"Speakers Pushing Air": Pelican Are Back
Last week instrumental metal gods Pelican returned from a four year trip to the abyss with the remarkable Forever Becoming, a punishing bruiser of deep low-chord love as technically precise as it is heavy. They also happened to be in town, trucking down from Chicago for a mini-tour that saw them play back-to-back sold out shows at Saint Vitus in conjunction with metal site Invisible Oranges. We were there the first sweaty night, and the long wait between albums and shows was well worth it. Pelican delivered. Shortly after the show we bellied up to the bar with Pelican guitarist Trevor de Brauw (crooning above, far left) and talked to him about all and sundry. We were too drunk to remember any of it, so we hit him up again via email the other day to repeat ourselves. He was kind enough to not be too annoyed (we think) about it all. Here now, some sober questions for Pelican about the time off, how it feels to be back, and what they think about the term "nerd metal."
Photo: Mark Dawusk
Forever Becoming is Pelican's first album in four years. Where the hell have you been and what have you been up to in the meantime?
After the promotion cycle for our last album we'd run out of steam in terms of the full time touring lifestyle. We knew we needed to reconfigure our lives and the band if we wanted to avoid burning out completely. So we hung up our touring shoes, got jobs, and started developing home lives with the intent to get back to the band when we figured out how to run it as a part time enterprise; a matter mildly complicated by the fact that [drummer] Larry [Herweg] lives in LA and the rest of us are in Chicago. The wheels basically spun down until late 2011 when we recorded the Ataraxia/Taraxis EP, which came out last year. Half the EP was holdovers from the previous album, the other half were some song ideas that Bryan and I worked on as home recordings that were then fleshed out as a band in the studio. The whole thing was an experiment in sending files back and forth and building songs in the studio environment, which gave us a template for a method to work the band long distance. Just as we felt like the momentum and impetus for writing a record was building, our founding guitarist Laurent [Schroeder-Lebec] made the decision that he wanted to step down -- he wasn't feeling inspired to write, but didn't want to hold us back, either. He had been a very active writer in the band up to that point, so it was yet another major roadblock, but recording the EP had felt exciting after the long break, so we muscled through and wrote the record as a three piece. We enlisted Dallas Thomas as Laurent's replacement a few months before heading into the studio to help us put the finishing touches in place.
What did you miss most about being in the band while you all were away.
Speakers pushing air. There's something extremely cathartic about playing music at high volumes and there were a lot of points in those years where I could have used that. There's also a very peculiar and intense interpersonal connection that bandmates develop -- stepping away from that on a daily basis and not knowing if or when it would ever be the same was hard. But it is, it's like riding a bike.
Pelican is a very precise, technically astute band. Did it take awhile to knock the dust off when you all started playing again? How did that feel?
I think one of the things that made sense about the timing of when we went on hiatus is that we'd toured and played so much together that we're very locked in with one another's playing styles. When we meet up for stuff now there's generally one practice that feels rusty and by the second session we're right back where we were. That first practice is always a headfuck -- like, "I thought we were a real band, but I'm not convinced this sounds much better than my high school band." Then it all locks in and nothing feels better.
I know your drummer Larry was in Aeges for a bit. Anyone else in Pelican pursue music elsewhere while away?
Everyone, pretty much. Larry also drums in San Angelus with Kim who used to be in Sparkmarker. Dallas sings and plays guitar in The Swan King. Bryan plays with a producer friend of his and provides him with a bunch of sample fodder. I have a variety of shit going on -- a long running ambient group called Chord, a noisy pop band called Let's Pet, and I've done a number of solo performances as well.