Cal in Red

Cal in Red

Cal in Red
Low Low LP
B3SCI Records

After meeting Cal in Red, you’d be hard-pressed to feel moody, maudlin, or even just meh. That’s because both the delightfully chill duo and their dreamy, indie-pop music come with an immediate contact high. So why, then, did they name their first full-length Low Low?

“You know how there’s low, and then there’s low, low?” says Connor Wright. “It’s more tongue-in-cheek,” interjects his brother Kendall, laughing. “We’ve spent all our time and resources towards this thing, this dream. Like, are we putting ourselves in a bad place here? I actually hated the line at first. But then I came to love it.”

But really, what’s not to love? Two years ago, their effervescent, entwined cover of Dayglow’s “Can I Call You Tonight?” and Wallows’ “Quarterback” broke out on Spotify, establishing Cal in Red as deft creators of life-affirming, intoxicating melodies. Soon after, “Corvette” (off 2022’s Sink EP) and “Zebra” (Low Low’s first single) earned both radio rotation and streaming service playlist adds, including Spotify’s All New Indie, New Music Friday, and Today’s Indie Rock, as well as Apple Music’s New in Alternative. They also opened for Bastille and played the Treefort Music Fest. Meanwhile, The Shins frontman James Mercer (a longtime inspiration for the brothers) is a professed fan, and even lent his vocals to Low Low’s levitating, lovesick single “Kitchen.” 

The Wright brothers hail from Grand Rapids, a no-frills Michigan town famed for its breweries. It’s where they took their time—specifically, four years—to work on Low Low. Although there’s an enviable ease to their music, it took a vigilant creative process to get there. “We gave in to some musical urges we never would’ve before,” Kendall says. To that end, Low Low dabbles in a bit of ’90s indie-rock, makes a brief detour to the ’80s, and even explores some twang. Still, they never lose their way: At heart, these are melodic vignettes that feel as though they’ve been put through a dream-glow filter.

Low Low–the name coming from a lyric in their track “Boyfriend”–opens with “She Won’t Say,” a blissed-out single that, grounded by rhythms that gently reference ’90s house music, could pass as a Phoenix outtake. “This song comes out of the gate quickly and was always meant to be short. It didn’t need three choruses and a massive intro,” Kendall says. “The subject matter might feel deep, but it’s also very simple. The line ‘He’s just thinking what she won’t say,’ sums up the whole song. It’s about not wanting to come to terms with the inevitable, as woozy synths lock into this hazy, smokey trance.”

The surf rock-esque “Frontside” picks up in sentiment where “She Won’t Say” leaves off. “A lot of the songs are stories, whatever relationship successes or troubles you might be having in your 20s,” Kendall says. In “Frontside,” it’s about bearing witness to your friends’ adulting, while you’re throwing all your angst and energy into a band. “It’s when those people you used to hang out with aren’t really going out much anymore and are moving to the suburbs,” he adds. “It’s about the transition from reckless abandon to a purposeful, careful existence.”

Live, you’ll see Kendall on guitar, with Connor on bass and synths. But at home, both pen tracks, with Kendall taking over most lyrical and vocal duties–though Connor, who produces the tracks, sings roughly a third of them. The slice-of-life “Zebra,” all breezy falsettos and otherworldly synths, is the latter’s proudest moment. “It was the first song that I officially mixed. I remember I spent two days on it, carefully watching YouTube videos and trying to apply it to this track,” Connor says. “The next day, I drove to work and played it, because, you know, that’s the final frontier of mix-referencing: playing it on your car speaker.”

You can hear this enthusiasm as a producer in “1985,” a spicy, shimmering ode to dating, born of Connor experimenting with an ’80s drum machine, crunchy synths, and even AutoTuned vocals. (“That's my favorite part, how it’s so over the top,” Kendall notes. “It’s not cringe, it’s just fun.”) But Connor also learned how to reign in his burgeoning skills, a restraint that imbues the minimalist Americana of “Flagstaff” with a sense of wistfulness. “The song is a reflection of what we’ve dragged ourselves through in the last couple years, touring and living on a very low budget,” Kendall explains. “We once stopped at this exit in Flagstaff and were like, ‘Wow, this is so beautiful!’”

The brothers have been making music together for eight years now, first in their previous band Mertle and, for the past five years, as Cal in Red (Mercer discovered the duo while they were in Mertle, after they won his band’s 2017 Van Contest with a cover of “Painting a Hole”). Growing up, middle-kid Connor played the drums with a school ensemble band, while older brother Kendall picked up the trumpet, eventually getting into the banjo after a brief flirtation with–“This is embarrassing,” he says–the “stomp, clap, hey” movement around 2010. They never played together until their cousin recruited them for Mertle (Connor was still in high school at the time).

This would eventually give them the confidence to form Cal in Red, named after their younger brother Caleb, who had a propensity for wearing red T-shirts in elementary school. “We keep each other sharp. I mean, we’ve been competing our whole lives,” Kendall says, of working with Connor. “It’s a good dynamic of pushing and pulling, actually.” To that end, Kendall is the more impulsive one. And Connor? “Think of me as a control freak, the perfectionist,” Connor says, “which is very annoying for him.”

This intangible bond, it turns out, is their superpower. “Communication with siblings is completely different than with anyone else,” Connor adds, appreciatively. In the end, “We have a similar perspective, a similar end goal.” They even share the same inspirations: Porches, Tame Impala, Husbands, The Strokes, MGMT, and French Cassettes, to name a few. “We fall in love with songs and artists, and we want to be that same thing for other people,” he says, of their knack for irresistible, joyous melodies. “That definitely transferred to how we write music. If we’re writing a song, it needs to be the best song.”