By Ethan Gordon
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
The first time Caitlin Bender, Jon Ahn, and Garett Cassidy met, it would be another five years before they started playing together in Calyx.
In 2008, Ahn and Cassidy were set to play a string of shows with an old band, starting in Alabama, when suddenly the opening act they were joining with there broke up. “Instead of telling us that they broke up and couldn’t do the tour, some of them decided to just start another band in two weeks and do the tour with us. That band included Caitlin,” says Cassidy.
In 2013, Bender moved north to Pittsburgh and put together Calyx with her old tourmates. Since then, Calyx has been a mainstay at DIY venues across the country, and has released a string of solid EPs and singles. Their very first full-length album, Stay Gone, is the culmination of seven years of touring, songwriting, and working together. “I was always like, ‘we only have to record three songs at a time, put them on a tape, and go.’ [Jon and Garett] said that we can’t keep doing that,” says Bender with a laugh.
After hearing Cassidy’s tight drum work, Ahn’s anchoring basslines, and Bender’s lovely and elliptical lyrics, it’s clear that the album is an early contender for the most explosive and engaging punk record of 2021.
After playing everywhere from Florida to California in 2019, the trio settled into Philadelphia’s Big Mama studio early last February to work on Stay Gone with Evan Bernard of The Superweaks. The sessions were quickly both intense and exciting, as ten to sixteen hour days became commonplace.
“When you’re gonna spend the time and the money and do the whole process, you want to be with someone who’s stoked to work with you, and who’s a fan of your band, so going into that was easy because we knew Evan,” says Ahn. “Evan was just our fucking rock.”
Those committed studio sessions brought us the best possible version of Stay Gone, as the album jumps easily between infectious pop-tinged tunes like “Pacific Light Wave” and more involved storytelling on tracks like “Leslie Plain and Strong” and “Money Blood.”
“Leslie,” with its sharp two minute runtime and insightful portrayal of an entire life, is one of the album’s strongest songs. With lines like “Leslie was born in the place she wants to die, grey skies only mean cooler weather, keeps her food separated on her plate, Spain was fine but Mississippi’s finer,” Bender captures a slice of life that’s common to small communities across the country.
“It happens all across the country, so I’ve always found it fascinating that it gets clumped in with the south so much, but there’s the small town vibe of being happy with everything that you’re born with,” Bender says. “Leslie’s a real person, and she was so super pleasant. She just wanted different things in life and was really satisfied with what she was.”
When not playing with Calyx, Cassidy and Ahn spend time in the hardcore band Edhoculi. “Garett and I have been playing together since 2007, so we just know each other pretty well musically,” says Ahn. “Bender comes up with a skeleton of a song and she presents it to Garett and [me] and then we’re like, ‘Okay cool. Now let’s break it down and make it fucking nuts.’”
Like many live bands, COVID-19 has taken a toll on the group. While Calyx hopes to play shows in support of the album, the trio hasn’t even been able to practice for the time being. Considering how important performance is to the group, it’s no wonder the title Stay Gone comes from touring.
“We were playing in this warehouse that [someone] had turned into this DIY space,” says Bender. “Afterwards it was hot and I took a walk to get some air. I was standing on this edge of a construction sight zone, this no man’s land. I was just looking out at the sparkling lights, and I was thinking about how many people would think so many parts of tour life would be hell, and how much I like it.
“I’m gonna start crying cause I miss it. I remember thinking, just, I just wanna stay gone.”