Callowhill: The Way In

Philadelphia’s Callowhill finds musical freedom through real-world responsibilities

There comes a time, after you’ve spent countless nights playing alone in your room, jamming in some shared practice space and gigging around town, when you accept that music isn’t the center of your world anymore. You and your friends are navigating careers, postgraduate programs and parenthood, and you don’t have the free time you once did. What do you do?

Start a new band. Make a dynamic record. Play whenever you can. That’s what’s worked for Philadelphia indie rockers Callowhill.

“When you’re younger, it seems like, ‘I’ll go to the show and find 10 people who want to be in a band with me,’” says drummer Katy Otto. “But to find musical chemistry as I get older also feels rarer and thus more precious.”

Otto, guitarist Julia Gaylord and bassist John Pettit are scene vets, with credits in more than 10 bands among them. Guitarist Nikki Karam, the only one who doesn’t contribute vocals, is newer to the stage, with just a few one-off cover bands (tributes to Electrelane, Patti Smith and Siouxsie And The Banshees, all collaborations with Pettit) prior to Callowhill.

Their first full-length, The Way Out (released on Otto’s Exotic Fever label), is moody and melodic, with an urgency that comes from understanding that everyone already has a full schedule, so any energy that goes into the music is an active choice.

“Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder, ‘Oh, well, what if I worked part-time or didn’t have a job like this and could do music all the time?’” says Karam. “But I think the fact that I do have limited time to do music makes me like it more.”

For Pettit, who’d put music on hold for a while, it took seeing a friend pick up a guitar well into her 30s and immediately start a band to realize he didn’t have to choose between total immersion and abstinence. “Now it’s just like a comfortable, familiar place for me in life, outside of my job and other duties,” he says.
Callowhill is an escape, a way to create, connect and have fun—and that’s plenty. “If I were to not be in the band at all,” says Gaylord, “I wouldn’t feel complete.”

—M.J. Fine