“Love To Fight” Soon Enough

Photo by Steve Parke

I recently had the privilege of chopping it up with Outcalls, a Baltimore-based duo composed of Britt Olsen-Ecker and Melissa Wimbish. The Peabody alums are putting said pedigree to optimal use by crafting some of the most forward-thinking and memorable Pop music I’ve heard not just regionally, but anywhere in recent years. Baltimore’s “electric opera queens” aren’t here to fit neatly into an industry narrative and are using honest, witty, structurally compelling, and impeccably sung records to continue to blaze that trail for strong, talented women in music regardless of gatekeepers. Their latest and greatest, “Love To Fight” arrives in just a few days (9/30), so it seemed like an opportune time to politick with one of my favorite acts in Charm City.

Steve Parke behind the lens

Every hero has an origin story, tell me yours:

(MW): Britt and I met through a mutual friend because we had an audition for a local theater company and wanted to run our monologues for each other. The park where we met up is right outside of Peabody Conservatory at the foot of the Marquis de Lafayette statue in Baltimore. Out of all the statues of men that we could have ended up in front of, I am glad it was his.

(BOE): I remember that day- I was so nervous for that audition I think I almost peed myself.

Are you both natives of Baltimore?

(MW): I am not a Baltimore native but have lived here longer than any other place in my adult life. My early years were complicated and I bounced around living with different family members between Connecticut, Arizona, and eventually Kansas. While I am thankful for a Midwest upbringing, the East Coast always felt like where I belonged.

(BOE): I grew up in Connecticut. My mother was a jingle singer and my dad was an art director in advertising, so the arts were alive and well in our family. My parents always encouraged me to pursue music or the arts, and I was privileged enough to do so.

Can you trace the origins of your love of music to a specific record or artist?

(MW): For as long as I can remember, I wanted to sing. I don’t know exactly where it came from and it’s possible that I have romanticized it in my head so much that I’m blocking out another youthful aspiration (Editor’s note — this made me spit out my coffee lol) … but I’m pretty sure I always wanted to sing. When I saw The Little Mermaid for the first time — a singing redhead with a very strict father — I knew it was destiny. Before I really went in on singing though, I was a total band nerd. Marching band, pit band, pep band, all of that.

The adults in my life listened to a wide variety of artists. My Grandmother Barbara always had the classical music station on in the car while Grandpa Alfred had a love of country music and yodeling. My father listened to everything. He played Carole King, James Taylor, Anita Baker, Oleta Adams, Babyface, Madonna, Barbara Streisand, and Melissa Manchester who I was named after. He often got fixated on a few songs or albums which he would play on repeat for hours. One day he listened to “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men for the whole fucking day — I was like “Are you okay?”

Mandy Adams was my first voice teacher. She came to Junction City High School during my junior year and offered free voice lessons to anyone who wanted them. A saint. We worked together for three years and I really believe that meeting her was THE reason I pursued singing. Mandy gave me three CDs: a Jessye Norman recital, Audra McDonald’s How Glory Goes, and a live recording of Ella Fitzgerald’s 40th birthday concert, Ella in Rome. All of these albums became obsessions. I memorized every note and inflection. When I found out that Ella and I shared a birthday, I felt like nobody could possibly be as charmed as me.

(BOE): My father bought me an Aretha Franklin compilation. Of course, I had heard “Respect,” but the rest of it blew me away. “Chain of Fools”? My god, I remember just playing that song in my room over and over again. I also had a Spice Girls tape. I remember those so vividly because they were the first albums to go with the new boom box that I got in my teens. I always remember loving music and loving singing.

I used to act like my sister forced me to watch “Spice World” but think I was posturing in retrospect…Tell me about Peabody. Did you meet there? I’d love to hear more about those experiences.

(MW): We didn’t meet at Peabody, but we certainly bond about our experiences there all the time. I went for graduate studies in my 20s, which was totally different from Britt who arrived fresh out of high school. I’m thankful for the professors I met at Peabody and for learning how to navigate rejection and bureaucracy. For some of us, it is a draining mindfuck to study music. Once again, I had an incredibly kind and loving voice teacher during a time that was often stressful and degrading for me.

(BOE): Peabody was a shock to the system. I remember being afraid that no one would like any music besides classical music. I think I cried to my mom about it and she told me I was being ridiculous. I discovered so much music at that school that I would have never been exposed to otherwise. I also learned how to cope with rejection, and it’s where I started my photography business.

I’m not shy about saying we’re in an era where music is beyond saturated. What separates Outcalls from essentially everything else out there? Both musically and in terms of your overall approach and makeup as artists:

(MW): Our music runs parallel to our friendship. I think the coolest thing about us is the way we create together and how that process evolves alongside our partnership. We are two very different women with styles, tastes, and backgrounds that should and could clash, but they don’t.

(BOE): We really love doing a song-by-song approach. While the running theme is vocals, I feel like every song has a story, feel, and composition of its own. When people ask us to describe our music I am still flummoxed of what to say.

Photo by Kaitlin Newman

I think said flummoxing is certainly a good thing and just speaks to the two of you reaching a rarefied air in terms of your skillset. Much respect there as I know it can also make things more difficult since many want cookie cutter and/or gift wrapped renditions of one’s sound…Do you garner comparisons regularly to any specific artists? How would you describe yourself stylistically?

(MW): Basically any band with two women in it. Even if it’s metal, apparently we sound like them? Our music is often described as two women with boobs and butts (Editor’s Note — here’s a more thoughtful, albeit less humorous description from Baltimore Magazine).

(BOE): We’ve heard Cocteau Twins, Lucius, and a bunch of French bands I’ve never heard of.

Would you rather hit the timewarp and reside in another era of music? Or do you think you’re right where you’re supposed to be? Explain.

(MW): I would like to go back to a time as long as I wouldn’t be a slave in that time.

(BOE): I don’t want Melissa to be a slave, so I think we’re good here.

I’m glad that we’ve all established that none of us want Melissa to be a slave, in any time period. Here in 2021, how do you see the highs, lows, pros, and cons of the Baltimore music scene?

(MW): People who are participants and supporters of the Baltimore music and arts scene embrace its variety; I believe that’s our greatest strength here. We have everything. Most Baltimore artists want to collaborate with folks outside of their immediate circles. The best artists here are always stretching themselves. Our time is coming!

It’s too bad our press sucks and there are many abusers in powerful positions, but we are working on it.

(BOE): This scene is full of people who lift each other up and support each other.

I would have to agree that this scene is full of uplifting and supportive people. I’m hoping we all get to connect and reconnect in person as we continue to learn to navigate this whole COVID thing…This is the part of the interview where I abandon coherence and allow all things tangent to take the wheel…Dream collab(s):

(MW): I adore John Frusciante for so many reasons and have always fantasized about producing an album with him. SZA’s vocal and rhythmic phrasing astounds me; I’d kill to workshop lyrics with her.

Whoever doesn’t sexually harass or practice racism.

(BOE): SZA! Solange. Frank Ocean.

Sublime song and visual coalescence

What do the people need to know about “Love To Fight” both as a record and a visual:

(MW): “Love to Fight” is our first collaboration with our friend Micah E. Wood. He sent us this beautiful beat right around the downside of the pandemic isolation peak when some of us were like “Ok, I think I’m ready to stop being depressed for a couple of minutes a day but just a couple.”

I kept singing this line to myself “Is it ever gonna be enough?” and was inspired by the lush background vocals on the opening track to Lemonade. Britt, Micah, and I would chat by phone once a week or so to see how the track was coming along, which we all really needed for accountability. Micah is amazing at that and we are grateful that he just kept checking in with us. It felt like we were just trudging and trudging and … trudging for weeks through the trauma of the last presidency, the election, the countless murders by police, protests, and the ongoing confusion of the pandemic. What do you even do with all of that? Well, it’s simple: you dance. We had to write something that expressed the frustration and hopelessness of where we were, but also the fuckitness of it all. This idea that as people — maybe as Americans — we say we want peace, but we love to argue.

We had the absolute best team for our video. I love how it turned out. It’s really a perfect example of what happens when you just let people do their fucking jobs. Britt and I shared our ideas and organized every aspect we could so that the shoot ran as smoothly as possible, but ultimately, we sat back and watched everyone be excellent.

We hired Rovo Monty to choreograph a section for us and do you know what happened? He choreographed the entire fucking song. We rehearsed for hours in his apartment and he was not playing around. Like we would smile and say hello at the beginning but once that music was on, no smiling was occurring, only hard breathing!

(BOE): We’re getting used to working with producers. This was produced by our friend Micah E. Wood and we loved the collaborative spirit. The visual is Studio 54. We are addressing big issues in the song, but I do think it was a chance for us to let loose and write a dance track, which we really haven’t done in the past.

Tell me more about the LP on which “Love To Fight” will reside:

(MW): It’s better than whatever white boy band you’re obsessed with.

The album is called Greatest Hits and it’s our third album so we must be full of ourselves. We are daring to be confident women in this world. What could be more insane?

(BOE): It’s gonna be so fucking great.

How is your upcoming work different from what you’ve done to date?

(MW): See above ^. (Editor’s Note — Fair and duly noted but Britt gave a nice, concise response below despite what one can argue was a bit of a lazy question on my part, so we’ll keep all of it. Also, my first mixtape that I recorded and “mixed” myself on a Korg 12 track in my Mom’s basement was called “Quality Over Quantity” despite the fact that it had 28 songs. I say all this to say that I am very much here for this whole “Greatest Hits” thing and that you’re certainly in a much better position to name a project that than I was in 2005.)

(BOE): We’re taking bigger risks, writing stuff that maybe doesn’t feel like us, challenging ourselves to work differently. It’s been liberating.

How does your stage show differ from your performance in the studio?

(MW): The studio is a place where we can’t shake our perfectionism, which is probably good for that setting. On stage, we let it all go. We are awkward, silly, and sing the shit out of things.

(BOE): I still feel so weird on stage but it disappears when I start playing music.

Speaking of stage shows, elaborate on that process of booking your own tours. I would love some stories as well as some Do’s and Don’ts for aspiring artists:

(MW): Drink water and have healthy snacks. Tour with people who love and care for you. Plan everything you possibly can because shit will go wrong and you have to be flexible.

(BOE): Don’t stay up all night in New Orleans and definitely make sure the places you sleep are comfortable.

Photo by Simone Niamani

5 Desert Island Albums you can’t go without and why:

(MW): SZA — CTRL, Niki & The Dove — Instinct, Suzanne Sundfor — Ten Love Songs, Radiohead — In Rainbows, Miles Davis — Sketches of Spain

(BOE):

I Am — Earth, Wind & Fire

I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You — Aretha Franklin

Bad Habit — Your Smith

Songs in the Key of Life — Stevie Wonder

Spice — Spice Girls (don’t fucking judge me)

More fives…Where are you in 5 years?

(MW): Touring with some old hoe who is hopefully making her comeback.

(BOE): Are we the old hoes?

What is the dream, endgame scenario for Outcalls?

(MW): Help change the music industry in all the ways we know it should change but don’t yet know how to say. See the world. Keep getting better. And because I am petty, prove all these mother fuckers wrong who say we can’t do it.

(BOE): I would like a Grammy.

Please tell the people where to find you, what you have coming up, and whatever else you want them to know:

(MW): We need money and for you to tell people about us (Editor’s Note — We’re working on it haha).

(BOE): on the internet! www.outcallsband.com

Follow Outcalls: http://www.instagram.com/outcallsband

https://www.facebook.com/outcallsband/

I’m your friendly neighborhood MC Bravado; many thanks for reading. You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and/or your favorite place to grab music. Please remember to be kind to one another and that “Michael Jordan is the GOAT” is a fact and not an opinion.

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The greatest Rapper/English Teacher to grace the Earth, ever. As seen/heard on many a noteworthy publication, record, and stage. www.MCBravado.com @MCBravado

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MC Bravado

MC Bravado

The greatest Rapper/English Teacher to grace the Earth, ever. As seen/heard on many a noteworthy publication, record, and stage. www.MCBravado.com @MCBravado

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