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Baltimore duo Outcalls take control with new EP, 'No King'

The day after President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, Outcalls singers Melissa Wimbish and Britt Olsen-Ecker wished they could be in two places at once — the Women’s March in Washington and Wrightway Studios, the Baltimore recording studio where they had already scheduled a session.

“I wanted to be at the Women’s March,” Olsen-Ecker said recently inside the living room of her Harwood home. “But it was even more inspiring to be like, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s lay down ‘No King.’ ”

The song is the title track to the duo’s new EP, which serves as a proper introduction to the group’s next phase. Once a male-dominated, guitar-focused band with nine members, Outcalls now consists of Wimbish and Olsen-Ecker, and a cast of backing players they hire when needed. “No King” cements their roles as the leaders calling all the shots, from the songwriting and production to the project’s marketing and rollout.

With the EP out Friday, along with a release show at Towson University radio station WTMD’s studios, the duo — who describe their indie-pop sound as “smooth, soulful vocals and a lot of ’tude” — feels particularly energized.

“It’s so exciting right now with everything we’re doing,” said Olsen-Ecker, a 29-year-old native of Greenwich, Conn. “We have so much more music to write.”

They’ve trained for this, literally. The two Peabody Institute alums met years ago through mutual friends at the school, where the two sopranos graduated from the prestigious voice program. Before joining Outcalls, which was founded by Evan Kornblum and Jeff Bucklew, Wimbish and Olsen-Ecker performed singing telegrams as the Valentonez and pop covers as PBJamz around the city.

Outcalls allowed the singers to pursue original music seriously. But months after the band released their debut EP, “The Clay Mechanical,” in November 2015, the dynamics of the band had noticeably shifted, with the vocalists Wimbish and Olsen-Ecker desiring more creative input.

“When it comes down to it, the people who are delivering the text are the ones that are really going to be zoned in on,” Wimbish, 34, said. “So, of course, we wanted to have control and have a bigger say and feel we should have been deferred to in some cases.”

In June 2016, members went their separate ways. Wimbish and Olsen-Ecker kept the name Outcalls, while Kornblum founded another band, Pocket Bells. Almost immediately, the new Outcalls felt a creative spark, they said. They were having fun again, feeling free to take chances and make mistakes without the scrutiny that came with having more members in the band.

“We went through this period of time where we were questioning our experience,” said Wimbish, a Mount Vernon resident originally from Kansas, seated next to Olsen-Ecker on a couch. “That’s kind of what ‘No King’ is all about — not questioning ourselves as much anymore.”

That conviction can be heard throughout the new EP. Opening with a staccato synthesizer line, the dramatic “No King” blooms into a tale of betrayal and revenge sung through lush, layered vocals. “Coldblood” feels moody and ominous, unfurling at its own unhurried pace. “Pillcauzbee” has more of a natural swing, and taps into the duo’s love of R&B and brass instruments.

Throughout it all, Olsen-Ecker and Wimbish’s voices supply the power to Outcalls’ engine. They sing different melodies and lyrics, sometimes at the same time, but share a cohesiveness developed over years of collaboration and friendship. Their tastes often align, and when they don’t, they keep open minds.

“I remember when Melissa introduced ‘Coldblood.’ I was like, ‘Whoa, this is intense. I don’t know.’ But now it’s my favorite song because it totally grew on me,” Olsen-Ecker said. “Those moments are when we just trust each other.”

For as serious as they take this project (“We’re not ashamed to say, ‘Yeah, we want to play [‘Saturday Night Live’],” Wimbish said of their ambitions), Outcalls is an outlet for fun, too. For Friday’s show, they’ll be backed by horns player Nathan Royer (Strum the Fox), guitarist Dan Ryan (Super City), drummer Charles Wilson (Soul Cannon) and bassist Melody Easton ($100 Girlfriend).

The show — which will be broadcast live on air — will have a “royal” theme, along with a costume contest for aspiring jesters, knights and the like. They will also premiere the video for the EP’s “Skip to Sunrise.”

“It’ll be a show where things will happen that you don’t expect in the songs,” Wimbish said. “It’s going to be a party.”

After a short tour next month, Outcalls plans to write some new music and set some goals for the next year, including releasing a debut full-length album.

“We want Oprah to know us. We want Beyonce to know us,” Wimbish said. “We want our music to reach a lot of people.”

The duo seem most excited about what comes next — whether that’s pop-culture ubiquity or behind-the-scenes music work. Either way, the journey of Outcalls has given them the confidence to push forward wholeheartedly.

“In the long-run, maybe we’ll be producing other people’s records,” Olsen-Ecker said. “If you had asked me that years ago, I would have said, ‘Ha! No way.’ But we did this. We produced [‘No King’]. That’s awesome.”

If you go

Outcalls perform Friday at WTMD, 1 Olympic Place, Towson. Super City and J. Pope & the HearNow will also perform. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15-$17. Call 410-704-8938 or go to wtmd.org.

wesley.case@baltsun.com

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