George Arthur Calendar, a Chicago musician who describes himself as the creator of “some of the most suave and velvety narco synth pop/soul/funk north of Tijuana,” is blindfolded and tied to a chair.
A mysterious woman in a red suit appears alongside him and punches the buttons on an old television, which plays a string of bizarre infomercials while a synthesizer swells and echoes over a funky bass track.
The scene is from a music video Calendar shot for his January single “Lente Oscuro a.k.a. Calypso,” and its color-soaked strangeness complements the psychedelic aesthetic that’s come to define his sound in recent years. “The song is super sexy . . . very hazy, a lot of synthesizers, a very punchy, groovy bass,” says Calendar.
- The video for “Lente Oscuro,” directed by Abby Young
“Lente Oscuro” is the second single from his forthcoming album, Paradox, due April 28 from Mexico City-based label Stereochip Records. One of its key lines—”Solo dejame, dejame en tu nido”—roughly translates to “Just leave me, leave me here in your nest.”
“It talks about that kind of relationship when you’re starting to get dependent on someone,” Calendar says. “It’s about when you’re a little bit blind in your situation. You’re so content and wanting to be there, even though it’s not necessarily the right choice.”
He wrote the songs for Paradox between December 2019 and July 2020, a tumultuous time for him not only due to the onset of the pandemic but also because he endured the breakup of a serious relationship.
- Paradox doesn’t have a Bandcamp page yet, but its advance singles do. The first was “Hasta los Huesos” in December.
“It was like my daily diary, how I was coping,” he says. “This album is super private. Every time I listen to it, I’m like, damn, I shouldn’t release this, it’s too personal. But that’s art—the more you dig, sometimes, is when you do your best work.”
George Arthur Calendar—Arturo to his friends—arrived in Chicago in 2014 and has been a presence in its music scene ever since. The 36-year-old has played bass for indie-pop group Wavy I.D. since 2017, and in that context he’s collaborated and shared stages with Chicago notables such as Mild High Club, Paul Cherry, and Divino Niño. He and Puerto Rican singer Abel Agront worked together as the short-lived duo Fancy Macho, who debuted at Chicago’s Ruido Fest in 2019, put out a self-titled album in 2020, and then broke up. Over the past five years he’s also released three albums of his own music.
Calendar’s musical lineage can be traced back to his hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico, where he grew up and went to school. “Guadalajara is like a first-world city in a third-world country,” he says. “There’s a lot going on . . . an underground scene, an indie scene, mainstream. There are bands with millions of followers who people have never heard of here.”
Calendar played in a long list of bands in high school and college, including one group he says placed second in a Hard Rock Cafe competition (he insists they only lost because they were too young) and another that worked as a house band at Old Jack’s Studio, a Guadalajara bar sponsored by Jack Daniel’s. Over the years, the music he played evolved from funk and hip-hop to rock ‘n’ roll, indie rock, and relatively synthesizer-driven styles.
“I’m super influenced by all this music—classic 80s, 70s, 60s. Not even rock ‘n’ roll but, like, jazz, funk, new wave,” Calendar says. “I like all of that music.”
Calendar felt optimistic about his future as a musician in Mexico, but certain aspects of the scene began to wear on him. In the U.S., some bands take pride in a scrappy DIY approach, but in Mexico, it looked to Calendar like everyone was hyperfocused on presenting a polished, professional image.
“When I was in Mexico, you have your roadies, sound guys, even if you’re playing dive bars or house parties,” says Calendar. “Even if you’re a nobody, you have a band manager. That’s how you want to be seen. It makes you stressed out. You need to have your A game all the time.”
In 2013, Calendar decided he wanted to travel the world. He left Guadalajara behind and spent several months living in New Zealand and California; in 2014 he landed in Chicago, where his mother lives. He’d quit music altogether for a time, but not long after settling here, he started playing again at open mikes.
People seemed to like his music, he says, but they would tell him they couldn’t understand what he was singing because the lyrics were half in English and half in Spanish. In part to placate a hypothetical audience with a similar outlook, Calendar put out two albums of music in English. Then in 2020 he returned to Spanish with the Fancy Macho release, and his friends responded by urging him to sing more in his native language. “It’s a romantic language, a sexy language, they’d always tell me that,” he says.
- Fancy Macho’s self-titled album came out early in the pandemic.
At the last minute, he translated the lyrics for all but two songs on Paradox. “All the songs were in English, then one day before recording I changed almost all of them to Spanish,” he says. “I was proud that my lyrics actually turned out really good in Spanish.”
Calendar signed with Stereochip Records in December 2020, after friends encouraged him to start promoting his music in Mexico instead of just in the States. Paradox was mixed and mastered by David Eladio, an old friend and bandmate from Guadalajara, and its sound borrows from both countries’ cultures as well as from Calendar’s wide-ranging experiences as a musician.
“The record is like organic Latin music that isn’t based in folkloric Mexican music,” says Alex Santilli, who drums for Chicago band Late Nite Laundry and also plays in Calendar’s new backing group, Las Travoltas. “I think it’s a great fusion of Chicago culture, which Arturo was a big part of, and how he grew up in Mexico. It’s really kind of groundbreaking.”
“Even today in Mexico, there are few sounds similar to GAC,” says Stereochip Records founder Jonathan Sanz. He cites Calendar’s “light 80s jazzy swag overtones and sounds of synth funk, lo-fi, and psychedelic pop.”
Wavy I.D. bandleader Adam L.P. says Calendar is one of the most prolific and productive musicians he knows. “He’s constantly developing his sound and getting closer and closer to putting out a hit. At this rate, I can see big things coming for him.”
Though much of last year was rough going for Calendar—he also lost his job at a Humboldt Park restaurant during the pandemic—the sense of suspended time during lockdown helped fuel his creativity. He says he’s started to produce a new album combining acoustic and synth sounds, which he describes as like “being on the beach on DMT.”
“I feel like 2020 was crazy in many aspects of my life, but also being able to be home all the time working on music, listening to music, made me feel like I was 25 again,” Calendar says. “I feel like the most important thing is to put your music out there, especially right now. A lot of years, my music just stayed on my computer. Now I’m trying to do the opposite of that.”
- The video for “Jazzcat,” directed by Joshua Patterson
Earlier this month, Calendar released another new video, this one for the song “Jazzcat,” the penultimate track on Paradox. He says it has a “mysterious, Dick Tracy, jazzy Chicago vibe.” The song also departs from the focus of the rest of the album, most of which explores the pain and heartbreak of a failed relationship.
“It’s this enlightened moment,” he says of this new musical direction. “Like, that was that . . . I’m happy that I lived that experience—I’m learning a lot, and I’m ready for the next step.” v