Analogue Music | Purr


By Matt Conner

It simply didn't occur to Jack & Eliza to not change their name.

These days, the songwriting duo of Eliza Barry Callahan and Jack Staffen are known as Purr. A new name for a new sound, as Callahan explains. Not that every shift in sound or new album demands an equally new outlet. Rather, the original moniker was never supposed to stick in the first place so changing it felt inconsequential, at least at the time.

Callahan says the band is trying to steer fans toward Purr as best they can as they await the release of their debut, Like New (ANTI-). Early fans fell in love with their sparse arrangements, but Like New holds a much more realized sound inside, with sonic swells and imaginative instrumentation a la the wonderful "Hard to Realize" (listen below).

We recently caught up with Callahan to understand more about the musical transition and what's been gained and lost in the process.

Analogue: I want to start with the transition of identities from Jack and Eliza to Purr. I'd think in today's oversaturated market that it's hard to make noise. Was there any concern about starting over and having to put in the time and effort to gain back what you'd lost?

Eliza: It wasn't anything we considered in that moment. It was about two years ago now that we felt like what we were doing was shifting. Now, you don't need to create a new band for every album [Laughs], but it felt more like what we'd created with Jack and Eliza at that time served as a base line for what were thinking about. We wanted to move into a different territory. Even though it's a similar feel and it is us writing the music, we felt like we wanted a new start and it didn't have to do with any kind of frustration or anything with the other project. It just felt natural so we followed that gut reaction without thinking about the consequences.

It is important to think about those things, about how to capture people's attention or how to make sure fans of one project know the other exists. We still get messages constantly from Jack and Eliza fans asking, 'Why are no longer making any music?' [Laughs] We are. We're still here. But because we were just thinking purely about what we're making and the process and the artistic side of it, we didn't consider the other side of things. We'll have to see what happens.

Analogue: What was it about Jack and Eliza that necessitated a name and not just a shift in sound under the same banner? Was there a lack of permission there somehow?

Eliza: There's a difficulty we found with the name that we thought pigeonholed what people expected. There are expectations that come with a boy-girl band name.

When we started the project as Jack and Eliza, it wasn't a premeditated name. We were just playing shows out as an unnamed project and started just putting a few things up on BandCamp. Then it gained traction in a way we didn't expect, so the project almost got ahead of itself. It became that, but it never felt like the root of our intention from the get-go.

What we wanted to do by shifting the focus—I don't want to say name, because I think we might one day release music under Jack and Eliza as well—was to show that we could get back behind this next step or a different vision that didn't feel quite as limited.

The other baggage that comes with the boy-girl name is that it leads to so many questions that we don't necessarily want people asking as opposed to just listening to the music.

Credit: Hailey Heaton
Credit: Hailey Heaton

Analogue: That makes sense. After you change the name and start putting music out, did it feel the way you hoped it would before making any kind of a switch? Could you feel the freedom?

Eliza: I think where our passion stemmed from was that the Jack and Eliza music we were writing revolved around our vocals and guitar. There wasn't really anything else. The extent of our live show was just the two of us on electric guitar and vocals. The production on the EP and the album we did was also super-minimal.

When we'd written that first album, it was like, 'Here's the two of us in raw form.' We took a lot of time arranging the songs, but of course, it was also very pared down. I think we started writing new songs where we heard a lot more going on, more than just our vocals or two guitars. That was occurring just naturally in our writing.

When we started demoing, we'd both just graduated from college, so it felt like a start of something new. Our life patterns were changing and our approach to how we're creating and arranging was changing. It felt like something that we'd grown out of.

Analogue: I like how you're describing this because when I listen to, let's say, "Hard to Realize," it's the new elements that are so striking, how full the arrangement feels in the chorus. It's really a beautiful next step.

Eliza: It's a funny thing where as you're writing, you're hearing the song maybe in its next form. "Hard to Realize" is a good example of that. We felt a breaking open point, something that had a different kind of energy and physical things on it. It was something that was naturally happening, which we wanted to run with. We demoed really extensively before going into the studio with Rado, so we'd done pretty much full arrangements on the whole album. We'd felt that necessity for an expansion of the sound generally for the songs we were writing.

What's funny now is that we've written another album and it's maybe a little more pared back again. [Laughs]

"I think when you have something minimal, you're craving all these sounds. Then when you get those, you crave something minimal."

Analogue: [Laughs] Is that why you said you're keeping that name?

Eliza: No, the next one will be a Purr thing, but I think when you have something minimal, you're craving all these sounds. Then when you get those, you crave something minimal. It's finding that balance on a song and, for us, in an album.

Analogue: How fun was it to chase those ideas?

Eliza: It was a super-fun process. "Hard to Realize" was a lot of fun. On the demo, we put these almost tiny string synths open it up on the chorus. Rado thought they should be replaced by tubular bells. He called in this guy called the Drum Doctor in L.A. who is this apparent drum gear legend. He showed up with these tubular bells he rolls out of a truck and he had them for the day. They're apparently the bells from King Kong used on the original score, which is a funny fact. The best part of that story though was the fact that when we first played it back, it just sounded like a doorbell. [Laughs] We realized a doorbell is just a tubular bell sample, so we knew we needed a little reverb. Overall, figuring out ways to open up a song was a lot of fun.

Analogue: You've mentioned Rado a couple times. I wanted to give you a chance to introduce him. How did he become a part of this?

Eliza: We'd played a show in New York here where we're from opening for Foxygen really early on. It was our second show. We liked the production work he'd done over the course of the year leading up and thought he could be an interesting fit to do some production on the album. We started to dialogue with him and then ended up going to L.A. to do the album with him. Then Jack and I brought the tracks back to New York and worked for a while on the album. It was that back and forth process.