We caught up with Frank Calleja ahead of his appearance with ‘It came from the desert’ at the rebel riders charity ride on the 21st of May.
A veteran in the local metal scene, Frank you’ve been involved for more than I can remember in music in Malta, and on that note, what was your first involvement in the music scene locally? How did it all start?
The years are slowly but surely piling up as looking back it was 17 years ago when I made my debut gig with Slit at the now defunct Rock Cafe, coincidentally supporting Beheaded. I joined Slit circa 1999 and funnily enough it was Beheaded’s bassist David Cejca who at the time was also playing bass in Slit who asked me to join. Initially I wasn’t going to as at the time I was in a band tentatively called GRIN made up of myself and a couple of ex-Beheaded members namely David Bugeja and Lawrence Wenzu Joyce. At the time we were rehearsing in Beheaded’s garage in St.Venera but somebody kept calling the cops on us because of the noise levels until eventually we had to give up and didn’t have a place to rehearse. We lost momentum and ultimately we disbanded, that is when I then decided to joined SLIT. Little side note is also that GRIN was formed following the split of my very first band BEYOND STRENGTH which included some members of the former ANGEL DUST (now 26 Other Worlds).
Back then it was something a rather common thing to do, to hang around in band’s garages and I remember young me setting a goal for myself that one day I will be in a band and someone would come check us out in our garage. One day I was hanging around in Angel Dust’s garage in Marsa and someone asked me to pick up a mic and jam. At that point I didn’t really have any real experience singing but I kind of knew my vocal chords had some potential. So we jammed and BEYOND STRENGTH was formed alas not for long, but those were my first involvement in a band, despite there never making it to a live stage or record anything.
It always bring pride back home knowing that a band with Maltese origins made a name for itself overseas. It is safe to say that Beheaded has made massive steps forward internationally, from performing in European festivals the likes of B.O.S. Deathfest onto sharing the same stage with titans the likes of Kreator and Morbid Angel. How was the journey with Beheaded so far?
Beheaded has been around since 1991. That’s more than a quarter of a century and when taking into consideration all difficulties, obstacles, disadvantages that a band doing this genre of music had to face particularly in the pre-internet/social media era the fact that the band has survived so far is a testament to the hard work and dedication different members have put into it through the years.
When I joined in 2008/2009 I was determined to to give my 100% to take things a step further and looking at where Beheaded stands today in the extreme music scene, the respect the name commands, the response we have had with the release of the new album ‘Beast Incarnate’ the shows, tours, festivals we get to play alongside titans in the scene. I believe that we have achieved a lot of what we set out to do and this is our ‘pay-off’ so to speak. It has been and still is a lot of hard work but then again I look at guys such as Omar and David who have been in it for the long haul since the early 90’s, they are lifers. Hats off to them so much passion and dedication and that is where I find my inspiration to keep going.
You’re also involved in at least two more projects, namely It came from the desert and your alter ego ‘FC 1980’, not to mention dormant names such as ‘Slit’ and ‘The whiskey music project’ plus the ongoing ‘Hydrocephalic‘ project and an almost annual appearance at Rockestra. Seriously, how do you manage?
On paper it sounds busier to what it really is but nonetheless I do keep myself rather occupied with music through different projects because that is what I enjoy doing the most and I always find time because I make time. I’m a creative person, I could be watching a movie, look at a billboard, a piece of art, a picture, listen to someone talking, whatever and I get ideas. And those ideas they keep floating around in my brain until I can somehow get them of my system creatively through music.
Now that is something which the older I grow the more I come to terms with and embrace. I say come to terms with because being a creative person is not necessarily always a positive thing, there are downsides to it as well. In a song called CURSE OF THE LUCKY from IT CAME FROM THE DESERT I write about it and that is exactly how I feel. Lucky to be cursed with the curse of the lucky ! Performing, is also a sort of addiction and the more you do it the more you want of it. It is something you need to learn to keep on top of emotionally balancing between that and everyday life, at least that’s how it is for me.
Speaking of ‘It came from the desert’, you guys have not performed in Malta for over two years now. What should fans expect from your performance at the RRMC charity ride?
I believe it has been just over 2 years since our last performance mainly due to the fact that I left Malta and moved to the UK. ICFTD, unlike Beheaded is more ‘locally’ based in that it is not a touring band with an international following so to keep the ball rolling with me living in another country without any concrete plans logistically has been a bit difficult. At the time before I left Malta we had all music for the album recorded and it was just a matter of me getting the vocals ready but for a number of reasons, things kept being put aside until eventually I managed to get everything done.
With one thing lead to another and Joker mentioned the RRMC charity ride and how they had invited us to play, so here we are !
I’ll just say that we will be playing our full set and having some guests for this show which should make it interesting. Very looking forward to it.
After the May gig, what’s in store for It came from the desert?
It has been delayed for far too long so there’s definitely the release of the album planned which is now in mixing/mastering stage. Once we have that in our hands I think there are definitely some more local shows in the pipeline and possibly some foreign ones too but we’ll have to wait and see. For the time being we’ll just be taking things one step a time.
The music scene in Malta went through an avalanche of changes during the last couple of years, switching from an apathetic almost dying scene, to one of the most intensely rich phases I can remember. Some say this is a ticking time bomb while others feel that from this point it can only get better. What are your thoughts about it?
I cannot tell you how happy I am to see the scene as healthy as it is right now even if I’m sort of looking at it from the outside in since I’m not really involved hands on with things in Malta anymore. This is something that has happened for as long as I can remember ! The scene goes through different phases, ups and downs, but as someone who has actively been part of it for so many years it is a great thing to see it in such a healthy state and I hope it stays that way for many years to come.
I also think there has been a very strong change in the mentality when it comes to the local scene, I see people being more pro-active with things, taking initiative, putting in the work, making connections, going abroad to play shows, festivals, touring. For a long time I felt that many musicians in Malta had a feeling of self-entitlement in expecting opportunities to be handed down but that attitude has drastically changed very quickly. I applaud that, as I applaud the opening of THE GARAGE. And it is all down to passion, hard work, dedication that is what THIS scene is all about, you carve your own path and make your own little victories. If the scene keeps coming together the way it has in this last period it can do great things. Great Things !
Can you tell us more about Hydrocephalic?
Really not much going on with Hydrocephalic to be honest. This is basically a multi-vocalist project which I was approached about by Corey Athos a few years back. At one point we had all the songs, lyrics, music, artwork ready to go for a full album but I think sorting out logistics with so many people involved has been very difficult task to handle for him and it got put on the back burner People do seem to be interested in it and ask about it so there might be something concretely done in the future.
Is there a chance there’ll be a Slit reunion in the foreseeable future?
If there will be a reunion at some point I’m not able to tell you in when, what shape or form it would be, which members it would involve and whether it would be something done as a one off or brought back shooting on all cylinders. At this point in time however I’ll just say that I do feel there is unfinished business there and a reunion is something I’m cautiously optimistic about.
Earlier in this article we mentioned some of the major music projects you’ve been involved in, from death metal, to desert rock, guest appearances in the mighty Rockestra and your latest particularly unusual project, FC 1980. What is the latest really about, and why do you define it as your ‘alter ego’?
The 80’s was a very inspirational and creative decade with no limits to one’s imagination, on one too occasions over-imaginative to a point of being considered cringe worthy in hindsight but still there was no limit to it and that is the things I like about it … but you have to consider how society’s way of thinking was influenced by the introduction of everything digital, computers, technology, appliances which influenced everyday life and the way society looked at the future.
It is a thing I call the 80’s dream, a vision/idea of the future which in many ways never materialized but it is still very much alive creatively. Synth-wave is I would say the musical interpretation of that vision from the 80’s. It was overwhelming to be exposed to so much new technology, think about it…everyone was excited about VHS , watching movies at home, excited about the walk-man and taking music with you anywhere, robots, computers. All that in turn influenced music, movies, cartoons, marketing, sports, clothing, toys. I experienced all of that as a child and it is more then just nostalgia for me.
Alas the 80’s did conveniently sweep under the carpet the multitude of bad things happening in the world and that is why I consider this musical project to be my alter alter ego because traditionally musically I tackle tough, dark subjects and on a personal level I’m not a flashy, bombastic person. Which is why this is also a very personal thing to me added to the fact that I do it solo.
And on that note, we’re honored to have been given the opportunity to release FC 1980’s new track titled ROBOT RADIO check it out below:
FC 1980 Facebook: www.facebook.com/FC-1980-1305804152829651/