesley Willis, who was recording in Studio B.
Out of your entire catalog, why do you think that song was chosen for this comp?
There was a specific time frame it had to fall into. It’s not our most spacey track from back then. We might’ve had songs from that era that fit a little better sonically, but I think the lyric fit the vibe of the story they are telling here. Largely, the story of record nerds that got a crush on a wave of dreamy independent music found in the import bins of Play it Again and Neptune Records … or of course Wherehouse Records and FBC in East Lansing, for us.
Early on, what was Calliope’s mission? What were you shooting for?
Andy and Eric and I were all in a previous band together, Sixth With Violet. We met as students at Michigan State University. The idea initially was to do something darker, more mellow. Quieter. Sonic.
What's the most recent thing Calliope has done or released? Any chance for new music?
Funny enough, I think the last thing we released was a jingle for Jeni’s Ice Cream back in 2017. They did not ask us to write it, but who are we to deny our muse. It came out on a GTG comp, as did most everything we’ve done since our last full-length CD in 2004. The newest calliope related project is the Sexy Murders split single with Drinking Mercury on GTG. That is basically the founding members, Eric and Andy, collaborating under a new name. It’s a sweet lathe cut release. We are considering some potential vinyl re-issues and perhaps some celebratory performances for the first couple releases. New stuff could happen, but it hasn’t yet.